Life happens. No matter how safely we tread—or even if we throw ourselves out there—we can’t protect ourselves or anticipate every situation headed our way.
The uncertainty of life can either evoke fear and seem nebulous and scary…or it can be embraced as dynamic and spontaneous!
You may have dealt with HUGE monster-sized problems. These monster-sized problems might have been downright awful—illness, divorce, the death of someone close to you. They might have felt barely insurmountable.
Or maybe your life’s been moving along smoothly, but you’ve hit a few little bumps on the road. Little uncomfortable, uncertain “situations” have cropped up. Things didn’t go your way. You’re the oldest or youngest person in your department and don’t always feel you fit in; you had a falling out with a friend or you’ve struggled to connect. You’ve put on 5 or 10 pounds and are feeling blah.
In any situation, big or small, you have a choice. Either take it as a chance to go deeper, engage, learn and grow; or run away from the feelings and hope they go away.
Guess what? Feelings don’t go away.
And that’s okay! Feelings aren’t bad or wrong.
Now, I know, I know, you’re thinking, “Yeah right! What about Anger? Fear? Sadness? Those feelings are pretty awful!”
I’ll say it again. There are NO bad feelings.
In fact, when you learn how powerful and amazing feelings are, you’ll start to look for new opportunities to jump in. Feelings are milestones on our path to self-discovery. When we feel, embrace and fully engage our feelings, we’re learning and unlocking a world of self-exploration.
Most of us have been in an uncomfortable or socially awkward situation, right? We’ve said the wrong thing or we’ve had to speak in public and forgotten our lines.
What do we do? Well, first our face turns RED. Then we think, “Ugh, I just want to crawl in a hole right now and hide.”
What about when we get bad news? We might feel numb. We might avoid going to a spot where we feel emotions. We might wonder if what we’re feeling is “normal” and tamp it down or “keep a stiff upper lip.”
The next time you’re faced with a situation—painful, frightening, or even simply uncomfortable, I want you to go all in. Identify what you’re feeling, label it, but don’t avoid it.
I know this sounds strange. Many of us live our lives carefully cultivating and curating our personas. We want to be seen in a certain way. We might want to be noticed, but many of us don’t want to stand out. We don’t want people to judge us or think negatively about us.
Here’s the deal, though. Most of the judgement is in our own heads. Most people don’t notice what we’re doing (they’re too busy hiding their own emotions). We put a version of ourselves out there WE think we should project. It’s what we think those around us want. Really, they most likely don’t notice or care.
Think about it—the last time a friend cried or got angry or was frightened, what did you think of them? Chances are, you probably tried to empathize. You probably reassured them. You probably didn’t think, “What a loser! How is this person crying over their sick cat?”
When we hold back our emotions and avoid painful or uncomfortable situations, we actually miss out. We miss out on the full spectrum of human experience. We miss out on opportunities to flex our sadness muscles, our frightened muscles, our angry muscles. We miss out on self-exploration.
Do you know what happens when athletes don’t use their muscles? They lose tone. They become slower and weaker. They become dulled and unable to keep up.
I want you to become an emotional athlete. I want you to take each new opportunity to feel and go for the gold!
When you’re happy, I don’t want you to simply think, “Wee, I’m happy.” I want you blissed out, over the top, joyful!
When you’re hurt, don’t shy away from it. Explore it. WHY are you hurt? What did you learn about your reactions and emotions from this situation?
Angry? Feel it! Let it out! Yell, rage, get mad. It’s perfectly okay to be angry!
Since childhood, many of us learn to tamp down our emotions. Women, if we were upset, what do we hear? “Don’t get all emotional about it,” or “Sheesh, you’re so sensitive!”
For guys, the approach is a little different, but the message is still the same, “Toughen up! Boys don’t cry!”
Guess what? Your emotions are okay. They’re powerful. They enrich your experience. Feelings extract a stronger and more vibrant you. Feeling is what keeps us alive. From a neuroscientific perspective, our emotions keep us cognitively sharp and on our game.
Identify your emotions, feel them and most importantly explore them. View the world as a huge experiment—a learning opportunity and a chance to grow and evolve.
We think of growing as kid stuff, right? When we’re kids and even teens, we’re doing all sorts of growing. We’re learning how to interact with people. We’re learning how to navigate social situations. We’re learning how to “put our best foot forward” and “make a great impression” (and basically how to hide our emotions and avoid confrontation).
As we get to adulthood, we become more set in our ways. This is often why adults describe time as passing quickly. Growing up, and even into our 20s and early 30s, we may feel like time is an endless stretch in front of us. As we get into our 40s, 50s and beyond, time seems to speed up. Years pass faster and faster.
As kids, we’re constantly exposed to new situations and new stimuli. Summers feel endless. School days feel like centuries. When we get older, we’re exposed to fewer and fewer new situations. Our brain doesn’t need to process the information to make sense of it. When our brain doesn’t need to work so hard, we perceive time as moving “faster.”
Neuroscientist David Eagleman did studies at Baylor University on time perception. Participants were shown flash cards for a few seconds each. Many of the cards showed the same image of a shoe. Every so often a card would pop up with a flower. Participants reported the card with the flower was shown for much longer (3-4 seconds) as opposed to the shoe (1-2 seconds).
Here’s the kicker—there was no variation in the length of time participants were shown the cards. The flower appeared longer, because it was different. Their brains had to take more time to process the flower. It had a “novelty effect.”
So, if we want to slow down aging, feel younger, have more time and more vibrancy what do we need to do? We need to embrace new situations! We need to add novelty. We need to mix it up—break out of our comfort zone!
If you’ve been through a painful experience, like a divorce, there’s a tendency to want to move forward quickly. We want to make the best out of a bad situation, but we want to gloss over it. We wish our lives could go back to the familiar place they were before. We wish we could feel comfortable again.
Instead, a life change, no matter how painful or unfortunate, is a great opportunity to transform! It’s a wonderful moment to really allow yourself to fully experience the spectrum of emotion you are feeling. View your situation through a new prism. Explore your role and reactions leading up to this point. Learn more about who you are and your vision for YOU.
The world is a huge playground for self-exploration. We can’t simply sit in the familiar sandbox and do the same activities over and over. We need to get out there and explore different play. Find out what you like and what you enjoy. Become the best version of yourself you want to be!
For more on embracing your emotions, putting yourself out there and making the best of bad situations, visit The Wright Foundation. We’re currently in our Nourishment & Self-Care Quarter and we’ll be hosting several workshops and opportunities for you to delve into your emotional core! Check out our upcoming events here.
Dr. Judith Wright is a media favorite, sought-after inspirational speaker, respected leader, peerless educator, bestselling author, & world-class coach.
She is a co-founder of Wright and the Wright Graduate University.
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The Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential is a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Foundation performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.