For immediate, natural emotional pain relief, repeat these five steps whenever you’re waylaid by difficult emotions.
This information cannot help you.
Only your own actions can help you.
You’re in danger of skimming, and forgetting, information which — if you act on it — will absolutely change your life in a major way for the better.
I know that sounds pompous. And yet it’s true. But isn’t it true that the claimed and true results of all life-changing habits, simple as they are, sound pompous and too good to be true?
Here’s a perfect example of what sounds pompous, and too good to be true: “Eat only unprocessed, plant-based foods, and you’ll live a decade longer.”
Don’t you agree there are equally healthful practices for the mind?
These “5 steps” below are drawn from Eastern practices and modern research in positive psychology.
And just as an unprocessed, plant-based diet extends a human life a decade or more on average, this information, when you act on it consistently, will absolutely change your life dramatically for the better.
Best of all, you can feel it working immediately. You don’t have to wait and see.
But I can’t emphasize enough that you must act. Don’t fall into the conditioned trap of just skimming because it looks like another cute blog entry.
First of all, get a Post-it Note, or a notebook, or a scrap of paper, napkin, envelope, note card, any REAL PAPER, and a pen to take notes.
Simply write down each of the bolded five steps.
Having it on real paper, not only buried digitally in your phone, can be of enormous value. It’s a marker for yourself, showing that you’re at least serious enough about it to put it down on paper. It’s also concrete action, and action always carries with it momentum.
As a last resort, if you’re on the train or bus and have no paper — use the note taking app on your phone.
Make a record which you’ll refer to again and again, and DO, dozens of times a week. These actions will make your most intense emotional pains less deep, and will cause them to go away more quickly: within minutes instead of hours or days.
These actions break the pattern of emotional pain by breaking the endless-circle pattern of your disempowering thoughts. They put you into a state of calm. They reveal reality, and that reality is fine.
Don’t mistake them for just another blog entry.
Take the notes. Write down the five steps. And when a negative emotion comes at you, try them and see.
When you try these steps, you’ll see — you’ll become “addicted”, so to speak. Addicted to dropping pain, addicted to reality.
Step 1: Assign a name to the particular negative emotion you’re feeling in this moment, and write it down in a list on paper or on your phone.
Don’t get too exact or too analytical… Just give it a quick name. A single word: If it’s mostly anger, then call it “Anger.” If it’s “sadness,” then just call it “sadness.” If “guilt”, then go quickly with calling it “guilt.” The point is not to define the emotion according to what others have written about it in dictionaries and elsewhere. The point is to label it for yourself, so that you can easily recognize it when it returns at a later time.
Why keep a list of your negative emotions? So you can recognize each one when it next appears. You’ll recognize it as an emotion you’ve dropped before. That gives you a big advantage whenever it returns. It also helps you to see the number of negative emotions that you’re up against is limited.
Step 2: Don’t identify with the negative emotion.
Don’t say to yourself, for example, “I’m angry.”
You may know what you mean by saying “I am angry.” Or, “I am sad.” Or whatever the emotion is. You may “know” that you don’t mean you are that emotion.
But do you really know that, if you say, “I’m angry”? Do you really know that the emotion is not somehow part of you?
Language has a way of sneaking into the way we think. Which has a way of changing how we feel. You don’t want to feel that you are your negative emotion. Or that it is tattooing you, or staining you.
You’re most certainly not your emotions. Your emotions come and go, like the weather. This is basic reality. They come and they go. So don’t think, “I’m angry.” Or, “I’m hurt.”
Think instead something much more accurate, although a little awkward: “Sadness has arisen here, for the moment.” Or “Anger has arisen here, for the moment.” Or “Guilty feelings have arisen here, for the moment.” Or whatever the label you have chosen for the negative emotion troubling you.
Why is this strange way of speaking or thinking so important?
Because it helps to prevent you from seeing the negative emotion as somehow YOU or as somehow an integral part of you, or as somehow an indelible stain upon or some kind of damage to you.
The emotion is none of those things. It’s just a temporary state, however important it may feel. Nothing more.
Negative emotions are like weather. They come and go. It’s more accurate to say, “A rainstorm is happening here now” than to say “My yard is rainy.”
Step 3: Don’t assign meaning to the negative emotion, or wonder what it means for you, your future, your past, etc. Don’t assign or create any other supposed “meaning”. Just stick with “Anger [or whatever negative emotion] has arisen here, for the moment.”
Don’t think any sentences about the negative emotion. Don’t try to explain the emotion, or where it came from. Not right now. There may be a time and place for that in your life. It’s not while you’re trying to work, or eat your breakfast, or do your grocery shopping.
Let the negative emotions wash over you naturally. It’s as if you are a rock, and the negative emotion is a wave. If you make up sentences about it, or try to explain it, or try to fight it, you’ll only whip it up. You’ll keep tossing the wave over yourself.
Don’t make any sentences about it at all. No statements, no questions. No stories. No images with stories implied.
For examples: “Why? Why me?” Or “Oh how could he be so cruel?” Or, “How could I be so cruel?” Or, “How could I have been so stupid as to marry him/her?” Or, “I’ll never be loved again!” Or, “I can never get over this.”
These are a few examples of untrue meanings or statements, or meaningless questions, which most people create after a breakup.
These kinds of statements and questions take the temporary, natural pain that you feel, and they amp it up. And they keep it stirred up. And they’re completely imaginary. They don’t exist outside of your head. And they have no meaning. What possible answer is there to each of those questions? I think you’ll agree — none! They’re without much content, without any direction. Naturally — they’re expressions of emotion.
So avoid making any sentence except “Anger [or whatever the negative emotion] has arisen here, for the moment.”
Step 4: Focus on something concrete and present in your immediate environment.
Focus on anything at all, even if the object seems pointless. Especially if it seems pointless. And notice as many details about it as you can, as if you were going to draw a photorealistic pencil sketch of it.
Focus on a houseplant. Or the shoes of the person who is sitting across from you on the subway. Focus on a charging cord, a key, anything at all.
Make sure the subject of your focus is an object, a simple object which is just being what it is — not art, not people, not needs, not work, not social media, not a book. The point of this exercise is to pull you into the concrete here and now. Don’t spend time choosing. Literally any object will do.
You could even just focus on how your breath feels in your nose. This is a classic choice, and recommended, because it’s always there.
Focus on the object for a minute or so. There’s no need to set a timer.
Notice every detail you can about it. When your focus wanders, just notice and then gently, without judging yourself, direct your attention back to the object.
Take your breath for example. We tend to think our breath is just our breath. Nothing interesting there. But when you really focus on it, and notice how it feels, you notice it’s different and interesting at all times. It’s more in one nostril than the other. It’s cooler or warmer in your nose as it goes in and out. It feels different at different points in your lungs, your nose, and everywhere in between. It’s like a candle flame in that way. A candle flame may seem as if it will be utterly the same at all times. But it isn’t. It’s always a little different, and can be fascinating, even if it’s not entertaining. And that is the point. Entertainment takes us away from the here and now, from our bodies, ourselves. Focus on the breath (or the charging cord, or the coffee cup) keeps us grounded in the real world, in reality.
That has another benefit: Much of our suffering, especially around breakups or divorce, takes place in our imaginations. We remember a painful fight. Or we fear what may happen in the future. Get into your present here and now by focusing on your breath or on some ordinary “boring” object right in front of you.
Step 5: Twenty reps of Deep Slow Stealthy Breathing.
When you’ve finished a minute or so of focusing on that houseplant or charging cable or person’s shoes in the subway car, or on your own breath, then do 20 deep, slow, breaths in and out.
Do it unobtrusively, calmly, even stealthily.
Begin to get back into your immediate environment as you do these 20 breaths. Get back to doing what you were doing.
You may in a business meeting. You may be in class. You may be at dinner with your family. No one will notice.
What Happens When You Use the Five Steps
You feel calmer. You feel less stressed. You feel far less or none of the negative emotion you started with.
After some time, sooner or later, your negative emotions will come back, of course.
But now you know how to get the better of them. Negative emotions affect you less and less intensely. Negative emotions leave you more and more quickly.
Until one day soon (it can even happen within a few days), you feel surprised by joy. You wonder what ever happened to those negative emotions. You rarely encounter them.
You notice the negative emotions of your breakup or divorce won’t be part of your experience any more.
You wonder what crazy thoughts you were thinking in order to feel that that relationship, or that “love”, or “marriage”, was something you needed for your happiness.
Keep This Recipe
Negative emotions can arise almost anywhere.
So you need a recipe to follow which can be used anywhere too.
You can use The Five Steps anywhere, any time, to see negative emotions for what they are — or rather, are not.
You’ll see them pass over you and away from you naturally.
Try the five steps for a few days. Try them with every onset of negative emotion.
And after those few days, see how you feel.
Don’t be surprised if you feel much better, calmer, and more in control.
Like yoga, the benefits of these practices continue only if the exercises are continued regularly.