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The Up Side of Negative Emotions

We spend so much time pushing uncomfortable emotions away that we often don't realise their potential to help us move forward. Today's article focuses on the development of some essential emotion regulation skills. A good set of questions to ask yourself when you next feel an uncomfortable emotion like sadness, disappointment, anxiety, anger, shame, or guilt (or anything uncomfortable) are -

Which emotion fits the situation?

1. Given the situation, how do I want to feel?

For example this morning I worked with a student who was extremely disappointed about the results of a recent exam. When I asked this first question they rightly answered that given their result they didn't want to feel, happy or ok about the situation. This response then leads to another interesting question.

2. Could there be any advantage to me of feeling the way I do?

Often you will find that the answer here is both yes and no. Your job is to examine the elements of your emotional experience that are advantageous. In today's example, the advantage of feeling disappointed in the result was that it demonstrated to the student that they had a desire to do better. The desire to do better is a sign of a healthy mind that naturally works to find the next level of achievement. In this sense and maybe for the first time for this student, we have the opportunity to experience negative emotions which are healthy and help us to strive forward. However, mixed in with the advantages of experiencing negative emotions are their disadvantages.

3. What are the disadvantages of feeling the way I do?

When you examine your emotional response you might very likely find that much of it disadvantages you. In today's example, the depth of disappointment prevented the student from concentrating on other classes that day and also reinforced the negative view they had of themself, which was of a person who was not able to make any improvements and fulfil their potential. Each of us holds opinions about situations and ourselves that can be defeating and generate dysfunctional emotions. Our challenge then is to become aware of and challenge those opinions that hold us back.

4. How can I change my thinking or doing so that I can feel how I want to feel in the face of this situation?

To change our emotional experience to one that is both fitting of the situation (so sometimes negative) and advantageous we can work on changing our thinking and our doing. We can deliberately think in ways that are more helpful and we can deliberately act in ways that are more helpful, although it might take us a lot of effort to do so.

5. Is there anything that can stop me from thinking and doing what helps me?

To clear the path for more helpful thoughts and actions it is useful to examine the barriers and challenges that we think we face in seeing things differently. Doing so reduces the effort it takes to make a change because we are more likely to do something that works for us and we can see that what we once thought of as a barrier or a challenge is not grounded in facts at all.

Embracing our negative emotional experiences and sorting the helpful from the unhelpful is an all-important skill in our ongoing personal development. I challenge you to ask yourself these five questions regularly and begin to benefit from all of your emotional experiences, not just the ones that feel good.

I hope this week's practical message helps you to keep striving forward whatever your endeavour might be.


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