If you’ve been reading my writing for a while you may know already that I’m a wife, stay at home mother of two, home school teacher, martial artist, minimalist, and practicing stoic. For the last four months, I’ve been tracking my overall feeling each day using bitmoji images (free personalized cartoons) and sketch.io (a free drawing program). I just fill one calendar square each day using a free calendar from imom. I’m completely honest about how I feel, even if I don’t like or understand it and that has the added benefit of me validating myself each day just for being who I am and feeling however I feel (how you feel is part of who you are after all).
The point was actually to examine my mental lens, the way I see the world to gain more control over my own subjective outlook and therefore use it as leverage towards building the life I want as far as I can within the circumstances of my life that are outside of my control.
In 2001, when I started college, I was introduced to the concept of the “Johari Window” meaning the self divided into the part you know, the part others know that you don’t, the part everyone knows and the unknown. I was puzzled for the last 18 years as to how to discover more about the unknown and hidden selves. Being married has taught me about the blind self and doing my “Stoic Quote of the Day” habit publicly on Coach.me has taught me about my open self, but I didn’t know how to find out more about what I didn’t know about myself.
I recently read “How Emotions Are Made, The Secret Life of the Brain,” which discusses that emotions are not universal and vary from person to person quite significantly. In an effort to find out definitively what anxiety and depression were to sell drugs targeted to them all the MRI data revealed that they aren’t objective, distinct phenomena at all, but can overlap or be distinct depending on the individual. Using the data from four months of my “Emotional Diversity Project” I found I have 22 distinct emotions: triumphant, sick, grateful, inspired, hopeful, connected, troubled/dissident, tired, peaceful, mad, thoughtful, happy, motivated, hot, kind, sad, stressed, exhausted, lost, overwhelmed, frustrated, in pain.
During the process, I found it helpful to know that on a bad day, if I was exhausted, or frustrated or in pain (it was a migraine) that it was likely to pass. Now looking at the data of a few months it’s a positive feeling because I think the various projects I’ve been working on, which are kind of difficult to measure, such as the consistent gratitude challenge, values-based living ext are going well.
Speaking about my strongest feelings, triumph, sickness, and gratitude, triumphant is the feeling that I was able to live by my values a decent amount, it’s the feeling of winning at the game of life according to the metrics I’ve held myself accountable to, it’s a direct result of having found my individual values and planning small ways to express those values in everyday life. A phrase I heard on a cartoon (of Maui capturing the sun) was to do your work with honor and aloha, it all started with me washing one extra dish that wasn’t mine “in the name of good,” I didn’t realize it at the time, but that’s the first time I had ever done work with honor and aloha. It feels very different. It looks the same, takes a similar time, but inwardly it feels quite different. And to me it’s not dependant on any kind of belief system, there isn’t the dependency on any reward now or later, it’s simply doing what seems right to me for no other reason than to be a force of good in the world, in the here and now, to make my day, my little world and the larger world a better place.
In defining good and bad, I’m thinking what let me enjoy the day or make progress towards my goals vs what seemed unhelpful towards my goals and also unenjoyable.
“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”– Marcus Aurelius (Stoic Quote 22)
It may seem pointless to track your feelings, but if you track them you may understand them and yourself better. I often think of myself as “sick all the time,” I think as a child I was sick quite a bit more than typical and I probably never challenged that automatic negative thought until now, but looking at how much more I’m well than sick gives me a deep gratitude and dispells that feeling that “I’m always sick.” I feel really lucky that I’m probably sick a really average amount at this point in life and that my health is great, colds and flus are just part of my reality that affects pretty much everyone sometimes. It was interesting separating the days I felt bad due to my attitude, there were not many, but they are opportunities to take back more of my life for enjoyment or to complete my goals. I’m grateful to have such a high setpoint, meaning I don’t need to struggle to be optimistic or satisfied, if I do nothing I’m pretty cheery, my father, mother and only sister all struggled with medical-grade chronic depression, so being normal would have been lucky, but I think I’m even more optimistic than normal so I’m extra grateful for that good luck. I do have some good habits that bring up my well being, but it seems like it’s so much easier to go from medium to very happy, rather than mustering energy from a deep depression to get to a medium state of well being. Exercise, sleep, eating well, connecting with others, all help, but for me not as much as aligning my life with my values, that is the real hidden gem in my opinion, but perhaps not for everyone? I’ve heard some people say service is healing for them and it’s soul-crushing for me.
I was anxious, depressed, afraid, bored, 0 days, that isn’t how I operate, not only in the past four months but also as far back into the recent past as I can remember I just don’t get those particular feelings. I get stressed and overwhelmed when other people would get anxious. I get tired, overwhelmed, or mad where other people may get depressed. It’s not like I don’t have negative feelings, but they tend to be extremely physical. My physical feelings are feelings to me, when I am tired, I’m not happy and tired, I’m just tired. When I am hungry, I feel extremely incapable of feeling any other way. My feeling can mix, I can feel bittersweet about my kids growing up as they should be, but also that our time together has passed forever, but it’s rare, for the most part, my feelings are very straightforward and the negative ones are very physical for me. Hot is one other people may not understand, I don’t do well in the heat, my brain shuts down in extreme heat much sooner than average, it’s not that I complain or get sick in a noticeable way, but like hunger I can’t have a feeling other than hot in intense heat, it incapacitates my feelings of anything else.
My pleasant feelings are more difficult to understand for me than the unpleasant ones. I was surprised at how seldom I am happy, I enjoy my life very often, I am satisfied very often, but I am only happy on days I eat favorite foods. For example, a child playing at the park has that happy exuberance, one that gets 100% on a math test may be pleased, but isn’t “happy” in the same was as running through a field of flowers with friends. In a way, it makes sense that I’m not happy often, because I don’t seek to be happy, but I was surprised that it was only 6 days out of 4 months. I can see why if you define depression as simply not happy many people would fall under that category. Or if you believed you were supposed to be happy all the time it would be easy to label yourself as depressed. I know I was almost never grateful in the past, I’m impressed that I was able to become legitimately grateful as often as I have, not only because it’s a nice feeling, but also because as a leader of myself it means I have a decent amount of power to change my feelings subtly to what I would want them to be. It’s not a simple, have a good attitude fix, but it is very possible to change your mindset to what you want it to be. The biggest enemy is perfectionism, sure no one controls every thought or feeling and some techniques fail, but just like physical exercise, mental exercise can lead to mental wellness in time. Another interesting thing was that I was only motivated 5 days out of 4 months, but I was very productive (excluding when I had the flu recently). So waiting to be productive when I feel motivated had been and would be a total disaster as far as anything getting done and letting go of the belief I had to feel motivated to be productive was possibly the best belief trade I’ve made in my lifetime. Tsycovsky wrote a letter about it that changed my views, he describes that he hated sitting down to work writing music, but after forcing himself his best music came. I had always imagined when you are inspired and motivated your best work comes, but in actuality, that time is so fleeting almost no work of any kind happens under those conditions…
I found it interesting that I have strongly neutral feelings, not “meh” as in I don’t care, but kind of a curious investigator who hasn’t formed an opinion about the outcome of the study. I think it’s been very helpful in dealing with my flaws and the pain of life to back off taking a negative view of myself and my failings and although I’m not taking a positive view of having problems all the time (sometimes I achieve that mental flip) I do achieve a neutral view of many problems and that lets me investigate them and work with them without shame which would make it a much slower healing process.
When I feel like I’m not living life the way I want, that the priorities I am actually living by are wrong, that I’m failing in what really matters, when I’m having trouble connecting to what really matters to me, that’s when I feel incongruent or troubled. It’s also called cognitive dissidence, a conflict within my mind between what I want and what I am doing. It’s a particular type of feeling, like a vegetarian eating a bad steak, a good steak or a neural steak. When it’s a bad steak it’s the worst, but even with a good steak you still have that nagging feeling about what you said your values were and if you need to re-evaluate or not.
I’ve been thinking so often 7 days out of 4 months, that I’m starting to change the way I think of myself. I’ve been told by other people when I don’t want to do what they want me to, that I’m not a thoughtful person, and I always believed that, but looking back on my life, I’m very thoughtful. It’s such a deep part of who I am that makes parenting young children hard. I’m not lazy, I’m not selfish, but spending time with the constant noise of play and questions and togetherness has cost me the quiet solitude that nourishes my soul to the core. I don’t like parenting, I do my very best with all the kindness, respect, dignity and love I can muster, but it’s not enjoyable to me. It’s quite unenjoyable, and the biggest question for me was why? I love my kids, I chose my kids, I would like to have more help than what I have available locally and my husband doesn’t want to move. That is a huge source of discontent between us and it affects my life so very deeply. I don’t really know if A. I spent less time taking care of my children if I could enjoy it or not. I’m not sure if it’s my personality not to enjoy it B. If it’s not even enjoyable by anyone in truth or C. If I’m overworked? I don’t know if I will ever truly know the answer, the situation will be solved by time, each day my kids grow up more than I want them to, I want them frozen in time until I can “fix” myself into enjoying their childhood. It’s my biggest conundrum, I hate the constant demands of raising small children, but I am afraid of it passing me by because I know I wasn’t able to “enjoy every second” and a part of me wants to do that. Because I haven’t really decided if it’s a wonderful magical opportunity that I have, or if it’s just a lie that I should politely ignore as I happily notice that the time of intense servitude with not enough breaks or personal time is ending.
In closing I want to encourage everyone to try this kind of visual feelings journal to have data to do some meta-thinking about your own emotions as part of yourself, it made it much easier to know how I feel on a moment to moment basis even though I only recorded the day as a whole. It probably helped me value other people as being different than me and fun to learn about, I hope I’ve been picking up on my loved one’s mental states better (but that’s hard to know for sure). It’s made me more patient with dealing with other people, which I find frustrating a lot. It’s improved my life so much that I am recommending you try it in your own way as well, even though I hate recommending anything, what it helped with more than anything else was tracking the metaphysical changes I was trying to make in my though pattern habits to be able to get a sense of if it was working to be more grateful, if it was shifting other parts of my mind and when I could stop doing it consciously without abandoning the habit. 💝