3 simple exercises to control your emotions better.
Or why you can’t stick with good-for-you habits.
Willpower is indeed a muscle.
You knew it. And it’s true.
“Why can’t I stick with my eating habits?” — I heard many times from my clients. Food is a huge struggle for many of us in the world where cheap and delicious calories are everywhere and you can’t escape them.
You can’t escape food! We all got to eat!
Did I ever struggle with food as a health, nutrition, lifestyle coach?
🍭Especially with sweets when I felt emotionally discomforted — stressed, sad, lonely, not sure how to deal with life. And I quit this vicious cycle by, what I used to think, had nothing to do with willpower. But I was wrong. Partially.
Food has an emotional component for everyone.
Our parents used food to calm and shut us down as kids. Family gatherings and celebrations were centered around feasts. Many of our most emotionally positive moments, like dinners with friends or dates with future life partners also had a lot to do with food.
So being emotional about food is conditioned in our brains.
Totally normal! Nothing to feel bad about!
But using food as a way to deal with emotions isn’t the pattern that will help us in life — it’s not gonna solve the underlying issue and more often than not it will make us fatter, less energized, feeling not that great about anything.
Divorcing food and stress management is one of the key components of exiting this “I feel bad I eat” cycle.
This basically means creating your stress management toolkit that has nothing to do with food, that might include breathwork, taking breaks moving, connecting with loved ones, having spa treatments, cold exposure and sauna — there’s a lot of variety. A simple walk in nature, like some park, for example, is a powerful tool to lower stress levels.
The other component of exiting “I feel bad I eat” cycle is training your emotional regulation muscle with specific exercises that help you to gain control of your emotions VS emotions controlling you, your decisions, actions and life.
There’s nothing wrong with your emotions — they are the sparkles of our life!
But making all decisions based on how you feel — is a sure way to end up fat, broke and lonely.
The goal is to recognize your emotions and to take the “right action” for short and long terms, marrying emotions and logic.
Here are my TOP 3 exercises from coaching practice to get good at it.
DELAY YOUR DESIRE
It saved me so many calories and so much money!
Has this ever happened to you?
You get back home, tired, exhausted, overwhelmed and you just want to eat and relax and think of nothing, and before you know it, you eat your dinner and all the snacks in sight and perhaps even part of your breakfast.
Yep. Happened to all of us.
Or, you start browsing the net and all of a sudden, all the books, gadgets, clothes, supplements ads that you actually might need start popping up? And before you know it, you buy something (or a lot of it), faster than your slow prefrontal cortex has the time to intervene.
I used to get so many books I didn’t need. And I haven’t read them still!
Here’s a well-balanced training program for your emotional regulation muscle to avoid wasting money and gaining calories. And just like training any muscle — it isn’t supposed to be easy. That’s not what training is designed for. It’s designed to make you stronger through challenges.
I created a rule for food: I can eat any food or snack I desire (outside of my planned meals) but ONLY the next day, if I still want it.
I created a rule for shopping: I can buy any of those things I thought about but only in 3 days if I still remember.
Guess what happened when I started practicing these? (And yes, it will take some time, willpower and learning to distract yourself from food to get good at it)
I stopped eating late at night and buying dumb sh*t I never needed, saving money for things that actually mattered to me!
Simply set time rules to delay desires that you tend to regret.
💪🏻And start flexing that emotional regulation muscle!
That, I’d like to repeat, will not be easy at first.
Just like training isn’t!
JUMP INTO THE DISCOMFORT
That’s the opposite of what we talked about in the previous exercise.
Have you ever procrastinated on starting complex projects, or difficult conversations, or simply starting eating healthier or exercising?
Usually, it’s a combination of not talking to the people to propose a possibly great but maybe crazy idea, not going first in conversations that make me feel vulnerable and not perfect, not working on things that don’t come naturally to me like traffic generation activities now.
New always feels uncomfortable.
Remember this for life — new always feels uncomfortable just like putting on a pair of new sneakers or a new shirt doesn’t feel as comfy as putting old ones on. Even though after a while we forget about this discomfort altogether and enjoy our new gear wholeheartedly.
This is how things work in our brain — new is uncomfortable because it uses slightly different brain circuits and feels slightly different (and might require additional energy at first).
If we base our decisions around comfortable things, we will stay in the same pattern and have results that are the same or worse as what we have now.
To prevent this from happening the next time you think of something that feels right but uncomfortable — you take some action right then and there without a second of delay.
This will help you to learn how to take uncomfortable actions in all areas of your life instead of procrastinating and overthinking.
Most procrastination happens because we never practice this skill.
People who get a lot of results do it differently. They think of something, they try it and succeed or learn. And soon, you won’t even notice much of this feeling of initial discomfort while absorbed in action-taking. It’ll be natural for you to feel uncomfortable and act still.
And again, it’ll take time for you to develop this pattern. So if it feels slow and unnatural — it’s normal, just continue.
Bust through this procrastination and become an action taker — JUMP INTO THE DISCOMFORT.
Learning and trying things will never become comfortable! Don’t wait for it.
WATCH THE WAVES — DON’T SURF THEM
This exercise will help you to finally realize that emotions aren’t that long-lasting UNLESS you act on them perpetuating the cycle.
When you get home sad and stressed, wanting urgently to eat this ice cream -
Set the timer for 5 minutes and just do nothing. Nothing at all. Ice cream will not run away but the intensity of your urge just might!
Emotions are drivers for immediate action. But in most cases these days we are much better off by cooling those emotions off and making decisions with a more logical approach.
🏄Just like a surfer chooses to surf the waves that fit his skill level the best — you can also choose to only surf the emotional waves that serve your short and long-term agenda.
The only way to get better at it — learn to wait it out.
5 minutes are all it takes to change your life.
Because this is how long it takes to make a better, more balanced decision.
This is how long it takes to cool off.
Some of my clients didn’t believe it would work until they tried it.
When you look your emotion right in the eye and you do nothing — you immediately see that the urgency that you thought was there — isn’t. And you can choose to act or not no matter what the emotion tells you.
Also, letting your emotions cool off allows your smarter brain to take over, giving you logical advice based on your long-term priorities.
Emotions give you a clue, give you feedback on what’s happening inside and outside of you, negative or positive.
Emotions are the shortcuts of your brain to jump into action faster to help you survive.
Emotions also aren’t the best decision-makers for non-urgent situations in our modern world.
Have you regretted any decision made in any emotional state?
Me too! Countless times!
The key to changing this is to raise awareness of your emotions and learn how to NOT make decisions (unless it’s a true urgency) when emotionally charged. Instead, let the emotional brain cool off, and then with your prefrontal cortex onboard (aka logical brain), make a balanced decision, that marries emotion and logic.
Start practicing these exercises, let’s say, take a week to practice each.
And by the end of 3 weeks — journal about your experience and the decisions you made.
It’ll blow your mind how different your life and thinking will become when you aren’t driven primarily by your emotions.
You might find out that building better-for-you habits isn’t that difficult at all when you aren’t swayed from side to side by the winds of fleeting desires.
What to do now:
▶️Put together a schedule to practice these 3 exercises as suggested;
▶️If you like what you read — like, comment and share! Let’s build a world where emotions don’t overtake the better angels of our nature and our smarter, logical brains.
😃Thank you for reading! Brought to you by your brain’s coach — Angela Shurina, committed to sustainable productivity and human potential.
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