To grow as a person, we need to learn more about our emotions. We need to understand what makes us vulnerable, what events lead to the onset of emotions, and how to react. Two of the earliest models of emotion are extremely useful in this case.
Models of emotion
The first is the James-Lange theory, developed by psychologists William James and Carl Lange in the late 1800s. They theorized that our body first responds to an event or situation. The changes in our physiology then make us feel a specific emotion.
Coming across an angry bear, for example, my fight or flight response would initiate. My pupils would dilate, my heart rate and breathing would speed up. According to the James-Lange theory, this physiological reaction would make me feel scared.
Decades later, psychologist Walter B. Cannon and his graduate student, Philip Bard, developed another theory. We respond to a particular event with the emotion itself. Only afterward would we have the physiological reaction.
Coming across this same angry bear, I would fear for my life. Let’s face it, bears are huge and scary from a few feet away. My fear would then trigger my physiological fight-or-flight response.
These models are both important to keep in mind but in no way completely explain our emotions or biology. There are a lot of other vulnerabilities we can and can’t change that affect our reactions.
Factors that we can’t completely control include physical ailments or genetic dispositions, past trauma, or other people’s behaviors. We can control our sleep schedule, the quality of the foods we eat, and how we react to our emotions.
Regulating our emotions
The next step towards confidence was understanding my emotions. For example, I feared others not liking me or judging me negatively. This prevented me from engaging and speaking with new people. My reaction involved avoidance while my body activated its fight or flight response. I wanted to change this, but how?
Over a long period, I practiced using opposite actions. The tactic of opposite actions simply means to look at how you feel urged to respond, identify whether that urge fits the facts of the situation, and then choose your response rather than just flowing along with the urge.
I knew that my responses to these emotions were unhealthy and that they held me back from participating in public events. The next time I felt this fear, I had a few strategies to tackle it. Rather than avoiding conversation with a new person, I would engage. No matter how awkward, anxious, or afraid I felt.
Additionally, I wanted to change the way my body responded. I practiced breathing slowly, to help calm my nerves while I participated in these activities. As I also worked on staying active and healthy, I became a more confident communicator.
Let’s take networking as an example. Joining different entrepreneurial Zoom chats, I’d face this anxiety with opposite actions. I feel anxious and nervous that I’d make a fool out of myself. Rather than keeping silent and withdrawing I take a few slow, deliberate breaths to calm my nerves.
I introduce myself during the breakout session, ask other people in the group questions, and even follow up after the event. Opposite actions show me that these fears and anxieties don’t need to hold me back.