It is said that money makes the world go round. I beg to differ. In my observation emotions make the world go round. Human emotions drive everything – from anger or fear-driven acts and the worst hatred induced atrocities, to deeds of unbelievable courage or compassion, and the most divine acts of love. All human behaviour is driven by emotion.
The word EMOTION comes from the Latin e-movere, meaning to move out or through, as in propelling movement, a force set in motion. The originators of the word must have been acutely aware of the dynamic, stirring energy created by human feelings, energy moving through body and brain, constantly shifting, shaping our thoughts, our actions, and our lives. Much like dance moves and dancers shape a ballet or dance piece, although that might seem a lot more orderly and graceful than our emotion-driven behaviour. Or is that necessarily so?
A dance piece or ballet can look organized and seemingly effortless because it is choreographed. But can we really choreograph emotions? Can we choose what we feel and manage our emotions so we are in control of how they move through us, and how they come across to others?
Some may argue that this is impossible because emotions are often triggered without our conscious knowledge. However, my experience has been that it is not only possible, but hugely beneficial (and there are plenty of studies supporting this.)
So how do we choose our emotions?
We begin by noticing – paying close attention to what we are feeling and where in our body that feeling registers. The more we take our attention out of our busy minds and connect with our bodies, the more we are likely to notice physical tension from emotions, tensions registered there because our emotions live in our bodies. Such increased awareness gives us early warning signs of unhelpful emotions, which in turn allows for much easier self-management – we can assess whether the indications of a potentially strong emotion are appropriate to the situation, and if not, whether we need to take steps to change how we feel and adopt another perspective. For example, we may feel irritated by several small events in the morning, but with our renewed awareness of the resulting say neck tension, we can take some deep breaths or otherwise release that tension and regain a more balanced perspective, rather than blowing our top in the evening having allowed it to build throughout the day until it has become full blown fury.
This is the beginning of what I refer to as emotion choreography. And like a full-length ballet or dance performance, there are numerous steps that contribute to the mastery of emotional management – and all are extraordinarily satisfying to master, including and especially the interactive ones, for as a species, we are also driven to connect with each other, at a very basic level. We actually have a specific brain circuitry that directs our response to one another’s bodies in motion! Imagine for a moment watching a trapeze artist flying through the air; don’t we all feel the soaring sensation as well as the excitement? When we see a physical fight, don’t we wince at the blows? When we feel someone’s emotional pain, it’s not merely the expression on their face we mirror, but their bodily posture, and the emotional tension they emit. This empathic capacity is something most of us could, if we are honest, manage better. We can actually learn to ‘choreograph’ our emotional responses so we allow less of our own judgment and opinions to interfere with our empathy, with our ability to truly step into someone else’s shoes, making us better able to offer the support that’s actually needed (rather than being driven by our own agenda).
The most powerful of all the steps of the choreography of emotions is the feel-good factor; when we enhance and strengthen our ‘emotional capital’ by fully embracing our positive feelings; the exuberance of sudden inspiration or the peace of a quiet walk, the pleasure we feel when we watch a dancer or athlete move gracefully or our wonder at seeing beauty in nature, the delight of witnessing a child’s first steps, or the feeling of happiness in a loving interaction. If we give ourselves permission to fully relish those pleasurable feelings, savouring them for that little bit longer, enjoying them with our entire body, we strengthen the ‘muscles’ that ultimately give us more of a choice about what we feel, taking crucial steps towards being in charge of our emotional dance, to create ‘choreography’ we will, most likely, review favourably.