“Emotions are data not directives. Emotions are data not directives.” I kept repeating this over and over to remind myself, but somehow it wasn’t getting through.

In that particular moment, the disconnect I was experiencing between this statement – which I wholeheartedly agree with, absolutely believe and also share with others on a regular basis within training and coaching sessions – and the overwhelming mix of anxiety, uncertainty, concern and helplessness I was feeling, was vast.

This situation was causing me to question everything (and not in a healthy, enquiring, pausing to wonder sort of way.) My fight/flight instinct was in overdrive, and then the unhelpful self-talk kicked in, dragging me toward that familiar spiral of ‘should’. 

“You’re supposed to be a well-being specialist. You know you’re not supposed to react this way.

Its not as though you’re having to deal with anything terrible right now.

Where is your resilience? What about all the resources you know of – all the tools and techniques? How are you supposed to be there for others if you can’t even do this properly for yourself?”

What was wrong with me? I should know better than this. 

And I do. In that moment however, all my training, my practices, my beliefs and resources seemed so far out of reach, so I did the only thing I could –  I reached for the PAUSE button.

The PAUSE button isn’t actually a real thing, but it works because it enables me to make a choice when it feels as though decisions are an impossible task. It buys me time and helps me take that much needed step back, so I can get a sense of what’s truly happening and figure out what to think, feel and do next. When everything is paused, I can remind myself that there isn’t anything ‘wrong with me’, I am simply being a human, having thoughts, experiencing feelings and that ‘emotions are data, not directives.’ 

In conversations with friends, family members and clients over the last few weeks, the subject of unwanted emotions and what to do about them has continued to feature. What’s interesting is how we are almost being forced to examine things more closely because of our adapted living situation. Right now, we can’t help but evaluate our lives, our situations, ourselves. It’s all there in front of us – how we work, eat, exercise, relax; our goals dreams, relationships – all those unfinished jobs and unrealised aspirations. Everything is under the microscope, including the stuff we thought we’d dealt with. And it’s all playing out across a backdrop of uncertainty, causing us to think and feel in ways that we may not be used to. Issues can become heightened and things that we might otherwise ignore or save for dealing with another day, are ever-present. And when issues are heightened, so too are our emotions, which can drain our energy, leaving us feeling depleted, overwhelmed and stuck.

“Emotions are neither good or bad, they just are.” (Susan David).

Our programming or learnt behaviour tends to suggest that when we experience something overwhelming or uncomfortable, even painful – we assume we need to do something; fix it, control it, push it away, grin and bear it. And yet, what we really need in those moments is to do nothing. By doing nothing we allow ourselves to be. We create space for these feelings and through this process we can choose how we want and need to respond. 

“The problem is not the existence of stressors, which cannot be avoided. Stress is simply the brain’s way of signalling that something is important. The problem – or perhaps the opportunity, is how we respond to this stress.” (The Book of Joy).

Rather than acting from the emotion and giving ourselves a hard time about what we ‘should’ be thinking or feeling, we can reach for the PAUSE button and ask instead, ‘what information is this giving me? And ’what do I need right now? Or, ‘how can I show myself some compassion right now?’ Through this, we become more objective about what we are experiencing, enabling us to witness what’s happening, without judging and without becoming embroiled in it. We begin to create a ‘self to self relationship’ where we can start to treat ourselves with the kindness and compassion we usually save only for others.

And this practice isn’t just reserved for when we are feeling stressed, challenged or when we experience discomfort. It is for anytime, all of the time. Because when we practice, and keep on practicing, we are building new patterns and creating new neural pathways. With that continued practice comes a more resourceful default response. One that is more nourishing, more productive and more compassionate for ourselves.

Why not start your practice now, by listening to our Self-Compassion Practice exercise on SoundCloud?

‘Emotions are data, not directives’ is taken from Susan David’s brilliant book – Emotional Agility. If you’re interested in learning more about this concept, we highly recommend you check it out.