There’s an interesting phenomenon that happens when I begin working with each new client — the people in their life begin to notice a kind of “glow” about them. But this happens far sooner than any significant weight loss so what exactly is it they’re noticing? It’s the energy shift the client is making from operating on autopilot, to being engaged in their life again. More specifically, it’s the re-connection with their emotions, after years of disregarding or coping with them. This article is the third in a series that examines how brain function affects change.
Emotions are a sign of aliveness. Most people operate within a narrow range of emotional experience, making strong or unfamiliar emotions potentially overwhelming. To have emotional capacity is to allow yourself to experience and express the full range of all of your emotions, not just the degree or type that you deem to be acceptable. To accept your humanness in this way is a large part of your inner work.
Emotions are also a sign of alignment. Every emotion you experience releases a matching chemical from your brain into your bloodstream, which creates a predictable physiological feeling in your Healthy Body. These feelings can then help you determine if you’re moving towards (congruent) or moving away from (incongruent) what you say you want. Essentially, you get what you feel in life.
Our emotions are triggered at an unconscious level by a lesser evolved part of our brain known as the limbic system, which dutifully functions but never matures. We actually need the executive functions of our more recently evolved pre-frontal cortex to bring reason to these emotional events, to move us from self-preserving reactions to more considered responses.
As a parent, one of the most important skills you can teach your child is how to process their emotions. Unfortunately, we don’t have to look far for evidence that most of us were never modelled or taught this ourselves. I cringe every time I see a child in an emotionally charged state and the parent circumventing this process by offering up a popsicle. In the years to come that child will struggle to unlearn those food associations.
So, skip the grief and practice the following:
Step 1: Be compassionate with your default emotion
Based on your wiring, you will naturally default to one of three key emotions: anxiety, anger or shame. Remember, this stems from an unconscious trigger — an innocent, childlike part of your brain — it’s not something to be judged.
Step 2: Acknowledge and be with the emotion
Regardless what emotion presents, name it and let the thoughts and feeling come rather than try to suppress them. Suppressing them is like stifling a yawn — your Healthy Body will still attempt to complete the process that has been started.
Step 3: Pause for the emotional wave
It takes less than 90 seconds to go from trigger point, to chemical surge, to having these flushed out of your bloodstream again. Most things you do or say that require an apology later generally happen during this wave so sit tight.
Step 4: Choose if you wish to continue the emotion
At this point, you’re “at choice”. If you continue to experience an emotion, it’s because you’ve chosen to trigger it via your thoughts again… and again. For example, fear is unavoidable at times but to stay in it is a cognitive choice.
Emotional regulation is about channelling the energy of your emotions in a productive way. It’s striking a balance between observing what your limbic system is presenting and engaging your pre-frontal cortex in perceiving your emotional experience. Without this, you’ll tend to suffer through your emotions or dampen them altogether, often through the use of food or other substances. As you practice these simple steps, more and more people in your life may begin to notice and ask “Did you do something different with your hair?”
Read the last part in this series Your Brain and Change: Part 4 Nutrition and Fitness