How to be a master of your emotions to the benefit of goals

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Not a while ago, one of us had a very strange day. It was kind of an emotional roller-coaster and at the end, it turned out to be quite a wasted day. And yet, it wasn’t entirely without an upside. It made us have a second and more detailed look at how the state of our mind affects the whole process of achieving success.

It all started with an email to Niki from a co-worker regarding some specific work-related issue. After few exchanges back and forth this person came to his office and the discussion continued face to face. It immediately took the dimensions of a heated argument – so much so that it became completely counterproductive. After more than a couple of hours, all ended with no resolution whatsoever.

Unfortunately, this very unpleasant episode stayed on Niki’s mind throughout the day. He couldn’t regain any of his focus and almost none of his work for the day got done.

There is no doubt that the ability to exercise that type of control is very important. We consider it a matter of utmost significance and we continue to do our best to get a good handle of it. This role of emotions is going to be the topic of today’s article.

What is the relevance to goals

You must know it all to well how emotions can seriously diminish our productivity. Let’s suppose you are trying to read an interesting book but your mind is elsewhere and after a while, you realize that you are still on the same page as half an hour ago.

Well, the same can happen with our goals.

It is close to impossible to go after them when you are emotionally distracted.

Here is our chance to exercise some “emotional intelligence” – the ability to understand and accept feelings and the underlying mechanisms that determine the patterns in our behavior under different circumstances.

The laws of emotions

The main thrust of today’s analysis is, first, how to avoid this detrimental interference and, second, how to best tune ourselves psychologically when pursuing an objective.

We are going to explore some aspects of Professor Nico Frijda’s 12 Laws of Emotions.[1]  Our interest is mostly on these that we see as directly related to goal setting.

#1 Law of situational meaning

In nutshell, the idea is that feelings arise from certain situations and that similar external conditions are responsible for the same internal psychological response.

A perfect example would be the daily commute to work. If there is some bad traffic that morning you will get stressed and frustrated by the time you get to work. It may take you a couple of hours before you settle down and get on doing your job.

Emotions formatted by habits

The problem lies in the recurrence of an experience.

The repetitive nature of a stressful event is responsible for conditioning your subconscious to react in the same exact manner. That might become a vicious circle if you fail to do something about it. You will have one bad day after another till it becomes a major roadblock to anything you do.

What’s the place of goals in everyday life

In “GoalBuddy” we pay special attention to personal goals – those to improve our lives in areas like health, money matters, relationships, etc. They don’t have a deadline but a long term scope of action which is one uninterrupted process of growing and thriving.

Life is measured in years,  the years are made of months, weeks and finally, we have the one single day. These are the milestones on the road towards fulfilling a vision. In order to get there, we have to apply ourselves on a daily basis.

You might be already guessing what we are aiming at:

Every single day is important when it comes to reaching an objective.

An everyday journey

Often the fine line between success and failure can be drawn by our own psychological state at the time. The more of the good days we have the faster and further ahead we get in our lives.

There are several factors that can play a very constructive role in how you see things. These could be related to your work, friends, and family, as well as many other things that you love to do. You are most productive and effective when you are in a good mood. But if you allow negativity to take over then the chances for success will be greatly diminished.

Being able to recognize these psychologically harmful situations is fundamental to our approach. Only after that, you can do what is needed to stop them from happening and start exercising self-control.

On the issue of control

Of course, there is no way you can ever win against the morning traffic.

You can’t really arrange all circumstances to your liking but you are your own boss when it comes to how you react to them.

Actually, it is quite reassuring if you think about it.

Once you manage to put aside the worry that being stuck in traffic can ruin your day you are already in charge and that’s a good feeling to start your day with.

Employing different strategies

For example, one idea is to use the time in the car to listen to a favorite podcast or audio-book. You can turn a depressing office space into an oasis of calm and focus. Just decorate your place with flowers, books, images or motivating quotes – whatever you like.

And finally, the most challenging of all, namely those people whose emotional negativity is highly contagious. Well, you can try not to take it personally and be professional in your dealings with them.

#2 The law of concern

It postulates that when you are interested in something, then specific feelings will arise out of it. And vice versa.

Or to put it differently, emotions and their energy will navigate you according to your priorities.

“You will know them when you see them”

Sometimes you may take on goals that are not yours at all, and that could be life-changing. In such cases, you may naturally have some doubts. What you should do is to become more attentive to the scope and intensity of your feelings while pursuing the objective.

Let’s say you get a promotion and it comes with greater pay but also more responsibilities. If this is really your thing, then you should be motivated to work harder and with much more energy.

But if you are less then enthusiastic because you came under too much pressure or if there is nothing in your work that makes you happy then perhaps it is not truly yours after all.

It’s obvious how only the real and meaningful goals are exciting to the point that you deeply care about them.

Our example

A while back we decided to set a goal for a 90-day experiment in accordance with our “GoalBuddy” system.  We started a podcast – one episode every week. Nowadays it gives us a great deal. And we say that without any overstatement.

We look forward to it with much anticipation and when the day of the podcast comes we feel revved up by a burst of energy. And it lasts throughout several days. That’s how we know for sure it was a great idea and a true thing for us.

#3 The laws of change, habituation and comparative feeling

Generally speaking, we readily get accustomed to those things in life that secure for us some sense of stability. Anything that can force us outside the familiar will provoke a certain psychological discomfort. The intensity depends on the level of uneasiness we experience when it happens.

This phenomenon is quite relevant for goal setting as well. Here it is how exactly.

Goals and change

On the one hand, some sudden swings in our lives can push us into the territory of negativity. If we get stuck there for a bit too long, we may end up being far off track in terms of our goals. That’s why it’s vital to be fully aware of our feelings and know well the level of our ability to withstand difficulties.

But on the other hand,

To achieve a meaningful and important objective means to undergo a positive change yourself. To have no goals whatsoever is the same as to be in a state of stagnation.

It’s a matter of degree

The magnitude of change is crucial.

In our system, we define a small weekly step in order to get closer to our objective. So, it is a gradual advancement towards getting used to the new situation first and then figuring out how to deal best with it emotionally.

Getting ready in advance

You can spare yourself some of the inevitable trouble and reduce the stress and detrimental psychological consequences by preparing for the possible problems.

Let’s share something from our own personal experience:

Before quitting a well-paid job in order to kick start your own business make sure you have enough savings for the next couple of years.

It means that at least one thing is off your plate when you are about to make such a big bet on your future.

#4 The law of conservation of emotional momentum

It is a myth that time can heal anything. A traumatic experience left on its own can fester on for years and thus become a major roadblock to your overall progress and development.

If you are a sensitive type of a person, even the slightest reminder can trigger an avalanche of memories that will bury you under and that will put an end to any efforts towards your goals.

It is possible, though, that with just a single act of re-examining and evaluating anew such an event that you can greatly reduce its harmful impact on you.

Goals, emotions, and limiting beliefs

Limiting beliefs are often rooted in our past. A painful breakup at the end of a relationship can make you think you are a lousy partner. And this, of course, can stay with you for years. Or a critical performance evaluation at your very first job can convince you that you are not a team player.

In short, these self-imposed limitations born out of some past incidents can prevent us from achieving any considerable success in a particular aspect of life.

Here we would recommend the following strategy:

“Get to know your enemy”

There is no way you can solve a problem if you aren’t completely aware of its nature.

Give a very careful thought of what transpired and then make an attempt to see what kind of lesson might be in there for you. Also, make the effort to identify the feelings you go through and how they might be the reason for any possible limiting beliefs. Finally, find a way to reduce if not to completely eliminate their impact by re-wiring your brain in such a manner that you see the whole experience in a new and more optimistic way.

This brings us back to the last few of Prof. Frijda laws.

#5 Law of the lightest load and the greatest gain

To word it in the simplest possible way – a lot, if not everything, depends on how well we reflect in the aftermath of any tough moment in life. A new interpretation of what actually occurred can give us quite a different emotional reaction.

If you can do that then you will be also able to reduce the psychological downside of it. And even better – convincing yourself that it was worth it will ensure a net psychological positive for you and thus you can call it a win at the end of the day.

How to turn a load into a gain

A piece of advice: when things are going from bad to worse, simply say to yourself “It’s all for good and I will find out why.”.

What is the common thread with goals

It is reflected in the overall philosophy of our system that there are no failures, only lessons to be learned. When you go forward with less of worry or fear but you do that with the help of small weekly steps, you actually are making progress. However, since no one is immune to mistakes it’s paramount to have the right attitude. There are three things for you to do:

Learn the lesson

One can find a moral in any type of experience while on the road of self-improvement and personal growth. If you manage to do that you will soon find out how that the new point of view is boosting your self-confidence and therefore you can overcome pretty much any obstacle.

Be grateful

This is one indispensable life attitude which once mastered will give you a lot in return.

You must have the following attitude: one should always welcome every chance to grow and develop. A challenge, a closed door in front of you that you succeeded opening all by yourself can mitigate the emotional consequence of any failure. That’s also a very good way to steer clear of any defeatist thoughts.

Another wise thing to do is when you consciously seek out things of goodness in your everyday life (no matter how small or seemingly insignificant). You turn this into a habit and it immediately becomes much easier to always look on the bright side of things.

These two don’t mix – you can’t be grateful and at the same time harbor in yourself any bitterness.


That’s the best, even if not the easiest way to recover your emotional balance. It’s hard to forgive yourself for a wrong behavior or a big mistake. But if you do then you can save relationships, especially when you get upset by something insignificant compared to how much you appreciate the person next to you.

The bottom line here is simple – it’s only a plus for you and your mental state if you interpret things in a good and measured way.

To summarize

Some thoughts could be like a wrench in the wheel of your success, and some others are like the oil that lubricates it. It is imperative for you to improve your emotional intelligence by better observing, having more awareness and acquiring more information about what’s going on around you.

When we know well our weak sides and how to fight them, then we can take responsibility. And this means one thing – that we are on the right track.

What would be a greater goal than that!


[1]     Nico Frijda (1927-2015) is one of the co-founders of the International Society for the Study of Emotions, a professor of psychology at the University of Amsterdam (1965-1992), a member of the Dutch Royal Academy of Sciences and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is considered a founding father of modern studies of human emotions.

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