Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay – Approx. 7 minute read
Welcome to final article in the series of Practical Tools for Improving Your Mental and Emotional Well-Being.
In this final post, we will review the major concepts and tools covered.
The ‘Life Skills You Never Learned in School’ was the introductory article in the series. I was never taught how to emotionally self-regulate, think critically, be emotionally aware, or understand that I have a choice as to how I respond in any situation. My experience in addiction recovery and the journey beyond exposed me to practical concepts and tools that taught me to do just that. I have shared these tools in this series with the goal to help you support and improve your mental and emotional well-being.
#1: Your Thoughts are Powerful
What you think influences your emotional states and behaviors. Habitual ways of thinking become beliefs. Beliefs/thoughts are triggered by current events and memories. Recognize the unhelpful triggers, change your thinking, and change your emotional state and your behavior.
Use the emotional scale model to help you understand what state you are generally in and identify your desired emotional state(s) – where you would like to be going forward.
Use this understanding to reflect on your ongoing emotional state.
#2: How You Learn
Two models of learning – Conscious Competence and Stages of Change. There is a process to learning anything new. Understanding how you learn, the time it takes, and the challenges and stages along the way will enhance the opportunity for success. Learn anything new with an attitude of practice, patience, and persistence. Be gentle with yourself.
#3: The Meaning of Life and Out of Control
You give meaning (your truth) to circumstances from your perspectives and beliefs. Facts are indisputable (something happened). Individual truth is an interpretation of the facts. If you don’t like the meaning you give to something and the impact it has on you, change it.
Most of what happens in life is outside of your control. However, what is always in your control is how you respond (based on the meaning you give to a circumstance). You decide if you will spend your time and energy to attempt to influence others to attain a different result.
#4: Choosing Authenticity and Living Your Priorities
To live authentically means living by your chosen character traits, values, and principles. You have developed a set of beliefs through your life experiences. However, you get to choose which ones help or hinder your desired authentic way of being.
Where and what you spend your time and energy on are your priorities. This includes your ongoing patterns of thought. Reflect on your highest priorities, the beliefs, activities, things, and people that are the most important to you. Only you know if you are giving them the time and energy they deserve.
You are not what you do or the roles you fulfill. What you do changes. Your foundational identity is who you choose to be – your authentic self. Change your definition of ‘identity’ and open up a world of possibility and peace. Your self-worth is no longer dependent on your job, marital status, or financial situation.
The Choice Comparison Matrix (CCM) may be the most important tool in your toolbox. Make empowered decisions after examining all the short and long-term advantages and disadvantages of both sides of a choice – choosing to stay the same or making a change. Make choices with clarity and confidence that align with your desired authenticity and emotional state(s).
Emotionally reacting comes from your habitual way of thinking, based on past experiences. ‘X’ happens, or someone says ‘Y’, and you have an emotional reaction as a result – you are triggered. Emotional awareness involves being aware of your emotional reaction and deciding whether it is beneficial to your desired authenticity and emotional state(s). Use that emotional state (above or below the tabletop) as a compass as to which perspectives support your mental and emotional well-being and which do not. You can choose to rationally respond instead of emotionally react.
By practicing emotional awareness, you will improve your self-awareness (observing your triggers, thoughts, and emotions), emotional management (emotional self-regulation), social awareness (observing how others behave), and social skills (how you interact).
#8: Rational Living
A belief is a habitually repeated thought that you consider real or accept as true.
Rational thinking is beliefs/thoughts that are beneficial, make sense, or assist you with achieving your goals. Irrational thinking is the opposite.
You can dispute irrational thinking by questioning it (e.g. Is this always the result?), and noticing the words you use, such as ‘never, ‘have to’, ‘must’, as opposed to ‘rarely’, ‘want to’, or ‘prefer’. Substitute emotionally charged words with ones that convey a calmer state. E.g. Change ‘angry’ to ‘annoyed’, ‘shame’ to ‘regret’, ‘depressed’ to ‘sad’. Your vocabulary is powerful. Choose your words carefully.
The CREATE tool helps you change unwanted behaviors to ones you prefer. It helps you understand why you react the way you do – the beliefs that trigger unwanted emotional states and resulting behaviors.
CREATE stands for:
Circumstance: What happened, is happening, or will happen (triggering event).
Reactions – The emotions, feelings, and/or resulting behaviors.
Experiences – Past experiences and current beliefs that support your Reactions.
Awareness – Observe your Reactions. Are they Rational or Irrational?
Tell a NEW story – Change what you believe about the circumstance.
Expression of a new response – More helpful beliefs, emotions, and responses going forward.
CREATE helps you:
- Identify your undesirable reaction to a circumstance.
- Name the reactive emotions/feelings you experienced.
- Work backward to the initiating beliefs and thoughts about the circumstance that triggered the undesirable outcome for yourself.
- Recognize the pattern of your thoughts and understand that you have the ability to choose what you believe.
CREATE a different emotional outcome for yourself going forward.
#10: A More Peaceful You
Most people function from unconscious habitual patterns of beliefs, which trigger emotional reactions and behaviors. Beliefs filter and focus the views of what is important to an individual. This happens through Cognition Bias (looking only at information that supports a person’s beliefs) and Cognitive Dissonance (discomfort that accompanies behaving contrary to a strongly held value – e.g. a strong desire to be healthy yet smoking).
In the absence of facts, people fill in the blanks – they create a story that is typically derived from cognition biases and personal experiences. People tend to project their views and beliefs onto others, making assumptions about their motives.
Knowing most people operate this way will help you accept others for who they are. They only know what they know and behave accordingly. Accept this in others. Accept that how others behave and what they believe is out of your control. Accept that each of us is unique – we each have a unique set of DNA and life experiences. No two people are the same.
Acceptance is the key to a more peaceful you.
Motivation can be labeled as positive or negative reinforcement. Both can support you towards your goals and vision. You can increase your chance of success for any change by ensuring you have:
- Sufficient resources, information, and plans (short, medium, and long-term SMART goals).
- The ability to adapt (change the plan, not the desired outcome), and change/drop old habitual systems of behavior to allow for the creation of new ones.
- Ongoing motivation (recognize small successes, seek help and support, remind yourself of the disadvantages of staying the same, and the advantages of change).
Use these in-the-moment tools to derail habitual irrational thinking and establish an emotionally grounded state for rational thinking.
- Distract: Disengage from the current challenging situation and do something more uplifting. (Take a “time out”.)
- Breathe: Take six long and slow deep breaths. Quiet the fight, flight, freeze, or fawn survival reflex mechanism of your brain.
- HALTT: You are more susceptible to irrational thinking and reacting emotionally when you are hungry, angry, lonely, tired, or thirsty. It becomes worse if you are experiencing more than one at a time. Eliminate these and you will be in a better place to enable rational responding.
- STOP Thought: Interrupt the “runaway train” of unhealthy thoughts by imagining a large red stop sign. Yell out or say to yourself, STOP! You can substitute the Stop Sign with snapping a rubber band on your wrist, singing a song, or reciting a mantra.
- Kinesthetic Anchoring: When you are experiencing a peaceful or joyful emotional state (e.g. after exercising), anchor the feeling by using a physical sensation (tap your leg, snap fingers), then add a word that describes how you are feeling. Use later in situations when you want to create a more desired emotional state.
- Play the Tape Forward: Best used in conjunction with one of the above techniques. Once you feel more emotionally grounded, think ahead to the potential consequences if you were to react emotionally. Recall past situations where you did. Most likely, you don’t want to repeat the outcome. Make a different, rational choice.
#13: One Tool to Rule Them All
Your journey to supporting and improving your mental and emotional well-being begins with one word, and when put into practice becomes the foundational tool for all others.
Only by looking inwards at your behaviors, emotional states, and triggering thoughts and beliefs will you begin to change course. You are not your past behaviors. You are not your past beliefs or emotional reactions. When you live intentionally (with awareness), you get to choose who you are and how you behave in each moment.
Awareness gives you the opportunity to be accountable for your choices. You get to choose whether you emotionally react, or rationally respond.
Warning: Awareness comes with a price. Once you implement this life-practice tool, there is no going back. It is difficult (if not impossible) to unknow what you know.
Awareness is the cornerstone for self-empowerment, emotional self-regulation, and living a more peaceful life.
Congratulations! You now have a toolbox full of cognitive, practical, and easy-to-use set of tools to support your mental and emotional well-being through critical thinking and emotional self-regulation.
When, where, which ones, and how often you use the tools is up to you. You get to decide how important your mental and emotional well-being is to you. Your desired authentic self and emotional state(s) await.
Be empowered, accountable, and responsible for your well-being, one choice at a time.
For a free copy of a comprehensive PDF workbook on these tools and concepts, send me an email at [email protected].
I look forward to your comments and feedback.
For more techniques and tools for your mental and emotional well-being, check out my unique and engaging self-improvement novel, The Shift Squad
I write to inspire others to greater self-empowerment, authenticity, and improved emotional and mental well-being.
I am the author of the unique personal development novel The Shift Squad.
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