True emotional control gives an appearance of spontaneity but is in fact well practised. It may be compared with a skillful actor playing a dramatic role. His performance is neither exaggerated nor mechanical. It strikes the happy medium. The appearance of spontaneity is the result of long practice in the controlled expression of emotion.
It should be remembered that emotional responses are habits. They are reactions learned or acquired as the result of experience. This implies that emotional control too, is a habit which can be learned. In fact, this is what we mean when we say that a person is self – disciplined. He has acquired the habit of self – discipline by practice in controlling his emotions.
How are we to approach the practical problem of learning self – discipline? Here are some useful suggestions.
1. Don’t rely upon will- power as a means of controlling your feelings. The unaided power of will is relatively useless. It is especially ineffective if imagination is opposed to it. If you want to overcome feelings of anger while your imagination is dwelling on thoughts of avenge, your effort will surely fail. In a conflict between will and imagination, imagination invariably wins. Let these two great mental forces work in harmony instead of in opposition. Make a mental picture of the type of person you would like to be, embodying in it the qualities of self-control you admire and want to emulate. Keep this picture regularly in your mind and you will notice it tends to influence your behavior.
2. Try to avoid situations that provoke unpleasant feelings. If you wish to control your temper, for example, avoid situations likely to arouse it. In addition, seek opportunities of practicing the constructive attitude you want to develop. In the words of a popular song, “accentuate the positive”.
3. Carry out the bodily movements appropriate to the emotions you wish to cultivate. For this piece of advice, we are indebted to William James. When a person gets angry, the first tend to clench, the tone of voice rises and gets harsher, the body becomes more rigid. So, deliberately oppose the heat of this emotion with coolness – freeze it out! Deliberately keep your hand from clenching. Hold your fingers our straight if necessary. Deliberately reduce your tone, bring it down to a whisper. Slump in a chair or even down if possible. It is very difficult to get mad lying down.
4. “Get it off your chest”. A young man said to me: “Small mean things done purposely or thoughtlessly by other people leave in me revolting feelings which take days to overcome. do the problems to someone prepared to listen it makes it easier to overcome these revolting feelings”. Another young lady has devised quite an original cure for worry. “I get a piece of paper and write on it, “I am Worried”. Then I write down under it; “Why?” Then under that I write: Perhaps it is because I’m afraid of going to work late’. Again I ask myself “WHY?” and so on until I get to the real reason for worry”. The mind is then able to deal with it rationally. When this is practiced regularly, a habit of emotional control is built up.
5. Talk it out. One of the deepest needs of human nature is expressed in the words of one of my clients: “Oh, if only I had someone to talk to about it. If I had a sympathetic friend to whom I could unburden everything, life would be quite different!”.
Does all this work? Let those who have tried it answer. “I am less sensitive in my contacts with other people”. reported a middle – aged businessman ten weeks after beginning to try it. “I have found this to be the answer”, said a pretty young lady, “whenever I feel any sign of nervousness”. A man who described himself as a “prey to emotions”, stated after five months’ practice: “I now have no such feelings as these, and my outlook on life is much more cheerful. I have more confidence and peace of mind”.
If these people can control their emotions, so can you.