Ignoring Emotions Does Not Work – Emotional Pro

March 5th, 2007

James intended to get a lot of work done on Wednesday. That was his telecommuting day, when he could work from home. Tuesday night he made a list of the four things he planned to accomplish: tally and submit his work expenditures for the past month for reimbursement, tie up the loose ends with the Samtag project and submit the signed contract, write four hours on the instruction manual for the Dailey project, and conduct a conference call with the seven department heads who were involved with the Kindler project. Those four things could easily occupy the 8 hours he was obligated to work. If he got an early start, he could be finished by 4 p.m. and have some relaxing time with his wife, perhaps even a swim in the club’s outdoor pool now that the weather was getting warmer. He drifted off to sleep, the alarm set for 7. What a pleasure that he didn’t have that hour commute and could get some extra sleep!
At seven, he realized he didn’t really have to get up, so he didn’t. He hit the alarm button and turned over in bed. It was 8:30 when he opened his eyes and sat up. Although he intended to get right to work, there was a very interesting article in the morning paper about a young man who had been murdered and all the people who had been affected by his death, including the investigators, the coroner and family and friends. After that, over his second cup of coffee, was the crossword puzzle. It took much longer than usual. It was 10:15 when he at last looked up and realized the day was slipping by and he was way behind.
Too disgusted with himself to start on anything that required energy, he decided to start with the financial tally, a job he hated. He couldn’t find all the receipts and found himself staring at a squirrel running up and down the oak tree outside his window. It was 11:30. “I just won’t write as much on the manual,” he decided. It was 1 p.m. before he could complete the financial tally; and he was in a bad mood!
James made himself a great lunch and ate in on the back deck. The squirrel was still busy in the oak tree. “Good thing the conference call is set for 2,” he reminded himself. And at 2, he had rinsed and stacked his dishes and found his notes. The conference call lasted for an hour and a half. Very productive. He was pleased. Now, of course, he had a summary to write, and several details to look after. How could he possibly get started on everything when the children would be coming home in 45 minutes? On Wednesdays, it was James’ job to look after their three children and start the dinner. That meant, of course, that James wasn’t getting any writing done, had not completed the Samtag contract, and had dozens of loose ends from the conference! How could anybody expect him to get all this work done? He felt irritated and put-upon.
Things didn’t go well with the children, either. The two youngest had a fight over a toy, the oldest was gloomy but wouldn’t talk, and nobody would help set the table when James had the food ready. Ungrateful kids! James did all this work–dedicated all of his days to working–on their behalf, and for what? He had no empathy for his wife, who came home from her job complaining she had a tough day and wanted no food, just to go to bed and nurse her headache. On top of everything, James was abandoned for the day. Now he had to put the children to bed, too. “This was not,” decided James, “a good day.”
Why not? James knew, intellectually what he needed to do on this Wednesday. Yet, even with a list and good intentions, he sabotaged his intentions. Once that happened, the day seemed to go “downhill.” What, exactly, was it that got in the way of his resolution? After all, he had only four work projects to do. They were quite accomplishable in the time allotted, but he had been unable to get more than one completed. What was it?
Emotions! That’s what got in James’ way. He didn’t feel like getting up at 7. He wanted to enjoy himself with the paper and crossword puzzle, rather than doing something he hated (the financial accounting). Even though he didn’t like the task, he was able to complete his bookkeeping, all the while feeling disgusted with himself for his previous dallying. And the emotions kept popping up–he “got in a bad mood,” which he tried to relieve with a great lunch and out-of-doors relaxation. He felt overwhelmed, irritated and put-upon. This was reflected in the behavior of his children, who argued and then stayed away from James, so that he eventually also felt under-supported. Emotions, emotions, emotions. Emotions are part of everything. Yet, note that James made no spot in his day to balance his emotions, or to do anything more than note their presence. James seemed to accept, as so many of us do, that this “bad emotional day” was “happening to him.” In fact, as you can see from this reportage, he was creating it, step by step, largely by not paying attention to his emotions!
What else could James have done?
Of primary importance, James needed to acknowledge that there was the “thought” and the “emotion” side of himself. The “thought” side set up the schedule on Tuesday night, without regard to the “emotion” side. The “emotion” side of James didn’t care what the “thought” side had declared, and actually ran James’ day through its unwillingness to follow the “thought” side’s plan.
Once we acknowledge that there are at least two sides of us vying for Top Dog position, we can work more effectively with them. You can’t work with a problem or issue you don’t know exists and aren’t looking at! Without that acknowledgement, there is a constant “war” that goes on between the two sides, with neither actually winning. Most addictions, in fact, originate in an internal war between “good” and “evil.” “I was good,” we say. “I didn’t overeat.” “I was bad. I ate (drank, smoked, etc.) too much.” With addictions, we allow ourselves to carrom between the two sides, vowing to “be good” if we have overindulged, then being “bad” (usually in excess) when we can no longer stand being only good! In a more minor way, this is what happened in James’ day, too.
What does James need to do? Make a decision! He needs to make each thing a decision. “I will get up at 7 a.m.; that’s my decision.” Or, “I’d like to get up at 7 a.m., but I know I won’t. I’ll get up at a more realistic time, like 7:45. That way I can sleep in some, but still get the work done I’d like to get done.”
But what if–and it is entirely likely–James doesn’t really want to get any of this work done? What if he is merely doing what he “should” do, things he would do if he were at work with people noticing his behaviors? In this case, James needs to turn his “should” into a “want.” Nobody likes to do what we think we “should” do. A fight usually erupts within us when we run ourselves on the basis of “I should”s, causing us to vibrate as if we were a piece of metal caught between two equally strong magnetic fields. “But,” you protest, “James has to do ‘shoulds’ because his work expects him to get things done whether he wants to do them or not!” True, but James (and anyone else) is much more likely to accomplish his goals if he “wants” to accomplish them, instead of having to drive himself to accomplishment because he “should.”
James does not have to fulfill the expectations of his workplace. In fact, he doesn’t have to work there! James chooses to work, and in that workplace, because he wants a certain level of income and survival ability. Every day he goes to work, James chooses to go. Accepting this daily choice takes a lot of the “war” out of going to work! James also chooses what he does during his day, whether he’s working at home or at the office. Even if he is told every single thing to do in his workday, he chooses to do (or not do) those things, for a variety of reasons including having a job, earning a level of income, feeling good about himself, achieving accomplishment goals and liking to please those with whom he works. Everything in life is a choice. Life does not only “happen to us.” We are part of the creative team.
By accepting his choice in every experience, James is also taking responsibility for himself and his life. Responsiblity is a “building block” in a lot of human life, for example, self-esteem, intimacy, relationships and creativity. The more James accepts responsibility for and with his life, the better he will feel and the more congruently he will behave.
Once responsible and at choice, James has the ability to change–and ultimately balance–the emotional responses he experiences in a day.

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