I’ve always wondered, how do you master your emotions? I’m a guy who likes to have total control over myself. Be that diet, strength, or even how long I let my beard go. What makes my emotions any different? Emotional mastery is just as important to me.
So much so, I've dedicated years of my life trying to understand myself.
See, when I was a teenager, my dad constantly told me –with his concerned fatherly voice–, “Jose, every time you lose your cool, you lose even if you’re right.”
To say I had a temper as a teenager would be putting it lightly.
I would clash constantly with my brother. It would start with me getting upset at something he may or may not have done. Then it would turn into a shouting match that sometimes ended with us taking swings at each other.
Dad would have to separate us. When he calmed things down, I blew every opportunity to state my case. Why? Because I couldn’t keep my cool.
My father's speech was always the same. He’d look at me, disappointed in a way only fathers can and he’d say:
“Every time you lose your cool, you lose even if you’re right.”
It took me years to understand what he meant.
Dad constantly told me –with a concerned fatherly voice–, “Jose, every time you lose your cool, you lose even if you’re right.”
It took me years to understand what he meant.
— José Rosado | Freelancing & Online Marketing (@joserosado) May 5, 2020
I mean, at the time, I thought I was right. You know what? I knew I was right. But, of course, my brother believed he was right also.
Here’s the thing though, my brother was wrong and I was right. Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do? Stand your ground? How come I was being punished when he was the one who started it all?
Flash forward twenty years to today.
Today, I rarely lose my cool – if you told that to fifteen-year-old Jose he’d laugh in your face.
Even my twenty-year-old self would be amazed.
I have battled with anxiety for years. But by following the guidelines I share in this post, I’m now able to, not only reduce stress and anxiety, but also control my reaction to monumental events that have occurred throughout my life.
When my emotions try to put me into a frenzy, I, like most people, battle the urge to burst into flames of anger or drown in sadness. I’ve learned how to keep myself calm and collected despite wanting to lash out.
Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean I don’t let my anger show every once in a while – I’m human after all.
Don’t get me wrong sometimes it can feel good to indulge your emotions. Hell, it’s healthy. But overindulgence? Like in all aspects of our lives it’s the overindulging that causes problems.
While inside I might be feeling scared, sad, mad, disgusted, worried, stressed, or anxious, I never feel like I have to act out. Most importantly, I don’t let my emotions dictate my actions.
This is all because I’ve applied the tenants of emotional mastery.
As a result,
- I've avoided doing and saying stuff I know I would later regret.
- Been able to maintain a strong and healthy marriage where we can communicate openly and honestly.
- Created a successful online business.
- Built a huge online following in a short space of time.
I believe that if I hadn’t discovered the emotional mechanism I’m about to reveal to you, I would be broke, homeless, or worse dead in my twenties.
Now I know what you’re thinking; Jose, you’re being overly dramatic.
No, I’m being honest. Stress and anxiety issues run in my family. I’ve seen what can happen.
Again, emotional mastery is not about being a mindless zombie that has no feelings. Above all, it’s not about ignoring what you’re feeling at a given moment. It’s also not about shunning your feelings, representing your thoughts, or denying space to experience life with intensity.
It’s so much more than that.
Let me repeat so you and I are on the same page: Emotional mastery is not about amputating your feelings.
And, in the event that, I decided to write ‘how to master your emotions’ in the hope that you can find simple ideas to begin your journey of mastering your emotions.
These ideas can help pave the way for your road of self-discovery with:
- a clear understanding of how your emotions affect how I perceive reality.
- a deep realization of how your thoughts lead to unwanted behavior.
- clear short-term and long-term strategies you master my emotions.
So, how do you start mastering your emotions?
It all begins by understanding what is emotional mastery.
What is emotional mastery?
As we age, we experience a roller coaster of emotions.
Pets die. Parents divorce. We flunk exams. Or our partner breaks up with us.
Maybe we graduate with high honors. Or we marry The One. Maybe you land the job of your dreams.
Every single one of those experiences takes us to different places inside the emotion stack.
Emotional mastery is the art of becoming aware of what you’re feeling. Learning how to lead yourself out of negative emotional states. When you use that you can use it to better your life.
Become aware of your self-doubt.
"I can't do this."
"What will my family say?"
"I suck at this"
"People will blast me for saying this."
Destroy your toxic self-talk!
— José Rosado | Freelancing & Online Marketing (@joserosado) April 5, 2020
All that said, let’s talk about what I call the Emotional Mastery Framework.
Emotional Mastery Framework
Emotional Mastery is built on top of all your life experiences, your values, your choices, your emotions, and your feelings. It also takes into account how you respond to inner and outer stimuli.
There’s so much complexity that it makes my head spin.
So, to help myself understand this, I discovered a simple framework to control my emotions.
Imagine your emotions like a chihuahua, let’s call him Buttercup. You’re at the park. With no lead on Buttercup is outta control. Running wherever it wants. Barking away, annoying other dogs. You need to get it under control or it might run out into traffic. It’s not little Buttercup’s fault. The dog can’t put it’s own leash on. Your dog is your responsibility. Your feelings are your responsibility. It’s up to you to put the leash on.
The system I’m about to show you can help you put your feelings on a leash. Once you’re in command of your inner world you have a better chance of fixing your outer world.
Introducing the Emotional Mastery Framework.
First, you become aware of your emotions by being mindful of the changes in your physical state. Are you sensing an increase in your heart rate? Is your chest getting hot? Do you feel your ears getting warmer? What about your breath? Is it accelerating? All of this might indicate that you're getting mad.
Second, you assign meaning to these emotions. This is what we call feelings.
Thirdly, we put what we’re feeling into words – we’ll talk about why this is important in a couple of moments.
Finally, we decide on the actions we should take to make things right.
So let’s get started by doing a deep dive into each of the steps of the Emotional Mastery Framework.
People use emotions and feelings interchangeably.
But they aren’t the same.
To become develop a clear awareness of your emotions, you must first understand what's an emotion, and which are the most commons emotions we as humans experience.
Emotions are your physical reactions to inner and outer stimuli.
Imagine this: you’re at a dinner party with your girlfriend and friends. And, a couple of minutes in, you see your ex coming through the door (your girlfriend knows who she is, by the way). Before you can even say something, you take a deep breath while your body starts to tighten up. Your heart rate rises, your facial expression goes from a massive smile to a poker face, plus you’re stiff as a rock and not in a good way.
This change in your physical state is caused by a biochemical reaction inside your brain.
This physical response is what we call an emotion.
And these responses are what triggers the feelings.
Feelings, on the other hand, are the conscious interpretations you assign to these stimuli.
Your feelings are influenced by, not only the physical changes caused by the emotion, but also your subjective experience and personal beliefs.
Why Feelings vs Emotions
Most people understand what they feel. Others don’t even notice they’re having an emotional response.
Their emotions and feelings are disconnected. So they are not conscious of the emotion.
That’s why you’ll find people that have no idea how to react when a loved one dies, or when they’re getting buried with work.
Now, I won’t be going deeper on this distinction. Why? Because the main point is that you understand that those physical reactions you have are more important than what you realize.
Once you learn to become aware of these slight changes in your physicality, you can:
- Understand what triggers these emotions (physical reactions).
- Cut down or avoid circumstances that trigger these emotions.
- Make informed decisions about future decisions and actions you’ll be taking.
All that said, which are the most common emotions people experience?
The 7 Universal Emotions
World-renowned psychologist Paul Ekman has suggested that there are 7 universal emotions.
Now, this doesn’t mean that there are only 7 emotions. On the contrary! The human experience cannot be pinned down to only 7 emotions. The purpose of describing these 7 universal emotions is to ease the process of learning about ourselves.
See, “emotions are comprise of a family of related emotional states which are variations on a shared theme.1”
In other words, you could experience various emotions and feelings at the same time.
In the following table, you'll find the universal emotions, the usual physical cues associated with given emotions, and what usually triggers them:
|Emotion||Usual Physical Cues||Usual Triggers|
|Happiness / Enjoyment||Smile, pleasant tone on voice, relaxed body, feeling uplifted, warmth||A pleasurable sensation derived from any of your 5 senses, witnessing goodwill, reducing suffering on yourself or others, personal achievement, witnessing something humorous, feeling of connection with yourself and/or others|
|Anger||Furrowed brow, Opened wide eyes, lips pressed tightly, muscle tension, clenched jaw and/or fist||Injustice, someone tries to hurt you or a loved one, another person’s anger, betrayal, interference (there’s an obstacle you feel you can’t remove)|
|Sadness||Mouth turns down, voice becomes lower in pitch and/or volume, stinging in the throat, eyes watering up.||Rejections, endings, loss, unexpected outcomes, sickness, death of a loved one.|
|Surprise||Raised eyebrows, jaw drop, attentiveness, stepping backwards, gasps||Loud sounds, unexpected movements, unexpected outcomes|
|Fear||Increase heart rate, muscles tightens up, wide-eyes, shortness of breath, trembling, sweating||Darkness (lack of light), heights, rejection, creepy animals, death|
|Disgust||Upper lips curls, nose wrinkles, revolusion on your stomach, nausea, physical repulsion||Bodily fluids, weird foods, rot, injuries, physical ugliness, perceived perverted actions|
|Contempt||Raised lip on one side of the face, tension in the face. |
Note: this is a weird emotion. Some people might sense it with similar physical cues of anger, others might the cues of enjoyment, other to that of disgust.
|Immoral actions from a group or individual you perceive as inferior – emphasis on “perceive as inferior.”|
Putting what you feel into word
Thinking about the different ways you feel and learning to identify how you feel is a great way to start mastering your emotions.
When you’re sensing the emotions and feelings overwhelming you, name them.
Now, your immediate thoughts might be to say, “I am mad” or “I am sad.”
You must avoid framing it like that.
Instead say, “This is anger,” or “This is sadness.”
See, you don’t want to give power to these feelings. Especially the negative ones.
You want to remove yourself from the equation so call the feeling by its name.
According to a study done by UCLA psychologist Matthew Lieberman, “putting feelings into words may activate this part of the prefrontal cortex, which may in turn suppress the area of the brain that produces emotional distress.2”
In simpler words, when you name the emotion, you ease the emotional distress it causes.
Now you have an understanding of the following:
- What the difference is between emotion and a feeling
- The 7 universal emotions
- How they affect the brain
- How putting your sensations into words helps you reduce emotional distress
It’s now time for me to introduce you to some simple strategies to begin mastering your emotions.
Short-term strategies to master your emotions
The Emotional Mastery Framework has key components that work in tandem.
They consist of short-term and long-term strategies.
The short-term strategies are meant for mostly physical activities or mental exercises to change your mood, reduce your current stress, change your mental state, and lessen the constant mental strain that modern life puts on us.
The long-term strategies are paradigm shifts, ie, changing your mindset.
You cannot rely on one set of strategies. You can’t have one without the other. Both short and long term strategies must be implemented for emotional mastery.
Both your body and mind are interconnected. Putting both to work is of paramount importance to become a master of your emotions.
That said, these are NOT rules. These are simple guidelines. When followed they will help change how you view reality itself.
Now, I understand that it feels like I’m being hyperbolic with what I just told you. But, wouldn’t you agree that being in full control of your emotions and actions would be a great asset when it comes to mastering yourself? Don’t you owe it to yourself to change your life for the better?
My guess is that you’ve said yes.
Let’s dive into the 6 short-term strategies to master your emotions.
I got a call from Dad on a Monday morning. “Jose,” he said with a somber voice, “I need to talk with you and your brother about mom. Can you come here at 8 pm?”
“Is everything OK with mom, dad?” I replied.
Days before mom had gotten awfully sick. I was terrified about what dad was going to tell us.
Me, being me, my mind tends to go will go to a dark place. It’s always a worst-case scenario for me. I’m always prepared for the worst. That day was no different.
“Mom is dead,” I thought to myself.
I kept thinking about it over and over. Replaying a scene that hadn’t happened. How I would react. Bracing myself for impact
When I arrived it wasn’t that bad. In fact, it’s rarely ever as bad as I imagine it will be. Dad said mom was fine. Nothing “bad” had happened.
Still, this was the first time my dad called a meeting like this. I was still in worst-case-scenario mode.
The meeting was still hours away. I still had things to do but mom was weighing heavy on my mind.
So here’s what I do when I’m in a situation I have no control over.
I distract myself.
The simplest way to distract yourself is this happen is to get started on something.
Whenever you feel anxious about a difficult situation you must face, just start working on something.
Easier said than done, right?
Here’s how to make this work for you.
Force yourself to work on something for 5 minutes. That’s all. 5 minutes. Set a timer. Once you get started, your brain will crave completion. It’s a natural process of the brain. The brain cannot stand incompleteness.
Want an example? Ever get a song stuck in your head? Bet you have. Usually an advert jingle or some catchy pop song. Do you think it’s an accident? 100% no chance. They want that song repeating in your head because it means you’ll keep thinking about the song. Thinking about the song makes you think about what they’re selling. If you think about it you're more likely to buy.
Why? Because your brain wants the loop of the jingle closed.
If advertising executives are manipulating your brain do you not owe it to yourself to manipulate your own brain to better your own life?
Once you apply this technique, you’ll have a better chance of managing your emotions. Distracting yourself, distract your emotions.
Change your environment
Your environment influences your mood in unimaginable ways.
Have you ever entered a room where you got chills down your spine? You don’t know why but you’re immediately uncomfortable?
Or have you been in a place where you’re just in awe of your surroundings?
You can change your environment to influence your mood and your actions.
If you’re having a tough time concentrating, change rooms (just don’t go to your bedroom, please!)
Experiment with different places in your office and home. See how you feel.
If you’re like most people, you’ll feel a sense of novelty.
This sensation shoots dopamine through your brain.
Dopamine is “involved in reward, motivation, memory, attention and even regulating body movements.3”
This will boost your mood and you’ll might even start to feel a change.
Surround yourself with things that inspire you.
And you will feel inspired.
Exercising has proven to be one of the most effective ways to better your life.
It’s a great way to distract yourself too.
I asked a friend, “You’re always smiling, man. Do you ever get mad?”
“Yes,” he replied
So I asked, “So what do you do when you’re mad?”
He told me that he goes for a run but then he hit me with a phrase that stuck with me.
“You can’t be mad when you’re out of breath.”
Next time you feel anger, tire yourself out.
Write down what you’re thinking
As you know, one of the components of the Emotional Mastery Framework is putting your sensations, emotions, and feelings into words.
There’s also a therapeutic aspect to it as well.
Another study performed by UCLA psychologist Matthew Lieberman, suggests that “verbalizing an emotion may activate the right ventral lateral prefrontal cortex, which then suppresses the areas of the brain that produce emotional pain.4”
In short, when in doubt write it out.
Keep your writing simple. Don’t focus on word count, or crafting perfect prose. Just write all the words that come into your head.
If you feel your stress levels spike whilst writing, stop.
Find a different way to distract yourself.
Allow your emotions to flow
How would you be able to understand your emotions if you never stop to sense them?
Allow yourself to feel.
- What am I feeling on my body?
- Where am I feeling this tension/sensation/relaxation?
Now, don’t take too long to try to identify your emotions.
This is nothing more than a quick exercise you perform before proceeding to meditate.
Here's where Eckman's study chimes in. Take a peek at the universal emotions table you just saw a couple of moments ago, and try to internalize the usual physical cues each emotion evokes.
Meditate to master your emotion
When I was 17 years old, I was with my family and we were traveling home. Out of nowhere, I felt a weird sensation in my chest. My palms started to sweat, my heart was galloping. I started to feel nervous.
I was sitting in the backseat of the car, so I tried to take up more space trying to comfort myself.
It was getting dark, and I remember resting my head on the door and I looked out the window. We went past a hospital, but I didn’t say a thing.
I gave it my all trying to resist this weird sensation – did I tell you I was a stubborn kid?
But the sensation was getting worse.
“Mommm,” I said, “I’m not feeling so good.”
Mom and dad looked at me (dad through the rearview mirror, because he was the driver).
They asked what was wrong. I explained to them that I felt my heart racing. I felt agitated and overwhelmed by a sense of “everything is about to end.”
Dad did a u-turn. He drove me to the hospital we’d just passed.
We got there I was rushed in. The doctor sorted me out.
What I had just experienced was my first panic attack.
Once we got home, mom introduced me to meditation.
I remember her saying meditation is making your mind blank – as if that were something a 17-year-old boy could do.
Still, her guidance, got me interested in meditation. While I’m not a big meditator anymore, I still find it useful when I’m feeling overwhelmed by my workload.
That said, meditation has saved me from going mad, as that was not my last panic attack.
Throughout the years, I had to battle with it. But, in the long run, I always succeed.
Every time I felt the sensation of a panic attack coming on I follow the procedure. I change my environment, ie, I’ll go into another room. I sit down and slowly breathe in and out until the emotions went away.
The benefits of meditation have been proven over, and over, and over again.
In my life, meditation helped me overcome anxiety and reduce stress.
A group of 40 undergraduate Chinese students went through 5-day meditation practice for a scientific study done by the National Academy of Sciences5. They specifically use the Integrative Body-Mind Training, a meditation method consisting of a “state of restful alertness that allows a high degree of awareness of the body, breathing, and external instructions.6”
This training method comes from ancient Chinese medicine tradition and incorporates some aspects of meditation.
This group of 40, compared to the control group, came out experiencing “lower anxiety, depression, anger, and fatigue.7”
All through the use of meditation.
So if you’re feeling anxious, sit down close your eyes and slow your breath. Trust me on this one. It works.
Long-term strategies to master your emotions
Understand that you are not your emotions
Your emotions are mostly an involuntary reaction to what’s happening to you inside and outside.
Emotions are, after all, your body’s way of telling you, “Hey, somethings happening! PAY ATTENTION!”
But, they are not you. And you’re not your emotions.
You’re what YOU decide to do with those emotions.
I remember my wife and I used to argue a lot.
It was a stressful time. I mean, here’s me arguing about nonsense with the person I decided to spend the rest of my life with.
Not cool, right?
I was letting my emotions and feelings spike me. My wife and I were struggling to speak to each other in a respectful tone.
That’s when I was introduced to the irrationality of the human mind.
See, part of that irrationality is what keeps us alive.
And there’s one particular idea that caught my attention.
The idea is that everyone is motivated by their own self-interest.
Unless someone is forced unwillingly to do something, they’ll tend to choose what makes them feel good.
Even things like giving away money to charity come from a place of self-interest.
Now, don’t get me wrong.
This is a good thing – most of the time.
If, for example, people didn’t feel good about themselves when they sent money to charity, they wouldn’t do it.
If people didn’t feel good about themselves when they did some good deeds, they wouldn’t do it.
The emotions and feelings we experience after doing a good deed are the incentives that keep us repeating them.
Accept you can’t control how you feel
I felt nothing when Perry died.
He was the family dog – and no, I’m not a psychopath…
My mom blasted into my bedroom crying, “Perry is dead.”
I was asleep at the time and didn’t really want to be disturbed. So I shrugged off the news that poor Perry was dead.
Yet, I still have the vivid memory of my mom weeping kneeling by my bedside, even though I was half-asleep.
The dog was gone. And there was nothing I could do about it.
“It’s only a dog,” I kept telling myself during the following days.
By now, you might be thinking, Jose, are you sure you’re not a psycho?.
I mean, how on earth can I shrug off the death of the family dog?
While I loved the little rascal, I didn’t felt any kind of emotion when he died… let alone, any negative feelings.
That said, I did remember how he always came running through the hallway to greet us when we got home from school.
Every day, he did the same thing, same time.
He ran and slammed the metal backdoor with his big paws.
I never noticed his loud, overly-enthusiastic reception until he was gone.
Next Monday, when we came back from school, there was no loud bang of Perry’s colliding with the door.
All you could hear was how quiet the house was now.
That was the moment when it finally sank in that Perry was gone.
Then I cried.
It was a flood.
Sometimes your emotions and feelings take time to arise. This is perfectly normal. You can’t control this, but you can influence it.
Movies, for example, influence our mood. That’s why you cry every time you see Pixar’s Up.
That’s why you feel happy when you see a long-lost friend.
That’s why you feel revulsion when you watch moronic politicians selling you big fat lies while taking no action.
That’s why you feel surprised when someone gives you a gift.
Or shock when you hear a comedian telling an offensive joke.
And while you can’t control how you’ll feel, you can certainly influence by willingly putting yourself into these kinds of situations.
Realize you can control how you act
While most things are outside of your domain of control, you still have the power to decide.
You could be feeling sad, or anxious about something – and that’s ok.
You have the right to experience these feelings.
Now, ask yourself, what would an average person do in a tough situation?
Most would say that the average person would quit, give up, let their emotional distress affect their ability to react.
You, on the other hand, what would you do now you have this information?
See, I’m one of those people that feels anxious when I procrastinate. Yet, I realize that I am the one deciding to procrastinate.
Take this article for example. I’ll admit writing this was tough.
It’s over 5,000 words long. I revealed personal life stories and my inner thoughts. Writing this has been uncomfortable. To be honest, I avoided it for as long as I could. I spent time writing other stuff and reading research articles.
I made the decision to procrastinate.
This decision came at a cost, as you might have expected.
That anxious feeling started to show up again.
At the same time, I thought I had to complete this article. What started out as a way to practice writing, SEO, and storytelling, become a behemoth. A beast that grew and grew. It grew so big that I hid from it every chance I had.
Do you see what I’m getting at?
I got anxious but I used this sensation a good motivator. An anxiousness that resulted in me sitting down and getting it under control. Getting the article written.
Reframe the emotion to use it as fuel
Your past is what made you who you are now. You are the sum of all your decisions, successes, failures, values. The books you read, the shows you watch. The friends you’ve made along the way, everything you’ve experienced. It all makes you who you are.
Throughout the years, you’ve experienced failure and regret… and you might even be feeling some of the repercussions of those failures to this day.
That said, you can reframe your emotions and failures into victories by learning from the experiences.
Do you remember what it was like learning how to ride a bike? You fell a good few times but, in the end, it taught you balance.
What about that time that you failed a test? You learned that you should study more.
Or how about that time you got fired? In my case, I learned never to depend on one source of income (but that’s a story for another time).
Once you learn how to detect the rising negative emotions, you can learn how to use them for your own good.
As I just told you, I was anxious writing this article and even more anxious sharing it with you. Why? Because I shared more of myself than I feel comfortable with. (I usually don’t talk about myself on these articles). The procrastination didn’t help much either.
I don’t know about you, the emotions and feeling I experience when anxiety and stress strike are the following:
- Tightening of my upper back
- Discomfort in my chest
Knowing this about myself has helped me take better care of how I handle my time and how I handle business. Any time I feel these emotions starting to choke me up, I always know how to lessen their influence over me: do the damn job.
This means I’ve reframed these emotions into motivators.
So let’s talk about taking action!
Take action – even if you don’t feel like it
See, I don’t want to feel my upper back tightening up – it’s very uncomfortable.
See, I hate feeling the pressure on my chest – it’s worrisome.
I also don’t want to feel guilty about leaving things half-baked.
So, I “run” away from those feelings and emotions by taking action.
Reframing your negative emotions and taking action go hand on hand.
Would you agree that staying stagnant could potentially make things worse?
I bet you would.
So whatever you’re going through at this moment, keep going! If you stop you’ll let those negative emotions catch up to you.
Never forget that you are the one who is in control. Not your emotions.
It's ok to be sad.
It's ok to be mad.
It's ok to feel distressed, stressed, and anxious.
We all experience these feelings.
But, what makes winners winners is that they keep moving forward regardless of their feelings.
— José Rosado | Freelancing & Online Marketing (@joserosado) April 23, 2020
- Master your breath, control your body
- Control your body control your emotional state
- When you control your state you control your brain
- When you control your brain you master yourself
- Master yourself and you can master the world
Take back control.
Master your emotions.