Soft Overcomes Hard: Control Your Emotions with Tai Chi

One of the deepest teachings of Tai Chi philosophy is to overcome hardness with softness.  A classic example of this is water – it is the embodiment of softness, but it carved out the Grand Canyon.  How can we apply this concept to everyday life?

So much of our mental anguish is caused by resistance and emotional ‘hardness.’  For example, this morning on my way to work I got cut off by another driver.  Initially this infuriated me; then I told myself, “You idiot, how can you get angry about something so little?”  At that point, my negativity was multiplying on itself – I was angry about being angry.

Does the above situation sound familiar to you?  If so, try out the following three step method to help get your emotions under control.  This technique is called the PRP method (short for permission, reframe, perspective) and is adapted from Tal-Ben Shahar’s book The Pursuit of Perfect.

1.       Permission

Give yourself permission to feel whatever it is that you’re feeling.  Fighting the emotion will only cause it to multiply, as in the example above.  However, if you accept that the emotion has arisen, this presence gives it space to run its course.

All emotions are manifested through certain hormones’ release into your bloodstream, eg adrenaline for stress or endorphins for happiness.  However, these hormones will run their course in an average of 15 seconds.  If your emotion lasts longer than this, it’s because your thoughts about the situation continue to stimulate an emotional response.  By allowing the emotion to arise without fighting it, you aid in its inevitable passing away.

This is the most important step, and also the most difficult.  Often we cannot accept our emotions.  If you can’t accept your emotion, simply accept your unacceptance.  Any form of resistance will multiply your misery; yielding will allow it to pass.  This is one of the many manifestations of “soft overcoming hard.”

2.       Reframe

The sole cause of emotions is not external stimuli but internal stories we tell ourselves about these stimuli.*  What story are you telling yourself that’s causing this emotion?  How might you reframe the story so that it brings you less pain?  The key here is not to tell yourself a story that’s necessarily true.  Instead, it’s about opening your mind to the possibility that your initial story might not be accurate.

3.       Perspective

Is this issue going to be of any significance two hours from now?  How about tomorrow?  Or next month?  When you’re lying on your death bed, are you still going to be upset about whatever it is that’s bothering you?  Try to put your situation into perspective, and ask yourself if it’s worth your stress and grief.

Although I’ve written these steps sequentially, they can be performed in any order you like, and revisited as many times as you’d like.  You could start with perspective, go to permission, then reframe, then realize you need more acceptance and go back to permission.

What do you do to get your emotions under control?  Have you ever tried any of the techniques I’ve described here?  Tell us about it in the comments section!

*This point can be hard to swallow.  For a much more in depth explanation, check out Tony Schwartz’ book Be Excellent at Anything or Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication.

About Eric Couillard

Eric is a personal development and mindfulness expert at Taiji Zen, where he manages their blog and helps develop course content.  Taiji Zen is a health and wellness lifestyle company founded by Jet Li and Jack Ma.  Before working at Taiji Zen, Eric was a personal growth course developer and facilitator at Google.