The story you tell yourself shapes your emotions

As we go through life, we think our emotions are just a product of the situations we find ourselves in. But, there’s a path to action that links the stimuli we see and hear to the way we feel afterward.

The truth is, we control our emotions — they’re a choice. They aren’t just a product of circumstance. Rather, emotions result from the story we tell ourselves about what’s happening.

Here’s how the path to action unfolds.

First, we see and hear something. Maybe you’re working on a report and your boss checks up on you three times an hour to offer suggestions, so you tell yourself a story about your boss.

You might say:

My boss is a micromanager.

My boss is mean.

My boss is getting a lot of pressure from her boss.

There’s a wide range of stories we can tell, and we just choose one. It’s almost like we ask, “What’s the most hurtful way I can take this?” and then choose that story.

You decide that your boss is micromanaging because he/she questions your capabilities and thinks you’re incompetent.

Now emotions enter the picture. If that’s the story you tell yourself, how does it make you feel? You probably feel hurt, defensive, and angry. How do you act? Maybe you hold a grudge and refuse to respond to the boss’s suggestions. Your emotions and actions change based on the story you tell, and that story is a choice.

The real power comes when you tell yourself a new story to change your emotions. When we start to pay attention, we see the path to action at play everywhere.

For example, someone cuts you off in line at the market and doesn’t say, “Excuse me.”

Why did they do that?

We quickly assume that they did this because they’re mean or inconsiderate, rather than realise they cut you in line because they had a baby in both arms and didn’t even notice you. Usually, we assume incorrectly.

So, instead of asking, “What’s wrong with that person?” ask, “Why would a reasonable, rational, and decent person do this?”

When you allow your emotions to take you in an unhealthy direction there’s a huge cost. We lose trust and we damage relationships. But when you can master your emotions, you have so much more power to wield influence.

When you’re holding someone accountable and your emotions get the best of you, ask yourself, “What’s another story I could tell?”

That will help you to create a new, more powerful and effective emotion.

When we let our emotions get the best of us, we contribute to a culture of silence.

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