First of all, recognize that there are people and corporations with a strong vested interest in conditioning you to maintain the (false) belief that you need some kind of external validation to feel a certain way. Marketers spend billions of dollars each year to convince you that you need to drink their soda, eat their food, wear their clothing, drive their cars, and shop at their stores to feel happy, cool, fashionable, popular, confident, successful, etc. Who benefits most when you adopt the belief that you need to dress a certain way to feel fashionable or drive a certain car to feel cool?
When you understand that you have the innate ability to consciously direct your thoughts to create any feeling you want, whenever you want, you’re not going to make such people rich. But you will be much more free, since you’ll gain the power of conscious control over your own emotional states. This is a skill that takes practice, but it is a learnable one. For example, in a matter of minutes I can get myself to feel any emotion I want, and for those I’ve already anchored, I can put myself into that state in less than 5 seconds. This is nothing unique — experienced actors can do it too. If an actor can laugh uproariously or cry rivers of tears or shout with intense anger over something completely fake, then you can certainly learn to be 100% confident on que as well (and really experience the genuine emotion).
My favorite emotion is the state of feeling “unstoppable,” which is one I anchored at a Tony Robbins seminar. Anchoring means conditioning a specific emotional state to be linked to a simple trigger, just as Pavlov conditioned his dog to link getting fed with the sound of bell. So if I make a certain movement, I automatically surge into this emotional state within a few seconds. In my old Tae Kwon Do studio, I noticed another student firing off an anchor several times during sparring matches. The tennis player Andre Agassi and the basketball player Byron Scott both used emotional anchoring in their athletic careers, and I’ve read that emotional conditioning has been used by German Olympic teams with outstanding results (the U.S. Olympic teams are generally much further behind in this area). Anchoring is well covered in Tony Robbins Unlimited Power book, and he also takes you through it directly in his live seminars and he covers it in his Personal Power audio program. Something really cool I discovered is that once I’ve conditioned an anchor, I don’t even have to physically fire it off. If I merely imagine myself making the particular motion, it still works. So Weds night when I was being introduced as the speaker, I mentally imagined myself firing off my trigger for confidence, and by the time I reached the lectern I was feeling 100% confident. Yes, 100% — no nervousness or self-doubt whatsoever.
Advertisers use anchoring on you all the time. This is why Pepsi will pay someone like Michael Jackson $20 million to be in a 30-second commercial (OK, so that was years ago). They want to condition you to link the emotions you get from hearing a particular song to their product. This emotional conditioning works a lot better than trying to logically argue why you should consume sugar water and chemicals. And it absolutely works … to the tune of billions.
Dr. Wayne Dyer said that when he was learning about self-actualization in college, a professor posed this question: If a totally self-actualizing person unknowingly showed up to a formal event wearing overly casual attire, how would s/he react? The answer: S/he wouldn’t even notice. That’s the state of total emotional mastery, where no external event can knock you into a negative emotional state. A mind like water.
The problem isn’t that external events have control over your emotions. The problem is believing that they do. Abandoning this belief and realizing that you have the innate ability to control how you feel at any given moment, regardless of your circumstances, is the first step to emotional mastery. Events are neutral. What causes you to feel a certain way is how you interpret an event, how you think about it. The same event (even one so serious as the death of someone close to you) will be interpreted differently by different people. You were taught to represent certain events to yourself as tragic, while other people on this planet were taught to celebrate those same events. The event itself has no meaning but the meaning you assign to it, and that act of assigning meaning (whether done consciously or unconsciously) is what causes you to feel a certain way.
Once you understand this, you can begin to take conscious control over these assignments. When stricken with a terminal illness, some people interpret it as terrible and go into a deep depression. Others interpret it as a challenge and find a way to overcome the illness. And still others see it as a wake up call to reevaluate their priorities and make the best possible use of the time they have left, developing deeper bonds with the people around them and living much more fully. To some people it’s an ending, while to others it’s a new beginning. But this doesn’t have to be a subconscious reaction — it can be a conscious choice. Whenever something happens that you would normally say “makes you depressed,” you can choose to find and assign an alternate interpretation that makes you feel empowered instead of disempowered. Instead of failure you can see a learning experience. Instead of a loss, you can focus on deepening your feelings of gratitude for what you do have. Instead of rejection you can see a temporary mismatch and a renewed opportunity to find the perfect fit. Just because TV teaches you to feel a certain way in response to a certain event doesn’t mean you have to blindly accept that interpretation, especially since the TV business benefits when you feel down and thereby tune in to try to change your emotional state.
Between stimilus and response lies the opportunity for conscious choice. You can be fired from your job and turn it into a victory instead of a defeat (Lee Iacoca did). You can go bankrupt and move on to even greater wealth (Donald Trump did). You can be injured to the point of disfiguration and turn it into an advantage to inspire others (W. Mitchell did). You can be dumped by your girlfriend, feel suicidal, and yet still bounce back (Billy Joel did). And on the other hand, you can enjoy outstanding external success and yet abuse yourself to the point of death (John Belushi did).
For any seemingly “negative” event, you can find someone who turned it into an empowering experience. And for any “positive” event, you can find someone who interpreted it in such a way as to destroy themselves. Avoid the trap of letting events subconsciously control you, and use the power of your consciousness to decide your own interpretation of events for the greatest good of all.
When you reach the point of becoming independent of external events, you’re truly free. This is the state of being detached from external events, knowing that you can exert direct conscious control over your thoughts instead of needing something external to do it for you. Dr. Wayne Dyer refers to it as being “independent of the good opinion of others.” No matter what happens to you, you can still choose to be at peace.
Note: This article was written by Steve Pavlina in 2004.