Who isn’t a fan of simple decision making?
Especially in our career and projects - we cost-benefit, 2x2, compartmentalize and analyze our way to clean solutions.
But here’s something I don’t often share..
In the realm of dealing with large influxes of emotions in my personal life, my natural default is ambiguous complexity. When it comes to these areas, pure objectivity is hard to grok in the moment.
Whether it’s contemplating the ultimate meaning of my life, letting go of a relationship, or surmounting a huge personal challenge.. in matters of passion - the charade of a dozen former, current, and future selves clamor to take the soap box in my pre-frontal cortex. They make their case with the ferocity of a roman orator at the cusp of gulping hemlock.
May I present to you:
- Teenage self - self-conscious and insecure
- Productivity obsessed self - anxious about wasting another second in deliberation
- Avoidant self - constantly seeking comfort and Netflix
- Ego-centric self - self-preserving and closed
- Open self - constantly growing and learning
- Dutiful self - attending to the expectations of others and society
- Mindful self - scurrying to lay tracks of metaphorical space before the unfolding thought train
- Wise self - calmly shaking her peppered head at everyone else
- and many more..
Basically, it’s a circus in there.
And every self will attempt to influence and curtail my problem-solving process.
Yet a part of me enjoys the nauseating kaleidoscope of voices.
I sit in the audience, while each self pleads its case. As I get thrown into each alternating story, I get to revisit a part of me that was once very real. The multi-faceted ego feels vindicated, despite its contradicting testimonials.
If time traveling existed, it would be at the crossroads of these voices. If planes of reality ever merged with its fabrications, it would be during these time-warping performances.
At the end of each rumination, every self is heard, but no decision is made. As satiating as the deliberations were in real-time, I’m back at square one.
In other words, it’s difficult to cleanly analyze matters of passion with these selves taking center-stage.
And so, I’ve worked hard over the years to meet these thoughtstorms with mindfulness, egolessness, and now..
a checklist! ✅
Today I want to share a blueprint to help you work through messy emotions.
I first learned about the power of checklists through Atul Gawande, a surgeon and professor at Harvard Medical School.
In his book, “The Checklist Manifesto”, he argues that no matter how expert you may be, well-designed check lists can improve outcomes. (Including the ones used on his surgical teams to save lives)
Gawande begins by making a distinction between:
- Errors of Ignorance - mistakes we make because we don’t know enough
- and Errors of Ineptitude - mistakes we made because we don’t make proper use of what we know
Failure in the modern world, he writes, is really about the second of these errors - the kind we make when we forget what we already know.
I.e. Competent doctors forgetting to ask a key question during a high pressure moment, Airplane pilots forgetting to QA a single engine prior to taking off, etc.
Applied to our emotional lives, you can spend years in therapy becoming acquainted with the contours of your automatic thought patterns and mental traps like the back of your hand. You can learn all the strategies and mental frameworks to get through these tough emotions.
Nonetheless, if what you know escapes you in your darkest hour, what good is it?
Drawing on years of reflection, coaching, and personal error - I made a checklist recently to help me work through difficult emotions, and I hope it will help you too.
The Checklist ✅ to Get Through Anything
disclaimer: I’m not a therapist. This is just a list of what has personally worked for me.
#1 Acknowledge and thank your past, current, and future selves for their input 🙏
They provided you guidance and protection at one time. They can all be true. They can all not be true. It’s okay to hold contrasting viewpoints in tandem. Look at them from a distance, but don’t merge your current sense of self with them.
#2 Get out of your head & into your body 🧠 → 🧘♂️
- ✅ Where does the emotion show up in your body? give it a name, texture, and color. I.e. my anxiety is purple, spongy, and is named Agatha.
- ✅ Realize these emotions are not you. You are not your thoughts, no matter how real they feel. Some helpful ways to think about your thoughts:
- You sit before a fire. The fire represents your mind. Logs represent your thoughts. You can choose to throw logs in to make the fire larger, or abstain and just be with the fire.
- You sit before a stream. The stream represents your mind. The leaves on the stream represent your thoughts. You can pick up leaves and put them back down.
- You look at clouds in the sky. Each cloud represents a thought. You can name the cloud or let it float by.
- Use 3rd person when your journal or talk, instead of 1st-person singular. You become a subject to be observed. i.e. She thinks this vs. I think this.
- ✅ Take 10 deep breaths. Use this Calm breath bubble for guidance.
#3 Become aware of physical deficiencies 🌦
Are physical and largely external factors contributing to your current emotional state?
- ✅ How much did you sleep the night prior? Sleep deprivation impacts mood (Harvard)
- ✅ How has your information diet been recently? consuming news releases cortisol in the same way it would if the event happened in real-time. (Uni. of Netherlands)
- When did you last:
- ✅ Eat? There’s a high correlation between a diet high in refined sugars and impaired brain function (Harvard). Also, I don’t need studies to tell me that hangry-ness is a real thing.
- ✅ Exercise? improvements in mood are proposed to be caused by exercise-induced increase in blood circulation to the brain (Univ. of Nebraska)
- ✅ Go outside into nature? forest environments promote lower sympathetic nerve activity than city environments. (Chiba Univ.)
- ✅ Meditate? Participants in an 8-week meditation program showed permanent structural changes to the brain that improved their stress response. (Princeton)
- ✅ Do your self-care routine?
#4 Become aware of your mental bias’ 🤔
Are your past experiences biasing your current reaction?
- ✅ What would you tell a friend going through the same thing? What would you tell you if you were your own best friend? If you loved yourself unconditionally?
- ✅ What does your heart, mind, and gut say? (Usually, the gut knows best)
- ✅ Is your reaction driven from fear or love?
- ✅ What’s the softer emotion underlying that fear? eg. you’re angry but underneath that is a feeling of loss
- ✅ How can you address the softer emotion instead?
- ✅ What insecurity is surfacing now?
- ✅ Are you projecting your fear or insecurity on another person or situation?
- ✅ Pain x Resistance = Suffering. We can’t control pain, just resistance. What are you resisting instead of accepting?
- ✅ What past painful experience could be contributing to your current reaction?
- ✅ Do the circumstances back then still hold today?
- ✅ What painful experience of underlying softer emotion is a person you’re in conflict with grappling with?
#5 Does your perspective change as your time travel ⌛️🔮
- ✅ Imagine a past you that felt this way. What would you tell your former self, knowing what you know now?
- ✅ What would your future self tell you today?
- ✅ In what way could this challenge be helpful for your growth? Why would the universe want this to happen to you?
- ✅ Recall the last time things went to shit, but everything turned out okay, if not better. Why would this time be any different?
- ✅ If you died tomorrow, next year, or in 5 years - would this still matter?
- ✅ Wait 24-48 hrs before deciding. Almost anything gets better if you give it time.
That’s all I got for now but i’ll be continuously adding to it in the notion version of the checklist. If you have anything else to add to this list I’d love to hear it!
Wishing you and all your selves well.