I spent the four years around the time I was in college working at a local department store as a “customer service associate” (fitting room cleaner and professional folder of clothing). It was a pretty soulless job for the most part- long shifts, working every holiday and weekend, pretty crappy pay, grumpy customers. You get it. One of the most challenging things about the job was the expectation of the supervisors that even when you’ve been on your feet for 6 hours, the store looks like 14 kindergarteners and a golden retriever played tag through the racks, and you know that the person scheduled to help clean up at 9:30 isn’t coming in, your face should be beaming with radiance. There should be a spring in your step. You should greet the next customer with a voice like the angels, full of hope and good will.
It blew my mind. My store manager would start every morning meeting by reminding us that this was like Disneyland, we were on stage at all times, our customers were guests in this paradise of retail. We could choose that moment if we were going to be bounding and eternally optimistic like Tigger or allow ourselves to be depressive sociopaths like Eeyore. I wasn’t buying it. Only mindless idiots would be able to completely distance themselves from life like that. Emotions were real things that happened to me and I had no control over them. It wasn’t pretty. The job was brutal at times and I reacted. I got talked to about my scowl every now and then. I would go in the stockroom and seethe. I complained to my co-workers, and my parents, and my classmates, and other customers.
Thankfully I wasn’t stuck in that mindset, or that job much longer. The mindset took significantly more work than leaving the job, but has been infinitely more impactful and empowering.
I would never suggest that emotions are no longer an issue for me. I still get frustrated when the bagger at the grocery store thinks that apples are made of titanium and throws them around like a bag of marbles, but it’s different now. I now understand that though we have some patterned emotions that seem to show up more often and into which we fall hard and fast, that is not the end of the story. Believe it or not, we have some choice in the matter. No, we can’t keep others from doing things that we find irritating. We can’t keep the children from pulling the milk off the table and splashing in the puddle. We don’t have the ability to instill our own superior driving skills in the other morons on the road. We can’t ensure that every day has constant sun and ends in a glorious sunset. But…
We have power.
What we can do is decide how we respond. We get to choose the meaning that we assign to things. We are able to decide that our happiness and well-being are more important than the endorphins that rush our brains when we freak out in traffic.
For some of us, those are some pretty ingrained patterns. It only takes a second for us to slip into those negative emotions, like slipping out of the bra and into the PJs when we get out of work. One second everything is fine and then BOOM! Someone makes an off-handed comment about our food choices and we are instantly in a place of self-hatred, withdrawn, thinking all sorts of horrible things about ourselves. I’ve been there. It makes sense. Your brain knows that pattern. It’s easy. It releases hormones that trick your brain and body into thinking that this is good for you. But is it what you want?
Have you ever let your emotions rob you of something beautiful?
Your kiddo came running into the house with mud all over his shoes, brimming with excitement, and instead of seeing the love in his eyes as he hands you a fresh-picked bouquet, you brushed him off, already in a frustrated rant about the floor.
It’s date night with your significant other and instead of focusing on you, present in the moment, he’s on the phone with work, and when the conversation ends instead of connecting you give him The Look and refuse to talk except in clipped cryptic bursts. Trust me hun, we’ve all been there. But the story doesn’t have to end there.
Next time you find yourself swimming in a flood of negative emotions, stop. Just for a minute. Pause and think about the situation. Think about your response. Will this problem matter tomorrow? If it will, is there something else you could get out of the situation? Something you could learn? Is your reaction serving you? Are you increasing your happiness, love, success by the way you are feeling?
If you aren’t able to decidedly say that these emotions make your life better, I dare you to change them. Get a new perspective. Choose to laugh instead of yell. Decide that you are worth more than self-doubt and loathing. Determine that anxiety will not keep you from having that amazing experience.
Because, baby, there’s better stuff out there, and it’s so worth it.
In looking for materials to link regarding this and almost all are geared towards children, which makes me think that we are supposed to have mastered this stuff in grade school…
http://projectlifemastery.com/how-to-master-your-emotions-the-6-steps-to-emotional-mastery/# -Stefan James at Project Life Mastery