Tony Robbins: Emotions (and How to Master Them)

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How can you master your emotions the Tony Robbins way? What are some healthy ways to process emotions?

In Awaken the Giant Within, Tony Robbins offers some techniques for processing your emotions and mastering them. Learning how to interpret, understand, and control your emotions can help you to improve your relationships, mindset, and responses to difficult situations.  

Keep reading for Tony Robbins’ emotions advice. 

Advice From Tony Robbins on Emotions

As Tony Robbins states, emotions should be controlled instead of being dictated by external stimuli. However, sometimes, in order to shift your emotions, you first need to learn from them. According to Tony Robbins, emotions provide feedback on your actions: Positive emotions let you know that you’re doing something right, and negative emotions signal that you need to alter something. For this reason, negative emotions—or “action signals”—are actually invaluable, because they guide you to the life you want, if you know how to use them. 

In this article, we’ll:

  • Examine three methods people typically use to deal with their emotions, and why those methods will prevent you from living the life you want
  • Discuss how to identify, decode, and address your emotions in a healthy way
  • Tony Robbins’ emotions of negativity. 

Reject Disempowering Ways of Addressing Your Emotions

Although using and learning from your emotions is the most effective way to maintain mental and emotional well-being, most people instead respond to their emotions in one of three disempowering ways. Let’s discuss each of these methods, so you can understand and reject them:

Method #1: Avoidance 

People who fear certain emotions often avoid situations that risk triggering those emotions, or have a general rule of trying to avoid all emotions. For example, people who fear rejection often either avoid serious relationships or try to suppress their emotions when they are in relationships. 

Problem: When people avoid scary emotions, they miss out on the meaningful experiences that accompany them, such as love and intimacy. 

Method #2: Denial 

People sometimes refuse to accept that an emotion exists. They insist that they’re fine and attempt to dissociate from the emotion. However, their thoughts and questions continue to focus on the emotion. 

Problem: If you try to suppress your emotions, they become increasingly intense until you finally acknowledge them. In other words, pretending there’s no problem makes the problem grow until it’s too big to ignore. 

Method #3: Internalization 

Sometimes people give up trying to avoid or deny their difficult feelings and instead make the emotions part of their identity. They use their negative feelings to one-up everyone else’s misfortunes, and they find a sense of pride in perpetually enduring such difficulties. 

Problem: When people identify with their negative emotions, they become trapped in them. If being unhappy is part of your identity, then it feels like you can’t become happy without losing your sense of self. This mentality leads to a self-fulfilling prophecy because you must remain unhappy in order to be who (you think) you are. 

Process Your Emotions in a Healthy Way

People try to avoid and deny their negative emotions because feeling those emotions is unpleasant. But negative emotions arise to let you know that something you’re doing is causing you pain, and that you need to change some aspect of your approach. Therefore, it’s important to listen to these emotions and process them in a healthy way. 

As you evaluate and resolve your own negative emotions, you’ll often find their source in your perceptions, your communication, or your actions: 

  1. Your perceptions can create pain if you focus on disempowering things. For example, you may feel hurt if you focus on the fact that your sister didn’t come to your birthday party instead of feeling loved because so many other friends and family members did show up. Use some of the techniques we’ve discussed to change your focus by adjusting your physical position or by asking yourself different questions. 
  2. The way you communicate your wants and needs to the people around you can create pain if they misunderstand you. Try explaining your needs and desires differently—perhaps more directly or more gently—so that others are more receptive.
  3. Your actions can create pain if you’re doing things that disempower you. Either stop or change the behavior. 

Let’s look at a step-by-step approach to handle painful emotions. The following six steps of emotional mastery explain how to break your limiting emotional patterns, find the useful lessons behind your painful emotions, and carry those lessons into the future so you don’t have to learn them again. Try to use these steps as soon as you feel an unpleasant emotion coming on, before the emotion gains strength and momentum. The more you use this process, the more adept you’ll become at managing and learning from all of your emotions. 

Step 1: Identify the Emotion

The first step in dealing with your emotions is to identify what you’re feeling. When you have painful emotions—such as loneliness, anger, or resentment—you may feel so overwhelmed by them that you can’t distinguish what, precisely, the emotion you’re feeling is. However, it’s important to put a name to the emotion because identifying your pain immediately lessens its sting. 

Additionally, in the process of identifying your emotion, you may realize that your pain is rooted in something that wasn’t immediately apparent to you. For example, imagine that your best friend moved out of state last month and has been too busy to catch up over the phone. You may initially feel rejected by your friend and hurt that she hasn’t made time for you. However, if you stop and reflect on that feeling, you might realize that you’re actually feeling sad about her leaving and a sense of separation due to the move. This insight can help you have a more empowered response in which you: 

  • Stop blaming your friend for not making time for you
  • Are more understanding that she’s probably busy getting acclimated to a new place
  • Take a proactive approach to maintaining your friendship by coming up with ways to stay connected despite the distance

Step 2: Embrace Your Emotion

Once you’ve identified your emotion, recognize that it is serving a helpful purpose: It’s meant to guide you toward happiness. Resist the urge to label an emotion as “bad” or “wrong,” and instead embrace all emotions as helpful feedback. When you acknowledge and appreciate your painful emotion, it often becomes less intense. 

Step 3: Decode Your Emotion

With the knowledge that your emotion is a signal, reflect on what that signal could be telling you. This response changes your focus from feeling that emotion to investigating it, which:

  • Shifts your focus, thereby changing your emotional state
  • Helps you resolve the issue
  • Helps you learn from the emotion so that you avoid feeling this way again in the future

When you feel a negative emotion, consider what you might learn from it. Do you need to alter the beliefs that are causing you to feel this way? Do you need to take a different action in the situation that’s making you feel this way? How can you prevent this feeling from returning in the future? Investigate your emotions by asking yourself these questions: 

  1. What do I want to feel, instead of the pain I’m feeling now? 
  2. What belief would cause me to feel the way I feel now? 
  3. What am I willing to do to resolve whatever’s causing this pain right now? 
  4. What can I learn from this experience? 

Later in this chapter, we’ll explain the meanings of various “action signals,” which you can use to help decode your negative emotions. 

Step 4: Remember That Your Emotion Is Temporary

Remind yourself that you will get to the other side of this painful emotion. Think of another time you’ve felt this way, and use that memory as a reminder that you eventually got over the feeling. Furthermore, reflect on the strategies you used to handle this emotion in the past, such as talking to a friend, changing your focus, or journaling. Consider using those same strategies to deal with the emotion now. 

Step 5: Use This Experience as an Empowering Reference for the Future

As you work through this difficult emotion, use this success as a reference for your ability to handle it so that next time, you know what to do and you know that you can do it. Take some steps to reinforce what you’re learning through this experience: 

  1. Reflect on what you’ve learned about what this emotion is signaling you to do and what strategies you’re using to resolve the issue. 
  2. Imagine yourself going through the whole process again in the future—feeling this emotion, using the strategies, and resolving it. 
  3. Write down three or four additional strategies you could use to alter your perception, communicate your needs differently, or change your actions. 

Step 6: Reinforce What You’ve Learned

Now that you’ve worked through this emotion today and also made a plan for getting through it in the future, pat yourself on the back. Next, take an action that proves that you’ve learned from and resolved your painful emotion. (Shortform example: If you were previously feeling rejected by your friend who moved away, but you’ve worked through your feeling of rejection and you now recognize that your friendship will simply have to function differently now, you could buy your friend a housewarming gift, such as a framed photo of the two of you.)

Understand Your Negative Emotions

You can shortcut the six-step process above if you already know what your emotion is signaling. This section is a cheat sheet: Nearly every painful feeling is a form of one of the following emotions (or a combination of them), and understanding what the emotion is signaling allows you to heed its message and quickly resolve the pain without needing to go through all six steps. 

Read through this list multiple times, highlight the emotions that resonate most with you, and jot down their messages and solutions on an index card to carry with you. Learning these 10 action signals and consistently using the guidelines to address them will enable you to master your emotions. 

Negative emotions—or “action signals”—are actually invaluable, because they guide you to the life you want, if you know how to use them:

  1. Discomfort (including impatience, boredom, mild embarrassment, unease, and distress) lets you know that something is not quite right. 
  2. Fear (including apprehension, concern, anxiety, worry, fright, and terror) urges you to prepare to deal with or change a situation. 
  3. Hurt means that you feel a sense of loss, and that loss typically comes from an unmet expectation. For example, if you expected your friend not to tell anyone your secret and they shared it with someone else, you probably feel a loss of intimacy or trust.
  4. Anger (including irritation, resentment, fury, and rage) lets you know that you or someone else has violated a rule that is important to you (more on rules later).
  5. Frustration is actually a positive signal because it means you’re within reach of something you want, but the methods you’re using to get there aren’t working. 
  6. Disappointment (including sadness, defeat, being let down, and feeling like you’ve missed out on something) is similar to frustration because it’s a sign that you’re falling short of your goal—however, whereas frustration signals that your goal is achievable if you change your approach, disappointment signals that your goal is impossible
  7. Guilt (including remorse and regret) arises when you break one of the highest standards you set for yourself, and it’s meant to deter you from ever violating that standard again. 
  8. Inadequacy is the feeling of being unworthy because you can’t do something that you believe you should be able to do, signaling that you don’t have the right tools, resources, strategies, knowledge, or confidence to perform this task. 
  9. Overload (including feeling overwhelmed, depressed, aggrieved, and helpless) signals that you’re trying to deal with too much at once, and it’s infeasible. 
  10. Loneliness signals that you need connection with other people. 

Tony Robbins’ Emotions Exercises 

The following exercises can help you to understand Tony Robbins’ emotions and mastery approach: 

Mastering Your Emotions 

Mastering your emotions takes time, practice, and persistence. Start the process now with these two simple practices. Take note of how these practices positively affect you, and start conditioning them to become habits:

  1. For the next two days, use the six steps of emotional mastery every time you feel a negative emotion. 
  2. Adopt global beliefs that minimize how often you feel painful emotions, such as “this too shall pass” and “where there’s a will, there’s a way.” 

Create a Code of Conduct  

Develop a code of conduct to keep you on course to realizing your ideal life: 

Write a list of all the emotional states that you want to experience every single day. Seven to 10 states are typically enough to create a rich and dynamic variety while also making it manageable to achieve each one of them every day. Some of your states can be the same as your values (such as passion), while others can be states that you feel support your values. For example, a state of cheerfulness might promote your value of being loving. 

Write a rule for each state. In other words, decide what needs to happen in order for you to know you’re in that state. 

Put your list of states and rules somewhere you’ll see it frequently, and review it a few times each day to determine which states you haven’t yet experienced that day. This constant awareness of your states will keep you in control and prevent you from allowing your feelings to be dictated by external forces.

Tony Robbins: Emotions (and How to Master Them)

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Elizabeth Shaw

Elizabeth graduated from Newcastle University with a degree in English Literature. Growing up, she enjoyed reading fairy tales, Beatrix Potter stories, and The Wind in the Willows. As of today, her all-time favorite book is Wuthering Heights, with Jane Eyre as a close second. Elizabeth has branched out to non-fiction since graduating and particularly enjoys books relating to mindfulness, self-improvement, history, and philosophy.

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