Many people think that their emotional state is almost exclusively due to the reality that they are experiencing. After all, basic biology and psychology teach the classic “stimulus-response” model in living organisms where a change in the environment will trigger a response in the affected creature. This is mostly true, as life forms that did not properly respond to their environment may be harmed or even killed by those changing conditions. As a result, most people live in misery blaming their conditions for why they feel depressed, anger, resentment, meaninglessness, or hopelessness in life.
However, in humans, that is not the whole equation. Someone’s emotional response or state is due to three factors: desire, belief, and experience. So it’s not just a negative experience that causes you to feel bad but the resulting beliefs that hold you in a declined state. This is why people may stay in bed sulking for days, months, or even years after a traumatic event.
So, there are three big insights that come from this knowledge:
Let’s go through each and show you how to use these insights to change your beliefs, emotions, and future at—or, more accurately, through—will.
You Don’t Have to Feel As Bad As You Do After Loss
This is probably the biggest reframe for people who are miserable right now, so this is going to be tough medicine: you are causing as much if not more misery for yourself than just the experiences you’re facing. Now, there are times where you want to feel bad after an event because you feel it deserves it, such as the death of a loved one or a person you greatly respected. Of course, feel free to take the time to grieve if you feel that it is the right thing to do. However, there are other times where there are not so much physical consequences as psychological ones that can be heavily reduced. Let’s use a loss of a relationship, friend, money, or other valuable asset to you as an example.
If you are dumped, it does feel bad. Of course, you liked or even loved the person and feel terrible from the rejection as a result. However, if you are lying in bed for weeks and cannot get out of bed, there are bigger forces at play here than just the event: there is a strong desire and numerous beliefs that are now torturing you far more than the event itself. You really want whatever it is that relationship gave you: a sense of security, love, support, self-esteem or worth, status amongst peers or family, or even the sexual aspect. But here is the where the hammer comes down that causes your misery: your beliefs. You might believe that this person was “the one” for you. You might believe that you will never love again. You might believe that you’re not lovable or that no one could ever possibly like you for you. You might believe that anyone who does like you must be messed up in some way. You might think that life isn’t worth living without that person or without being in a relationship. These beliefs against your desires are what are causing your issues, not just the breakup experience.
This applies to anything: if you feel bad after losing money, it’s due to your beliefs that the money was hard to obtain or could’ve been spent on something better and your desire to have money to spend on things. If you feel bad about losing a friend, it’s because you believe/know how hard that person will be to replace. That’s the same with losing a valuable asset or anything else you care about.
You Can Practice Emotional Management Techniques
So, knowing the formula for emotions, you now know that you can change how you feel simply by changing the three factors that make up your current state. If you lose a friend, asset, significant other, or amount of money, you can want to acquire another one and shift your focus from the loss to a potential great new thing that could come into your life. If you have beliefs that are causing you to stay in bed like that you’ll never be able to recover, then you’ll need to change them to beliefs that you’ll come back better or that something even greater than you could’ve possibly imagined is in store with you if you just relax and be ready for it. If you are engaging in experiences that making you feel worse—e.g., staying in bed, consuming drugs or alcohol, reading negative social media posts, looking at old photos of when you were with that person/thing—then you can stop and shift them to healthier experiences.
Let’s go through the three major components and give you a technique for each:
Using these techniques, you can begin to learn how to manage and improve your emotional state at will.
Now, one final, important thing here: you are thinking, “These are all good, but I can’t change my beliefs because they accurately reflect reality! I only believe it because it’s true!” Well, a lot of things are true, but you don’t have to obsess over them and let them control your life: six million Jews died in the Holocaust; people die of starvation every day; animals are going extinct; crimes are happening every second; you’ve made tens of thousands of mistakes in your life; people accidentally hurt others all the time. If you focused on every bad thing happening right now and used it to be miserable, you’d have an excuse to live in eternal misery.
So it’s not about truth or not; it’s about what benefits you. You can just as easily focus on good things that motivate you: you can be better ever day; you can make the world a better place; you can find a mate; you can help your children lead happy lives; you can make someone else’s life easier through your work. All that matters is that you hold the right mindset to live your life in the best way possible..
In the Long Term, Your Emotions Can Cause Your Experiences
Now, for the big one: in the long term, your emotions can determine your future experiences. This is the biggest pushback that you might have that flies in the face of this insight: “What/Why does any of this matter? It doesn’t change anything. Reality is the way it is, and how I feel won’t change it.” Buuuuuuuuuuuuuullllllllllllllllllllssssssssssshhhhhhiiiiiiiiiiitttttttt…I’m about to turn your life upside down like the first time you watch the twist-ending of a psychological thriller.
Take the thing that you’re feeling bad about right now (if you are). Okay. If you got a call from someone who told you that they’d bring you something or someone tomorrow that was perfect for you and gave you everything you wanted or needed or were missing in life, how would you feel? What would you do? Certainly, everything you were feeling bad about would not matter at all, as it was all moot because this better thing that was exactly what you want would be coming, and you’d jump out of bed and get ready to receive it: you’d groom, clean, prepare, etc. so you could have the best experience possible.
Now, here’s the thing: that wonderful thing didn’t come/happen yet. It’s not real. You feel that way because of your beliefs, not reality. Just like you feel bad months after a loss because of your beliefs, not your reality. The person/thing that’s gone isn’t there anymore. It’s not part of your reality. So you’re just upset by the thoughts in your head, just like you’re happy/expecting/hopeful about that thing/person coming due to the thoughts in your head and not reality. If that thing didn’t come, you’d feel sad, but that hope you had would’ve still been there. Think about that, though, in reverse: if you don’t expect something and it comes tomorrow, then you wasted your ******* time being miserable for no *** **** reason.
Now, add in the reverse-causal relationship: let’s break down that stimulus-response further: stimulus->senses->emotional response->physical response. Note that the emotional response comes between the stimulus and the physical response, not after them. Hence, your emotions effectively dictate your behavior. So when you say that it doesn’t matter how you feel because the reality is the same, anyway, you are incontrovertibly false because those emotions will create your future reality through your current and future behaviors.
Let’s take an example: if you wanted to be strong and for others to see you as strong, you’d go through this process: desire->belief->action->result (which is a stimulus for others)->response from others. So you’d want to build muscles, you’d believe that going to the gym would get that, you’d do it, you’d build muscles, and then someone would look at you and say, “Wow, you’re strong. You must work out.” So your feelings of determination drive you to that experience that gets you that result.
So why, oh why do people reverse that causal relationship with intangible things like love, etc.? They want someone to love them so they feel loved; they want someone to tell them they’re awesome so they feel motivated to move on with their lives and become awesome. Yes, there are such things as unconditional love like what you get from parents, but most of the time you earn things like love, appreciation, etc. So, why do people expect it to be different with things like love? Using the strength analogy, they act like it’s someone tells them that they’re strong->they feel strong->they go to the gym and get strong. But it doesn’t work like that at all. As a social species, people mirror others and point to what they believe as reality. So if you’re lying in bed sulking, you’ll only have other people who are miserable be willing to be around you. The people you want will want to be around happy people. Similarly, if you want someone to tell you you’re a wonderful person, you have to be a wonderful person to them for them to reciprocate, not for them to tell you first and then have you do the work afterwards.
Take those two components together, and you understand how your emotions dictate your future:
With all three insights, you now know exactly how to manage your emotions at will: you have the ability to adjust your emotions in response to negative events; you can use techniques to become emotionally resilient; as a result, your better mood will lead to more productive/constructive actions that will shape your reality for the better into what you want in/from life. That’s the big realization about emotions. You are not a victim of circumstances; you have control over how you feel, what you pay attention to, and what you do as a result. If you let your emotions overpower you in the long run, you will be miserable. If you use these ideas and techniques to manage them, you will have the greatest control over your mood, attitude, and future.