Dear students: Getting emotional vs getting things done

Alessandra LemosDear students,

Sometimes, I get emotional. I can get emotional about people that I care about or the situations that I’ve been in, but mostly, I’ve also learned how to remove myself emotionally from the things and people that I don’t care about.

You might wonder how I could separate it so easily. Or how I could anticipate what I can be emotional about. I’ll admit it’s a pretty cool trick to master because it’s my secret sauce to getting things done. How do I do this? I compartmentalize my thoughts – I separate myself emotionally from things that have no bearing on me, and things that I can’t do anything about (I’m not talking about big stuff like global warming, or famine – there are ways to help organizations that are involved). I hear that it’s mostly what men are good at (that may not be entirely true), but surprisingly, I’ve been doing this for years.

Learning this comes in handy when you need to get things done. For example, when I was working as an editor for a regional design magazine, I made sure I had a regular schedule – go to work on time and get out of the office on time too. Why? Because I had to make sure I get home and have dinner by 8pm so that I can work on my website until 3am. Now you might be asking, magazine work is tough and demanding (and you’re right) – while I might be able to pull off the schedule well, how did I manage my time and emotions juggling a demanding day job, while having the energy to continue with my personal work after my day job?

It’s easy – I have a game plan. I knew what I needed to do, and I was adamant about not sacrificing quality on either one. I made sure to do my best when I was at my day job so I wouldn’t feel guilty about not putting in effort when I was home. Conversely, I didn’t want to think about whether I was making progress on my website when I was working on my day job. So I managed both as separate entities and made sure the distinction was clear in my head. It saved me a lot of mental anguish – and I’d rather save that time for making things of value instead of re-creating damaging thoughts that wouldn’t have lead me anywhere.

Think about the times when you’re angry, or frustrated at something that has happened to you. You could chalk that up to being emotional. It’s not a bad thing at all, so don’t make people make you feel that it is. What you do with all that emotion that’s bubbling up, now that’s where it counts the most.

Because emotions can be so powerful. While it can motivate you and make you burn, it can also have the potential to go completely 180 degrees and make you feel dejected, hopeless and paralyze you with fear. How you respond to these emotional outbursts can vary from people to people, and it’s often time unpredictable at best.

Let me give you an example: how would you feel if you saw a colleague or a peer doing better than you? It can go either way, or perhaps even both ways: you feel a sense of pride, you’re happy for them, and you reassure yourself that you can do the same. Or instead, you might feel jealous, timid, and unworthy. Which way your emotions swing will determine how you’ll respond – it will determine whether you’ll try harder by pushing yourself out there, or whether you’ll be sitting on the couch, loading up on potato chips, watching daytime TV and not having the willpower to move for weeks on end while feeling sorry for yourself.

So I propose you try this simple experiment: whenever you feel angry/sad/frustrated/jealous with someone or you’re in a situation that makes you sweat, try to find the real reasons behind those emotions. Dig deep and acknowledge what you’re feeling. And what that means is to not allow external influences exert their power over your outcomes. By knowing and believing what you’ve set out to achieve – no matter if you stumble or fall along the way – you’ll be able to better control your emotions, and eventually, influence your future outcomes.

Having a game plan would allow you to say no to negative experiences, while allowing only positive thoughts to fuel your journey. The trick is to be emotional on things you care about and where you can make a difference or change, instead of being emotional about things you have no control over.

Just remember to choose wisely!

[Illustration by Alessandra Lemos]

[box icon=”heart”]Every week, I teach about the creative process of illustration at a local college. And when I come home, I realize that I’ve forgotten to point this out, or to remind them about something. Dear Students serves as my own personal compilation of thoughts, and is a series dedicated to students around the world who might find my musings useful. To read the entire series, click here.[/box]

6 Replies to “Dear students: Getting emotional vs getting things done”

  1. Jesse says:

    Great advice. I’m reminded of a song lyric by the Silver Jews: “You can’t change the feeling
    but you can change your feelings about the feeling in a second or two”

  2. aijung says:

    good advice. this is something i’ve been trying to work on and have had a little mastery over in the past year or so, but honestly not very much. i have always been a worry-wart and in the past few years I realized how much my anxiety and anticipation over future events makes me waste a lot of energy. however, trying not to leak my energy is difficult for me! i would love to be able to compartmentalize, but i don’t know how to separate my worries from infecting everything i do. the only thing i’ve found where i am absolutely in the moment is when i’m teaching children because i can’t let a moment go by without responding to what is going on in front of me. these days i tend to recognize what it is i shouldn’t get emotional over, but how do you suggest actually compartmentalizing? also, i wish that i could stay up till 3 am and keep working on things, but i get physically tired out. i don’t think i could keep the kind of schedule you did. for me that kind of schedule can push me over the edge (i know, because i’ve done it before and i need to spend time recovering from it!) i get frustrated with myself because i am the kind of person who simply goes slower than most people at tasks, and i don’t like to be rushed. on the positive side, i think that my slowness allows me to imbue my artwork with a lot of care, and it makes me feel like i’m really putting myself into it. i’m trying to accept the fact that my slowness may keep me from progressing as quickly at “goals,” but i’m trying to be more at peace with the process and accept the kind of person i am.

    1. amy says:

      Hi Aijung! A big part of compartmentalizing is to focus on tasks on hand and not let your mind wander into murky territory. I snap myself back into the moment whenever I feel like my mind is asking questions that I can’t figure out right now. I say things to myself like “Snap out of it right now!” or “Oi, this isn’t the time or place. Move on!” – no kidding! It’s not to say that I won’t come back to them, but I don’t want them to hinder my thought process or what I am doing right now. I write down a lot of things – my to-do list, my worries, my ideas, etc – so that I can leave my mind empty for ideas to flow in, instead of perpetually carrying around a bag of questions, lists, etc.

      1. aijung says:

        hi amy! thanks for your reply. i think i will say things similar to what you say to myself. after reading your post, i also thought about using the energy-leaking emotions to fuel me conciously. like saying to myself “i’m really annoyed or upset right now! i’m going to use these feelings with a vengeance in my work right now!” i’ll experiment and see what works for me.

        also, more than getting distracted by emotions, i find my energy being sucked out by checking the internet too much! but i think in a way i do this to distract myself when i’m not sure what my next artistic step is. sometimes it helps if i have projects that involve both concious, difficult processes which involve thought, and mindless, repetitive activities. the repetitive ones help me through when i’m not ready to figure something out yet.

  3. I like the idea of “compartmentalize my thoughts.” It sounds like what I do when I get distracted and I say to myself “Focus” to get back to the task at hand. I am easily distracted. Having a game plan helps so I know exactly what I should be working on.

  4. Hi Amy! This post was exceptional! I really liked reading your thoughts about how to concentrate at the task at hand, and dealing with emotions that arise due to various situations. It’s very useful advice and I’ll try to apply it in my life. I am an emotional person…I think. I just don’t show it. I know it will be difficult but I’m definitely going to try and practice this.

    I’m always amazed and encouraged by how honest you are. I hope that one day I can be brave enough to write like you one day.

    Thank you.

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