You snap at a coworker. A friend's recent career success makes you boil with jealousy. You feel like a failure because you can't seem to get your to-do list done. Does this make you a bad person?
Absolutely not, says psychologist Susan A. David, Ph.D. Feeling strong emotions is just part of being human. It's how you decide to address those emotions that matters.
David is a psychologist at Harvard Medical School and TED speaker. She studies how our emotions shape us. Her research has shown that people who have greater levels of self compassion end up being more motivated and successful.
In a recent blog post for TED Ideas, David gives practical tips for how you can be kinder to yourself -- especially when you're in a rotten mood.
Don't try to push away or ignore unwanted emotions.
David uses a cake analogy in her TED Talk. There's a delicious chocolate cake in the fridge. Now try to ignore it. The more you try, the less you will succeed. The same goes for emotions.
"Research on emotional suppression shows that when emotions are pushed aside or ignored, they get stronger," David explains. Ignoring painful emotions doesn't put you control; it lets them control you.
Acknowledge that you're feeling however you're feeling. It's not good or bad. It just is.
Go into observation mode.
David encourages us to look at our emotions as data. Try to understand the source of your anger, rage, or stress. Approach the emotion with curiosity. Ask yourself this question: What is this emotion telling you?
Try this. Next time you're feeling a challenging emotion, say to yourself, "I notice I'm feeling [fill in the blank]."
For example, say you're stressed out at work. Instead of saying "I'm stressed," try "I notice I'm feeling stressed." This helps you observe why this emotion is making you feel this way. It removes judgement from the equation. Instead, you're learning about the why.
Use your observations to chart your response.
If you can take a deep breath and understand what's causing the emotion, you're halfway there. "When you can get curious about your experiences, you're 50 percent of the way to being self-compassionate," David says.
Now, you can try to figure out the best course of action to take. Here's the next question David recommends you ask: Which action will bring me towards my values?
The stress you feel at work could have many root causes. If you're able to identify the source of that stress, you can now begin thinking about how to address it.