In case you missed Part I, let me catch you up. I’m in Tahoe skiing bottomless powder. It’s snowed 38 inches in the past 48 hours. The pass is closed, people are struggling to get to the resorts, and I’ve found a stash of untouched snow in some trees that involve minimal hiking.
On the last chairlift, I had a conversation with a friend in which she shared feedback about how I had been interacting with her and others over the past few days. It wasn’t positive. It hit at the core of who I think I am, and it left me feeling dejected. As I maneuver my left foot forward and drop my right knee for another effortless telemark turn, I realize I’m missing it. My mind has been cycling through my recent interpersonal interactions, and I’m so caught up in my thoughts that I am not aware of skiing bottomless powder. So, I stop.
The surest way to keep something in your mind is to try to forget it. Take this example: think of a pink elephant. Now that you have it, thrust it from your memory. If it is still there, try harder to push it from your memory.
We are experts at attempting to do this with emotions we don’t want to experience. When we do this, one of two things happens. We either fuel these emotions with thought loops that continue to keep us in this cycle, or we push them down and out for the current moment, only to resurface another time, unexpectedly, and even stronger. Neither sound like good options to me. And there is fresh powder waiting for me. I must do something.
Emotions researchers Oschner and Gross tell us we can deal with emotions in three stages: attention, reframing and acceptance.
Attention: I start by taking a deep breath. This immediately turns my attention away from the thoughts fueling my feeling of dejection to something neutral. Then I start to notice what I’m feeling. Some tension in my shoulders. My mind is spinning. Hmm, how interesting. I also notice my heart beating quickly and the lactic acid building up in my quads. Oh yeah, I’m skiing! When I start observing my thoughts objectively, they start shifting. The thoughts about the past drift away, and I notice what’s happening right now. I see huge evergreen trees around me. I hear my friend whooping from powder turns. I smell the crispness of the cold air. I’m grateful for where I am and that the weather miraculously delivered a bunch of snow.
Reframing: With this new frame of mind, it is easy to reframe this conversation as a positive. My friend and I have a great relationship. It is so great that she is comfortable giving me feedback. Now I have valuable information to improve myself as a person.
Acceptance: In this case, acceptance comes naturally. I understand I cannot change my past actions. I accept them for what they are, and I remind myself that I’m always trying my hardest despite what that may look like in retrospect. I am now fully ready to enjoy the next few turns. And they are well worth it!
It is impossible for us to control our emotions.
We can control the experience we have around our emotions, which ironically helps resolve them.
The hardest thing to do is recognize you are experiencing strong emotions (not discussed in this article).
Once you recognize you are emotionally charged, you can manage your emotions by first moving your attention to something else, then reframing the situation into something positive, and lastly accepting what occurred.