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Managing vs. Controlling Emotions

All day, every day, we are dealing with our feelings and emotions. Most of our lives are spent focused on how we are feeling. Sometimes, we act out of the strongest feelings and emotions. We might lash out in anger or freeze with fear. No one is above an extreme reaction when pushed to our limit. When that happens, we often have regrets, and wish we could control our feelings and emotions. It seems like it would be so helpful if we could just shut off our anger during those acute moments to avoid doing or saying something we cannot take back later.


In truth, humans are not designed to “bottle up” or shut off feelings and emotions. They are a natural part of us. In common vernacular we assign values such as “positive” and “negative” to our emotions, but there is nothing positive nor negative about them. Our feelings and emotions just are. The more attention we give them, the more powerful they become. This includes when we try to suppress them or control them.


There is a solution, however. In Tumfo Tu, we use the term “manage” rather than “control” with respect to feelings and emotions. This may seem like a minor difference, but in practice, it is a very different way to relate to our feelings and emotions. Managing them most basically means to direct the energy into useful thought or action. Controlling them is more akin to forcing them to do or be something other than what they are. Suppressing them is not truly possible.


Choosing not to feel them is antithetical to our design as humans. Managing our feelings and emotions, on the other hand, allows us to transform the power of those emotions into whatever is needed in that moment.


In Tumfo Tu, it is vital that the combat exercises we work with on the floor evoke real feelings and emotions. Training without the possibility of getting hit, and getting hit without the possibility of getting hurt, can only create a false confidence. When something is flying toward your face the most common reaction is to flinch. There is a small rush of energy that accompanies recognizing something is flying toward you. That energy might have a flavor, like anxiety, or it might just rush through your body and cause it to tense up. Either way, that is an unmanaged emotion. Flinching in response to that feeling is one of the only things that may guarantee getting hit. To manage that emotion, students at Tumfo Tu learn to direct their attention. Feelings and emotions follow wherever the attention goes, and that can amplify those feelings. Instead of placing attention on the incoming blow, Tumfo Tu students learn to place their attention on what they will hit. With this mindset, the energy that might have become a flinch can now become an effective and deliberate response that handles the situation.


This discipline has powerful benefits for every-day situations as well. Any verbal altercations has the same potential to spin out of control with unmanaged feelings and emotions. We all are familiar with the fact of some bosses being so exasperating that eventually even the most patient employee has had enough. That employee understandably explodes and probably will face consequences because of it. The employee probably tried to stuff down the emotions evoked by the boss’ exasperating actions for some time. It is a natural result of trying to control feelings and emotions. Instead, what if the employee could manage them?


The reality that underpins this mindset change is that nothing outside of you can move you. Only you can move you. Practicing willfully directing your attention makes this reality obvious even in the midst of a heated emotional situation. No matter what the exasperating boss says, the employee can respond in whatever manner they choose. They can remain calm and unmoved. They can speak important truth with exactly the tone they desire. They have the freedom to walk away. All of these are good expressions of using the energy of feelings and emotions.


As with everything in Tumfo Tu, doing this is a matter of habit. It starts by developing the practice of placing attention where it best serves you, rather than letting it be drawn to things by something external. Practice looking at an object in the room you are in but placing your attention on something in your field of view other than what your eyes are focused on. From here, practice looking out into the room without letting anything in it grab attention while. To direct your attention is to direct your life. At Tumfo Tu, we practice asserting this power as a way of life.

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