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Use Your Words

At various times, strong feelings dampened my ability to think clearly, make decisions, and move forward meaningfully. Sometimes it was a memory of a poor choice I’d made in my youth that hurt other people. Sometimes it was a conflict with a family member or being rejected from an opportunity I tried for in my work. If you’re like me, you have felt and perhaps continue to feel disappointment, sadness, anger, anxiety, or fear in the midst of similar experiences or when you remember them. If you’re like me, those feelings may leave you too fatigued, too tired, or too overwhelmed to pursue more than just getting through the day. How can/should we respond to such feelings and experiences?

I bet you can hear the cliché advice circulated by well-meaning authors, speakers, friends, family members, and parents that just haven’t seemed to help or don’t seem to work for you. I certainly can. Many such bits of advice entails stuffing, denying, or otherwise controlling or fighting “negative” feelings, which I can never seem to really do. That would lead to feeling bad about how I was dealing with my feelings on top of existing disappointment, anger, or sadness. What other option is there?

In Emotional Agility, Dr. Susan David offers a strategy I hadn’t heard of before but immediately made sense from my own experience. She makes a compelling case that putting our internal experience into honest, unedited words helps our minds process in a way that increases our wellbeing. In the study she cited, participants wrote for 20 minutes per day for three days about the humiliation, anger, sadness, and uncertainty they felt about losing their jobs recently. The control groups wrote about time management or nothing at all. Later, the participants who had done the writing exercise about their internal experience were markedly better off.

The main key is giving words to the experience without any editing or filtering. That means leaving behind any concern for making sense, making a point, or making an impression. This allows coming to yourself and your feelings with curiosity rather than judgment. You can do this by writing on a piece of paper and then throwing it away, composing a document on your computer and then deleting it, talking to a voice recorder as you take a hike, or offering a raw and honest prayer. Sometimes, this will reveal insight about yourself or your situation that does make sense, make a point, or make an impression.

In my experience, honestly expressing raw experiences somewhere turns down the noise inside me. In that quieter internal space, I can see what’s important, see opportunities to live in light of what’s important and take action on what’s important. I hope you’ll find the same.

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