Good decisions are foundational to a meaningful life. But they don’t happen on their own. There’s far too much opposition—biological, psychological, environmental, etc.—to good decision making that makes it impossible to comfortably sit back and allow things to just happen. Unless we’re proactively choosing who and what we will become, someone else will choose for us, and at a significant cost to ourselves. To make good decisions consistently over time, however, requires good judgement, and good judgement requires, among other things, that we don’t allow how we feel in the moment to dictate what we think and do.

Emotions make excellent servants, but tyrannical masters.

John Seymour

In other words, rather than reacting to how you’re being triggered in your environment, good decision making requires you to pause — momentarily refuse to act — and analyze what you’re feeling in an effort not just to understand the feeling (and yourself) better, but to control the feeling so that the feeling doesn’t control you. Bad decisions are generally the result of irrationality and impulsivity; i.e., making decisions based on how you feel without considering whether your feelings are rooted in fact or fiction. It is the difference between making decisions based on your personality (i.e., personal reality) and making decisions based on your values.  

Becoming Effective

To become truly effective our thoughts and feelings must become harmonious. Our whole person must become integrated toward one overarching purpose. Congruency between what we feel and what we think is necessary to achieve long-term success. To remain in constant conflict with ourselves is, among other things, exhausting. It saps our energy—to include our willpower—and puts us at risk of succumbing to our baser natures. As opposed to being rational, we are more likely to rationalize why we should do what we feel like doing instead of what we know is right.

At the mercy of our emotions, we generally beat ourselves.  

But developing emotional intelligence requires a degree of self-mastery that only a disciplined mind can affect. In many cases, our ability to feel must be subordinate to our ability to think. In fact, our thoughts and actions should prime and direct much of what we feel. For example, if our thoughts are virtuous, as a matter of spiritual law, confidence follows. 

Said another way, never do anything you will want to lie about later. Your future self is counting on you.

This is especially true during times when we’re at risk of being overcome by life’s circumstances and therefore our feelings. Although we need to forgive ourselves for what we did when we were just trying to survive, to avoid unduly burdening ourselves and regrettably making matters worse, we must begin the arduous process of learning to regulate and create our emotional experiences. Sadness, hurt, boredom, and anger, for example, are powerful incentives to do things we otherwise wouldn’t do if we weren’t under their influence.

Of course, these aren’t inherently negative emotions either. Anger, for example, can be an appropriate response to injustice. Learning to regulate our emotions doesn’t mean avoiding, much less preventing feelings that are uncomfortable. To the contrary, it means we learn their source so as to understand what our feelings are telling us about the quality of our decisions and relationships — to include our relationship with ourselves.

Emotion can be the enemy, if you give into your emotion, you lose yourself.

Bruce Lee

How to Take Control

To learn to regulate and create your emotional experiences, begin by making and keeping promises. It’s sometimes a good idea to start small. One of the best ways to make and keep promises to yourself is to schedule activities every day that align with your values. Following, regardless of how you feel when it comes time to do them, you do them. This practice is life changing.     

Don’t wait until you feel like doing whatever it is you believe you should do. That day may never come. But even if it does, the feeling most certainly will not last. Decide what you will do before it ever comes time to act. In other words, decide the day before what time you will get up and the actions you will take. If your feelings get in the way of getting up or of taking action do what you committed to do no matter the obstacles.

Keep your word to yourself and don’t leave your life up to chance, and certainly not up to how you feel moment to moment.

Let your values and goals determine your actions, not your feelings. 

Remember: you are more likely to behave yourself into a desired feeling than you are to feel yourself into a desired behavior.

That’s worth repeating: you are more likely to behave yourself into a desired feeling than you are to feel yourself into a desired behavior.

The decision making process of average and below average people: FEEL → DECIDE → ACT.

The decision-making process of effective and great people: DECIDE → ACT → FEEL.

Live proactively, in other words.

Choose your emotions instead of allowing your emotions to always choose you.

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