Week 8 of Niyi Sobo’s “Lucky 12” mental training group is all about the “emotional playbook.” In short, you become aware of your habitual or patterned emotions, figure out why they’re happening and then map out a plan for how to stop and ultimately replace them. Like wearing new grooves or cutting new paths so you don’t mindlessly or habitually keep following these unhelpful paths.
I’ve been tracking my emotions for over a year already, which was of my own design. I decided to start writing down what I was thinking and feeling upon arrival at the gym, midway through training, and again at the end of session. That way I could understand what I was coming into training with already, whether or not the emotions I thought I was going through because of training were actually caused by anything in training, and how I was walking out of the gym. I discovered in this process that I have a very strong tendency toward negative thoughts. I walked in with them, I found reasons for them, and I usually left with them in tow. None of that helps me. Throughout the year of seeing this I did end up finding just the awareness of those patterns helpful, so I could realize that I didn’t feel bad about myself because I’d done badly in sparring: I felt bad about myself already and then did badly in sparring and blamed it on that. On days when I came in feeling good, I usually did pretty well in sparring as well. That kind of thing. But what’s new in this tactic that we’re taking in the Sobo course is figuring out why I’m walking in with those emotions, where they come from, what I must believe and what stories I must be telling myself in order to keep this pattern going. And then there’s a plan on how to deal with it. I never did that part. I worked on awareness but no action. That’s like realizing you can’t do a pullup and leaving it at that, rather than coming up with a plan for how to get strong enough to do a pullup.
The most profound tool is Sobo’s “emotion autopsy,” where you have a set of 24 questions to go through, dissecting a single emotion. I did this last night with the negative emotion of feeling unvalued at the gym. So I had to go through each question, looking at when I feel this way, what I think triggers it, what my body language looks like when I feel this, what kind of “reward” I’m getting from feeling it, how it affects others, what I literally do when I feel it, and the beliefs I must have in order to find myself in that emotion and, the real kicker, what story I’m telling myself when I feel it or in order to feel it. Those last two are so important: the belief that leads to it and the story you tell yourself in order to contextualize or prove it. What was really profound for me about this particular negative emotion, which I feel super often, was identifying those last two things. I’ve known for a long time that it stems from the feeling of being left out or not belonging at the gym or whatever, but what I realized by getting to that question after the other 20-some-odd questions was that I must believe that I don’t fit in, in order to be waiting around wanting to be invited in like a vampire. I wait for Pi Nu to give me a partner to work with, rather than asking one of the boys myself. When I was talking to Kevin about this, I compared it to feeling “at home” at a friend’s house or not. If you feel included and at home, you don’t ask to go into the refrigerator. Most people never have to ask in their own homes and you always have that best friend who feels at home enough to make herself a sandwich without asking because of the familiarity level. If you still have that degree of separation and formality, you feel like you have to ask. So, that’s how I feel at the gym. I don’t feel like I’m the same as the boys, who don’t ask, and I get pissed that I have to ask. But then the story I tell myself is that on days when I don’t get paired up (usually because there isn’t an appropriate match) is that I’m not matched because Kru Nu doesn’t care about my development as a fighter. (I know, I’m an ass.) But the story I should tell myself, which is just reinterpreting the meaning of the same situation, is that I actually am really hard to match in that gym. My path toward improvement and high-level Muay Thai isn’t the same as a young Thai boy – it just isn’t – so I can’t expect or even want to walk that same path. That path doesn’t lead to where I’m going, which is where no woman has ever gone before. So instead of telling myself the story that I’m unvalued and left out and Pi Nu doesn’t care (poor me!), I need to tell myself a story that is also based on a real belief but has a different interpretation: yes, I don’t fit in because I am different and so what I need is different. Instead of getting quietly pissed and asking why I’m not clinching or sparring, I will ask for Pi Nu’s advice on what else I can do when I don’t have a partner. One is super disappointing, frustrating and making me feel bad about myself and act like a sulky ass-hat in the gym, the other one is enthusiastically curious and improvising to make the position I do hold in the gym one that I value for what it is.
I have to go through the same “emotion autopsy” process two more times, one for a positive emotion and one for a new emotion – that is, an emotion that I would like to feel more often and how to go about identifying the beliefs, body language, actions and story that will allow me to feel that emotion regularly. You can use this process for any positive or negative emotion, to really understand where it’s coming from and then be able to get to the root so it stops growing back like a weed, or so you can nurture it and give it life. Negative ones might come back here and there, but you have a plan for how to deal with it. So, to give an example, when I feel unvalued I need to 1) identify it, 2) stop and breathe, 3) find an opposite emotion from my lived experiences and recall that feeling, then 4) take action with that new, other emotion/feeling. So, for me, that opposite emotion is feeling valued (obviously), which I have a very strong and early memory of when my oldest brother Gabe – I use this one a lot, I may have written about it – who hadn’t been interested in me for years as he was a teenager and I was in elementary school, suddenly took me to see the movie “Stargate” in the theater. We never did anything together and this actually cost money, so it was a big deal. I was so shocked and nervous. Then, as we were sitting in the quiet theater before the movie started, the red curtains in front of the screen all aglow and a random smattering of people milling around and finding their seats, Gabe pinched at his lips and stared straight ahead while confiding in me that a girl had just broken his heart. I didn’t even know he’d been dating; he never talked to me. But in this moment he wanted to spend time with me, he wanted to be with his sister and felt like confiding in me was meaningful to him. It is one of the strongest memories I have of feeling valued and important in my life. I don’t think I even said anything to him other than, “I’m sorry;” I was like 9 years old and had no idea about these things at all. But I do remember thinking I didn’t like whatever girl he was talking about. So, when I’m feeling unvalued at the gym, I stop, take a breath, and remember this feeling of sitting in that theater with Gabe. Then I do something, like work on something other than those things that require a partner. You know, instead of sulking and feeling sorry for myself.
For the positive emotion, which I haven’t done yet, breaking it down is going to strengthen my understanding of the feeling and that will help me not have to be passive to it. Like, I don’t have to wait to suddenly and seemingly randomly feel that emotion. I can cause it, basically by wearing grooves so that it becomes more readily available to me. That one is probably more important even than the negative emotion autopsy. One is finding the roots and pulling it out, the other is finding the roots and giving it some nutrition. Time to feed the beast that will get me where I’m trying to go.
The other posts in this series: