Mastering Emotions

5 min

Imagine, you decided to start a business with one of your best friends. Now, of course, we know our friends inside out. Your friend is quick-tempered, compulsive, drinks at least three times a week, and has never been loyal to anyone he has dated.

But you ignore it because he’s your friend. Within 3 months, he’s shown up drunk a dozen times, picked up a fight with an employee, is always running behind the tasks he’s given, and has been late to the office every single day.

This would never have happened if you had partnered up with someone who was loyal, honest, and had high work ethics. Or if you had prioritised rational decision-making over emotional one.

Good old Charlie Munger once said,

“Don’t try to be smart; avoid being stupid.”

That one sentence has done more good for my life than all the 140-page self-improvement books I’ve read.

Right before the MMA fights, the fighters have a face-to-face. Most times, you will find one of them being very aggressive, swearing, and looking totally out of control, while the other fighter is calm and just stares into his opponent’s eyes. And eight out of ten, the calm one wins the fight.

Why is it that people who are calm, composed, and emotionally stable are also generally successful and are well respected?

Emotional stability takes time and effort and judging our actions through the lens of complete objectivity. It may sound simple, but it’s very hard to practice because of an old psychological bias.

Psychological studies have revealed that the human brain has a ‘Doubt Avoidance Tendency’. We hate to be in a prolonged state of doubt. It has a primitive basis. Because our ancestors survived by making quick decisions, If you heard a roar, you wouldn’t sit back and contemplate, you’d run to a safe place.

But now, things are a lot different.

Back in the day, we lived in a simple world with simple problems. You see a deer; you kill it and eat it. You see a pack of wolves, and you run. Quick emotional responses were enough to keep you fed, safe, and alive. But if you use the same old quick emotional responses for choosing a spouse or choosing a field of work, it can hurt you in the long run.

According to a survey, the marriages that lasted the longest were those between couples who waited a minimum of two years before tying the knot. That explains a lot about why instant gratification is not recommended.

Making rational decisions takes time and effort. It starts with doubting our decision. Re-thinking them several times. Analyzing the pros and cons. Mapping the long-term effects. Removing any biases we may have. Doing that kind of deep thinking means your brain will be in a state of doubt for a long time. And our brain hates that.

The brain wants to get out of a state of doubt as quickly as possible. It wants to reach a state of homeostasis. Homeostasis is any self-regulating process by which an organism tends to maintain stability while adjusting to conditions that are best for its survival.

Or, to put it simply, we settle for what’s easily and instantly available and that which relieves us from stress.

Warren Buffet once said,

“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”

I’d further add that it’s still easy to say no to other people, but it takes effort to say no to yourself. Like not eating that big piece of cake after dinner, not hitting snooze every morning, or not watching porn.

It takes effort because it puts you in a suspended state of doubt. Clearing a doubt takes thinking. Thinking takes time and effort. And the brain hates effort. So, we choose what’s easy and what helps us avoid the state of doubt as quickly as possible. And that’s what leads to instant gratification.

Things I regret the most in life and that make me cringe are the things I did when I was drunk. Because when you’re drunk, your rational mind goes to sleep, and your emotions hijack your wisdom. You lose the capacity to think for yourself and differentiate between good and bad.

Because, when you’re drunk, it’s impossible to wait, think, and analyse the decision we’re about to make.

The same can happen when we’re highly excited, nervous, or under any kind of fear. Our priority in that state is to get out of it. And get out of it as quickly as we can. And we choose the first option that can help us get out without giving it any thought.

The first step towards mastering our emotions is teaching ourselves to wait. 

Be aware of the ‘doubt avoidance tendency’. Remember that our brain, to avoid effort, will always give us an instant solution. And to support the instant solution, it will also give you some irrational reasons. Most people fail at this stage. They get fooled by the reasons, and accept the instant solution.

Your brain conned you. Its priority was not to give you a solution that worked and was good for you in the long run; its priority was to get out of the painful state of doubt and indecision as quickly as possible.

For example, you decided to go for a walk in the morning. You set the alarm for 6 a.m. When you hear the alarm, your brain will shoot out reasons that will make total sense of why you should stay in bed:

– It’s too cold

– You didn’t sleep well

– It’s only been 7 hrs

– You need a break

– One day won’t make a difference

– We can always start from tomorrow

– 5 more minutes

It’s easier to hit snooze and go back to sleep than to question your actions,  reason with your brain, think about long-term gains, and gather the will to get out of that cozy warm blanket.

It’s not easy. The brain is powerful and clever. But to make decisions that don’t hurt you in the long run, we have to train ourselves to reject the instant solution-reason combo of our brain. You have to be a little strict with yourself when it comes to things that can create long-term problems.

And the simplest way to do it is through common sense.

Avoid addictions, eat less and eat healthy food, keep friends that don’t drain you, walk every day, sleep well, don’t overspend, and marry someone who accepts you for you. It doesn’t take a Ph.D. to understand these simple things.

You don’t need a $500 course to learn how to become a good writer. The only thing you need is to read good books and write every day. There are really no hidden tricks or formulas. And all the greatest writers in history did exactly the same.

You don’t need to hire an expensive nutritionist to lose weight. Eat less and walk more (few cheat days are allowed), and in 6 months, you’ll be down many pounds.

In my book, Born to Stand Out, I’ve shown through many examples how our subconscious beliefs complicate our lives and how simple it is to free ourselves from these self-limiting patterns through understanding, awareness, and some common sense.

Teach yourself to think before you act. We sometimes overestimate our intelligence and think we can come up with instant solutions to every life problem. But the truth is, we’re mere humans, victims of our own likes and dislikes and psychological biases. And we’re prone to making a lot of errors in understanding the long-term effects of our present actions.

Only by allowing ourselves some time and carefully examining the decisions we’re about to make can we detach from our emotions and use rationality, reason, and intelligence to make better life decisions.

Choosing reason over emotions is emotional mastery.

Stay blessed,