In his blog, Do You Know What You Are Feeling?, Peter Bregman shares a couple of similar experiences in which his emotional energy nearly hijacked his responses. These oftentimes overwhelming, stimuli-induced situations occur multiple times every day, particularly in our fast-paced and stressful lives. And while we may be inclined to believe these small situational events have little consequence, we can see from his article that how we respond to them makes all the difference: harnessing our energy and emotions can be a moment that deepens our insight and growth and strengthens our relationships, but letting it get the best of us can have negative consequences that are equally far-reaching.
Peter relates how he decided to sit on a feeling rather than react to it: "But I didn't do anything right away. And, as I sat with the feeling, I realized that while I felt a jumble of emotions, mostly I felt hurt and untrusted." In the midst of a personal issue, his decision to sit was critical for him and his protagonist. By tolerating his emotions and allowing himself to explore what they were urging him to do, he was able to regain emotional balance and perspective and make a wise choice.
Learning to tolerate emotions may seem like the old Western method of tolerating pain by biting on a bullet, but once we understand and trust that by tolerating and exploring our emotions we gain insight and wisdom, this allows us the chance to make decisions that create positive outcomes.
A simple and very effective tool to assist in tolerating emotions is called VET: Validate, Explore and Transform. First, identify what you are feeling and accept that you are experiencing this emotion. Once you validate, you can be begin to explore the emotion and discover its purpose. In this process, you may learn that your initial feeling was not your true feeling. In Peter’s example, he found that his anger was really stemming from feeling hurt.
Once you validate and explore you are now poised to transform your feelings and the outcome of the situation. Instead of sulking or lashing out, Peter wrote an email to the person who stimulated his feelings of hurt and was surprised when "she sent me a wonderful email back, acknowledging her mistake and thanking me for my willingness to let her know when she missed the mark." If he had let anger dictate his behavior, the outcome would have been much different for both .
Emotions are chemical messengers sent to inform us and to move us. Tolerating that first barrage of chemicals is key to finding insight into the situation that activated our emotional system, which will then help us make better decisions. There is a quote by Albert Camus that goes, “Life is the sum of all your choices.” Making the most of these everyday decisions is the difference in living a life filled with regrets or a life fulfilled. And tolerating our emotions is critical in these decision points.
Thank you Peter Bregman for sharing your personal experiences.