Let these bad habits go and your emotional strength will riseIt’s a common misconception that some people are just “emotionally strong” while others are not.
And while there are of course some genetic influences on how well we handle our emotions, the much bigger influence is this:
- They get caught up in bouts of worry and anxiety.
- They fly off the handle in anger without knowing why.
- They get lost in bouts of depression and low mood.
But often what leads to all this emotional struggle is a collection of destructive mental habits—often learned and reinforced long ago in early childhood but never unlearned.
Thankfully, anyone can learn to become more emotionally strong. The key is to identify and eliminate the unhelpful mental habits that cause so much unnecessary emotional suffering.
Let go of these 4 habits and you’ll find that you area far more emotionally strong than you believe.
- To instantly cheer up when they’re feeling down.
- To immediately calm down when they’re feeling anxious.
- To cool off when they’re feeling frustrated or angry.
But if you stop and think about it, is this really a realistic goal?
If feeling happy, for example, were as simple as flipping your happiness switch, no one would ever need to visit therapists like me or read self-improvement articles like this one!
Unfortunately, when you do try and force yourself feel differently, it usually doesn’t go so well…
- When you feel bad emotionally, chances are you take one of two approaches: You either try to escape your painful feeling or fix it. The problem is, when you try to avoid your painful feelings, you’re teaching your brain that those feelings are dangerous.
- Which means that even if you “succeed” in feeling better in the moment, your brain will be afraid the next time that emotion pops up, leading to a double dose of painful emotion.
So, the next time you feel bad or upset, instead of asking: How can I make this feeling go away?
Try this:What can I do despite feeling bad and that would be good for me?
As human beings, our ability to think rationally and creatively is one of our greatest strengths. Without it, we wouldn’t have Beethoven’s sonatas, democratic forms of government, the novels of Charles Dickens, or a cure for polio.
But for every interesting, creative, or even genius idea our minds produce, it also generates a lot of nonsense.
Here’s an example: 2 + 2 = 5.
If you read that, the thought “2 + 2 = 5” was in your head. But the simple fact that you thought it doesn’t make it true.
Of course, it’s not just irrational thoughts that our mind produces: the mind is also capable of generating thoughts that are actually unhelpful or even downright evil. Thoughts can lead to concentration camps and chemical warfare just as easily as Habitat for Humanity or The Peace Corp.
The point is this:
When you assume every thought your mind throws at you is true, you end up thinking more about that thought:
If some negative self-talk about a recent mistake you made pops into your mind, your habit of believing all your thoughts is going to lead to a lot of excess guilt and shame.
- If an irrational worry about your spouse dying in a car crash on their way home from work pops into your mind, your habit of believing all your thoughts is going to lead to a lot of excess anxiety.
- If an irrational judgment of a coworker pops into your mind, your habit of believing all your thoughts is going to lead to a lot of excess frustration and possibly rude behavior.
Stop believing that all your thoughts are true, and you’ll stop overthinking so much.
For many people, change signifies danger. And so, they go about their lives consciously and unconsciously trying to keep things steady and stable, all in an attempt to minimize the emotional discomfort that goes along with changes in life.The problem is….
Change is inevitable, whether you like it or not.
- People you love die or leave.
- Jobs and careers come and go.
- Friendships evolve and change.
- Plans get disrupted or ruined.
Life is change. And if you’re not very good at dealing with change, it’s going to be a bumpy ride:
- People who are afraid of change and try to avoid it, and up chronically anxious and overwhelmed.
- People who struggle against change are often chronically resentful and disappointed because life never seems to go according to their plans.
- People who can’t stand interpersonal change, often end up lonely and isolated because they don’t allow themselves to be intimate for fear of getting hurt.
This doesn’t mean they’re Pollyannas who pretend that everything is good and always works out for the best. They acknowledge that change is hard and scary.
But in addition to that, they work to see how opportunity and benefit can coexist with hardship and struggle:
- Losing a job can be an opportunity to explore a new career that better suits your interests and talents.
- Getting your book manuscript rejected can be an opportunity to find a publisher who’s a better fit for you and your book.
- Moving to a new city can be an opportunity to discover new interests and passions.
Look, I get that this probably sounds trite or cliche. But here’s thing:
Looking for opportunity in the face of adversity isn’t some silly slogan or hallow mantra — it’s a critical emotional skill.
And if you want to become more emotionally strong, you need to practice.
- The second they make a mistake, they’re telling themselves what an idiot they are in their head.
- The instant they start to feel sad, they berate themselves for being weak and soft.
- At the slightest hint of rejection or criticism, they’re meticulous in pointing out how worthless they are.
Why are we so cruel to ourselves?
I mean, hasn’t it ever struck you as odd that you can be profoundly compassionate and understanding with your friends when they make mistakes or feel bad, but the minute you screw up, you start assaulting yourself with negative self-talk and self-judgment?
This used to baffle me a lot more until I reflected on how most people are raised…
- As children, almost all of us were taught that you need to be hard on yourself in order to be successful. That if you’re gentle or easy on yourself, you’ll end up as some kind of a lazy slacker.
- Combine that with the fact that our culture already influences people to hitch their self-worth to external measures of success, and it’s not so surprising that we have a world full of self-loathing jerks.
Of course, it’s all a big lie.
Most people successful people are a success despite being hard on themselves, not because of it.
Suppose you flub the final slide of your presentation at work. Does beating yourself up with tons of criticism and self-judgment increase or decrease your odds of making a good impression during a future presentation?
Mentally strong people understand that we’re all surprisingly resilient by nature. And that the best way to stay strong emotionally is to be gentle with yourself when things are tough.
All You Need to Know
Emotionally strong people understand that the ability to manage difficult emotions confidently and effectively comes down to habits. Specifically, avoid the bad habits that sap you of emotional strength, and you’ll realize you’re a lot more emotionally strong than you realized.
- Don’t try to control your emotions
- Don’t believe everything you think
- Stop resisting change
- Don’t use punishment to motivate yourself
Every week I write new essays, articles, and guides to help people improve their emotional health and achieve their most important personal growth goals. Topics range from cultivating emotional intelligence and self-awareness to communication skills, productivity, and self-talk.
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