“A human action becomes genuinely important when it springs from the soil of a clearsighted awareness of the temporality and the ephemerality of everything human. It is only this awareness that can breathe any greatness into an action.” – Vaclav Havel, Czech playwright and former president of Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic.
I was recently in the car dealership for a routine service appointment. When I walked in, there was a lone service advisor managing the day’s workflow as all her colleagues were out for one reason or another. She was obviously feeling stressed at having to handle all the work of a busy department completely on her own. You could see the stress, with her forehead furrowed, her eyebrows tight together, her hands regularly rubbing at her temples.
She did a great job of getting me in, the mechanics going on the service, and the car was wrapped up in no time. As I sat with her to process payment I looked her in the eyes and said, “I want to pass along something that I hope helps you in this moment. I can see that you are stressed, but I want you to remember – this is temporary. It will pass. What you need to do is to be present in the moment, focus on the task immediately at hand, and let go of the things you can’t control.”
She looked at me with the tension built up in her body, holding her breath, her shoulders drawn up toward her ears. Then she sighed, slumped back in her chair and a sole tear trickled down from one eye. “Thank you,” she said, “I was feeling that this day would never end, as though it would just keep going on forever. The team around here is great, and I’m really looking forward to having them back in tomorrow!”
Among the things I have learned in life is that human experience is ephemeral, with our emotional state waxing and waning over time. But the challenge is that when we are in that moment we don’t recognize its temporality. For neither the positive nor the negative experiences. And because we don’t recognize the temporality of the moment as a species we’re poor predictors of the future – often expecting the positive, or negative, situation and emotions to continue to persist on.
Psychologists Timothy Wilson and Daniel Gilbert in 2003 published research on “Affective Forecasting” – predictions we make of how we will feel about future emotional events. In it, they outline the types of errors we are prone to make in those predictions. One of the most common and largest sources of our emotional predictive errors comes from “Adaptation and Sense-making Processes”. This source of error points to the temporality of our emotions – or emotional evanescence as they call it. For example, a manager gets a promotion expecting that it will provide them extreme happiness for months to come, but rather they adjust to the new emotional baseline much quicker than anticipated.
Recognizing this evanescence, this fleeting nature of moments, what are we to do?
First, with those positive experiences, those times of joy, of a sense of accomplishment, of pride or contentment – cherish those! Commit them to memory. Journal about them – what was the experience? How did it make us feel in the moment? Why did it make us feel that way? And think of what we can do to sustain or repeat that positive emotional state.
For those negative experiences, those times of loss, sadness, stress, even depression – it’s useful to utilize a set of behavioral psychology tools (tools like those we use in Dogma Athletica’s performance psychology offerings as part of our endurance sports coaching):
- Pause to acknowledge the emotion – recognizing the physical sensations associated with it.
- Think about what impulse that emotion may cause but more importantly the implications of following that impulse.
- Consider where that emotion comes from – what is the situation that underlies the emotion.
- Make a plan of action on how to address the underlying cause of that emotion.
- Follow through on that plan.
When we pause to acknowledge the emotion and think about the physical sensation of it, it helps us objectify the emotion. This helps take away some of that “rawness” we can sometimes feel with painful emotions and allows us to think more objectively about the situation causing the emotions. It also allows us to put into better perspective what the impulses are that come from that emotion and the implications of following those impulses, helping guide us to better decisions about whether or not to follow those impulses. When we then think objectively about the situation, it provides clarity to what steps we should take to appropriately address the situation. Then, when we follow through on those steps our behaviors gradually reshape our emotions, leading to more positive outcomes for us.
For example, a person may be feeling depressed about their lack of fitness. Perhaps they’ve put on several pounds and it’s contributing to feelings of shame, self-anger or powerlessness over their physical health. When that feeling of self-anger arises, pausing to acknowledge that emotion and thinking about the physical manifestation of it – perhaps it’s a lump in the stomach, or maybe its tightness in the neck and arms, or like a knuckle pressing against the chest – can help better process it.
Maybe that feeling of self-anger creates the impulse to shun a neighborhood party, but thinking about the implications of following that impulse – missing catching up with friends, the chance to trade stories of what’s been happening, the feelings of isolation that could result – helps make it easier to decide to go to the party for all of the positives that will come from attending.
Then making and following an action plan – small steps, easy at first in order to feel some “quick wins”. Signing up for that group fitness class and attending the first day. After that, telling yourself “I’ll make it to two classes next week.” With continued dedication, eventually a new habit will be formed and those behaviors will lead to pride in following through on a plan, a sense of accomplishment, and emotions of self-congratulations replacing self-anger.
Wherever you are now emotionally, remember it’s temporary. But in any case, cherish it, positive or negative, as these moments in total create the rich tapestry of our lives.
September Client Engagement Winners!
It’s time to hand out some kudos! Congratulations to those members who showed real dedication to their fitness and well-being with regular attendance in the gym! We love seeing all of you in the gym but want to show our thanks with Book Worm gift cards to the following people:
Personal Training Winner(s)
Group Fitness Class Winner
Keep up with your fitness goals! October is a new month and a new opportunity to win a gift card from some of our local Riverwalk merchants!