To see what it's like to have coaching support through this process, sign up for a free call. You'll get a serious jumpstart on understanding exactly why you drink more than you want and a clear understanding of where to focus your attention to solve the issue.
Today I’ll explain how to embrace your emotional experience so that your feelings lose their power to drive your unwanted behavior.
Emotions can be inspired by real-time events - snakes, men attacking with crowbars, the smell of fresh-baked cookies, walking on stage to deliver a speech.
However in our safe modern lives, most of our emotions are generated in response to our thoughts. We think about real and imagined physical and social threats and opportunities in the past, present and future, and these thoughts create an emotional experience.
Emotions are perceived as sensations in our body. Our subconscious reaction to the ‘negative’ ones is to want to make them stop.
- Eat the cookie to close the loop on desire.
- People-please in order to maintain social standing.
- Criticize and command in order to maintain a sense of control.
However for most of our emotions there’s no immediate action that we can take to create resolution. This is when we resort to distraction or other means to make the feeling go away.
Here’s an example: as I’m sitting here writing this, I can tell you that I am constantly tempted to ‘take a quick break’ and scroll Facebook ‘for just a minute’. It seems very reasonable, and all too often I do just that.
Here’s what’s really going on under the surface: As I’m staring at the screen, I’m constantly questioning - what do I write next - is this clear - is it boring - will it be useful to the reader - will they like it? My default answer to these questions is ‘no, this sucks’. My brain interprets that my social standing is jeopardized, and as a result my physiology is affected. My breathing gets shallow and my neck gets tight. I'm experiencing an emotion. My subconscious wants these feelings to go away and drives me to take action. Facebook here we come.
This is what’s going on with your unwanted drinking. Because of the habit, when beer:thirty comes around, you experience a dopamine fueled urge. Additionally you might be feeling stressed out from the workday, and resentful that you still have another hour of work to do after dinner. All of this is reflected in your body, and even though you aren’t consciously aware of the sensations, mission control in your brain is saying ‘Houston we have a problem, do something about it’.
Here’s the crucial thing - these sensations are NOT a problem. Have you ever done 10 burpees, or sprinted for 200 yards? Had a pinched shoulder or sore back? Gone to work with a hangover? If so, you’ve experienced strong physical sensations, and they didn’t kill you.
In comparison, the sensations that come from emotions are incredibly subtle and mild.
- Tension in your neck and back? You don’t have to make that go away.
- Shallow breathing and fast heart rate - not gonna hurt you. Butterflies in your stomach - you’re not going to die.
- Extra salivation in your mouth - a quick swallow fixes that.
It’s only when you let your subconscious handle the emotions that they get blown way out of proportion and cause you to do things you don’t want to to.
The key to handling emotion is to tune into what’s going on in your body, to observe and describe the sensations, without wanting them to go away. This is what I mean by Allowing emotion.
Here’s exactly how you do it:
- How do you feel overall? Are you generally feeling open, expansive, safe? Or are you closed, constricted, hunched?
- Scan your body from feet to head. What do you feel? Give special attention to your belly, chest, shoulders and neck, jaw, face. Pick out the strongest sensation.
- Is the sensation steady or varying? Does it feel fast or slow?
- Does it have a color?
- What is it’s texture - dry or sticky, smooth or fuzzy, hard or soft, round or jagged?
- What does it make you want to do? If it were 100 times stronger would you feel compelled to run away, or curl into a ball and hide, or to lash out in attack?
- Why is it here?
What you’ll generally find when you engage with an emotion like this, is that it’s just not a big deal. You don’t need instant relief. And if you just hang out with them with an accepting attitude, they’ll simply dissipate after a few minutes.
One of my guiding principles in my life is that I want to be a man who is willing and able to feel any emotion. When I’m willing to experience the emotions - the physiology - of fear, embarrassment, rejection, failure - I have the courage to do what I need to do to get what I want. The worst thing that can happen is always just an emotion, and I can handle that.
Mastering this Allowing process is the key to becoming that sort of person.