Saturday, February 7, 2009

Emotional Balance

You may recall that on January 19th, in my post The Goal, I said that I wanted to take a closer look at why I don’t share particular thoughts with others, and question whether my reasons are valid. I’m happy to report that I’ve been doing that, and finding that I’ve often held back for no good reason at all. Once I started examining this self-censoring process at the level of individual thoughts, I found that I either couldn’t think of much justification for holding back, or I had a vague sense that someone might react negatively to my comment. If I had the fear of negative reaction, I’ve generally challenged myself to reword the comment in another way to make it less objectionable, or to just say it to see if I really would get the reaction I was expecting.

Because I’m now examining my thoughts and feelings in greater detail now, I’m also noticing something else that’s really important. I’ve become aware of how I shape my own emotional states through expectation. I’m finding that if I say or do something expecting that it will have a positive result (like someone will be pleased or impressed), most of the time the reaction I get falls short of the expectation, and I feel disappointment. On the other hand, if I have a negative expectation, like someone will frown at me in response to something I say, then I tend to restraint myself. If I don’t actually say it, then my assumption never gets tested, and it’s as if I did get the negative reaction (thanks to my own imagination) because I never gave reality the chance to disprove my belief.

By being able to observe these states inside myself, I’ve been developing emotional balance, and I can feel when I am emotionally centered, and when I am starting to get off-balance. When I sense myself beginning to imagine a specific positive outcome from something I’m doing, I now know that I’m setting myself up for disappointment. When I sense myself beginning to imagine a specific negative outcome, I now know I’m setting myself up for fear and self-restraint. The ideal state seems to be uncertainty. In the state of uncertainty, I am receptive, curious, and sensitive to meaningful feedback. In the state of uncertainty, I can change my plan in appropriate ways as new information becomes available. But one of the many hazards of being human is that humans don’t like uncertainty. When we’re trying anything new or different, we like to have some sense of what the risks are, and what the payoff will likely be. We like to be secure in thinking we understand the probable consequences of our actions. But, ironically, thinking we already know the likely outcome may keep us from seeing the actual outcome, or may lead us to disappointment because the small positive we achieve fails to measure up to the big positive we expect.

Staying emotional balanced means not letting yourself get too far into either a positive or a negative expectation. If you can’t maintain an attitude of uncertainty, at least try to balance out the positive and negative expectations. If you’re imagining you’ll get a big reward from something you’re working on, stop to think about what could go wrong and how you might deal with it. If you’re imagining a negative outcome, stop to ask yourself why you think this will happen, and whether you could possibly be wrong.

What strategies do you have for staying emotionally balanced?

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed this thoughtful post, Clarissa.

    I would hardly say that I remain in emotional balance, but I do find that prayer and sacred ritual are very helpful. The letting go and cleansing, the sense of being connected to a power greater than myself, is calming.