Your Emotions Have Something to Tell You

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I got an email from a client voicing his disappointment in his progress, and also in his inability to make efficient use of his time. Specifically, he was disappointed in his “inability to control his emotions.”

I thought my response might strike a chord with others as well.

I think you’re forgetting to take a couple of factors into account. The first is that no one can be productive all day every day. The goose and the golden eggs, right? Learn to recognize the symptoms of tiredness and overwhelm, and accept them. Yeah, yeah, push your limits, blah, blah, blah. That’s only a short term solution, one that ends in burn out. Sustainable progress is about discipline, and being attentive to the point of diminished returns. Once you get there, turn off your brain. It takes more discipline and control to do that than not, let me tell you.

Second, emotions are not there to be controlled. They’re sources of information to be interpreted. It’s only by disciplined use of the messages your emotions have that you can make the best decisions.


Look at it this way. If you were a general in the Roman army, and a messenger came into your tent to tell you that the second division had broken formation and was about to flee, what would you do?

Are you going to:

  1. kill the messenger for informing you that a division of your men are failing you?
  2. go out and shout at them? (er, sorry “rally the troops”)
  3. dispatch a different unit to help them so that at least the ones that haven’t fled have a formation to join?

Obviously, option one is just dumb. And yet, that’s essentially what you do when you ignore your emotions.

Option two, browbeating yourself into doing what you think you ought is not a very good plan, because of how humans react under stress. Please note, you are a human.

Option three, send help is the only effective response you have. If your subconscious is sending signals that point to trouble, whether it’s fear, frustration, boredom, anxiety, or anger, ignoring or bullying it in the name of maintaining control won’t work.

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You have to figure out the reasoning behind the emotion. What’s triggering it? What can you do to correct the trigger. If you’re bored, why? Would racing the clock to get down be enough to mitigate that? If not, what would?

I know it’s a bit of a leap to go from buttoning down your emotional responses to listening to them, so don’t expect a change overnight. But ignoring them, while it sounds like such a good, sane, effective, reasonable choice on the surface, is fraught with all kinds of problems. Don’t shoot the messenger.


9 thoughts on “Your Emotions Have Something to Tell You”

  1. Shanna, of all the cogent advice you offer, this rises to the top.  Well stated and spot on!! Thanks for this!! Deborah

  2. Yeah, what Deborah said. I used to quash feelings before anyone saw them, before I even knew what they were.I tend to be somewhat reserved, but nowadays it’s not ’cause I’m quashing, but because I’ve gotten very good at hearing the message and sending help.

    1. When I was a kid I somehow got the idea that emotions were *lying to me*. And so I ignored them largely. I’m not quite sure how I grew out of that idea, but I’m glad I did.

  3. I really love the idea of emotions as information. That said, I find they are usually extremely unhelpful about delivering that information. What do you do when your messenger is screaming and at the top of his lungs and running around and generally being a jerk, so you can’t even concentrate long enough to make a plan? I’d probably shoot him first (assuming, of course, that I were a Roman general), and then maybe send help or yell at the troops later, once I was done being angry at the messenger for being an idiot.

    1. Before last night, I would have blithely told you that, once you actually start paying attention to them, they’re much less annoying. Because they don’t have to pull a bunch of theatrics to get you to admit they exist (this is totally where psycho-somatic symptoms come from)

      But last night I talked to a friend who told me that she was “seriously the last to know” when she’s mad. Instead, she gets hungry, has to pee, random stuff like that. So now I’ll note that although that’s the first exception I’ve heard, I’ll fall back gracefully to the “People vary” rule and simple suggest the former. 😉

  4. Oh, this is a super-fantastic analogy, Shanna!!  I have been working with this concept for a while, but this metaphor of emotions as messengers makes it so much better.  I love it! (Side note: The sign-up page is fixed!)

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