Negative Emotions… Or Action Signals?











These “negative” emotions plague us all at some point or another, and I wanted to share a helpful lesson I learned from Tony Robbins’ “Get the Edge” series. A friend recommended I check him out, and I found Tony’s way of working around problems to be pretty insightful. This particular lesson is about interpreting your “negative” emotions in a productive way and taking action to change your life. (Dear Tony Robbins Team: If there is any issue with my posting the material below, please let me know, and I will change it.)

Tony Robbins talks about learning to view these negative emotions as “action signals” with each bringing their own respective messages, and how you can utilize them to better your life. Simple right? But we don’t always respond in the right way. Sometimes we misinterpret the messages, blame others or ourselves for our circumstances, or even pretend those negative feelings don’t exist. This lesson is about looking into the truth of your emotions and taking charge of your life by changing your perception and your procedure. I highly recommend Tony Robbins’ “Get the Edge” CD series as it contains many helpful lessons in leading a fulfilling life. Below is a short summary of each action signal and their message:

Uncomfortable-Change your state, clarify what you want, and take action in the direction you want. For example, I’m an introvert (for those who are familiar with the Myers-Briggs personality system. Oftentimes it’s tough putting myself out there to meet and talk with unfamiliar people. However I understand that although it’s easier to run away, doing that will ultimately make me even more unhappy and uncomfortable in the future. If I want to meet wonderful people, I need to be sincere as well as enthusiastic in making those connections, and that means putting in effort. I find this quote to be as true as much as it is a pain in the ass: “There’s no growth in the comfort zone, and no comfort in the growth zone.”

Fear-Whether it is anxiety or heart-stopping terror, it’s telling you to prepare yourself for an upcoming situation to avoid the negative consequences of being unprepared. Of course it’s easier said than done, and I certainly have had my share of problems in confronting these issues instead of running away, which never solves anything.

Hurt-Feelings of hurt result when you have an expectation that has not been met, and you feel a sense of loss. It is important to reflect on these feelings because expectations can be very subjective. Say you were excited to meet a friend, but they were late or rescheduled at the last minute. Perhaps the other party didn’t mean to offend and had something unexpected occur, in which case it’s better to understand the situation before making judgments (change your perception), or if they actually are non-committal and don’t respect your time, then they aren’t worth yours (change your procedure and drop them).

Anger-“Anger is usually an outgrowth of hurt.”-Tony Robbins. The message behind anger is that an important rule or principle of yours has been violated. I am a fairly emotional person, and if you have seen Pixar’s Inside Out, ‘Anger’ is definitely my main emotion who is calling the shots. Which isn’t to say I’m exploding all the time, but as I like to think of it, I am a very principled person whose values happen to get trampled on. A lot. Respect and equality are beliefs that have been ingrained in my personality, and I often get stressed and irritated when they are trampled upon, such as at the ‘professional’ workplace. In this case, you can: (1) change your perception: “Maybe this person wasn’t trying to anger me?”, or (2) change your procedure: ideally communicate your perspective and/or compromise.

Frustration-This emotion is telling you there has been a breakdown in communication and to change your approach to accomplish what you want. When your current methods are not getting the point across, it’s time to be more flexible and try a different angle. When I was younger, if I was not angry then I would likely be frustrated. I always thought the world should be fair and everyone treated equally, and I obviously ran into many who disagreed. In this case, it helps to think about what the other party’s perspective is and what it would take to get them to agree or compromise. A definition of insanity that has been around for who knows how long: “Insanity is attempting to get a new result by doing the same thing over and over again.” Don’t be insane. It’s not fun.

Disappointment-This action signal states an expectation you have has not been met. Maybe the timeline you set is not realistic? If it’s not reasonable, you can change your perception to something more appropriate or change your procedure (i.e. what you’re doing) to meet your expectations.

Guilt/Regret-The message behind guilt is that you have violated your own standards or principles. The best action is to reflect on what you need to change so as to avoid feelings of guilt in the future, but we usually don’t do so. People often deny the guilt or wallow in it, which only makes it worse. If you don’t treat a wound, it may fester and become a much bigger pain in the future. Use the guilt to get the message and do what it takes so that similar issues do not appear again.

Inadequacy -The message from inadequacy or unworthy feelings is to immediately work to improve on something. As always, be honest and ask yourself, “is this feeling appropriate?” If not, then change your perception. There is no point in laying around and feeling inferior as that only makes you more miserable. Nothing will change unless you act, and things only are what you make of it.

Overwhelmed– Also known as “depressed” or “hopeless”, in my opinion this is one of the most crippling emotions because a person experiencing it will find it extremely difficult to climb back up. Perhaps you are trying to do too much in too little time or are feeling a lack of control or connection in your life, but the message here is to change your state, clarify what is important or what you want, and act.

Isolation-The message behind isolation is to spend time around people. We all feel lonely, and this alienating emotion is a large part of why I believe connection is the crucial third stage on the path to true fulfillment and happiness. I spent a large amount of my life unintentionally distancing myself from others, and the resulting isolation helped contribute to my depression.

Obviously this categorization is not perfect. A lot of these action signals are similar, as well as their resulting messages, but this is only meant to be a general guideline to interpreting your emotions. Whether you are irritated, angered, or completely losing your shit, these all fall into the ‘anger’ category. And for more complicated emotions like rejection, you should ask yourself if you are feeling more frustrated, hurt, uncomfortable, etc.  The point is to recognize these ‘action signals’ for what they are, appreciate the message, and take action—by changing your perception, procedures, or both.

It’s tough facing your emotions. For the longest time, I ran away from uncomfortable social situations. I didn’t know how to interact with others and bottled up my thoughts, and I became frustrated and hurt as some people would treat me with disdain. Rather than forcing myself to learn how to communicate earlier on, I took the easier path of isolation. However, we as human beings are not meant to be alone. The combination of low self-esteem and isolation ended with me fighting with depression for many years before taking action, but it has also given me an experience I hope will help others better understand it—both people currently undergoing depression and those who care about them—and I plan on writing a post dedicated to this subject. Seeing through your emotions is difficult; it takes maturity and self-reflection to be honest with yourself and constant effort to improve your situation. But if the result is a happier and healthier you, is it not worth it?