Emotions & Resilience

Lessons from Anger Management: The Strength of Commitment

anger tired dragon buddhist death life rebirth
The tiger and dragon are symbols of the journey through spiritual life, death and rebirth.

I began supporting young adults in Anger Management courses back in 2011. The groups ran for 6 sessions, mixing lifestyle choices, peer-support and neuroscience in the education aspects. Practically speaking, we led mindfulness exercises, drew on flip charts, and used boxing gloves.

This was the job where I truly learned the power of mixing education and theory with practise and guided support. During one session, a phrase about commitment came up, which I have carried with me over the past seven years:

“I’m more committed to being happy than to being ‘right’. That’s all you’ve got to do; be more committed to making your life work than being right. It’s your choice.”

That comment, made by a teenager who had chosen to attend these voluntary sessions, followed me, and my own anger around for a solid year after. At first, I found its truth annoying: I’d almost go as far as to say it haunted me.

Anger thrives on a sense of control, a sense of ‘righteousness.’ It’s a strong, natural response to a sense of threat, and yet, in the modern day, not every ‘threat’ requires the physical response.

Conditioning from Childhood Experiences

The house I grew up in had a very specific atmosphere. Being different was being wrong, which was also “ridiculous”, “stupid”, and often, “was something everybody knew was stupid/ridiculous” (except me). A lot of my “I must be right” was a form of OCD-like perfectionism drilled into me from a young age, propelled by fear. 

I didn’t know any different, following the path, where people who were right, people who could see those wrong things were obviously stupid could be aggressive and feel justified in that act of oppressing others.

Each of us has some experience of conditioning, and the first step towards balancing that experience is reflection. By recognising that this was a very one-sided view. I co-facilitated that programme for two years, and each time, I found myself delving deeper into those core beliefs, the background assumptions and the threats which arose for my brain.

But through running that group programme, I was also making a choice. 

Each week, I showed up to teach theory and practical exercises, hear anecdotes and support 16-25 year old’s with their anger and anxiety. I worked with over 35 young people, from homeless bullies, to those in care, misusing drugs or supported by the youth offending service. 

If these young people with minimal education, disabilities, were bullies or were on probation could learn to manage their anger then I, a Master’s student, had to have faith in myself.

I made a choice to help these people, to learn from them, but also to face my own anger in an open and safe space.

This was my first taste of redefinition: of the chance to make active choices to map out a potential I sought. 

Making a commitment is strong. With each new group of participants, we made a group agreement, stating boundaries around physical violence, swear words and treating other members of the room. It was an open commitment we all made.

But the commitment about being happy was a real motivator for my journey towards reaching for my potential.

The tools of awareness, of realising we can change – is a key foundation of the process of redefinition.

The secret of finding awareness is the present moment. Each moment is another chance for that reminder –

“We are committed to this relationship working.”
“I can choose my response to this action.”
“I have a commitment to being a kind and compassionate person.”

Whatever the goal, there’s a choice, a decision made and a commitment to keep.

Making The Decision

Even as an adult, I find myself redefining myself. When I left home at eighteen as an angry, verbally aggressive, being I took everything personally and was terrified of being wrong.

I still struggle with emotions sometimes: I am, after all, still human. Sometimes, I do still struggle with being wrong, and I can be strong-minded about certain views. The difference is that those views are now relatively well-researched from both sides. What time has done is give me a large perspective, a softer viewpoint. A safer space.

Emotions & Resilience

How to Use Visualisation and Perception to Redefine Anxiety

My tools involve making a map of your future, or using your imagination to create.

Despite beginning my journey down the self-development path in 2004, I didn’t know what the destination would look like. In fact, I really struggled to picture my future.

As a young adult, I had no career calling to me, and thus looking at job adverts was like looking over a menu where all of the food includes something I “don’t mind” and nothing I truly love. Nothing jumped out at me and I couldn’t make a choice.

The Map and Compass

It’s clear to me that without a direction, without any idea of where we want to be, we can be lost. Without a destination, we can’t access or even create a map.

So, I began to pick out future events I’d like to happen. I pictured me-in-five-years, and she had a house and was writing her novel. I couldn’t tell if the novels were her full or part-time work, but they existed in the future. It was a tiny sign to step towards.

Through knowing my novels were important enough to still be in my life in five years time, I learned the importance of devoting time to writing “in the now”. If I had stopped writing completely back in university, I wouldn’t be that “me-in-five-years” who is a writer. And I knew I want to be that future writer.

Our imagination is a wonderful tool in the journey of development. You can redefine your future by acting in certain ways now. And the best part is: no one can read your mind. So you can redefine life as it happens to you, too.

Imaginary Panic Weasels, Redefined

Ellie Di has written before about anxiety and worries as “the panic weasels”.

She once defined panic as: “a dozen weasels. Now put them in a dog crate. Now give them PopRocks and Coke, shake vigorously, and open the door. That’s what happens to my brain, my heart, and frankly, my whole day when overwhelm and stress meet in a shower of shit I just can’t handle.”

When I first read this idea, I found it charming. A way to re-define our mental state, a way to shift our perception.

But nowadays, when I experience panic or worry, being able to shift those thoughts into a mental image gives me a little control over my mental situation.

Enter the Ferrets

Thinking of a crate of weasels running around the safe space in my head, I get to work on my imagination. I sprinkle them with water until they hide in a corner. I put up cardboard barricades which led from the wall to the patio doors. I sent my ferrets after them. When they left, I tried to shut the doors, and when they tried to get back in, my imaginary cats guards the door.

I had no idea I had inner kitten and ferret guardians until Ellie gave me the tool to frame my anxiety as a weasel. But the imagery really works for me.

Think it’s a bit weird? I guess it is. But you’ve got nothing to lose by trying it. You can cultivate some lizard guardians if you’d prefer.

It’s Not Exactly Science…

But there is evidence that our brains can’t tell ‘reality’ from imagination.

When we watch a scary movie, we experience real fear.

When you imagine running into that person you like, you feel the butterflies in your stomach.

And when you see the panic as weasels, you can pick them up by their tails and chuck them out, or you can visualise ferrets chasing them away for you.

The calm that follows? It’s the brain’s way of saying “phew!” because the anxiety is gone from conscious thought.

And it’s in your control.

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Emotions & Resilience

No Reason: The Problem With Asking ‘Why?’

I was browsing some social media groups for business owners this week, when I saw a comment asking how people find their own sense of power when they’re struggling. This is something I feel I can offer support with, so I clicked the comments, and saw two responses essentially stating: “Ask yourself why. Get the root of the problem to solve it.”

The Core Reason

Now, if you know what has triggered, brought up or caused a particular obstacle of difficulty, that can be hugely useful. I would never say that seeking that possible trigger or core reason is unhelpful in the first instance.

However, the human existence isn’t quite that simple, and sometimes, asking ourselves ‘why’ can dig us deeper into the hole of frustration, low mood or stress. In short, sometimes there isn’t a definable reason.

The Effects of Questioning

When we question, or even make a judgement on how we’re thinking, feeling or behaving, we sometimes end up dropping further into that spiral which has a hold on us.

Partly, we feel there should be a reason. Which makes not knowing it very distressing or frustrating. Equally, when we can’t find it, we feel useless or defeated, we feel victimised and perhaps even out of control.

When there is a reason, its good to reflect, to recognise it. However, this reliance on believing there must be a reason can also be unhelpful.

The Alternative Path

We deep thinkers are often caught up in the shoulds, and it’s definitely a hard habit to break. But it can be done. When I’m focused on an emotional state, I complete three steps.

  1. Check you’re not in horrific danger.

This is a grand move for those of us who are prone to pockets of anxiety. I ask myself three questions, to check I’m okay:

  • Am I physically injured? Essentially, do my five senses still work, and am I in pain?
  • Am I breathing? Can I still breathe?
  • Is the earth still under my feet?

If the answers are all yes, then I know I have time to deal with whatever’s going on. If not, I assess the most important next step. But in that case, ignore this advice because it doesn’t apply, and panic away!

  1. Reflect on whether there is a known or recognisable reason for how you’re feeling.

As I said, it doesn’t hurt to ask this question once: sometimes knowing why you feel as you do can take all the pressure to “not feel this way” and can stop us from searching for “a reason.”

  1. Finally, DISTRACT. Seriously. 

If there ISN’T a ‘core reason why’, accepting it and not giving it any more of your precious energy and attention is key.

Distractions may include:

  • dance to happy music
  • do 10 press ups
  • play with a pet
  • draw a silly stick-figure doodle
  • count backwards
  • name five things which are green in your environment

If you don’t have a clear reason, then you won’t gain anything else in continuing to focus on the unhelpful feeling.

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feeling-like-crap
Emotions & Resilience

Six Ways to Clear Mental Space When You Feel Like Crap

When we feel like crap, there tends to be a shift in our sensation of mental space. No one is happy all of the time. It is the dips in mood and experience which makes life the adventure it is. But some days, you just feel like crap, and all your brain can offer is “but you have no reason for this.”

Thanks brain. You tried.

So here are six tools to try out, the next time your monkey mind is full of emotional crap.

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1: Brain Dump

The first step is always to actually face whatever’s going on. Avoidance doesn’t help, and if you feel like crap, you’ve got nothing to lose by thinking about what may be contributing.

My favourite way is to set a timer for 60 seconds, grab the back of an opened envelope and biro, and write down everything going though my head at that moment.

If you like writing stream-of-consciousness or “dear diary” conversations, then go for it.

If you like lists, just bullet point the categories of item: * bills * mum’s birthday * health appointment *work project 3.

Once it’s all on paper, it creates a little bit of pressure of HOLDING it all, and remembering everything. Feel free to jot down items any time you feel overwhelmed so you can stop worrying about it, and clear a little bit of that space for vital information, like your favourite name for a pet lizard.

2: Make a Plan or List

Once you have a list of the issues, you can plan a solution for at least a couple of them.
* mum’s birthday can become a calendar appointment at 9pm tonight “buy mum’s present online.”

Anything you can either cross of the list immediately, or put a solid, concrete, practical plan into action to make progress on it in a timely manner will help ease the intensity of your thoughts.

3: Distract

Sometimes, when we’re feeling crap, it’s because we’re thinking about things that aren’t current: bad memories of the past or worries about the future. Perhaps it’s because we’re thinking “why do I feel so crap?”

Stop thinking, and distract yourself. For some people, putting on a comedy clip on youtube is enough to snap us out of the moment. For others, drawing or a hobby will help break that moment.

4: Connect

We are social beings, and one of the key things to build up that sense of positivity is contact with others. It can be as easy as texting a friend, or sending a video of baby goats racing to a friend online. That sense of connection naturally have the impact of making us feel less alone, and can impact the intensity of negative emotions.

5: Rest

Let yourself feel a bit crap, and curl up on the sofa with a nice film, or let yourself have a nap. Especially if you’ve tried the things above and still feel like shit. Let yourself rest for a bit, in case that helps. We so rarely let ourselves breathe.

6: Act

Focusing on how we feel emotionally, and on our thoughts, which often say unhelpful things, can sometimes increase how we PERCEIVE those feelings. Behaviours, or taking action, is often the best way to create mental space. Washing up a plate, dancing to a song, doing 5 press ups on the living carpet, or even just pacing up and doing. Get your body moving, take an action from that list we made above and get that sense of progress flowing.

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Of course, this list is not exhaustive of every option, but these are some good places to start when you just aren’t feeling great, and want to have a break from the emotions.

What do you find helpful in clearing mental space?

New to Map Your Potential? Welcome. Grab the free mapping workbook bundle to make progress on your personal quest, one step at a time. From 30-second mindful moments to managing imposter syndrome and dealing with overwhelm: we’ve got you covered. You’ll also get monthly email updates and special list-only offers. Click here to sign up!

Flower in garden
Emotions & Resilience

How To Manage Difficult Emotions :: Recognition

Around ten years ago, I was part of a Buddhist meditation class. After a particularly stressful week, in which I’d not been allocated a supervisor for a project, I came into the class in a pretty low mood.

When I checked in, my teacher’s first question was How does that feel?”

I feel betrayed, hurt and angry.

“Okay. Why?”

Because that means all three of my choices were given the option, and turned me down.

“Okay, so it feels personal. Is it really though?”

Well, they’re over-subscribed and they can only take so many people, so I know it’s not intended personally, but it still hurts.

“Okay, good. What if you couldn’t feel that betrayal and hurt? Stop thinking and feel. What would it be like if you could not feel hurt? Who would you be without them?”

Erm.. I’d still be me, just me who didn’t feel betrayed?

“Alright.. I mean what feelings and what is left of you if you couldn’t feel betrayed?”

And I stopped. And felt. Really felt my body, my headspace – explored the possibilities.

Tired.

“Ahh. You feel tired. So this is tiredness.”

The idea of the exercise wasn’t to stop feeling the emotions or to block out my experience. If anything, it added to the feelings; I noticed that I’m full of worry, of fear and of tiredness, beneath all those feelings of anger, betrayal and hurt.

In The Body

However, I noticed that those emotions; they’re not in my head; they’re in my body.

I’m generally familiar with feeling my emotions but this was a revelation to me.

This was a technique Hiro Boga used in a Sovereignty Kindergarten class back in 2010 too – and I remember I only tried it once that summer, but got really strong feelings from it. The focus was different, but the technique was the same; the results of a profound “Woah, I feel like this and I had no idea” are the same.

Since I first tried this in meditation, I’ve been trying to check in with it; with the “Vedana” or sensations; the emotions I feel within my body. Sometimes we can go so long without actually ‘being’ with ourselves.

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So today I’m asking you to connect. Consider this post your little reminder to check-in with your body.

Let’s start the conversation between mind, body and emotion.

  1. Have you found yourself feeling frustrated or angry lately? Where did you feel it?
  2. What feelings are behind, under or embracing that anger? If you removed that ability to feel frustrated: what would be left?
  3. And where do you feel that in your body?

How do you see your emotions?
Do you ever look beneath the surface?

 

Welcome to Map Your Potential. Grab the free mapping workbook bundle to make progress on your personal quest, one step at a time. From 30-second mindful moments to managing imposter syndrome and dealing with overwhelm: we’ve got you covered. You’ll also get monthly email updates and special list-only offers. Click here to sign up!