How to disconnect and understand emotion

February 26, 2018 Joe

I was lost in thought. My body was responding to the demands of the road, but my mind was elsewhere. 100 miles in and 70 to go left me feeling accomplished, yet empty. Would I make it the 175 miles in a day? Would my body give up on me? Or was it my mind that I had to worry about? I pushed on and forgot the physical pain and lost myself in thought. 130 miles in and my thoughts had run out. Only a singular focus remained: reaching my destination. Emotion faded and the doubt subsided. I was going to make it!

My 175-mile one-day bike ride from Austin to Houston allowed me to delve into some deep emotions. There was doubt, fear, and happiness. My experiences of being alone the road have made me sit with some tough emotions. It is only through a long journey of self-discovery that I have begun to understand emotions. This post is about my journey, so you can better understand emotion to live a better life.

Learning to disconnect and understand why

Learning to disconnect and understand why emotions arise is one of the hardest things to do. Many of us are taught from a young age to bottle emotions. How many times have you been told to “be tough” or “suck it up.” From the time we’re kids society tells us to bottle emotion instead of trying to understand emotion. This creates a relationship with our emotions that is tenuous at best. Most people have trouble expressing themselves, especially in difficult moments. Failing to understand emotion in a difficult situation makes growth hard. You won’t understand why you feel like this or why you reacted in a particular way. Suddenly, your emotions dominate your day to day instead of being “in control.”

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Throughout my life, I’ve felt like this many times. I’ve lost control and yelled in anger at a friend or at myself. I’ve become so frustrated that I could not continue. I didn’t understand my emotions or where they were coming from. I never bothered giving them any thought or even trying to understand them. Life was an emotional rollercoaster.

We all have felt like this at one time or another. Emotions are difficult and society’s expectations of bottling emotion make it even more difficult. My journey to understand emotion didn’t begin until I started some practices that have changed my life…

Learning to Be and Understanding Emotion.

The pinnacle of my emotional ability came recently. I was driving with my parents and my Dad missed a turn. I told him he missed it and to turn around. He immediately got angry and yelled. I may have been too harsh in word choice, so his reaction may have been warranted. My reaction, however, was not the norm. I laughed. Instead of yelling back, I let it go. I understood there was nothing to get angry about. In the past, this would have ended up as a full-on yelling fest. Instead, anger didn’t even come up and I laughed off the whole encounter.

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I didn’t come to this ability overnight. The journey to understand emotion was a long one. It all began when I started meditating every day over a year ago. I started using Headspace and immediately loved it. I started with 10 minutes a day and since I’ve expanded to 15 minutes every morning. It began with a profound change in learning to be and accepting emotions. Sitting with emotions every morning and letting them come and go has had incredible effects. My emotions stopped getting the best of me and I began to understand where they came from.

Meditation isn’t the answer for everyone, but it is a simple way to begin to deal with emotion. There are emerging studies showing its benefit coming out every day. Trying Headspace can be a great way to start even if you only meditate for 5 minutes a day. Besides mediation, it is a great practice to learn to be with emotion. Accepting emotion for what it is and understanding where emotions come from goes a long way. This can be very tough in practice. However, awareness goes a long way. My journey began this way, but it wasn’t until I got on my bike to tour around the US that I really understood emotions.

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Disconnecting and Sitting with Tough Emotions

The emotions on a bicycle trip are all over the place. A good day can turn into a horrible one due to weather or a mechanical issue. An emotionally unstable person could throw in the towel from a simple issue. Despite this, a bike tour or any kind of travel can help build emotional fortitude. Bike touring or being alone in nature allows you to disconnect from the world. It’s you and your emotions. Good or bad. You have to sit with your emotions because there’s nothing else.

You don’t have to go on a bike tour to disconnect with the world. Going for a hike or a walk is a great way to forget about society. This allows the space to be with your emotions and understand where they’re coming from. My time on the road allowed me to understand emotion. I felt lonely, afraid, tired, happy, and upset. Different days brought different emotions. It was only through sitting with these feelings that I was able to understand where they came from.

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When you understand where your emotions come from, you can better handle them in the future. This creates the emotional understanding to get through tough times. You have to put your mind and emotions to the test to get a grip on them. Learning to grow comfortable with the uncomfortable goes a long way.

Integrating Emotional Agility and Understanding into Your Life

Understanding emotion is a journey. We have been taught from a young age that emotions are not ok. They are meant to be bottled up and lost. It is only through sitting with your emotions that you can understand them. Emotions should not dominate our lives, but we they also need to be understood. It’s a balance that can be difficult to reach. Learning to sit with emotion and disconnecting to understand them are the first steps towards emotional agility. It’s a tough journey, but one that is well worth it.

There are some amazing books on this topic, but I would recommend two that changed the way I think about emotions. The Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman is an incredible look at how to live with emotion and find true meaning in what you do. Emotional Agility by Susan David is an in-depth look at understanding emotion. Both author’s experiences provide a starting point for your emotional journey.

Everyone’s journey is different, but learning to understand emotion is an incredible way to learn to live a better life. I hope you can take my lessons and the lessons of others to gain more emotional understanding and agility.

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When was the last time you sat with your emotions? Have you found any techniques for getting a grip on your emotions? What is the biggest benefit of emotional understanding to you? Let me know in the comments!

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