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Ep 198: Emotional Awareness for Better Self-Control

Episode Summary

Thibaut Meurisse, author of Master Your Emotions, joins us this week to explain how we can process negative emotions in healthier ways. He also shares why we need more self-compassion and how we can stop caring what others think.

Show NotesInterview TranscriptGuest Bio

Full Show Notes

Mastering our emotions is no easy task…especially when we have teens pushing our buttons all day long. It can be nearly impossible to keep our anger and frustration from overflowing when teens talk back, stay out past curfew, or repeatedly refuse to put down their phone! Whether they’re purposefully trying to antagonize us or just have a bit of rebellious teen spirit, kids’ behavior can stir up some serious negative feelings for parents.

When we don’t learn to process these negative emotions, they can build up and last for weeks, months, or even years–harming our mental health, productivity, and overall quality of life. But if we can learn to handle anger or sadness in healthy ways, we can unlock a more peaceful, prosperous existence for ourselves and our families.

To help us harness our emotions, we’re talking to Thibaut Meurisse, author of Master Your Emotions: A Practical Guide to Overcome Negativity and Better Manage Your Feelings. Thibaut is an acclaimed author of over twenty books about behavior and mentality, and the founder of lifestyle website whatispersonaldevelopment.org. His work has been featured on wellness websites like Llife Hack, Tiny Buddha, and Goalcast!

In our interview, Thibaut sheds some light on how both parents and teens can process their negative emotions in a healthy way. Plus, we discuss the immense value of self compassion, and Thibaut explains how teens can stop caring about what others think!

Reframing Our Emotions

When negative emotions arise, we sometimes let them stick around for a bit too long. If a teen says something that really hurts us or we fumble an important project at work, we can walk around for days ruminating about it. We let the anger and sadness keep us from being productive, or feel so guilty about what happened that we don’t let ourselves relax. But what if there was a better way to handle all this excess negative energy so that we could be happier in our daily lives?

Thibaut explains that there are three steps to processing our emotions: interpretation, identification, and repetition. When something happens–say, a teen slams a door in our face–we’ve got to interpret it. In this case, we might interpret this as rude behavior or disrespect! Then we’ve got to identify how we feel about it, says Thibaut. We might feel angry, frustrated, or powerless. Finally, we emphasize this feeling to ourselves over and over, making it hard for us to get out of a negative thought loop, Thibaut explains.

In order to get ourselves back on the path to positive feelings, we have to change the way we go through this process, says Thibaut. In the episode, we discuss some methods that both parents and teens can use to prevent negative emotions from taking over their lives. One valuable technique is the daily or weekly practice of recording your emotions, Thibaut explains. He suggests writing down the emotions that arise within you every day, noting where they originated from, and brainstorming what you could have done differently to prevent those tricky feelings from bubbling up. He recommends encouraging teens to do this too!

One important way we can prevent negativity in our daily lives is by practicing self-compassion. Thibaut and I are explaining how self compassion works on an everyday scale and how you can start being kinder to yourself.

The Secret of Self-Compassion

Sometimes, when we’re trying to implement self-discipline, we ditch positive self-talk in favor of harsh criticisms of ourselves. We might think that being friendly to ourselves will only cause us to backslide into weakness! But being kind to ourselves can actually have the opposite effect, Thibaut explains. When we’re struggling to meet a goal or find ourselves frequently failing, tough self-criticism can sometimes lead us to just give up altogether. If we dont believe we’re good enough to succeed, then we won’t give ourselves a fighting chance.

This can be especially true for teens who are still trying to figure it all out. It’s not easy to  decide what you’re doing with your life, all while navigating all the social, academic and emotional challenges of modern day teenagerhood. Thibaut explains that teens today are also especially affected by all of the media they’re constantly consuming. Everything from Netflix to Tik Tok forces them to compare themselves to other, seemingly more successful people. In the episode, Thibaut and I talk about how teens can be more encouraging towards themselves as they’re growing into independent adults.

Thibaut and I also dive into a discussion about defensiveness, and how it often originates from negative self-talk. When teens are constantly berating themselves, feeling bad because they flunked a chemistry test, they may feel deep down that they are stupid or incapable, says Thibaut. When we later call them lazy in the heat of an argument, they can be seriously triggered by our confirmation of their internal self-assessment. This can lead them to get defensive and blow up in our faces. Thibaut tells us how we can help teens change their inner dialogue to show themselves more compassion.

For both parents and teens, the opinions of others can play a part in this constant self-criticism. In our interview, Thibaut is giving some tips to help us stop thinking about others’ opinions to live a more carefree life!

How To Stop Caring what Others Think

Because we have to spend 24/7 inside our own minds, we tend to see ourselves as the center of the universe, says Thibault. We think everyone is watching us, judging us, and even laughing at us as we go through our daily life. However, we often fail to realize that everyone is caught up thinking the same thing about themselves! Thibault reminds us that people are usually so worried about their own lives that they aren’t paying very much attention to what we’re doing. While we’re still thinking about our embarrassing slip up the next day, they’ve likely forgotten about it, he says.

Thibaut encourages us to question how much time we spend thinking about others’ actions. Sure, we might be frustrated that the grocery store clerk forgot to give us our discount, but by the next day we’ve moved on! We tend not to dwell on the mishaps of others–meaning  others likely don’t dwell on our mistakes either! Thibaut recommends prompting teens to think about this when they’re ruminating over a presentation or a romantic rejection. Gently reminding them that it’s not the end of the world can go a long way, Thibaut explains.

Sometimes, the belief that others are judging us simply comes down to miscommunication. Since we tend to center ourselves, we often assume people are making fun of us…when really they’re not even thinking about us at all! When someone doesnt follow your daughter back on social media, she might think it’s a diss and feel deeply hurt…when maybe that person just hasn’t logged on in a few days! De-centering ourselves and refraining from assumptions can help us stop caring what others think and lead happier lives.

In the Episode…

Thibaut and I cover some serious ground in this week’s episode when it comes to handling our emotions! On top of the topics discussed above, we also talk about:

  • How we can parent without an ego
  • Why we shouldn’t use emotions as labels
  • How we can help an unmotivated teen
  • Why bad moods feel so overwhelming

If you enjoy listening, check out more from Thibaout at whatispersonaldevelopment.org. Don’t forget to share and subscribe, and we’ll see you next week!

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Complete Interview Transcript

Andy: I’m really excited about this. You’ve written a few books here. We have a book here on mastering your emotions. I can’t even believe how many books you’ve written on all kinds of topics related to self-development. How did you get started doing this, and what then inspired you to write this book about emotions?

Thibaut: I got started, I think, back in 2013 when I was doing this business school MBA in Japan. I was reading this book called The Personal MBA, and they had some recommendations and three books were on personal developments. So, I think it was Jim Rohn and Earl Nightingale, these old figures in the field.

Thibaut: So, I started listening to the audio books and many, many times it was really interesting to me how we can actually change our life by changing our behavior or mindset, the way we think as well, which impacts our emotions. And I got started with a blog, back in 2014, about personal development in English and French. It didn’t work out, to be honest.

Andy: Okay.

Thibaut: I was delusional, “This is going to be amazing. I’m going to have so much impact. And I’m going to have millions of views,” and stuff like that, which didn’t actually work that way in the real world. And I discovered that I could publish a book on Amazon, via Kindle, self-publishing. And I thought, “Yes, maybe I can do that. And maybe I make my first dollar online, make a little bit of money would be encouraging.” So, I wrote a book on goal setting, back in 2015. And I got really good review, really good feedback on that. So, later on, I decided to write more books and really to just keep writing books. Actually, Master Your Emotions was book number nine. And that’s actually when I started making a little bit of money and making some income from my books. And I’m a full-time author now. So, it was really, really nice.

Andy: Wow. Congratulations.

Thibaut: And that was actually in 2018. So, basically, almost five years after I studied the blog. So, a long time.

Andy: Yes. A little while.

Thibaut: Yes.

Andy: You cover some really great topics. And so much of this is, I think, so relevant to parenting, relevant to teenagers. You actually have a section in here, and you’re talking about ego, and you have a section on parent-child relationships where you talk about how some parents’ egos lead to the creation of a strong sense of attachment and identification with their children based on the false beliefs that children are their possessions, as a result they try to control their children’s lives and use them to live the life they wanted to live when they were younger, living vicariously through their children. Wow. I think we can all relate to that. Can you talk to me a little more about that?

Thibaut: Yes. I knew you would mention that. It’s, in my opinion, a little bit… I don’t have any children, so I would be a little bit judging, but I guess if I had, I would try to make sure I’m not imposing my own dreams on them. “Oh, you have to do this. You have to be a doctor or you have to be an architect,” or whatever, “Because I didn’t.” Or, “I was, and you have to do the same thing as me.” And I think it’s disrespecting the individual, your child as an individual who has his or her own dreams, aspirations in life. So, I think it’s really important to try your best obviously to let them live their life. I was very lucky because my parents really let me do whatever I wanted, when I was at university.

Thibaut: And I’m very, very grateful for that. And that’s probably why I’m here today, where I am, I think, part of it. When I say to my mother, “I want to study English or Japanese,” they say, “Oh, no problem. Study Japanese.” When I say I’m going to go to Japan, they say, “Yes, go to Japan. For sure.” So, I keep doing this stuff and I did business school, I wrote many books and I would consider myself as pretty happy and pretty successful now. So, I’m very grateful for that. But they never told me, “You cannot do that. Don’t do this. You have to be a doctor or something.” It never happened.

Andy: You say that’s related to ego. Talk to me about that. What does that mean?

Thibaut: You have your own idea or identity of how you want your life to be or life to be in general, and you project that onto your child or children. Say, “This is how life is. This is how I want life to be. So, you do this to be aligned with what I think about life and how it’s supposed to be.” It’s a question of are we individuals or are we a collective, I think, because this applies to countries like in Europe, in the US. But maybe in Asia, I think they would have a different way of thinking about children versus parents. Maybe the children have to do typical things. Like, “You have to be a doctor,” or whatever. You have to succeed as a child. So, maybe there is something cultural about it, I think, as well. In my opinion, we should let the individual be, let them choose their life, so what they want to do in their life.

Andy: How do we do that? That sounds so hard because we just want to help them do the right thing. It’s hard to tell when we’re doing that based on our own ego.

Thibaut: Yes. I don’t think it’s easy. I think it’s ideal, because a lot of stuff in the book are a framework to think about emotions in life and it doesn’t mean you’re going to have perfect emotions and be happy all the time. It’s more how to think about it and what you can do in your life to move into that direction, the best you can. But yes, obviously it’s tricky.

Andy: Okay. You say that each time you lock onto a thought or hold onto an emotion, you suffer. What do you mean by that?

Thibaut: Let’s say you are at work and your boss yells at you say or something bad. And you can choose, “Okay. Maybe I made a mistake or maybe the boss had a bad day and that’s okay.” And you forget about it. But you can think about it on your way back home, on your train, “Maybe I’m not good enough. Maybe I did a mistake. I’m so bad. I’m so stupid. Why did I do that?” And you keep thinking about it, over and over again, for a day or for a week. And people do that sometimes for decades, they hold resentment on something, this cannot be relevant for decades. And for me it’s ridiculous. Move on. So, what I mean by focusing on something so much that it becomes a problem and creates suffering in your life, instead of saying, “Okay. Yes. I made a mistake or maybe I was wrong. And that’s okay.” And try to move on, try to not give it too much energy to your emotions or to your fault.

Andy: What makes up strong emotion? You have this three part thing. You got interpretation plus identification plus repetition. How are those the ingredients of strong emotion?

Thibaut: So, first, like you have something happening to you in the world or in your mind as well. It can be in your mind. And then, you interpret it. “Okay. It’s raining today. I wanted to go on a picnic and I’m upset about it.” Okay. So, interpret it as a bad thing, that it’s raining. And then you identify with it, second step. So, “Oh, it’s raining. I feel bad about it.” You have some emotions about it. And you keep thinking about it. Again, identification repetition. “Oh, it’s raining. I wanted to go on picnic. It’s so bad. I’m so unhappy. I was looking forward to this situation, to this event, for a long time.” And you repeat that again and again, because this huge emotion, in this case, out of, I would say, not a big deal.

Thibaut: But it works for anything. It is just a process. You have something happening to you, you give a meaning, bad or good. Then you identify, “I feel a certain worry about this meaning I gave to this event.” Then, I think about it again and again during the day in my mind, or I talked about it, I make it a big thing in my life and become a strong emotion. So, let’s go back to the example of the bus yelling at you. You think about it, back on your way home, in a train, you talk to it with your partner or your friends and you are, “Ah, this happened to me. I’m so stupid. I feel bad about myself. What if I get fired?” It can even escape to ridiculous things sometimes. So, that’s a process I explain in the book about how do you create a strong emotion, bad or good.

Andy: But then there’s a lot of factors that go into that because then you’re also talking about labeling emotions and even something simple, like we say things like, “I’m angry. I’m sad. I’m depressed.” You point out that identifying yourself as being that emotion and maybe changing your language a little bit would be helpful. Maybe be more accurate to say, “I feel sad,” or, “I experience a feeling of sadness.” Why is that?

Thibaut: That’s the second step, identification. So, if you say, “I am,” “I am” is very powerful words. You say, “I am sad.” It’s very powerful. You give yourself the identity of sad. “I am sad. It’s who I am.” It’s not. It doesn’t make sense because you cannot be sad. I’ll in a book, who you are, your sense of who you are cannot be sad. You’re not sad all the time in your life. If you look in the past, if you look in… Maybe you watch a movie and you are laughing and you’re so happy for a while, even five minutes. And then you get back to being depressed. But that’s just an example that you cannot be sad. It’s not who you are. It doesn’t make sense.

Thibaut: So, if you say instead, “Okay, I feel a little bit maybe sad or depressed right now. It’s okay.” If you talk to yourself that way, just change the thinking, you give less power to that emotion or to the event or the meaning you give to the event. It has less power. So, that’s what I mean by “I am”. It’s very powerful, both in a good way and bad way if you use it in a negative way.

Andy: Yes. And so what do you think you would recommend when we hear are teenagers saying things like that? They’re like, “Oh, I’m so devastated. My life is over. The most terrible thing happened to me today.”

Thibaut: So, instead of using, “I am,” you say, “Okay, describe it. How do you feel actually about it? How do you feel?” And so, “Okay, it is how you feel right now. Last week you felt happy, right?” So, make them realize it’s not something that is set in stone forever because, when we are in a bad mood, we tend to believe that the emotion is going to stay forever, “I will never get out of this depression.” And it’s so powerful. It’s very hard to get out of that. So, the more aware we are that, if we understand that, we practice the power we have of our emotions to not get them control our life.

Thibaut: And even in my own life, I can see, “Okay. I feel a little bit sad right now.” “I feel,” not, “I am.” “I feel sad. Okay. It’s okay.” And I notice that and I take action to make sure I’m not getting into this really dark place. So, I have tools, what I mentioned in the book, to help me do that. And I think, once you know that, you understand that, it can really help you prevent going dark, going in depression maybe, in many cases. I think it’s very important to understand that.

Andy: Yes. It’s an easy little way to catch yourself. You find yourself thinking just like, “Oh, I’m so mad at my teenager.” Maybe you can just check yourself or you rephrase that to yourself and say, “Well, no. I feel angry.”

Thibaut: And that’s okay. I used say that to myself.

Andy Earle: Yes. Giving yourself permission.

Thibaut: You can even call your name and that comes back to a point I want you to talk about today, as well. I’ll talk about it all the time, it’s self-compassion. It’s really, really powerful, because people have these misconceptions about self-compassion, they’re “Oh, yes. If I’m too nice to myself, I would become complacent, I would become lazy, I wouldn’t be productive.” That’s not true, that’s not true at all. You can test. I’ve done it for five years now. It is not true.

Andy: Okay.

Thibaut: I’ve written 20 books in five years. And I was always like, “Okay, it’s okay. “I talk to myself. “”Oh, you failed here. That’s not a big deal. It’s okay, Thibaut. You’ll do better next time.” And I almost never insult myself, I tried not to disrespect myself. I wouldn’t say, “I’m stupid.” I’ve stopped saying that years ago. I say, “Oh, it’s okay. Made a mistake. No big deal.” That really makes a difference. It’s not that hard to implement in your life, you have to be aware a little bit, but okay. You practice changing yourself talk. “I feel sad, but it’s okay. I’ll feel better tomorrow, maybe.” These small words that you tell yourself are very important.

Andy: Yes, because also I think then we get frustrated with ourself for being angry. “I shouldn’t feel mad at my kid. I’m a bad parent. Why do I feel like this? I need to stop feeling that way.”

Thibaut: Yes. And you escalate. You’re angry at yourself for being angry. It doesn’t make sense. It’s like, “Okay, I’m angry. It’s okay. It happens. I’m angry.” Very powerful. And also, if you can use self-compassion in your life, even in term of productivity or happiness, “You need be more productive.” It sounds very counterintuitive. But, if you’re actually nice to yourself, loving, caring, you encourage yourself every time, as much as you can, like a coach. You don’t want to hire a coach to yell at you all the time, I think. It’s not really good. But, if you say to yourself, “Oh, I can do better next time. I’ll do better. That’s okay.”

Andy: You talk in the book about problems and I think that’s really relatable because parents, we have a lot of problems with our teenagers. What’s interesting, I found, in your book is you say that problems don’t exist.

Thibaut: Yes. Again, it’s a big claim, “Problems don’t exists.”

Andy Earle: I think some parents would beg to differ.

Thibaut: Yes. I’m sure. What I mean by that ism if you look at the reality, the world outside of human beings and their thinking process and all their emotions, the world itself doesn’t have problems, the earth doesn’t care about X, Y, or Z. The world doesn’t have problems, because it doesn’t think that way, it’s just reality is. And you can argue against reality, “I don’t like this.” But still, the reality is like, “Yes, this is just reality. It is.” That means you cannot deny reality. Something is happening, it is real, it is here. And, if you say, “It should be a different way,” why? It is. If it has to be a different way, it would be a different way in reality, but it’s not.

Andy: Yes. But when your kid gets an F in biology, that’s a problem.

Thibaut: Yes, sure.

Andy Earle: Right? When you find a vaporizer in your kid’s backpack, that’s a huge problem.

Thibaut: Yes.

Andy: And when your 12 year old daughter has a boyfriend, that is a huge problem.

Thibaut: Yes. So, what I mean and what I want people to understand is that there’s no problem in the reality, so we accept the situation first. Y accept what is real instead of denying, “Okay, this is real. My boy had an F,” or something. This is a reality. “And now I accept it and now what do I do about it? How do I react to it?” Instead of denying it or being angry, “Okay, this is a reality. I cannot undo that probably, unless you go talk to the teacher, maybe.” You accept the reality and say, “Okay, what am I going to do about it now? What can I do about it? In a real world, with my real action, not in my fantasy or dream world, or ideal world.”So, it’s accepting reality as it is.

Andy: And that’s something we can also coach teenagers through when they’re ruminating on things or caught up and repeating negative thoughts about some problem that they’re having in their lives, maybe coaching them a little bit on taking a step back from that.

Thibaut: Yes. You can say, “Okay. Look, what’s the fact here? How would you describe the situation?” And maybe they can describe in a more factual way. And they’d be like, “Okay, this is not that bad.” Or maybe they have a different perspective.

Andy: “I got an F. That’s a fact. It’s a huge problem because now I’m going to fail to class. I’m not going to get into college. My life is ruined.”

Thibaut: Yes. So, it’s a fact now. What can you do about it? How can we improve the situation? What can we do about it? What can we do together?” And talk about it. Yes, that’s reality.

Andy: So, what do you think is so important about recording your emotions? You have a whole chapter on this. You say, “I invite you to record your emotions for an entire week.”

Thibaut: One of the best ways to really improve your emotional state is to have more self-awareness. Self awareness in everything in life. Emotions, success, everything, you have to be self-aware. You have to know yourself, and how you feel, and how you act, and why you act that way, why you feel that way and all this stuff. That’s very important. So, that’s part of it. You record your emotions. “How did I feel today? Okay. I feel that way. Why did I feel that way? What happens? Again, what are the facts? I submit a report at work and my boss yelled at me. That’s a fact, there’s no emotions. Okay. How did I react? I feel depressed or angry,” or stuff like that. And, when you do that, train your mind to reframe the way you perceive emotions.

Thibaut: And also to be aware of more and more emotions in your life. The more sense for where you are, the more power you have to change your inner self talk and to shift, “Okay. Take a step back on that emotion. Okay. I feel a little bit sad. That’s okay,” because we want to create space between the emotion and time between the emotion and how you act, because most people do not have that space. So, they are angry, they yell. It’s automatically planned. You need to have time. You need to be able to have space, even if it’s one second, two seconds, or less, just have time to have a chance to change your behavior and your talk as well and how you react. That’s why recording emotions gives you self awareness and it would help you later, in many situations.

Andy: I love that. So, walk me through that. I’m just going to carry around a little notebook or something and write down every emotion I feel?

Thibaut: Yes. You can buy stuff, I think they have mood journals or even trackers apps on phones. You can probably look at this stuff. You can do it with just a notebook and write down, “Okay. How did I feel today on a scale of one to 10? If you feel bad, what happens exactly? What other facts? How did I react? What could I have done differently in that situation?” Because then you train your mind to react differently next time, you say, “Okay. This is happening. It happened before. So, now I reacted that way. It wasn’t good. So, I’m going to react that way instead.” So, you can change the course of action. So, you can do that. You don’t have to do it every day, just up to you how much you want to master your emotions or improve your emotional state. But yes, you can do that. Definitely.

Andy: Yes. Just a little bit.

Thibaut: The point is not to overwhelm people with thousands of exercises and they have to spend hours a day. No, just do your best, do what you can. And, if you read the book, then do what resonates with you. They have many stuff in the book they can do as exercises. There’s a workbook, as well. So, they can use that, for sure.

Andy: Yes. I noticed at the back there’s a whole workbook just included, right here in the back of the book, that has all fill in and blanks and questions you can do to help you master your emotions.

Thibaut: Yes. There’s also a separate workbook. If they want to buy, have it separately and have more space to write, they can do that as well.

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About Thibaut Meurisse

Thibaut Meurisse is the author of Master Your Emotions.

Thibaut has authored twenty books on human behavior, lifestyle and mindset. He’s the founder of lifestyle website whatispersonaldevelopment.org, and his work has been featured on wellness websites like Llife Hack, Tiny Buddha, and Goalcast.

Originally from France, he has  lived in Japan for over half a decade. After studying Japanese in college, he began working for the Japanese government as a coordinator of international relations. He also received an MBA from one of Japan’s leading universities for the study of economics.

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