Emotional Rollercoasters: An Interpretive Guide to Reading Your Feelings

24.09.20 08:06 AM By Heather Kleinschmidt

How do you know if you're on the right track?

When something in your situation is "off," your intuition will speak to you before your executive functions have caught up to it.

But feelings can also be deceiving. They don't have a long-term perspective ― they only notice what's right here, right now.

So how can you discern between your intuitive intelligence and your shortsighted lizard brain?

Depending on who you ask, you'll get very different answers:

  • "You should only do things that make you feel inspired and alive," say the self-care purists.
  • "You should feel confident in your 'why' and let the rest fall into place." say the Sinek groupies.
  • "You should feel vulnerable and uncertain, and learn to dance with that fear," says the Godin crowd.
  • "It doesn't matter how you feel. Just do what you came to do." say the Willink-Goggins junkies.


Each answer carries at least a degree of relevance  ―  so how do you know when to apply each one?

I think it helps to anticipate the rollercoaster your lizard brain is riding ― so that you can make a decision about whether your experience is a natural and expected part of the journey, or whether there's something else (something important) your brain might be trying to communicate to you.

There's a pattern to the pursuit of anything worthwhile. The rollercoaster follows a predictable cycle of ups and downs…

🚀 First, there's the thrill of a new adventure. But it's an imprecise, ambiguous excitement. You'll have a high-level idea of what you're moving toward, but it's new territory, and the specifics just aren't familiar yet.

😓 Then, there's the moment when things get real. As you become more and more immersed in the realities of what it means to move toward your target, it's natural to become discouraged. But actually, this is merely a sign that you're developing familiarity in your new landscape. As you're encountering thing after thing, those things may accumulate and feel overwhelming… but it's a signal that you're gaining an understanding of the (finite) territory you're in. And if you stick to it, you can learn and become comfortable with the entire mapped-out area.

🎭 As you stick it out and practice disciplined pursuit, there will be lots of ups and downs. You'll gain some competence, and things will look up… and then they'll immediately come back down as another harsh reality hits. Throughout the process, however, you'll develop a better and better understanding ― a more and more precise clarity ― on the specifics of the things around you.

🏆 The further you go, the more momentum you'll build up ― and momentum is a powerful thing. As you make more progress, as you gather more notches on your belt, you'll also gain a sense of pride and confidence, which can then be used as fuel elsewhere. Because you've really done it. You're actually doing what you set out to do, and that's something worth being proud of. You know (in a way that nobody else knows) that it wasn't easy ― you know the journey you've been on. And you can enjoy and celebrate that accomplishment.

And then back to the start. You find a new high-value target, and begin the journey all over again…

Ups and downs are natural. Pain or struggle aren't automatically a sign that you need to stop. Failure doesn't necessarily mean you're on the wrong track - it doesn't even mean that you're not making progress.

Remember that your experience is a reflection of your experience only.

Attunement to your internal voice is a valuable skill, when it's nested inside a holistic perspective.

Anticipating the rollercoaster of experiences that you're stepping into can help frame your journey and let you know that you're in the right place when it feels like you should be doing anything else.

Each week, I do a deep-dive into the question of living meaningfully.

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