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How To Take Control of Your Emotions So They Don’t Control You (a/k/a I failed and I’m so sorry)


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Today, I’m giving you a peak inside of my life to show you how to take control of your emotions when you feel like they’re about to wreak havoc upon you (or perhaps they already have).  I hope my story will empower you to give yourself some grace when this happens.


You know it’s bad when you find yourself apologizing to an 8-year old…

What Happened & Why I’m Sorry

My family recently took a trip to Big Bend National Park (which was BEAUTIFUL, by the way – you’ll find some pics on my Instagram feed).  Zachary (my oldest son) woke up in the middle of our last night there with a 103+ fever, and we were worried that he might have the flu.

Now, one of the draws of going to Big Bend is that it’s HOURS away from humanity.  There’s literally nothing there except desert, mountains and wildlife.

But that’s also a HUGE problem when in need.  The closest town with a real hospital is 4 hours away.

After listening to Zachary toss and turn for an hour – and realizing that no one (including our youngest son, Noah) was sleeping a wink – we decided to stop worrying and instead start doing the one thing we could do.  So, at 2:30 AM we got out of bed, threw everything into the car, and started our long drive homeward.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, we soon ran into fog (which I didn’t even know was possible in the desert).  And, although the fog slowed us further, that wasn’t the worst of it.  I get car sick – especially on curvy roads in the dead of night (and with added fog).

My BIG Fail (& I Lost Control Of My Emotions)

Poor Noah didn’t quite know what to think – and wasn’t certain what was going on.  All he knew was that (1) something was clearly wrong with his brother, (2) Mom and Dad were obviously worried, and (3) we made him get out of bed in the middle of night and leave quickly.

Noah kept asking question after question about how Zachary was doing and what to expect.  Which, when you think about it rationally, was sweet.  But I wasn’t exactly being rational.  All I could think about was how much I needed to sleep while slapping myself silly to stay awake and continue driving my leg of the journey (because, you know, Dramamine).

In all honesty, I was annoyed with all the questions and wished he’d just be quiet.

After yet another one of these questions, I snapped.  I don’t remember exactly what I said, but it wasn’t nice and my tone of voice was biting.  It was something in the realm of “How the *#@! should I know, stop asking stupid questions”.

Of course, that made me feel even worse.  So, I sat silently and started seething to myself about how horrible a mother I was.  Which is when I became aware.

In that moment a recent conversation with a friend came to mind.  Apparently, because I write about how to live with more intention and choice, she was under the impression that I don’t understand how hard it can be. She believes that it’s “easy” for me to respond calmly (as opposed to react).  She even told me that I’m too perfect.

At the time I heard this, I was offended.  But in that moment – while driving home half asleep and drugged up on Dramamine, I started laughing.  Hysterically.

Here’s the thing: I’m just as imperfect as you are.  Probably even more so.  Ask Jeff (my hubby) – he’ll tell you.

Being Perfect Isn’t the Point

I want to make something clear: life happens and you’re human.

What does this mean?  Crap happens that you can’t control, and you’re going to FAIL AND REACT with nothing but negative emotions from time to time.  You’re going to snap, be judgmental, say something unkind, speak out of anger before thinking, etc.

And it’s okay.

The point isn’t to be perfect, it’s to be aware so you can do something about it once you become aware.  Sometimes you’ll catch yourself in the beginning of an emotion and have a chance to think through what you want to do before reacting.  And sometimes you’ll fail (like I did in the story above).

What It Means to Take Control of Your Emotions After You’ve Let Them Control You

So, what do you do when you fail?

Process + Take Responsibility

Taking control of your emotions requires that you first sit with them.  Then you must process through them.  And finally you move on.

Oh, and you apologize to your 8-year old.

Let me be clear about something: you must be honest with yourself about what happened, how you felt and the negative reaction that you had (or in my case, the fact that I lost it).

Part of processing through your emotions means taking responsibility for how you reacted.  Although you might not need to apologize to your son, you will need to take responsibility for your behavior.  So be sure to take responsibility for it (and apologize if you need to).

This will help you to move on.

Give Yourself Grace

When you have these failures, the #1 rule to remember is to BE KIND TO YOURSELF.  Kind of like when meditating.

For those of you who meditate, you know that the point isn’t to clear your mind (which is a myth many people who don’t meditate believe).  It’s about becoming aware at some point that your mind has wandered and then gently (and with kindness to yourself) bringing your attention back to your focal point.

So, when you find that you’ve failed, I want you to treat yourself with KINDNESS.  There’s no point in self-pity or self-punishment.

I guess that’s the difference between me and some people.  I refuse to punish myself over and over.  But I also choose to deal with what happened head-on. This means processing through your emotions once you become aware and dealing with them head on (and, in this instance, also apologizing to my son with remorse – and without excuses).

When I talk about living with intention and making a choice THIS IS WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT.

Taking control of your life doesn’t just require you to take control of yourself, it also means letting go of control over the things that you can’t truly control (yet often try to do regardless).  Learn more about how to do that by listening to Episode #100 of the Life & Law Podcast (all about What Cancer Taught Me – including what letting go really is).


Tips to let go of controlling things you can't really control


How to Take Control of Your Emotions (So They Don’t Take Control Over You)

So, how do you process through those emotions of yours? I have a simple 4-step process for how to take control of your emotions so they do not get the better of you.

Step 1: Acknowledge

You can’t do anything about how you feel if you try to ignore what you’re feeling or pretend your reaction (that probably embarrasses you at least a little bit) didn’t happen or wasn’t that bad. So, step 1 for how to take control of your emotions is to acknowledge everything that happened. What’s going on and how have you reacted to it so far?

Be honest with yourself about all of it.

Step 2: Define

Your next step is to specifically define:

  • What you’re feeling.
  • What happened to make you feel that way.
  • The thoughts and beliefs behind what you feel.

This will enable you to get behind your feelings (and also tackle them head-on). It’s important not to just name one feeling and move on quickly. Most of the time you’ll feel more than one way (you might feel angry about something and also embarrassed about your quick reaction). Take the time to think through all that happened, how you feel and what’s behind the feelings.

Step 3: Choose

Your third step is to make a choice to feel differently (if you want to). This is the empowering part of this exercise.

Now that you’ve taken time to identify what happened, how you feel about it and your initial reaction, you’ll be able to think through where you are and what you want to do about your situation rationally (as opposed to being fully immersed in anger, frustration, or just plain stress).

Step 4: Support Your Choice

Your final step is to do something to support the choice you’ve made. What might help you?

An Example of How To Take Control Of Your Emotions

In the scenario discussed above, how did I use this process to take control of my emotions? I first realized what I’d done and admitted it to myself. I knew I would need to apologize to Noah but I couldn’t until I had processed through my own emotions (otherwise, the apology wouldn’t be heartfelt). And so, I:

  • Put words to my emotions… Frustrated (by what what was going on), worried (about my older son), embarrassed (about how I had snapped at Noah). And I was also tired.
  • I identified that the situation had been scary because I felt so out of control. I had zero control over my son’s illness and how far away from a hospital (or even a decent doctor) we were.
  • My next step was to choose how I wanted to feel. I acknowledged that I had no control (and could do nothing about that). But I also reminded myself that we were on our way to a city and everything would be fine. Maybe my son had the flu (and we’d all end up with it) but in the grand scheme of things, we would all end up okay. That’s when I chose to let go of the frustration and worry. And to allow myself to just be okay with not being in control.
  • To support myself, I chose to play fun 80’s music that I can’t help but sing to when in the car. This brightened everyone’s mood. And it enabled me to give a heartfelt apology to Noah.

In Summary

When you know how to take control over your emotions you’ll be taking control of your life.  That’s the ONE THING you can control.  You can’t control other people or the circumstances that you find yourself in.

But you can control you – your thought processes and how you respond to what’s going on around you. That’s what gives you control over your life.

For help with this, be sure to download my Legal Mindset Mastery Toolkit. Not only will it help you to take control of the things you can control (you) but it has 10 evidence-based tools for rewiring your mind to think, feel and be your best.

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Hey there, I’m Heather

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I’m here to help purpose-driven lawyers and other professionals (like you) build your ideal career to support the life you actually want. Because you shouldn’t have to choose between professional success & personal happiness.

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