Make painful emotions useful

November 27, 2011 by Joshua
in Blog, Fitness

I’m not a fan of putting positive spins on things. You can’t call something positive without calling something else negative.

Calling some emotions negative makes some people want to shun them and act like they don’t have them. How many times have you seen someone obviously angry or enraged, saying through gritted teeth and clenched jaws, “I’m not angry,” in blatant denial of their emotions? They confuse how an emotion feels with how it motivates them or tells them about themselves and their world. They think some emotions are bad and repress them. This belief leads to lower self-awareness and motivates them to act without reflection.

Lowering self-awareness and acting reactively are just about the worst things you can do to improve your life.

I remember one experience (of many) of one of the most emotionally painful experiences in my life related to a situation I’d never want and the value of recognizing the emotional pain. In college I played the great sport of ultimate Frisbee. The situation came the first time I got no playing time in an important game. The team captain told me he couldn’t put me in because or my poor defensive skills. I felt horrible. I can’t describe how horrible I felt. By the end of the game I was so overwhelmed I had to leave the field and go back to the van to cry. Feeling good would not have helped. I sucked at something important to me. I had to improve myself to prevent feeling that way again.

Any one who knows me knows ultimate became one of my great passions and joys in my life. Until then I thought of it as just having fun. Fun is great. Had I called being benched in that important game positive and attached fun feelings to it, I could have continued having the sport a fun part of my life. Instead I recognized how awful the situation felt, how I never wanted to experience a situation like that again, and how I had to do something about it.

As a result, the sport remained one of my life’s great sources of fun, but it also contributed a wealth and richness of other emotions through practice – dedication, drive, determination, thrill, agony, and so on. I decided to embrace the work it took to derive reward from competing to the best of my ability and not merely have fun. I was never benched for another game again.

I would gladly trade the agony and pain that came from caring about defeat, with the ensuing richness, complexity, and reward, for just more fun and not caring about losing. In my experience, rich, complex, and long-term emotions create rich, complex, and long-term value in my life. Reward that comes through pain – physical, emotional, or both – is often heightened, as in this case. Simple pleasures have their place and I value them, but putting lipstick on a pig and calling misery and suffering positive or sweeping them under the rug restricts you from improving your life. Acknowledging pain is not the same as enjoying it or creating more.

Instead I call them useful. The Model and Method show me how to use them.

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