“You have power over your mind - not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”
— Marcus Aurelius
In my workshops and trainings, I teach people that they have the power to be in charge of their emotions based on their thoughts and beliefs. I give my students tools and techniques to deal negative emotions that hold them back from living the life they desire.
But sometimes students confuse “being in charge of emotions” with becoming “emotion-less.” As one student put it, “So we’re not supposed to feel anything? Just be stoic no matter what happens?”
No and yes. You want to feel the emotions that arise, and you want to deal with them like the Stoics.
Most of us misunderstand the word stoic. We think stoic means unfeeling or passive or fatalistic. But bestselling author Nassim Nicholas Taleb describes a Stoic as someone who “transforms fear into prudence, pain into transformation, mistakes into initiation, and desire into undertaking.” I saw a story recently that’s a perfect example of a Stoic. It’s a story Charles Edison told about his father, Thomas Edison.
By 1914, inventor Thomas Edison had built a massive business and had a multi-building plant in New Jersey worth millions of dollars. One night, a huge explosion erupted at the site causing an enormous chemical fire. Fire departments rushed to the scene but couldn’t put the fire out for hours.
As the flames destroyed his life’s work, Edison calmly walked over to his son Charles. With a slight smile and a voice of childlike wonder, he said, “Go get your mother and all her friends. They’ll never see a fire like this again.” When Charles protested, his father said, “It’s all right. We just got rid of a lot of rubbish.”
Later that night, Edison was quoted in The New York Times: “Although I am over 67 years old, I’ll start all over again tomorrow.” And he did. He and his employees immediately started rebuilding the next morning. In less than a month, they had the plant up and running again.
That night, Edison lost about $23 million (in today’s dollars), including priceless records and prototypes for his newest inventions. His insurance covered only about a third of the total loss. Yet Edison chose to first admire the awesome fiery spectacle then to focus on rebuilding what he had lost. He transformed any negative emotions he felt into appreciation then positive action.
Rather than sitting around and wringing his hands or screaming at the gods about the unfairness of it all, Edison transformed those emotions and tapped into what Nero Linguistic programming (NLP) calls a “resourceful state” like a true Stoic.
In my NLP workshops, we teach students about this resourceful state and how to access it at any time no matter what the circumstance. In a resourceful state, you feel calm and centered, capable and confident. Your body feels relaxed yet energetic. Your mind is able to generate all kinds of options and make clear decisions. You feel very present and aware of the activity and people around you. You can respond easily and effectively no matter what’s happening.
This resourceful state is a state we all can access. It isn’t dependent on what’s happening or specific events. Your life’s work can be burning to the ground like Thomas Edison —yet you can still tap this state.
Is it natural to feel less resourceful emotions when everything hits the fan? Absolutely. But as Harvard-trained and neuroanatomist Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor points out, “When a person has a reaction to something in their environment, there’s a 90 second chemical process that happens in the body; after that, any remaining emotional response is just the person choosing to stay in that emotional loop.”
In other words, when your life’s work is burning to the ground, it’s natural to have 90 seconds-worth of anger, fear or sadness. After that, it’s your thoughts that keep those emotions going: “All that work up in flames. At my age, I’ll never be able to re-build. What careless so-and-so let this fire happen?” Dr. Bolt says that it is “the thoughts that you’re thinking that are re-stimulating the circuitry that is resulting in you having this physiological response over and over again.”
And if that’s true, then other thoughts can lead you to a more resourceful emotional state. Maybe something like, “Okay, I have all these workers depending on me. I’ll bet if we all put our minds and backs to it, we can rebuild. And rebuild even better now that the old equipment is out of the way. I wonder what new processes or systems we can create?” Can you see how those thoughts would light up the emotional circuitry of determination, creativity, eagerness and excitement?
Mastering your emotions is not about numbing them or repressing them. It’s about choosing your emotions and working with them. Your emotions are an important to partner in creating the satisfying, fulfilling life we all desire.
“Rational thoughts never drive people’s creativity the way emotions do.”
— Neil deGrasse Tyson
To your TOTAL empowerment!
Byline: Matthew B. James, MA, Ph.D., is President of The Empowerment Partnership, the world’s leading integrative personal development company for over 30 years. Author of several books, Dr. Matt has trained thousands of students towards excellent health and personal empowerment using Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), Huna, and Mental Emotional Release® (MER®) therapy. Keep connected on Facebook or visit his blog at www.drmatt.com.
References: a 1961 Reader’s Digest article by Edison’s son Charles; according to Matthew Josephson’s biography of Edison