Read-Only Emotions, Read-Write Behaviours

Many of us spend too much time worrying about negative thoughts and feelings and battling mentally to change them. I am no different. But eventually I realised that what I was trying to do was impossible.

It finally occured to me that my thoughts and emotions were not directly under my control – like a standard CD they were read only. I could sense them like listening to music but not over-write them with happier tracks no matter how much I tried.

This gave me some release from worry. If there is nothing that can be done, then there is very little point worrying, even for someone as obsessive as myself (See Freedom is  a confusing thing).  However this didn’t permanently solve the problem for me as at some time in the future I would no doubt be caught in a negative spiral again and be unable to do anything other than just ride it out.

The next piece of the puzzle fell into place when I was feeling particularly angry. I could not trace the source of the anger, I just felt it in my body. Slowly I became aware that all the muscles in my thighs (I was seated at the time) were tense. I took some deep calming breaths and the muscles began to release their tension and relax. Soon afterward the angry feeling had also passed. In a relaxed body the anger could not be sustained.

So by a change in behaviour – by physical breathing (clearly controllable by exercising our Will) we can change our feelings, in my case anger.

So behaviour is read-write, it can be both read (observed in ourselves and others) and written (by changing our actions).  And these changes in behaviour lead to a change in mental state.

The easiest way to do this is through paying attention to breathing. In the first place the change in perspective takes our mind off worries so our mental state cannot get any worse, and even more importantly by breathing properly and fully the body cannot sustain unpleasant emotions.

This works for anger, sadness and fear – each are symptoms are improper breathing.

I am not saying that if you are grieving this will solve it for you. Of course deep grief takes time to pass. But this technique, by working on the outer parts of ‘you’ that you can control, allows the inner parts to be changed also, reducing unnecessary suffering.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Dorothy
    Aug 21, 2010 @ 13:36:55

    It is strange how difficult it is to come to this realisation. It sounds obvious when people say there is no point worrying about things you can’t change, but when it’s your own situation, your sadness, your anger, it is somehow different. It is so hard to accept that by thinking something over and over there is not even a small chance that something might just change. That suddenly your life might change or you might just become happier. At least this was my experience. So when you finally learn the truth – that there really is no point worrying about things you can’t change – it is like a revelation. The freedom is immense and the path to real happiness is there. Right under your feet.


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