In the Uber-Human, Hyper-Efficient, Success-Driven world of business, little attention is given to emotions. (Have you noticed?) Instead, focus is placed on efficiency, strategy, action, and goals.
Often, what happens is that people who feel deeply or who are sensitive find that such philosophies don’t seem to work. We wonder if perhaps we just weren’t meant to be successful or efficient or goal-oriented. Or worse, that something is wrong with us.
Nothing is wrong with you. And yes, you can still succeed in business. But you enter sticky territory when you start categorizing yourself as “highly sensitive” or “too emotional.” In fact, you might unknowingly be keeping yourself stuck.
Here are some perspectives from my business journey that may help you navigate your emotions, and quit positioning yourself as the hapless victim of them.
The Myth of Emotions as “Truth”
I began doing healing work in my early 20’s when I healed bulimia without drugs or Western medicine. I tried energy healing, acupuncture, homeopathy, massage, retreats, meditation and many other modalities and techniques. All of them have contributed in some way to my wellness.
But at one point, I realized my emotions were often stuck in a default pattern.
I’d end up feeling the same old things, in spite of all of the progress I’d made. With no small amount of pride, I chalked it up to being more sensitive, more authentic, and more emotional than this cold cold world. (A Portrait of the Artist as a Drama Queen.) I got more and more drained by these patterns.
That’s when I learned about the “untruth” of emotions. I was at a retreat. The leader offered the perspective that we don’t have emotions. Instead, we “do” emotions. She said that, yes, we might feel them. But we choose to DO them.
Oddly, I got my biggest a-ha not from what the teacher said, but from how the person next to me reacted. This person rolled her eyes, and huffed, “Oh please.”
I saw myself in her reaction. I saw how vehemently I clung to “my truth!” I saw my own self-righteousness and attachment. In other words, “Don’t challenge my feelings! They’re my version of the truth that I want to hear! And that truth is that I’m sensitive and caring, and you aren’t.”
From that day on, even in my worst emotional attacks, I felt this little inner-observer watching me with curiosity, scratching her chin and thinking, “Hmmmm. Now, I’m doing insecurity. Now I’m doing fear. Now I’m doing hopelessness.”
So was I, in fact, “doing” these emotions?
85% of the time, I was.
The challenge, then, was to choose differently.
Can You Choose Your Emotions?
When you hear someone say that you can choose an emotion, your first thought might be that it’s impossible. Emotions just are, aren’t they? Emotions happen!
It takes a high degree of awareness, attention and persistence, but you can choose differently.
I’ve actually made myself stop all activity until I was able to raise my emotional level even a notch. Sometimes this has required me to simply just take what Tara Brach calls a “sacred pause.” It means I sit still and breathe. When the stillness brings more calm, I will ask the question, “Is this feeling true?”
Other times, I have opted for an NLP technique, like focusing my eyes upwards and breathing. (This usually works best right when you catch the emotion or the thought coming on.)
And there have been times when I’ve just said to myself, “Nope! Not putting my energy there right now!”
How you make a different choice comes with practice. This is a process that takes time. (I can’t stress this part enough!) But it is possible.
Start with a sacred pause when you find yourself struck with a highly charged emotion. Sit quietly, hands on heart. Breathe deeply for at least 5 minutes. And then ask yourself, “Is this true?” That’s enough to create a pattern interrupt.
How Emotions Can Feed Your Ego
Eckhart Tolle teaches that some emotions serve only as food for the ego or “pain body.” The emotion may feel debilitating, but in actuality, it’s building you up. In the world of the ego, you become “morally superior” to the situation you’re reacting to. You inflate.
When you’re raging at the traffic, you make yourself “morally superior” to the traffic. If you furiously state that rich people are all greedy bastards and that wealth is achieved by unconscious people, then you become “morally superior” to wealth.
Even when you’re deflated in your emotions — guilt, for instance — you feed your ego. It gets to feed on the identity of being “wrong” or “less than” — which can evolve into being “more sensitive then the rest of the world.” (Which ultimately makes you morally superior, yet again!) Emotions can be tricksters. The ego’s smoke and mirrors.
My experience has taught me that many emotions keep us stuck (and safe). If, for instance, you want to raise your prices, you will have to deal with the emotions that come up if someone says no, or accuses you of being greedy. For some, that’s a huge pattern to work with.
You might not want to have to face all of those feelings, so you play it safe and don’t change your pricing. You think you’re lazy and label yourself a procrastinator, but really you’re just staying safe. You might say that you “can’t take” all that rejection. But what you really can’t take is what you’re telling yourself about all that rejection. Emotions can be powerful teachers.
Clearing Emotions by Dropping the Story
The biggest awakening I’ve had with my own emotional self is recognizing how many of my emotions aren’t even emotions. They’re really just “stories.” When I sit quietly and allow an emotion to be there, I often enforce this rule: No Stories Allowed. (Stories can range from “Poor me” to “Why bother?” to “No one wants me” to “These idiots always screw everything up!” to “I’ll never get this right!”)
When I can sit with the emotion, allowing just the emotion to be there without the story that accompanies it, the emotion dissipates pretty quickly. This is good. It allows me to experience that energy without repressing it. Emotions are really not that big of a deal when there’s no story to anchor on to them. Emotions just are.
The Real Lesson of Goal-Setting and Business Success
One day in late September, my client Tina called me in a panic. At the beginning of the year, she had done a goal-setting process I teach called The Commitment to Uplevel. She had set a goal to make $250,000 in her business by the end of the year. She was at $169,000 — nowhere close to her goal. She was in the midst of an emotional attack of shame.
I told her that she could push hard and drive forward, clinging desperately to this goal and reach it no matter what. There are many coaches and success gurus who would give that advice. And for many people, it works. We are a culture of achievers! We know how to get shit done, right?
But I coached her instead about remaining in relationship to this goal. I told her that setting goals teaches us more about our relationship to goals than anything else. In this case, she was learning a lot about an old pattern of berating and shaming herself. I coached her to simply stay in relationship to her number and watch these patterns as they unfold. We created a marketing plan for the coming months — but it didn’t involve any hardcore pushing herself out of fear.
Guess what? A few amazing opportunities fell in her lap in October. And by December 31, she hit $246K.
Was she bummed that she didn’t hit her exact goal number? Not at all.
The reason I encourage emotional types to set goals is the great teaching they provide. If you approach your goals, or your intentions with clarity and awareness, you get to see all of your resulting emotional moments for what they are: old thought patterns.
If you are sensitive and/or emotional, consider that you are in business because it provides so many opportunities to break out of old stories, to nurture yourself, to set boundaries, and to become clear. In fact, some of my most “sensitive” clients have become the most “attractive” entrepreneurs because their sensitivity ultimately makes them better leaders and much more authentic. People are drawn to them.