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Changing habits is uncomfortable and a punch to the egos we all pretend to not have. I contemplated not writing about this, but I think it’s important to recognize character development, instead of shaming it. Duality exists in all of us. We can be incredibly wonderful people and also really icky at times too. I humbly admit, even with the best intentions, I am still learning and unlearning how to navigate life. You know those lessons…the ones you repeatedly go through? Except in a different environment with varying factors. The start of 2024 presented me with lessons in the same subject I’ve stumbled through changing for years.

Emotional Self-Regulation.

Only this time around, It’s actually clicking.

Throughout my life, I’ve tended to fluctuate between opposite points when it comes to emotional self regulation – Instant reaction or extreme avoidance. When something happens my emotions swell large and deeply. Then, I lean into rationalizing a narrative solely based on my perspective of my limited information and thoughts. Usually proceeding into asking for advice to “make sense” of the matter. I idolized Nancy Drew growing up, so naturally I default to problem solving. On the flip side, I may decide to take the opposite approach. Internalize my feelings until I breakdown, like a balloon filled with too much air. Which often comes with spewing out a lot of unprocessed, pent up emotions.

This year presented experiences where I took both of these routes. They weren’t my finest moments, but I’m human. After a therapy workshopping session, I walked away with real accountability for myself. Because here’s the thing– It takes a lot to be able to look at yourself in the mirror and say “You can do better, sis”. It’s easy to deflect and make everything else the problem, but when do you finally own your role? When I was guided through my reflection exercise, it became so clear. The scenarios could’ve been handled better. It stemmed back to how I was struggling to regulate my emotions.

I will say this- I am not apologizing for my capacity to feel emotions deeply. I’m grateful for how my open heart has guided me in life. Where I can take ownership is not managing them well by rushing into overthinking, not communicating, or avoidance altogether. Do some things deserve a response? Depends on the situation. Can people read minds? No. So, how can we be upset with people for things we haven’t communicated to them? What narratives are we playing in our head without having the full scope? What is the deeper context? All of these questions have led to where I stand today.

Here’s my personal self-regulation checklist:

  1. Accept– I can’t change the past. I can only move forward. I’m done dwelling on what I could’ve done differently.
  2. Pause– When strong feelings arise, I’ve been pausing in the moment. I give myself one to 24 hours to leave it. Do I still feel as strongly when I return to it? Do I still want to say what my initial gut reaction wanted to say? This has also helped with me being able to communicate more clearly how I actually feel.
  3. Move– Moving my body. Literally if I feel my emotions rising, I’ll take a lap around my building, go walk at the beach, or do an activity. Working out consistently again has also helped tremendously in the process.
  4. Release- I’m no longer going out of my way to force resolutions to happen in a timeframe I would like. I’m done forcing conversations. All I can do is openly check in and communicate how I feel. What happens with that information is then up to the response. Which is something I have no control over, so I’m not going work myself up about it either. What happens, happens.
  5. Refocus- Instead of focusing on what is out of my control, I’m working daily to focus on what is. Even if I feel upset or sad, refocusing on what is generating other emotions in my life. Other situations, environments, and experiences that are bringing joy and hope…

It’s only been a few weeks, but I can feel such a change using this checklist. I look back at my life and can see where it’s probably too late in some situations. I wish I could change the way I approached them, but I can only take this lesson learned into every day moving forward. What I will not continue to do is allow my mistakes to stop me from being present and shrink in shame.

I write this for everyone who is changing old habits, breaking patterns, and trying to be better. I see you and support you. It takes time and often times, people will tend to continue viewing you in an old light. At the end of the day, it actually doesn’t matter if they see the change. What matters most is that you feel it for yourself, in your continued actions and commitment to be better. Celebrate those tiny wins no one else understands or experiences. The moment where you decided to go against your default. The time where you approach a situation in a new way than before. Those small victories add up and eventually they become ingrained in you. You may slip up and revert to old tendencies, but now you have awareness and can course correct faster. And even if you don’t receive acknowledgment for whatever you’re growing better at, you are already winning..

Simply because you’re choosing to try. <3

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