How to control emotions and make rational decisions

I don’t think I need to tell you how important it is to have some degree of control over our emotions so that we may be able to make wise and rational decisions. Still, to remind you a bit let me narrate the following story that is inspired by some true events:

Anna was the only daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Anderson who both worked in the same firm. She was 13, cheerful and fun-loving. One day, Anna decided to go to her cousin’s place and told her parents that she won’t be coming back till next week. However, after a couple of days, there was a change of plan.

Her cousin had to go camping for a few weeks with school and so Anna decided to come back home. She arrived at mid-day when her parents were at work. Since she knew that her parents wouldn’t be expecting her so soon, she decided to play a little prank. She would hide behind the door of her room and when her parents arrived, she would jump out of nowhere and shock them! Just for fun!

When her parents finally arrived in the evening, the first thing they noticed was that the main door had been opened. They were terrified and thought that the house had been broken into. This fear got confirmed when they heard some noise coming out of Anna’s room. “WHO’S THERE?” shouted Mr. Anderson and grabbed his shotgun.

Of course, there wasn’t any reply from the other end (Anna didn’t want to spoil the fun). Slowly, Mr. Anderson approached Anna’s door, cautious with every step and pointing his gun forward. As soon as he reached the door, Anna jumped out of nowhere in front of him and screamed “WOOOO”. Mr. Anderson, in a state of deep shock and fear, automatically pulled the trigger; killing Anna on the spot.

This story gives me chills every time I think of it. It is a powerful reminder of how our emotions, especially fear and anger, can wreak havoc in our lives if not managed properly.

Why emotions influence our decision-making
When an event happens, the information about it reaches our mind, then our mind attaches meaning to it and finally, an emotion may get triggered based on that meaning. Note that this is true not only for external events but also for the things we imagine because our subconscious can’t differentiate between imagination and reality.

This is why imagining a positive future scenario may generate positive emotions of hope and happiness in you while imagining a negative scenario may generate fear or anxiety.

The meaning that we attach is revealed by our self-talk i.e. the things we say to ourselves. As you’re reading this post, there’s a voice within you that is reading it out for you. That is your self-talk.

controlling emotions

We all have some built-in emotional responses that get launched whenever a certain emotion gets triggered. As a result, we are not able to access all of our mental resources so that we may analyze the situation rationally because a response mechanism has already been launched. When an army general gives a command to attack, it is not considered wise to stop and think about why you came to the battle in the first place.
When we are angry for example, our anger-response gets activated that makes us shout, break things or pick up a fight. This is because emotions charge us with extra energy that we have to release in one way or the other. As you can see, we suddenly get into some sort of an ‘autopilot mode’ where we get influenced by our emotions and are more likely to make an emotional decision instead of a rational one.
Emotions, therefore, tend to make you act in a pre-programmed way and your mind misses out on consciously processing the information first.

Controlling emotions

Our emotions can sometimes result in unwanted consequences that we may regret later on.  One way to avoid this and to control your emotions is to become aware of the triggers that cause these emotions in the first place. The moment you become aware of an emotion when it gets triggered, you attain power over it and suddenly you can decide to no longer be in the grip of that emotion.

When you become aware of an emotion, a time lag develops between experiencing an emotion and acting on it. This time lag provides you with the chance to re-interpret the situation or to look for other rational options and alternatives to deal with the situation instead of acting emotionally.

Another level at which an emotion can be controlled is at an earlier stage before the emotion itself gets triggered. This is the stage where you ‘attach meaning’ to a given situation. This usually happens subconsciously in the case of most people but those who increase their level of awareness have the ability to consciously attach a desirable meaning to a situation that would’ve otherwise generated an unwanted emotional response.

With enough practice, you’ll go a long way in controlling your emotions and a day will come when you’ll realize that you are no longer a puppet to the strings of your emotions.

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