From "Connected (with Abe + Isaac) — Volume 8"

Emotional autonomy


NO REALLY. And not only is it okay to behold a context in which everyone is feeling terrible, in which the standard, so-called appropriate response would be to also feel terrible, choosing to feel good is the only way to break the cycle of toxic reactivity. Like begets like, like attracts like, and if you want to create or attract anything good, you gotta choose thoughts that feel better than what’s on offer around you.

This is what I’m calling “emotional autonomy”. It’s a little different than the psychology definition, which talks about it in terms of separating from the social fabric of your early development. And while this is similar, this is about choice in your feelings. Actual, real independence from socio-emotional mores. Independence from your own, for you get to choose what emotional habits serve you, and which do not.

So yeah, I’ve been thinking a lot about this. Feelings are usually described in terms of reaction, right? “This makes me feel x”. So it took me a good long while to figure out that I had a choice about how I felt.

A couple weeks ago, my bit of the newsletter involved a spectrum of emotions, ordered by good-feeling-ness. (Here’s that issue, if you want to look back on it.) It’s been my many-times-daily work to register a bad-feeling emotion, and to then upgrade it, taking whatever I’m thinking about and reframing it using the emotion that’s one step higher on the scale from where I started, then repeating to move higher still.

That process is predicated on the idea that you get to choose thoughts, and some thoughts feel better than others. It’s possible to just choose a good feeling and move to it, yes, but until you’ve got that muscle strengthened it’s easier to choose a thought that feels good, and let your habit of reactive-only feeling do its thing. Totally valid.

I say that quickly – “totally valid” – but let’s talk about that for a second. Abe was in a shitty-feeling place earlier, and I asked him to choose a better-feeling thought about the situation. I phrased it something like, “Okay, you’ve described this situation to me in a way that feels obviously terrible. That is a valid, real story. Now, tell me a story about this same situation that feels good.” And he rejected it outright, at first, saying that I was asking him to deny reality.

Which makes sense. But our perspective is our reality. Facts are emotionless, and if you’re having emotions about facts, it’s because you have a perspective on them. AND IT IS ABSOLUTELY VALID TO CHOOSE A PERSPECTIVE THAT FEELS BETTER. It is no more denying reality than staying with the perspective you started with.

Let’s take this further.

I’ve spent years holding empathy up over compassion, thinking that it is better to interact and merge with the emotional payload of a situation, rather than to stand back, stand removed, and acknowledge the hardship without unifying myself with it.

(Sidenote: observe that the description above obviously was going to be about negative and/or difficult emotions. We could do with empathizing with positive and/or easy emotions a little more, eh?)

It’s probably most true that both empathy and compassion are useful, and appropriate, in their turn. But if we’re talking about how we relate to the state of another, and if our priority is facilitating a movement towards health and life for all of us, then the choice about how we feel becomes a critical piece in what happens next. Like begets like, like attracts like, and choosing to feel good is no longer about breaking our own bad habits, it’s now about interrupting the negative-negative-negative reactivity cycle that society itself is engaged in. If the stream of self-propagating negativity finds its way to you, and you choose not to sustain it, if you choose in fact to respond with good-feeling-ness, then at minimum you force your microcosm of society to figure out how to deal with something new. At best, you show others how to do what you just did, and we all move up the scale together, a little at a time.

Can you feel how freeing that idea is? And why it might be a little dangerous to talk about? If you’re standing in a circle where everyone is bemoaning the state of affairs, expressing disappointment or anger at the way of things, it’ll feel something like blasphemy to say “but I am hopeful that we will learn”, or “I am enthusiastic about our collective awakening”, or even “I am joyful in my knowledge that we are part of a larger system that is self-balancing, and that because life wants to live, I am happily expectant that new, healthy forms that will arise, for well-being is absolutely available here too”. The reaction of dread and hand-wringing is not mandatory, and you may dare to be happy in a place where no one else is.

But start with you. Start with you. Recognize the freedom of choice that you have. No one has control over how you feel. No one, and nothing. Your thoughts are your own, your feelings are your own. And because your feelings are the lens through which you see life, and because you’re going to find more of what you’re feeling out there, it is absolutely in your best interest to feel good, so as to access the good that I promise is always available for you.

Emotional autonomy. Tuck that idea in your pocket. Claim your freedom.

Sometimes I gotta wear my shades 'Cause there's sunshine dripping down my face Don't let these people lie to ya Don't let 'em see ya smile too much They only tryna take it away Sometimes you gotta hide from 'em Don't let 'em see what's under the shades 🎶 “Shades”, The Knocks

In closing, here’s something that came out of one of my work calls this week: how we work is one of the most important things we make.

We adore you. ❤️🌱 Go get it. Have an awesome day.

Originally sent out via email

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