There will be many times each year when you feel emotional pain of some type. Now here the first thing to do is define that - what we mean here is not emotional pain in the sense that your girlfriend has ditched you and you're heartbroken (or indeed your wife!) - although this would apply equally as well. What we mean here is taking the care to identify emotionally driven pain and unhappiness.

So here we are talking about things like you are unhappy at work. You are scared you may get fired. You are unhappy with your performance. You are unhappy with your weight. You are unhappy with your 5k time. You are frustrated you have no friends. You are feeling left out by your family. You are worried your communication at home is bad and may spell disaster. You have lost money in personal investments and think you may end up broke and homeless. You are a writer with 12 months of writer's block and fear you'll never write again.

You're getting the point - all of the things that may at one point or another be a drag on your mood, a reason for that long face, a worry when you wake up in the morning or are trying to sleep at night.

So there are some things to consider here.

The first is the source of the angst, and this is what I allude to above. If you think about it, most of these things are emotional. It's not that they're not real - they may be - it is that, if you really dig into it (and I'll show you how below), you'll find that it is your emotion - rather than a "logical" driver - that is causing angst. Now, this is not to say that this is a "false signal" - not at all, you have emotions for an evolutionary reason - it is more to say that, once you recognise this, the way you respond is different, so it is really important to make this distinction (I explain why below); and to recognise what you're feeling.

Second is the cost of these emotions. This is a really important thing to understand. As a generalisation, when you are managing your life, hopefully trying to achieve lots of great things, managing your energy is key. I write about this in a separate post - but you have a finite amount of energy daily and weekly, and you need to optimise consumption of this for the best outcome. Negative emotions are a massive energy drain. When you walk around unhappy, scared, angry, frustrated, hamstrung - this is a big big drain of your energy resources. It will stop you doing things. You will have noticed, on days when you are for one reason or another very down, or angry, or upset, you are less able to focus on tasks and get things done. You sink into a "I just can't deal with this right now" mindset. And rightly so - you can't!

Third is that this is a choice. The good news is that negative emotions, just like a headache, can be treated quickly. There is a mental paracetamol you can take.

So the point really is this - know that negative emotions will drain the life out of you; and know that they can be dealt with. Not denied or locked away - but actually treated. The hard bit is that you need to get good at recognising what is going on; and dealing with it. Now, here is the key: Whenever you feel bad; follow the procedure outlined below. This will take discipline, because by definition, you'll be "bummed out" and not feel like doing much. But, if you can get in the habit of forcing yourself to start the process whenever you feel bad - and this is just a habit, like everything else - you'll be able to turn a 1-2 week slump into a 1 hour blip. The process below really is magically impactful; but you need to do it.

So without further ado, here is the formula for recognising your emotional angst and dealing with it. Much of this, by the way, comes from stoicism:

Process for dealing with negative emotions:

  1. Define the cause - Here, you ask yourself why am I really feeling bad. As in, yes, I suck at work - but what is it I'm actually feeling? Is it fear I'll get fired? Is it lack of self esteem that I'm not performing? Is it frustration I picked the wrong job? Dig deep - what does it mean? Does it mean I'll never work again? Does it mean I'll be poor? Does it mean something outside of myself, like my boss is bad? What is it telling me? Explore where things may go - does it mean I won't get promoted? or fired? Or simply ignored for a while? How likely is this to happen - are you really getting fired? - and what does it look like if it does? Imagine it happening - you may realise that if you get fired you'll probably get a similar job within 2 weeks anyway. You may realise this is actually really unlikely to happen. Explore why things are happening - was a bad comment made to me because someone hates me; or they're just in a foul mood? Often, things don't happen to you - they just happen. The point is, you're feeling bad; but how is your subconscious interesting the input of "I suck at work" or whatever else. What story are you really telling yourself, about what is happening, and what it may lead to. Write it down. This is really really important to understand; and guaranteed, you'll realise something you hadn't.

  2. Identify where this fits - Once you have explored the event, take a step back. Look at the 10 year journey you're on, from t-2y to t+8y. For example, you may be training for the NY marathon, which you hope to complete sub 4 hours. It may be close to the event and you've injured yourself and are super depressed. Take a step back - what is the long term goal? To be a successful and regular sub 4 hour marathon runner? If that is the context, then this even simply means your first sub 4 hour marathon will be next year not this one. Or maybe in 2 months in another city. Maybe your goal is to be CEO of Goldman Sachs. Currently you're the worst performer in your team. Where does this fit in the bigger picture? Is it the catalyst that pushes you to another business area which you need to be successful? Is it something simply not that meaningful in the context? Is it telling you you can never succeed in corporate life and need to adjust your goals? Don't sugar coat is; but simply have the perspective of the long term plan and where this fits. This will prevent you overblowing the importance of whatever is happening in your head.

  3. Identify the next step - So by now you know what's really going on in your head; and where it fits in the bigger picture. You should now be able to tell yourself what to do. In the scheme of things, what is most important - is it to run this immediate marathon, possibly in a bad time and possibly breaking down mid race; or is it just to rehab as effectively as possible and attack the next target. Is it to find a change of role; is it just to get your head down knowing things will be fine. You've contextualised where you are, now plan your next step.

  4. Identify the positive - Life deals you lots of good cards you just don't see. Identify to yourself where this is a positive - maybe you get to find a more suitable role; maybe it is pushing you somewhere more suited for yourself; maybe it is teaching you to be mentally tougher - every cloud has a silver lining, find this one.

  5. Don't self indulge - Just remind yourself - you now have an objective take on what's happening, where it fits, what it means, and what you're doing about it. To further mope around wallowing in self pity is just a waste of time, but it can be a natural instinct. Don't succumb.

  6. Don't suffer for free - As we described above, emotional suffering is a costly business. So, to worry about getting fired before you've been fired, is to give away suffering for free. You're paying the cost of worrying about something that may not happen. As Mark Twain said, "I've had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened". Don't give away suffering needlessly.

You will find that, bad as you feel, mechanically forcing yourself deeply into the above process will completely change your mood, and give you the perspective a wise old uncle would have given you if you had one and poured your heart out to them. This really works - make it a rule to execute whenever you are feeling bad.

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