Unveil & Tame Your Unconscious Assumptions to Master Your Emotions
Evolution has wired you to cause your own suffering without you even realizing it. But it can be unveiled to reveal how you can get back to joy.
The evidence is clear that evolution has selected for humans to default to taking things personally and assuming the worst. If you see a nearby lion roar it’s best to assume the worst, take it personally, and run for your life. As a survival mechanism, this default assumption kept us alive and, so, nature selected for this trait. Our minds, being overly conservative in their approach to safety, apply this interpretation to most situations in life. But actually we should choose to do just the opposite most of the time. Why? Because it’s rarely the worst case scenario, and it’s never about us, actually. It’s always about the other person or people. Plus, unchecked, this default interpretation of the world causes us unnecessary distress, disconnection, and it dampens our charisma and happiness. Let me give you an example.
Riding my bicycle around San Francisco I am frequently cut off by cars. My safety is threatened so it’s normal and natural to be triggered into an adrenaline-pumped fight-or-flight state to protect my safety. Quick braking keeps me safe but I am left pissed off as the car speeds off into the distance, typically ruminating on thoughts similar to “WTF! You’d trade my life and safety to arrive 10 seconds earlier, you selfish idiot who cares about no one but yourself!”
In these, and any irritated or activated moment, I’ve made it a practice to question myself “What are you upset about?” It would be normal to think “some jerk cutting you off!” but that wouldn’t be entirely accurate. You see, our emotions are never a response to someone else’s actions. They are always a response to our appraisal, thoughts, or expectations about their actions. I’m not angry about being cut off, I’m angry because I expect others to do better. I’m angry because I’m thinking, at least unconsciously, that this driver KNEW what they were doing but they didn’t care because they value their need to arrive 30 seconds earlier over my life and safety. Talk about assuming the worst and taking it personally!
I’ve made it a practice in these kinds of moments, or any moment where I find myself in an unpleasant emotion, to ponder the question: “What other potential reasons could there be for this situation? For their behavior?” I’ll make a mental catalog of the various possibilities such as ‘they’re new to driving so forgot to look’ or ‘they’re distracted on the phone’ or ‘they looked in their mirror but I was in their blind spot’ etc. Then I’ll settle on the possibility that suits my nervous system the best. It doesn’t matter whether it’s true or not – this other person is long gone and I’ll never see them. I’m the one here suffering a dysregulated nervous system, anxious and angry. I’m the one who will be arriving to my destination far less than charismatic if I don’t calm myself down. I’ll usually settle on a fantasy similar to “They’re exhausted and anxious about their partner they are hurriedly rushing to who is in labor at the hospital, and in their hurry they forgot to check their blind spot.”
I don’t do this to delude myself, deny reality, nor give them the benefit of the doubt. I do this simply to calm my nervous system and let go of the negative energy, in service of myself and my own needs. The power is in taking control to manage my emotions in a way that suits my needs. Instead of offering my emotional state up to the whims of other people, even strangers in this case, who come into my life.
Making it a practice to vigilantly check my assumptions and subvert my natural tendency to take things personally and assuming the worst has been liberating beyond belief. It’s an active process, and I don’t always remember to do it in a timely fashion, but the more I practice it the quicker I remember to do it. Now I’m so well practiced it often feels to come naturally. This has allowed me the courage to approach and open a conversation with even the most ridiculously hot men in a room, unscathed should I need to move on because they’re showing signs of PTSD (Potentially Temporary Situational Disinterest – which is my reinterpretation of what most people would assume is ‘rejection’).
It has allowed me to stay calm in the face of triggered family members screaming their head off at me on the phone (though I will set my boundaries with “I have a boundary around being yelled at, feel free to call me later when you are ready to discuss this in a relaxed state. I love you.”). It has allowed me to stay calm when a partner was activated and acting out, calling my suggested fix to a certain situation “fucking stupid!”. Once we were able to resolve the situation and calm him down, it allowed us to fully repair and return to joy within minutes. It continues to allow me, with my partner, to soothe over and quickly repair relationship ruptures within minutes every time. It has allowed us to turn every conflict (so far) into a path to deeper intimacy and security that comes with proven examples that we can make it through the rough spots quickly to become closer. It allows me to really go for it in life and master my emotional ship rather than letting it succumb to the rocky seas around me.
I encourage you to do the same. Make this a practice. Every time you feel any unpleasant emotion ask yourself: “What am I really upset about?” You will always find it’s because of your assumptions, your appraisals of others behavior, your thoughts, or expectations. If you cannot find that, maybe you need to first cool down off your trigger to a more relaxed state. Maybe journaling or a conversation with a capable friend will help you uncover how you may be assuming the worst and taking things personally. Maybe asking more questions of the person you are upset about will help, staying open and curious. Once you identify your dissatisfied appraisals causing your suffering, try reframing your assumptions. Consider all the possibilities and, without denying reality, pick the one that soothes your nervous system best and keeps your optimism & empathy in tact.
The more you practice this the more liberated you will be. The more happy and empowered you will be. The more you will have mastery over your emotions and your world.
If you find this impossible to practice, or you keep getting stuck on “Yes, but he/she/they did…”, or maybe you just want to deepen your emotional mastery in this in other ways, book a free consultation with me. As an intimacy, relationship, and charisma coach I help clients overcome challenges like these every day. I help clients develop their emotional mastery in this and so many other ways so that they can have the best life, love, opportunities, and sex possible. Book your free discovery call consultation to find out more about my approach specific to your situation at https://diggerkeith.com/#schedule