Mindfulness and Emotions

Buddha reputedly said “you can only lose what you cling to”. Often expressed as: to possess a thing, you must first let it go. It sounds a very Buddhist idea, and also comes up in the New Testament, and the Stoics. We should probably pay attention then!

Nearly three years ago, I blogged about mentoring 25 directors & managers I’d trained a year previously to check they were still doing what we covered together. They were awesome, all still executing 60-90% of the material.

So why this opening quote? Partly because I love paradoxical thinking. And mainly because those men and women put their main focus on what drives the change they sought, not on the outcomes themselves. If you like, they let the outcomes go, they were not clinging to them any more, and thereby achieved them.

In a world where we obsess on outcomes – sales, profits, promotion, cars, homes – it may seem bizarre to mentally detach ourselves from those things we want. Very Zen.

That’s not really the essence of it. The point is that passive wishing and longing delivers nothing good. Worse, basing our dreams on what others may decide leads to a sense of learned helplessness.

On the other hand, putting our emotional energy into disciplined focus on what we can control – our own conditioning and actions – brings a sense of mastery, of owning our outcomes, and leads us to act in ways that are much more likely to take us where we aspire to be.

So, if we want to change we shouldn’t just try to force it – it won’t work and not succeeding might make us feel helpless. We should simply let the outcome go, focus on the inputs (our conditioning and actions designed to deliver our goals) and be confident. The outputs will take care of themselves.

It’s very freeing. Focusing on what we can control, and accepting the rest, is an element of mindfulness. Being aware of our thoughts and feelings, and accepting rather than fighting or agonising about them, brings inner peace.

That’s not some outmoded hippy concept. It’s the difference between freedom from negative emotions – stress, anxiety, fear, frustration – and being overwhelmed by them. And as many of us know that’s only a small step away from learned helplessness and depression.

In practise this takes learning, being able to rise above a potential emotional hijack and observe our feelings without being flooded by them requires detachment and objectivity.

This affirmation or mantra may help:

I am not my emotions. My emotions do not define me.
I observe my emotions without becoming them.
My emotions come and go but I remain the same, calm and centred.
I accept them but do not become them.

And let us remember why we are getting interested again in concepts that were hot topics in eastern philosophy thousands of years ago. Mindfulness delivers happiness & wellbeing, freedom from stress & anxiety, mental & physical health, and high performance.

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