The current way you respond to your negative emotions doesn’t have to be the only way. Create a plan and choose a new way to respond to your negative emotions before they happen.
It’s difficult to manage negativity when you are in the heat of the moment.
You get angry at something someone says, so you snap back and yell. It comes so naturally and impulsively that you barely had time to even think about it.
Of course, you reflect on it later and feel bad about your emotional outburst. Then you tell yourself, “I really need to stop getting so angry over the little things.”
But is that enough to change? Usually not.
While being aware that your outbursts are irrational and destructive is an important first step, it’s often not enough to change your patterns and behaviors.
We often continue following these same emotional patterns unless we start planning a new response to them.
If you create a plan to respond to your emotions in a new way before they happen, then you’ll be more ready and prepared to change your responses when those emotions arise in the moment.
Here’s how to create a plan to manage your negative emotions.
Create a Plan for Negative Emotions
Find a paper and pen or create a document on your computer so you can write out your plan (writing it out will make it more real and tangible).
- First identify one negative emotion that you want to change your response to (anger, sadness, anxiety, procrastination, etc.)
- Now write out your typical response when you feel that emotion (for example, anger = “I yell or snap back at someone,” sadness = “I stay home and watch TV,” procrastination = “I forget about my work and play a video game”).
- Now brainstorm one alternative response to that emotion and write it down (for example, anger = “I will practice being silent and polite,” sadness = “I will do something creative, such as drawing or journaling,” or procrastination = “I will set a timer for just 5 minutes and get the ball rolling.”)
- Keep in mind there are multiple ways to respond to ANY emotion – your current pattern doesn’t have to be set in stone. You have a choice.
- Consider the opposite action technique for devising your alternative response. Sometimes the best way to change the flow of your emotions is to do the exact opposite of what that emotion is telling you to do. When you’re feeling sad and just want to stay inside all day is sometimes the best time to get out of the house, go outside, or reach out to a friend or family member.
- Pay attention to the early signs when an emotion is beginning to brew inside you. For example, when you’re angry you may notice yourself clenching your jaw, or your body temperature rises, or heart rate speeds up. The quicker you can catch a negative emotion while it’s happening, the easier it will be to choose a new response. The longer you wait for the emotion to build up, the more difficult it will be to reverse it.
- Practice mental rehearsal with your new plan. Close your eyes and imagine yourself feeling that old and familiar negative emotion but then choosing your new planned way to respond to it. Repeat several times for extra preparation.
- Get ready to apply this new behavior in the real world; but be patient with yourself too, it will likely take a few trials and errors before it becomes a more natural response for you.
Make sure you put in the time and effort to create your new plan and practice it in your head.
The most important thing is to put in the work before that negative emotion arises again, so that when it does you’re prepared for your new course of action.
If you wait until the emotion happens in the moment to try to change your behavior, you’ll most likely fail unless you have really strong willpower or discipline (hint: most people don’t).
Our emotional patterns often follow a predictable habit loop like all other behaviors, but we can adjust them if we are aware of the “cue → routine → reward.” By learning your emotional cues and changing your routine, you can change your actions and results in life.
Ultimately, you should be able to express your new plan with a simple “If, Then” statement…
- IF I start feeling angry, THEN I will go for a walk.
- IF I start feeling sadness, THEN I will reach out to someone to talk to.
- IF I start feeling anxiety, THEN I will write or play guitar.
Of course you have to come up with a plan that works for you. These are just ideas and suggestions, but you may need to experiment with new responses before you find one that most helps you.
For now just choose one emotional pattern you want to change and create a plan – don’t try to completely change yourself overnight. Once you begin to make progress with one negative emotion, you can begin to focus on changing your responses to others as well.
One small change at a time and you can completely transform your emotional well-being.
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