First is self-awareness - to be aware of emotions as they arise. The earlier in the life of an emotion one is aware of it - before it builds momentum and takes over the mind - the easier it is to manage that emotion.
Then, to deal there is self-management to regulate behavior - to be responsive; to thoughtfully act (or not act), depending on the situation.
Managing emotions is
about suppressing or denying them. Part of dealing with them is to be able to experience deep and intense emotions, without being compelled to either hold on to or get rid of them. Take anger for example. Anger may cause one to lash out, yell, hit, break things, or suppress and deny the feeling. With awareness and a retraining of mental habits, the feel of anger is a signal to wake up and then to use anger's energy to fuel rational thinking and decision making.
Mindful awareness is the foundation for emotional intelligence. Open to everything as it is happening. Objectively observing, without judgement. Looking in on oneself and on the entire drama unfolding, while being fully engaged. "In the marketplace but not of it." as the Sufi's say. And then, being able to choose what to do or say, if anything.
Mindfulness practice (mind training to enhance one's natural quality of being mindfully aware) cultivates the ability to both fully experience emotions as they arise and to respond rather than react.
Mindfully paying attention is hard enough. Being objective and non-judgmental about the unpleasant feelings arising out of anger or fear is far harder. Over time, with practice and a strong desire to not be a slave to emotions, one mentally
and mindful awareness becomes the default mode.
There are many tools, including formal and informal mindfulness meditation practice, for cultivating mindfulness and using it to deal with emotions. In my recent book,
How to Be Happy Even When You are Sad Mad or Scared
, there is a simple technique to bring the mind to the center of one's chest and visualize a bright sun shining there, making the body feel warm and safe without running away from the emotion.
One becomes aware of their heart center - the eye of the storm - and learns to live out of that ever-peaceful and safe place. One sees emotions and their causes objectively and does not identify with them. Emotions are recognized as part of the ongoing drama - the storm.
"One lives above the line". Then, mindfully aware, there is choice influenced by one's values and understandings.
Living Above the Line
Living above the line means being consciously aware of the impulses, habits, mental models, thoughts and feelings that cause emotions and drive behavior.
Mindfulness practice and the use of meditative techniques bring awareness. As one becomes increasingly aware of what is going on behind the scene, below the line, one begins to no longer be triggered by the old things that have caused emotions to arise in the first place.
Using Experience to Set Yourself Free
Set the intention to use every experience as fuel for the effort to be free of emotional reactivity. And then do your best - mindful of your thoughts, feelings, physical sensations and everything that is happening in and around you.
When distracted or behaving in a way that is not in keeping with your goals, step back, reflect on what is happening below the line and move forward skillfully.
Learn from each experience. Relax and watch yourself becoming more and more peaceful and clear - at ease and even-tempered - even when you
are confronted with the things or people that push your buttons.
Strive for perfection but don't expect to