One emotion at a time – A practical philosophy for conquering fear
Common: To view one’s natural emotional tendencies as impulsive, fleeting, and simultaneous.
Uncommon: I grew up with what appeared to be several innate and undefeatable fears: Heights, claustrophobia (enclosed spaces), and public speaking among the worst of them. Perhaps you can relate to one or more.
After 12 years of willingly subjecting myself to numerous psychological theories and tests and observing the effects, the work in my mental dojo has allowed me to make what I feel is major progress towards mental liberation.
Some examples include giving hundreds of speeches in multiple countries, spelunking in dark, cold, wet caverns hundreds of feet below the earth’s surface, bungee jumping, and most recently, skydiving.
A few weeks ago I not only brought myself to jump out of a plane, I found skydiving to be one of the most serene, calming, and rejuvenating experiences of my life. Why (and how) the extreme pendulum shift? I’ll tell you.
But I should also mention the obvious: I am certainly not the only person who has triumphed over intense personal fears. If we’re committed enough we’ll often find a solution — and there are many different solutions. I simply want to share one technique amongst a world full of methodologies that has worked well for me. Well, to be accurate, it’s more of a philosophy.
One moment, one emotion (OMOE)
While psychologists remain relatively divided on the topic, I’ve chosen to adopt the concept that impacts my life in the most constructive way possible — and that is the following fundamental belief:
We can only experience one emotion in any given moment
This simple concept is the crux of this post, and the root cause of my emotional liberation. Personally, I have come to believe that while we may experience rapidly alternating emotions in hundredths of a second, emotions do not occur simultaneously. As a rule, emotions are solitary and pure.
For example, I don’t believe we can feel truly excited and sad or confused and certain or fearful and confident at the exact same moment in time. This is also true for more analogous emotions such as disappointment and anger or satisfaction and elation or fear and excitement. We may ‘label’ our emotions differently, but you get the idea.
More on this shortly, but first, a corresponding belief that helps us better understand and make use of the preceding principle:
Where attention goes, energy flows.
In other words, This is a critical detail I’ll also revisit.
Serenity and gravity
When the opportunity to skydive presented itself several months ago, my instinctive response was naturally excitement and nervousness (independent of each other, of course ☺). I immediately recalled my bungee jumping experience. Using the “one emotion at a time” principle I brought myself to jump 192 meters off of a building in Auckland, New Zealand. It wasn’t easy, but I did it.
With that said, this bungee jumping event took place 5 years ago. After several years of practicing the “one moment, one emotion” (OMOE) method, I was curious to, once again, test it with an activity as intense as skydiving.
Sure enough, when I was finally sitting on the plane ascending 12,500 ft into the sky, I was able to fully grasp (and hold) emotions of excitement, absent of fear and apprehension. All internal butterflies had migrated elsewhere. In fact, to my surprise, they never showed up that day.
Admittedly, it was an eerie, but wonderful state of calm. My only unease came when I was critically aware of my lack of fear. The derailing thoughts began on a couple brief occasions:
- Shouldn’t I feel at least a little bit concerned?
- What if I’m not prepared to respond in an emergency situation?
- Is this a bad sign/omen?”
Catching myself atop of this slippery slope, I pulled the reins by realizing my analysis was merely directing attention towards uncertainty — a philosophical territory on which nothing positive can be built. I reminded myself not to focus on questions and answers, but rather the feeling (or the one emotion) I wanted to increase.
This has nothing to do with some machismo state of denial or inflated egotism. I felt like myself. I was in the moment. And it was fantastic.
Specifics and disclaimers
Now for the important question: why are these two ideas important and how can you use them?
- Accepting that we can experience only one emotion at any given moment allows us to identify the most constructive emotion in a sea of mental noise. Then, we can hold onto it mentally, which leads to point number two.
- When we can hold onto and focus on a constructive emotion, it expands and intensifies while other less desirable emotions begin to dissipate. Or to restate my earlier quote: emotions are either fed and sustained or ignored and dissolved.
There are few more concepts that may help you apply the OMOE method I will explore in the final part of this post, but the most common and immediate response I receive at this point is:
“But it’s just so difficult to hold onto one emotion when I feel so many intense emotions.”
Yes, it’s also difficult and frustrating to communicate with someone who speaks a language you aren’t familiar with. Emotions are a language of their own. But, like any skill, the ability to identify and cultivate an emotion is a learned ability. Not knowing this, some view the OMOE method as idealistic. The commonality among these individuals is a lack of existing mental discipline. As a result, without personal experience to draw from, the concept seems unrealistic.
With that said, I think we can all agree on one thing:
Yet, unless you have decided to practice some form of meditation or the like, mental discipline is not a skill that is often taught. This is a real shame because without mental stability and mastery, there is no stability or mastery in other parts of life.
I’ll admit, “controlling our emotion” is quite an overwhelming prospect. In fact, it’s like trying to fasten a seatbelt to your shadow. But fortunately, attempting to “control emotion” would be a misinterpretation of OMOE. Many emotions appear naturally when we encounter unsuspected or significant circumstances. The OMOE method won’t eradicate rational or irrational knee-jerk emotional responses embedded in one’s personality, but it does offer a way to consciously cultivate a constructive or desirable emotion while under personal duress.
And need I even mention that the more often we enjoy mental clarity and fortitude the better off we’ll be in every pursuit in life? Anyone who has accomplished truly uncommon results or is routinely happy has achieved mental obedience using various tips and tricks they’ve mastered over time.
A final thought on defeating fear
Fear has been defined in many poetic ways over the course of history. To do so again here seems redundant. Instead, I’ll share one final observation about fear that has helped me master the OMOE method and conquer fear.
With the very, very rare life-threatening exception, fear resides only in the past (revisiting past memories) and the future (worrying about a possible negative outcome).
For this reason, OMOE teaches us to be more “present” — to build on the stream of present moments before they become history. * Fear creeps in from either side of the present moment.
What OMOE is and isn’t
OMOE is not about summoning reserves of personal willpower to perform acts of valor with deep reluctance. OMOE is not about controlling emotions we do not wish to experience. In fact, the opposite is true. It’s about ‘choosing’ the emotion we want to feel and fueling it.
OMOE capitalizes on the peace of mind that can only be summoned while being the moment. It’s about feeding the desired emotion so the negative alternative starves. It’s a philosophy that can help you guide your emotional experience through learned mental discipline that leads to authentic emotions.
Unless you are an enlightened Monk, life will never be devoid of fear, but that doesn’t mean you can’t replace a large percentage of those frightful moments with feelings of gratitude, excitement, and bliss. Whether walking on stage, asking someone on a date, or jumping out of a plane, you don’t need to be a victim of your own emotional storms. Instead, you can take the world by storm by grabbing emotional reins fastened to the present.
Do you agree? Disagree? What have you found to be effective in conquering fear?
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* This should not be interpreted as a suggestion to never reflect graciously on past moments or disregard future plans. There is a time for reflection and long term planning, but putting the OMOE method into practice means choosing to be in the moment in that moment. And finally, it is entirely possible to focus on and appreciate the present moment while being pulled toward an exciting vision of the future.