Emotion isn’t the enemy. Nor is ego.
They’re part of us, and the only way to “overcome them” is to change our relationship to them.
You can’t “Get Rid Of” emotions, no less than you can “get rid of your ego”. Your thoughts, feelings and emotions part of you — they are you.
Why have we begun to view emotion, and as a corollary, ego, as the enemy?
I’m not sure, and not going to delve into some scientific un-packing of my psyche and prevailing literature not he topic. But let’s just say: emotions rule us. We make decisions subconsciously, then rationalize them later with logic.
We are irrational rationalizers
Recall the story of Benjamin Franklin nearly eating fish on a ship. When he saw the fish with fish in its stomach, he determined that he was justified in eating the fish. If the fish can eat fish, why can’t I?
Recognizing this thought, Franklin bemused: “So convenient a thing to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for every thing one has a mind to do.”
These two systems – the quick, subconscious and the logical, rationalizer – were the life-long study of two now-famous psychologists, Kahneman and Tversky. What was interesting about their book, Thinking Fast and Slow, was not so much that such reason-hijacking systems dominate our brain. Rather, it was that, even knowing about the systems, Kahneman noted that he was no better off at dodging their mechanisms.
And so, we’re controlled by our emotions, we know that we’re controlled by our emotions, and the knowledge of neither does anything to help us regain some measure of control.
It’s that sense of “helplessness” in the face of our own mind that, I believe, has led to the demonizing of emotions (whether inwardly or outwardly).
With that in mind, what is a better way of looking at emotional catharsis than “getting rid of bad emotions?” I think, it’s simply, becoming aware of our thoughts and emotions. The simple act of observing them — noticing that they exist. This is the first step to releasing their control. Emotional awareness is how we break out of unconscious patterns of thought and behavior – patterns that can trap and enslave us to whim, leading to suffering.
Imagine a world where everyone had better sense of why they were doing things.
But how do we get there?
Based on my limited experience, it’s not easy. It takes courage, and persistent effort.
It requires that we experience pain and failure, then take the time to reflect on why that happened and how we can improve.
Pain + reflection = progress.
There are, however, a few shortcuts in life for releasing emotions and thus, increasing your emotional awareness. Some of these I’ve tried myself, others are on my to-do list this year.
Here they are:
29 ways to increase your emotional awareness
1. Conventional psychotherapy (eg, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy)
3. Holotropic Breathwork
5. Cold Therapy
5. Heat Therapy
8. Mind altering drugs
- MDMA and analogues
- Ayahuasca / DMT
- Laughter yoga
- Dance yoga
10. Stand up comedy (watching or performing)
12. Improv (watching or performing)
13. Care free, non goal-oriented socializing
14. Heavy lifting (squat and deadlift)
15. Intense cardio (eg SoulCycle)
16. Competitive sports
17, Inner child therapy
18. Neurolinguistic programming (NLP)
19. Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT)
- Mindfullness meditation
- Transcendental meditation
- 10 day Vipassana meditation
22. Radical self love / acceptance
23. Gestalt therapy
27. Sensory deprivation tanks
That’s my list. Did I miss anything? Please share yours in the comments.
I’ll add one note:
These techniques may be helpful, or they may not be. They may help you at some point in your life, and may do nothing or actually limit your growth at some later time.
In the quest to achieve emotional mastery, I’m often torn between two opposite camps:
One, where I actively practice the above in some form or another. In doing so, I constantly lower my anxiety and feel more relaxed in day to day life. But being “chill” isn’t necessarily the end goal. Emotional mastery doesn’t mean being some uber-stoic dude that is inexpressive.
I would hope it leads me to the opposite place (and I feel that it does).
“If sitting on a cushion chanting Aum is not your thing because it drives you crazy, find something that is your thing! For some that looks like riding a motorcycle across country, shredding the gnar to find that perfect line amongst mountain tops, swimming in the surf or sitting alone in a peaceful place. To me, all of these are ways of finding and obtaining that state of focused relaxation: zen.” – Jessica Cartwright
This is the other camp, in which I recognize that a little anxiety is good and necessary for taking action.
“The mindfulness movement is really big right now. The reason I don’t really like the mindfulness movement, is it’s too much about ‘suspending judgement… which can be valuable. It can be valuable to suspend judgment a little bit, but I want to be more alert. I want to have more intensity, is the way I look at life. I don’t want to sit in a corner and meditate because I need to relax more. I want to be more intense and focused and have more of an attack mode when I live. That’s how I view things. How can I be in the moment to be a better attacker to do more in my life.” – Mike Cernovich
I’ll leave end it with this thought: emotional mastery is about cultivating a better understanding emotions so you can be more expressive, not less.