This article was originally published on the WorkForce blog. 


Conquer your emotions to achieve happiness and productivity at work and in life. 


Philip had a bad day. He didn’t get the raise he was expecting.

“So,” said his wife as he walked through the door. “How did it go?”

“It didn’t.”

There was a pregnant pause.

“I’m sorry,” she said.

“It’s not me,” said Philip. “It’s that company. It’s those people. It’s a load of … “

Phil’s upset.

He’s angry. That much is obvious. But why?

Is it because of the circumstances in his environment? Most people would say yes, Phil’s state of affairs made him mad. In other words, his emotions are the product of external forces.

We’ve all felt this way:

  • Somebody was cruel to you, making you feel self-conscious
  • Somebody was thoughtless of you, making you feel annoyed
  • Somebody was kind to you, making you feel appreciative

The majority of people live thinking that the things, people and events in their lives dictate how they feel.

But nothing is further from the truth …

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

That’s a quote from Hamlet. And it’s true: We create every emotion we have.

Knowing and embracing this is the secret to a productive, accomplished career (not to mention a happy, fulfilling life). Conquering your emotions demands a shift in the way you perceive and interpret the events that pepper your day-to-day.

How do you make this shift? You have to start living consciously.

Let me explain:

Emotions: What’s happening in your brain?

There are two ways to live:

  1. Unconsciously: You’re impulsive.
  2. Consciously: You’re thoughtful.

Most people land in the unconscious camp because 1) that’s where they started and 2) they never made an effort to change. Here’s the neuroscientific difference between the two, broken down into steps:

The unconscious brain:

  1. Experiences an event
  2. Feels an emotion
  3. Takes an action

The conscious brain: 

  1. Experiences an event
  2. Activates an “interpretation filter”
  3. Feels an emotion
  4. Takes an action

See the difference? The conscious brain take one extra step: It processes thoughts generated by the event through a filter. This gives the conscious brain time to evaluate the event before displaying an emotion. The conscious brain is trained to think deeply.

To be clear: We all have this filtering ability. Those of us living unconsciously simply haven’t made a habit of using it consistently. The unconscious brain hasn’t been trained to stop and think about the event, the circumstance. It skips over that part and immediately feels anger, elation, sadness, fear, what have you.

This can be dangerous at work because everything is affected by your interpretations, including your relationships and responsibilities. Because without control, you’re vulnerable to something truly risky: Randomness.

Therefore, having a good, smooth career is dependent on your emotional stability.

Conquering your interpretation filter …

Most people will read this and agree that it makes logical sense: If you want to feel positive, think positively.

But that’s easier said than done. Go tell no-raise-Phil to change his perspective, even though he has a legitimate reason to be upset. It’s not that easy.

That said, what else can Phil do? Wallow in self-pity? Snap at his family? Disengage at work?

What good does that bring? No good whatsoever.

That’s why conquering your interpretation filter is such a powerful leap towards stability, productivity, and progress at work and in life. It gives you control.

Now that you know this filter exists in your subconscious, the next step is learning how to strain out only the good thoughts …

How to conjure positive thoughts:

There are three elements that determine how we feel at any given moment. Psychologists call this The Emotional Triad.

Here’s how to use this triad to shift your perspective and lift your mood in three steps:

1. Physiology: What are you doing?

Embodied cognition explores the notion that the mind and body are a two-way street:

→ The mind can tell the body what to do.
← The body can tell the mind how to feel.

In the face of a negative event, it’s natural to slump, dropping your hands, chest, and head. This only reinforces negative feelings.

STEP #1: Fight the urge to physically sink. Instead, control your body: Stand up straight, elevate your chin, square your shoulders. Breathe, stretch, move. Keep breathing.

Pretend you feel great, and you will.

2. Focus: What are you thinking?

After a bad event, it’s natural to think negative thoughts because they probably outnumber the positive ones.

That said, there are still positive thoughts. Every situation creates a spectrum.

If you allow yourself to linger on the negative end of that spectrum, mulling over thoughts that are scary or sad or frustrating, you’re going to feel that way in tandem.

Ask yourself: “Is this how I want to feel?”

STEP #2: Seek out the good in your negative situation, then zero-in on it. Focus. Envision the consequences of that positive angle (especially if there’s nothing you can do to help the situation). See it in your mind’s eye. Focus.

If you worry, you suffer twice.

3. Language: What are you saying?

Talking to yourself can make you feel and thus perform better, scientists say.

But you need to be saying the right things. They should be uplifting, reinforcing the positive angle you’ve been focusing on.

STEP #3: Repeat a positive statement in your mind. If possible, say it out loud.

Saying it may not make it so, but it can make it feel so—and that’s the whole point.

The Gist:

Positive thoughts create good emotions, which enable happiness and productivity.

But what if something bad just happened, making it hard to think positively? Is your only option to be miserable? Or can you do something about it? Can you conquer your emotions and regain control over your work and life?

Is there a practical way to do this?

Yes.