“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”
– Jon Kabat-Zinn
Emotions come and go in waves. Picture an ocean. Sometimes the waves are smaller, sometimes they are bigger. Regardless what we do, the waves keep coming. If we are in the water and getting closer to the shore, the best thing (and most fun thing) we can do is to surf them. Otherwise we might get pulled under by them, which can be painful and scary as we are left powerless in the force of the crashing waves. It’s the same with emotions and the good news is we can all learn to surf our emotions. Here is how:
1. Learn the basics
Most of us wouldn’t go into the ocean and attempt to surf a five-meter wave without learning the basics first. We would probably start out by getting advice from experienced surfers or a coach, who can explain the basics to us. Or we might read “How to teach yourself to surf” and spend hours observing others to see how they do it.
For some reason when it comes to emotions, we are expected to instinctively know how to surf them or what to do with them. The truth is, managing emotions is a skill like any other. It requires understanding the basics – the different types of emotions, what they are there for, how to navigate through them – and then putting this theory into practice until we master it.
2. Get your feet wet
Once we know the basics, it’s time to get into the water. We’ll start with paddling out beyond the breaking point of the waves and hang out there for hours getting a sense of the waves – their size, the speed at which they come. It’s about getting familiar with them so we know how to respond to them.
The same applies to our emotions. Once we understand the basics, it’s time to get our feet wet, to watch them coming and going, recognizing the different feelings and being able to name them. If you are like most people, you can probably just about say if you are feeling “good” or “bad”. Maybe you go further and can identify “Happy”, “Sad”, “Angry” and “Afraid”. That isn’t enough to be able to surf your emotions. The thing is, the more accurately we describe our feelings, the better we will be at surfing them later.
3. Understand the weather
Waves don’t just magically appear. They are a complex result of certain weather conditions, currents, wind and pressures in the atmosphere. Understanding the area you are surfing in, as well as, the weather conditions of the moment is key to avoiding accidents and really surfing in harmony with the waves.
Emotions again, are much like waves, they don’t come out of the blue. They always have a source – whether it’s a situation around us or thoughts spinning around in our mind. Each feeling is there for a reason and we need to understand where it is coming from. Sadness arises when we have lost or are about to lose something. Anger appears when we witness injustice or something gets in the way of our goals. Fear comes when we are in danger or we believe we cannot deal with something. We feel pride when we have achieved something important to us and happiness when things are going well.
The thing is, often we don’t understand where the feeling is coming from or what triggered it. So we need to put our detective hat on and investigate: What was I thinking about? What has just happened in my life?
4. Make friends with the waves
We don’t choose the waves in the ocean, they just keep coming. When we have had enough surfing for a day, they don’t just stop or slow down. The waves just keep going. Fighting them or trying to stop them is a hopeless cause, we wouldn’t even try. We need to learn how to ride them to get past the breaking point of the waves and head back to shore.
Yes, there are times when we have had enough of our feelings too and we just want them to go away. Here is the deal, the more we fight the feelings, the stronger they get. The only way to get through our feelings is to really accept them, let them flow through us and hear them out.
5. Harness the power of the wave
When you master surfing waves in the ocean, you can use them to get from one place to another or to do tricks. When you are really good at it, you know how to tap into the power and energy of a wave to do what you want with it.
Emotions are here to guide you through life. They equip us with exactly what we need to deal with this situation in each moment. Anger gives us energy and motivation to make things right. Fear brings endurance and alertness to better prepare to deal with a situation. Pride gives us confidence and drive to strive for more… These gifts are there but we need to know how to tap into them and use them to our advantage.
6. Surf emotions like a pro
If we are in the water, we see the wave coming and we do nothing, the wave might just pass us by or it might pull us under. With every wave that comes, we have the choice to try and catch it, stand up on our board and surf it, or to let it pass by. Once we are standing on our surf board and riding the wave every movement or lack of is a choice.
We have these choices at every moment we experience an emotion. We can choose to explode or to channel the energy into finding a creative solution. We can choose to give up or to keep going. Emotions bring with them suggestions for how we could act, but there is always more than one way. The key is to really observe yourself, to acknowledge and appreciate the emotions’ suggestion for how you should act and then to chose how to act based on this one question: “Is this going to help me get what I want?”
Learning anything doesn’t happen over night. It takes time, dedication, practice and patience. It’s the same with learning to master your emotions. Start with the basics, then begin to practice and give yourself time to develop these new skills. These aren’t the simplest skills to develop because they involve changing our habits. But once you make it through the first hurdles and you start the reap the benefits it will be oh so worth it. Trust us.
Manuela Berger was an A-student who realized that rational thinking alone wouldn’t bring her the life she wanted. That was when she discovered the power of emotions to guide us through life and create the life we most want. Since then she has dedicated herself to helping people discover a powerful new side of themselves and to master their emotions through coaching, trainings and her company Feeling Magnets. Manuela strongly believes that education today focuses heavily on the mind and is missing the emphasis on the other parts of us (body, heart and spirit). She aims to help us fill the gaps we may have.