Are you afraid of the dark side?
Most of us are afraid of our darker side and it’s why we are afraid to dig into our thoughts and feelings. We don’t want to peel off our armor and see what’s there.
Anakin Skywalker is known for his inner demons that turned him into Darth Vader. He never shared his pain and it ate him up inside.
“Fear is the path to the dark side … fear leads to anger … anger leads to hate … hate leads to suffering.” - Yoda
Your pain often stems from fear. It's only when you embrace your fears that helps you avoid going down the dark path.
I struggled with my dark side for many years. This caused my anger to spill out. I would often get mad and shut down. I didn’t want my anger to get me in trouble, so I would disconnect from my feelings. A few years ago I was passed up for a promotion. I checked out for a couple weeks. It took me a while to get back on track. I hadn’t learned to process my thoughts and emotions when something knocked me down.
It starts with your routines. You must have a way to slow down and process your thoughts and feelings on a regular basis. When you take the time to do this you’ll be healthier, which means less doctor visits and more energy to do things you love.
I’m not immune to my anger even with all the deep work I’ve done. A few weeks ago I couldn’t believe that I let my client get to me. My client was being difficult. Everything we talked about never got done. I pride myself on being a great coach, but I couldn’t get this client to break through and do the deep work to get the results that she was hoping for.
Before our call a few weeks ago I could feel myself feeling anxious and stressed. I didn’t want to join the call and it was because I knew what she was going to say. Just as I was about to join the call I took a breath and asked myself, “How important is it that she takes action on what we talk about?”
I put my initial reaction at an eight. I really wanted her to get great results. She was an executive that affected a lot of employees in her company
Then I realized I was putting too much expectations on myself and her. I was pushing for results instead of listening to her needs. This was an aha moment for me as a coach.
You can do use this technique when you are coaching someone. If you are working with a difficult person/teammate then try this.
When you are feeling an intense emotion before you meet with someone, try putting a number on it.
What dominant emotion am I feeling right now?
Let’s say it’s stressed.
Then ask yourself:
How stressed am I right now on a scale of 1 - 10? (1 being not stressed to 10 being so stressed you’ll burst)
Then star by putting a number on it. Too often we don’t think about the situation from a bird’s eye view. We just allow our emotions to run wild and take over. This is when reticular activation system takes over. We often allow our past stories to influence our future decisions without being aware of it. Instead of us being the captain of our thoughts and emotions we are doing this on auto-pilot. We must learn to utilize our reticular activating system to help us put us back in the captain’s chair. This is why reflection is so important. When done well it can help you break out of old patterns. You learn to let go of your anger and allow the light in.
The reticular activating system helps us filter out the good and the bad, all depending on what stories we are telling ourselves. This system protects the brain from being overloaded. We look for validation on how we see the world. This can be good or bad depending on what we are telling ourselves. If we believe we are stupid we are looking for ways to validate that we are stupid. If we believe the world is amazing then we will look for amazing moments at every turn.
We can improve our reticular activation system by finding ways to slow down and process the situation. This requires us to use metacognition. When we use metacognition we become aware of our thoughts and feelings. When we are aware of what is going on inside of ourselves then we can understand the patterns behind them. By noticing your thoughts you are using the frontal cortex, the part of your brain that helps you step back from the emotion and not get caught up in the drama. That’s why putting a number on the situation is so powerful. You break the thought and you are honest with how you should really be viewing your dark thoughts and emotions.
I recently had a dark thought that I hate myself. I could feel my energy drain out of me in an instant. It’s amazing how powerful our thoughts can be. Instead of ignoring this thought I explored it. I asked myself on a scale of 1-10 how true is this thought?
At first it was a 9. Then as I relaxed and thought about it for a more more seconds it was more like a 7. Then quickly it turned to a 3. This question as a great way of calming me down.
Then I asked myself, “Why did I feel this way?”
I made a mistake and I didn’t reply back to a client. I started the email to reply back, but I never sent it. I felt like an idiot. A lot of fears from childhood of not being accepted bubbled up. As I dug a little deeper I began to let go of my anger. I then created a new story. I took a more wider perspective on the situation. I’m busy and there will be times I forget things. I also realized I needed better reminder systems to help me remember to reply to someone important. I decided to create a calendar invite for important emails. I’m going to block off 15 minutes and just make that my top priority.
I then crafted a quick email to my client, apologized for not replying sooner. I kept the focus on them. They replied back in just a few hours, telling me not to worry about it and that they took my advice from a previous call. They figured out the issue on their own and were proud of themselves. It was cool to see my client making progress. When we take the pedal off the gas we can see more clearly.
I used the difficult moment to learn from it. There was an opportunity in processing my dark thoughts that I didn’t realize was there. When you take on a difficult moment head on the stress dissipates so much faster. I struggled with building resiliency, but not I have tools.
Once you see how you can process the dark side of your emotions then you can shift your focus back on the light side.
Your brain is holding you back if it is always looking for pain. If you believe you are loveable your brain looks for validation that this is true. You are writing new stories each day and are living it out. You must work on rewriting your perspective to help you create the life that you deserve. Start with what negative stories you are currently telling yourself and then create a story that is the opposite. Notice how this makes you feel. Does it help reduce your anger and lighten your current mood?
You must start looking at your past when you felt positive about life. Look at past activities that you loved doing. Visualize this scene in your head. Maybe it was when you were collecting and reselling Pokemon cards or at a previous job. Remember how you felt. This is when you were doing work/activity that you loved. Feel this feeling. Understand that it is possible. Then you must train your brain to find more evidence that this is true. At the end of each day write down one moment that made you feel any shred of joy. See the moment in your head. Write it down and feel this feeling. Do this for 30 days. You are training your reticular activation system to filter in the positive things that help you improve your life. This is the power of journaling. You focus your thoughts and emotions on processing your difficult emotion, so you can redirect your focus on more positive thoughts and actions that boost your energy.
By taking a moment you can bring calmness to the situation, which will allow you to make better choices. This self-awareness can be a game changer for you because you don’t allow yourself to be swept away by how you feel.
The cool part of this technique is that you are starting the process of learning how to coach yourself. When you put a number on how you view your day you are learning what you notice and why it matters to you.
Feeling nervous, angry, sad is normal. It’s what you do, your actions, after that determine your success, relationships, choices, etc. You can put yourself back in the captain’s chair, but you must dig into your thoughts and emotions. This is the power of Metacognition.
Metacognition is an awareness of one's thought processes and an understanding of the patterns behind them. Putting a number on an emotion helps you step back from the emotion and use your frontal cortex to make better choices.
You have to build this habit one day at a time. I suggest you start with keeping an End of Work Day Journal. It’s simple.
You can ask yourself:
- What was my biggest issue today?
- On a scale of 1 - 10 how intense was this feeling? (1 - barely a blip to 10 - completely debilitating)
- How did it make me feel?
This practice will help you expand your self awareness. You can release your anger, frustration, irritation and begin to work with it. This is the practice that Obi-Wan Kenobi should have taught young Anakin.
After just one week you will start to see a difference. You’ll start to notice emotional patterns that you didn’t realize were there. You begin to embrace the dark side and work with it. This can cause some anxiety so don’t dig too deep too quickly. If you are feeling overwhelmed then take a breath and decide if you want to keep going or if you want to try again tomorrow. You don’t want any trauma to take over and instigate a panic attack.
You want to be patient with yourself and only dig into these feelings when you are ready to do this work. If you push yourself to deal with your anger when you aren’t ready you’ll create more pain than you can handle. You want to slowly notice the patterns that are occurring, work with them until you feel a little uncomfortable then take a break, so you can process your emotions.
The more you practice working with your emotions that more self aware you become. You put yourself back in the captain’s chair. You process your inner darkness to let in more light. You start to develop emotional mastery. It’s this emotional intelligence that will help you develop deeper relationships with your teammates, family members and friends. One of the best ways to help yourself process the dark side and bring more light in is to help others. That’s when you can try to become a better mentor and coach to the people in your life. You help them process their fears, so they can let more light into their career and life.
Are you interested in bringing more of the light side out of yourself so you can share with the world without fear? Then join the Dig to Fly Journaling Challenge. We'll explain how you can dig into your dark side, so you can release the light inside of you.
Images: Photo by Leslie Cross on Unsplash, by Riku Lu on Unsplash, Photo by Dingzeyu Li on Unsplash, Photo by Warren Wong on Unsplash