“Your emotions are the slaves to your thoughts, and you are the slave to your emotions.” (Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia)
Thoughts lead to emotions which lead to behaviors. (Translate: I interpret your actions as a slight to me, I feel anger and shame, I act out of that anger/shame to you: I yell at you, take a swing at you, or I leave the room.) It might not seem that I get to choose in that scenario, but I do. I get to choose at two very important steps in the process.
First, I get to choose how to interpret any interaction that we have with another. Based on past actions, and how I have interpreted those actions, I determine what interpretation I will make in this situation — rightly or wrongly. Second, I will experience the motions I attach to these interpretations. Finally, regardless of the first two, I get to choose how I respond. Always.
For most of us, this string of thoughts/emotions/actions happens instantaeously and we may not believe that we have control over it at all. But when is that last time, you were angry — really, really furious — and decided not to take a swing at someone? You might have wanted to do that, or cause bodily harm in another way, but because it is simply not socially acceptable to physically lash out at another, and because we have decided that someone who does may not be fit to live around the rest of us, you probably made the choice to respond in a different way.
In my coaching practice, I encourage my clients to interrupt their thought-emotion-behavior sequence, particularly if it isn’t working for them. It’s simple, but it works. You change the thoughts, you change the emotions, you change the response.
What situation always gets under your skin? How might you re-interpret the actions of another in a way that changes your emotional response to it? You are not a slave to your emotions. You get to choose.