If you truly want to master your emotions, say goodbye to these 9 behaviors

Keeping our emotions in check is probably one of the hardest things we humans have to do in life. 

Day after day, we face challenges that test our patience until we either explode in anger or break down in tears. 

We’ve got all sorts of fears, yet we need to manage and overcome them if we want to get anywhere in life. 

What’s more, when we feel overwhelmed, we can’t just scream, “Enough already, everyone shut up!!!”

Nope. We’d definitely be judged for that, too. 

It’s hard being zen, for sure. But as with all things zen, one key principle is this: you can’t control the events that happen around you. You can only control how you react to them. 

So, to master your emotions, where do you begin? By saying goodbye to these nine behaviors: 

1) Overthinking

For starters, let’s talk about the nasty habit of overthinking. I used to be a master overthinker (sometimes I still am – it’s a process) and this habit has really wreaked havoc on my nervous system. 

I’d lie awake in bed thinking about something that happened, going over and over the many ways I could’ve handled it better. 

And if I got tired of that, I’d switch to thinking about the future. Concoct imaginary scenarios and what-ifs. 

Basically, I would work myself up into a bundle of nerves over either something that I can’t change anymore or something that hasn’t even happened yet. 

The trick to emotional mastery is to catch yourself before you spiral. It calls for a lot of self-awareness, so I’d recommend learning to be mindful and watch your thoughts. 

As soon as you notice you’re crossing over into overthinking, get moving and use that mental energy for something more constructive. 

Take a walk. Talk to a friend. Do a task that would take 100% of your focus (sketching the things around me works for me, but you can also try solving a Sudoku or a crossword puzzle!). 

The important thing is to redirect your energy. Which brings me to my next point…

2) Suppressing your emotions

Notice how I said redirect, not suppress. 

This is a common mistake people who are trying to stay cool do. It’s completely understandable, though, because sometimes we don’t know what else to do in the heat of the moment. 

The thing is, suppressing your emotions sets you up for a meltdown later on, when it has all piled up. That’s definitely not emotional mastery. 

True emotional regulation involves knowing how to express yourself still, but in a healthy way. 

For instance, if something upsets you, raise the matter calmly. Maintain an even tone and stay respectful. 

And you know what? Once you can do that, it frees you up and stops you from…

3) Keeping grudges

When I was younger, I could compete in the Grudge Olympics. I’m a non-confrontational person, so I definitely belong (or rather, used to belong) to the group of people who bury all their negative emotions instead of expressing them. 

In time, I realized that I was the only one suffering. I’d nurse a grudge against somebody while they went along their merry way, living life unhampered by my ill will. 

When you forgive and let go, it means you’re choosing to be emotionally healthy over being bitter. And that’s a real step towards emotional mastery

4) Seeking validation from others

Another behavior to say goodbye to if you want to master your emotions is to stop wishing for other people’s approval. 

You see, emotional mastery is an inside job. Seeking others’ approval is an external validation. Those two are not connected. 

On the surface, they might look like they are, but really, they shouldn’t be. If you base your self-worth on someone else’s opinion of you, it’s bound to be weak and shaky. 

Because the minute that person disapproves of you or something you did, that sense of self will crumble down. 

Instead, work on being your own cheerleader. Cultivate self-compassion so you can be kind to yourself when you fail to meet a goal. 

That way, you don’t have to be at the mercy of someone else’s judgments, and you won’t feel crushed when they look at you in a negative light. 

5) Comparing yourself to others

This is closely connected to my previous point. The comparison game, just like seeking others’ approval, is a form of external validation

So, it has no business in your life if you want to develop emotional mastery. 

And think about this – what you’re seeing isn’t the full picture anyway. You’re only seeing what other people choose to show, and it wouldn’t be fair to compare your full picture with their highlights. 

Focus on your own progress. Relieve yourself of the burden of not feeling enough or successful when measured up against your peers. 

6) Neglecting self-care

Focusing on your own progress includes taking care of yourself. Because let’s face it – responding the right way to overwhelming situations is practically impossible when you’re frazzled and burned out. 

I notice this in myself even today. When I don’t get enough me-time or when I work too hard, I’m quick to snap at people. I lose my cool in a traffic jam. I bite my husband’s head off at the slightest irritation. 

Research shows that taking time to recharge reaps huge benefits in the way of mental and emotional health. And it’s a lovely cycle – 

More self-care = more emotional intelligence = more self-care 

So go ahead and tell people when you need to step back and recharge. You’re definitely entitled to it! 

And while you’re at it, stop…

7) Ignoring boundaries

While we’re on the topic of self-care, we can’t leave out the importance of boundaries. 

If you’re always saying yes when you want to say no, you’re setting yourself up for stress and resentment. 

Similarly, if you’re frequently overstepping others’ boundaries, you’re creating a tense and emotionally-charged environment. 

Again, mindfulness is key here. Pay attention to your comfort zones and those of others. 

Even unpleasant encounters and difficult conversations are less likely to become overly emotional when everyone feels respected. 

8) Not identifying your triggers

Can you pinpoint the hot-button topics or behaviors that make you lose control? 

You can’t master what you don’t understand, right? Yet many of us go through life getting emotionally tripped up because we can’t identify what’s setting us off. 

For me, getting interrupted is a real trigger. In the past, whenever a colleague interrupted me at meetings, I’d be fuming deep inside. Or if I’ve had a really bad day, I’d snap at the person who interrupted me. 

The funny thing is, I didn’t even realize at first how much it ticked me off. I just knew I dreaded having meetings because I often felt so annoyed afterwards. 

That’s why, like I mentioned earlier, self-awareness is key. You’ll have to sit down and really sift through what makes you so anxious or irritable. 

You can try journaling – document your days and maybe you’ll see a pattern emerge. Maybe it will help you spot those emotional highs and lows more clearly and follow the trail to the root cause.  

Or you could do the Five Whys Technique – always a useful tool for getting to root causes. It’s pretty much like playing detective – you keep asking “Why” and it will lead you to the very core of the matter. 

Here’s a template that might come in useful for trying out this technique: 

  • What is the issue/problem?
  • Why did the problem occur?
  • Why did the reason in question 2 happen?
  • Why did the reason in question 3 happen?
  • Why did the reason in question 4 happen?

That way, you can then map out a plan in preparation for possible emotional landmines – which could be simple emotional preparation or plain avoiding the situation. 

This leads me to my final point…

9) Not developing strategies for better responses

Look, it’s not enough to know your triggers. The next question is, “What will you do about it?”

Let’s say you’ve identified that getting stuck in traffic makes you angry for the rest of the day. Knowing that is a good start, but what are you going to do to manage that bad mood effectively? 

The bottom line is, emotional mastery takes practice. And you’ll only get good at it if you have a plan, just like you would for any skill you’re trying to develop.

Fortunately, we now have a lot of information and support around this. Here are some examples of strategies for dealing with overwhelming emotions: 

  • Meditation and calming exercises
  • Having an internal script ready to use to deal with a challenging situation
  • Counting to ten before responding in a heated argument
  • Visualization exercises
  • Attending therapy to address deeper emotional issues

Without a concrete plan, you’re putting your emotions in charge of you, not the other way around. 

Final thoughts

Mastering your emotions is one of the most powerful skills that can really improve the quality of your life. 

When you can take control of them, life’s disappointments and challenges need not feel crushing. You don’t need to get rocked off the boat and thrown out in deep water. 

In a nutshell, you’d still feel the whole spectrum of emotions, but you’re better equipped to handle them. And that makes for a deeply satisfying and productive life where you’re the one in charge, not your feelings.

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