Are you someone who believes that external events cause you to feel emotions you have no control over? It’s a common belief. However, when you stop believing that and start taking responsibility for your feelings, a path to emotional freedom becomes available.

The premise of Choice Theory psychology is that all day long people are working to realize whatever it is they want at that moment. When they have successful behaviors to obtain the object of that moment, they feel content, happy, or joyful, depending on the importance of the acquisition. What we want at any given moment could be a person, place, thing, belief or value. It could even mean acting like the best version of yourself. The main point is that everything you do is purposeful. Your behavior is always designed to get you what you want most in that moment.

For example, I have made a two-year preliminary commitment to intermittent fasting. At this moment, I haven’t had anything other than water and unsweetened green tea in 21 hours, with two hours left to go in my fast. What I want right now is bacon and eggs, but what I really want is to be successful in my fasting commitment. Providing the latter wins out over the former, I will stay focused on writing this blog post. If food takes priority, I will behave to get something to eat. This is not rocket science.

The definition of behavior is where Choice Theory distinguishes itself from other psychologies. In Choice Theory, we recognize behavior as comprising four inseparable and coordinated components. There are the actions others can see, the thoughts in your head, the emotions you feel and your body’s physiology, thus underscoring the mind/body connection.

Did you notice your feelings are part of behavior? That is an important piece because all behavior is purposeful; it logically follows then that your emotions have a purpose. There are actually two purposes of emotions. One is to provide you a signal about whether your behavior is succeeding in getting you want you want. Choice Theory talks about a “comparing place” where you compare what you want with what you perceive you have. When there is a match, you feel good; when you’ve fallen short, it is painful. This is the signal the comparing place sends you to let you know whether or not you are on the right track—that purpose is clear. Once you recognize the signal, you can let it go; now you know you need to change what you’ve been doing to get what you want.

The problem is that we aren’t that great at letting those emotional signals go. We hold onto them like a badge of honor. We go to counselors to process them. We talk about honoring our feelings and feeling them to the fullest, analyzing them until they can be understood. All this accomplishes is keeping you stuck in those feelings far longer than necessary. What if I told you there is a shortcut?

When you have a painful, persistent feeling that’s lingering, take responsibility for holding onto it. Know that you are subconsciously using it for some purpose toward getting what you want. Once you can admit that, then you are able to figure out what you are using it for. Once you have figured that out, you can either take full responsibility for it because you recognize it’s your best option for getting what you want, or you can consciously decide to choose a more effective behavior. You would usually let it go because that’s not the person you want to be.

For example, imagine you were in a satisfying relationship and your partner decided to end it. Some possible emotions you might experience would be anger, disbelief and depression. The rest of the world believes you are experiencing those emotions because you were blindsided and the person you loved left you. While it is true those things happened, your emotions are not a result of that; your emotions are a response designed to get him or her back. Anger might be a way to show others and yourself that you are going to be alright and don’t need this person. Disbelief is a way for you to buy more time to discover a way to respond to get what you want, whatever that will be. Depression can be a way to show your loved one how much pain they’ve caused you and how much you need them. And there are many other iterations of these possibilities.

Instead of remaining a victim of your feelings, you can take radical responsibility for them. Doing so moves you from victim to being in the driver’s seat. There may be times, however, when you discover employing whatever feelings you are using is your best option at the time. When that happens, you don’t have to change anything, just do it with more conscious awareness. Accept that you are using the best option you have at that time.

If you prefer to change what you are doing, you can. You created the feelings in the first place; you can create different ones. However, it won’t happen by trying to change your feelings directly. I don’t know anyone with that superpower, but you can change them indirectly by doing and thinking something different. Give it try and let me know how it works for you. I’m not saying it’s simple or easy, but I am saying that with practice, you can develop emotional freedom and be in control of the feelings you create instead of being victim to the subconscious creation that happens on its own.

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