Today, I woke up to a particularly gloomy day. Welcome to Scotland. The rain, the clouds and the howling wind are an expected part of life here.
This kind of weather may set the tone for the entire day. Despite getting the recommended 8 hours of sleep, I feel tired. I could easily justify staying in bed.
Maybe I don’t write today? Feeling so slow and hazy makes it hard to focus…
But the mental fog doesn’t have to drive me to act in a particular way. I discovered a while ago that, instead of fighting feelings or using them as an excuse, I can relax into them and tag along. I can still do what I planned for the day. But it will be from the place of feeling the way I feel.
To honour my internal state, I prepare a nice hot cup of coffee and curl under a blanket with my laptop. It’s just a day like this. It’s a day when I don’t feel invincible (which is my favourite state for work). But I still can write from this place of softness and haziness.
To do that, I need to own my feelings exactly as they are.
It’s the Feelings You’re After — Not Experiences
You probably want specific things to happen in your life. Consciously or not, you set goals — and most of them are tied to certain experiences you imagine will make you happy.
Some dreams that I often hear people express include:
- Buying a campervan and travelling the world while working on their business from the road.
- Having a farm and growing organic vegetables there.
- Finding the perfect romantic partner with whom to plan their future.
- Building a reliable passive income so they “don’t have to work another day in their lives.”
These are all valid, beautiful dreams to pursue. But they’re just surface expressions of the underlying deeper desires.
People usually name the material manifestations — but what they really long for are specific feelings.
It’s profound to understand that what you say you want isn’t what you actually want. When you’re telling others about your dream of travelling or a romantic partnership, this usually conveys hope for how those things will make you feel.
Decoding the list above, these are the real desires of the people who express them:
- The feeling of freedom.
- The feeling of self-reliance.
- The feeling of unconditional love.
- The feeling of security.
No matter how much your attention is fixed on the material aspect of your dreams, it’s the emotional content that matters.
What you really pursue in life are feelings — not experiences.
Agency is Not the Same as Control
Once you understand that it’s the particular feelings you’re after, a question arises:
What do you do with those emotions that you don’t want to experience at all?
You probably know that resisting them is counterproductive. The more you try to block out challenging feelings coming through the door, the more they’ll begin seeping in through the windows. Eventually, they’ll find their way into your house anyway.
That’s where the concept of owning your feelings comes in. By owning, I mean creating a sense of agency around the particular emotions you’re having at any given moment. It’s about looking them in the eye and saying:
“I see you, and you’re welcome here. I won’t resist you, but I will also not cling to you.”
Scientists claim that such an approach to your feelings is the most natural one. When you let the emotions pass through you freely — much as a child does — they naturally dissolve after about 90 seconds. 1.5 minutes is the lifespan of any feeling when you don’t control it.
This kind of agency allows you to live through your experiences without being defined by them. It’s what mindfulness is about.
Observe your feelings as they come and go, without judgment or attachment. That’s the prerequisite to owning them.
Owning Your Feelings is About How You Respond
It’s the emotional content that defines every experience. There’s no wonder you attach so much meaning to your feelings.
We all prefer to feel in a particular way and not any other. We believe this can grant us an overall sense of happiness and success.
But the thing with emotions is that you can never fully control them. Much of the emotional processing happens on an unconscious level. This often makes it impossible to fully comprehend why you feel the way you do.
That’s why it’s wise to accept all feelings as they come. Then, there’s the next part that you’re fully in charge of:
The way you respond to your feelings.
Ryan Holiday put it best:
“The question is, as always, what will we do with this? How will we respond? Because that’s all there is. The response.”
That’s what owning your feelings means: eliciting a conscious, deliberate response to them.
More often than not, people react to emotions. Based on our conditioning, we believe that whenever we’re sad, tired or angry, there’s only one possible way to move forward. But this isn’t true.
You often think there’s only one choice because this is the pattern you learned.
But when you realize that there are many things you can do with your sadness or tiredness, you begin to respond. You start to own your feelings, rather than being owned by them.
This is where a whole new outlook on life becomes available.
To Win at Life, Own Your Feelings
Because you’re constantly told to chase your dreams, you tie the idea of a happy life to specific things. Sometimes, it’s about material possessions. Other times, you’re hooked on the experiences you want to have on the way.
Remember that beneath all those dreams, there’s an underlying driver. It’s the way you hope achieving your dreams will make you feel. Having this understanding, why don’t you readjust your focus to your emotions directly? After all, they’re what matters the most for a good life.
By this, I don’t encourage you to control or manipulate your feelings. Quite the opposite. The most natural way to deal with them is to accept them as they are. This allows you to choose the best response, bearing in mind that there’s usually more than one.
That’s what I did this morning. Instead of hiding myself from this gloomy Scottish day, I chose to embrace it. As I finish writing this post, I still feel the mental fog and the melancholy. But warm and cosy under the blanket, I’m still able to do my work.
I decided to own my feelings. That’s precisely what allowed me to respond to them. As a result, my emotions stopped looking like obstacles.
Instead, I turned them into fuel for this particular piece of writing. You read it. This outcome is not bad at all if you ask me.
Marta Brzosko is a writer, meditator and founder of Self-Awareness Blog where she helps you tap into your inner knowledge. She believes that all the big answers can be found within – you just need to be willing to explore them. Connect with her on Twitter or Facebook.
Image courtesy of ActionVance.