Emotional Data

By Steve Hart

Over the last month I’ve dug deep into various time periods of my past. I cleaned out my childhood home where I lived for 26 years and found countless pictures, letters, and mementoes of my childhood. I went to a college reunion where I got to reconnect with some of my closest friends from school and remember the campus that I haven’t seen in nearly a decade.

Through this process of re-experiencing my past, many emotions arose and for the first time in my life I was able to experience them in a very different way. For most of my life, I experienced emotion in a natural way, like a chaotic roller coaster with many ups, downs, twists, and turns, all the while trying to resist the bad emotions and just “be happy.”

This is no longer how it works for me. I’ve learned that I am not my emotions, rather that I am the observer of my emotions. I’ve come to realize that there is indeed no such thing as a “bad” emotion, but we as a society have decided to label some emotions like fear, depression, and anxiety as negative because they don’t feel as good as joy and happiness. So we resist, we run away, we take drugs, often making things worse, in attempt to not feel these emotions. The thing is, there is no good or bad emotions, they are simply bumps and dips on the rollercoaster, a natural experience on the ride of life, each as important as the other, each should be appreciated like the rest, felt like the rest.

The turning point for me was when I realized that my emotions are not a hinderance to my experience, but instead are data points that provide information on my experience that allows me to process in a more effective way. Grief shows love, work on gratitude. Regret shows a lack of self-forgiveness, work on forgiving. Fear shows a desire to control the future, so be present.

This is the process I used for the first time this last month as I dug deep into my past, and learned so much about myself. I realized that I ate unhealthy foods because of an emotional attachment to a time when I felt young and free. I never forgave myself for my role in the tumultuous ending of a past relationship. I drank and smoked solely for the connection, and eventually disconnection, with other people. I was not living in the moment for most of my adult life. I was having epiphany after epiphany! Had I had these realizations during the process of actually quitting these habits/mindsets, they would have been much less of a struggle to let got of.

Through this process I came to realize that emotions follow thoughts and actions follow emotions. For most of my life I was acting based on a feeling without regard to the thought that was causing that feeling. Once you focus on the thought, the “why” you are feeling this way, it becomes far more evident how to change the emotion and eventually action- change the thought!

For example, I grew up blessed with a super fast metabolism that allowed me to eat as much food as I wanted without any physical repercussions. I felt, as many children do, invincible. I had access to more food than I could eat on a daily basis and would eat as much as possible because I was told I was a “growing boy.” To me this was normal, I never experienced anything different so I never thought differently.

Fast forward to my late 20’s and things had changed. I now have to pay for my own food and my body no longer metabolizes it like it used to. I was going into each meal trying to maximize the calories per dollar spent. I would eat until I was beyond full just because there was food left on my plate. I did this because it felt good and even safe to be stuffed after each meal. What I realized was that this feeling reminded me of my youth, of massive home-cooked meals from my mom, of eating a ton and still staying thin, of knowing that I had the means to never starve. My eating habits were based on what my emotions wanted, not what my body wanted.

Since I began to understand the underlying factors of my desire to eat in this way, it’s become much easier to change my actions. Thought change- I do not need food to remember how nice it was to be young, I need food to keep my body healthy. Emotional change- I want to be happy and healthy now, so it feels good to eat in a healthier and more moderate way. Action change- I will eat healthy food only until I am no longer hungry.

This process is the underlying factor for any change in action. Understanding that we are not our emotions, but have the ability to manipulate our emotions via thought, can align our actions with what we truly want and provide the life of fulfillment that we all dream about.young stevie

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