How Do You Make Negative Emotions Go Away? You Welcome Them! How to master your emotions by using their own power against them

Fear. Anger. Pain. Regret. We all experience negative emotions from time to time. And when these emotions show up, our first reaction is to push them aside, bury them, and wish they would just go away. However, suppressing our emotions just makes them grow even more powerful. But if suppressing them isn’t the right solution, what are we supposed to do instead? Should we just be passive, take the pain lying down, and pray for it to pass quickly? 

I’ve been struggling somewhat with this issue myself. I never quite found a solution that helped me manage negative emotions as effectively as I wanted. Until, one day, I accidentally stumbled upon it when taking a cold shower. 

I started taking cold showers mainly as a time-saving hack; if I force myself to shower cold, I will spend less time showering and more time on activities I find more meaningful. However, I always dreaded the moment of the ice-cold water piercing every nerve in my body. Until recently, my coping mechanism was to simply grit through the pain and think: “It’s almost over. It’s almost over.” 

Then, one day, I decided to try something new. Instead of seeing myself as a victim of the pain, and praying for it to be done with me soon, what if I used the pain to my advantage? What if I viewed the pain as something that made me stronger, and then use that new strength to better handle the emotion? 

Once I tried that, the icy water immediately felt less painful. By viewing the pain as something that gave me more strength to handle pain, I started welcoming the numbing coldness spreading through my body. Because the more cold I took on, the less I knew the coldness would bother me. Instead of just suffering through the pain passively, I was actively using the pain’s own power against itself. The more pressure the pain put on me, the stronger I felt to handle the pressure. 

It was a simple mind shift. But, to me, it was a night and day difference in how I felt. Because for the first time, I was now in control of my emotions. When I had previously tried to push my emotions away, I was really trying to run away from them. And the emotions just returned more powerful. When I then tried to stop running away, and instead suffer through them passively, I was taking on the role of a helpless victim. 

But when I started welcoming the negative emotion, because I knew that I would get the strength to fight it by absorbing the emotion, that was the first time I felt myself being in control.

This experience taught me two valuable lessons, that I want to share with you: 

  1. It’s not the emotion itself that hurts. It’s your wanting the emotion to go away that causes the pain.
    When I reflected on my two previous coping mechanisms, a) running from my emotions, and b) suffering through them, I realized they had one common denominator: my wanting the emotion to go away. But when I then started welcoming the negative emotions when they showed up, I realized the emotions were not that painful in themselves. It was my intolerance of my own emotions that had caused me the most pain. Now that I know the emotions actually aren’t painful in themselves, I’m even more willing to run toward fear, boredom, and regret when I notice them arising. In fact, I’m now more afraid of not running toward them head first, because then I will experience the true self-inflicted pain of wanting them to go away.
  2. View negative emotions as something that makes you stronger. It’s by absorbing the emotion that you gain the strength to handle it.
    Think of managing negative emotions as “emotional judo”. A judo master doesn’t flee from her opponent, launch into an attack, or let her opponent strike her without defending herself. Instead, she uses her opponent’s strength as a weapon against himself. Her power comes from her opponent giving it to her. Emotions work the same way. Only by absorbing their power do you gain the strength to manage them. And the stronger the emotion is, the stronger you also become at handling it. No emotion is too powerful.

I hope this piece has given you a fresh perspective on how you can manage your own negative emotions. The next time you experience fear, boredom, jealousy, or pain, don’t push the emotion away or just suffer through it passively. Instead, welcome the emotion and let it emotion flow through your body as much as it wants. And as it does, feel yourself becoming stronger. Feel yourself gaining more power to handle the emotion. And feel yourself growing more confident as you realize that, the more the emotion tries to challenge you, it simply gives you even more power to contain it. 

I believe we can all develop a healthier relationship with our negative emotions by welcoming them. Make space for them when they show up. And as they flow through you, know that they are giving you the power to handle them. This simple practice has been a game-changer in my personal life, and I hope it can do the same for you too!

Want To Achieve More by Working Less? Stack Your Problems How to figure out the right problem to solve so you can stop doing busy work and start doing your lives work

In my previous article, I discussed why it’s more important to make sure you are solving the right problem, rather than doing your work efficiently. If you want to get a $100 bill on the other side of a brick wall, sure it’s more efficient if you bring a sledgehammer. But there is likely another room down the corridor with an open door to a stack of ten $100 bills. Even if you crawled your way to that door, you’d still make more money in less time compared to knocking down the brick wall.

But how do you know whether you are working on the wrong problem? And more importantly, how can you find a better problem to solve instead?

The answer is a technique I call problem stacking. The way it works is that you start with your current problem, and then ask:

“What outcome am I trying to achieve by solving this problem?”

Then you keep asking this question five times to uncover the root problem you are trying to solve. For example, this is how problem stacking would have looked like for me while I was building the online math academy Eureka:

Me: “I’m so busy this morning because I need to…

  1. Email hundreds of college students. What outcome am I trying to achieve by emailing hundreds of college students?

  2. To get more volunteers to contribute to Eureka. What outcome am I trying to achieve by getting more volunteers?

  3. To get more math courses for the Eureka website. What outcome am I trying to achieve by getting more math courses?”

  4. To build an online math academy to help understimulated students realize their potential in problem-solving. What outcome am I trying to achieve by building an online math academy?

  5. To create something that impacts as many people as possible as deeply as possible, and that leaves a lasting legacy. What outcome do I aim to achieve by impacting many people?

  6. To feel that my life had a purpose.

When you keep asking: “What outcome am I trying to achieve?” five times, you eventually arrive at the true reason for why you do what you do. Why was I sitting hunched over my computer and firing off emails, rather than doing something more enjoyable? Because I wanted my life to have a purpose.

This is the point of problem stacking, to help you:

  1. Step back and examine what you actually are trying to accomplish, and
  2. Evaluate whether your current approach is an efficient way to accomplish that goal.

In my case, my problem stack had two critical weak links.

First, cold-emailing hundreds of college students was an incredibly inefficient approach to getting people to sign up as volunteers. Why? Because 99% of the people I was emailing hadn’t themselves experienced the pain point I was asking them to help, so they had no motivation to contribute their time for free. Also, they didn’t know me, so they also didn’t have any motivation to contribute just as a kind friendship gesture. After 40 hours of emailing, I had gotten just one volunteer to write one math course. It would have been faster to write the course material myself.

I instead started to reach out to a few people I had personally met at math contests. That took me just 1 hour of messaging, but I got several volunteers that ended up writing a total of five math courses. I went from 1 math course per 40 hours of work to 5 math courses per 1 hour of work. Changing the problem from: “Email hundreds of college students”, to: “Send targeted requests to people in my own network” made my productivity multiply 200 times!

The second weak link in my problem stack, however, went much deeper. The reason I started Eureka was to: “Create something that impacts as many people as possible as deeply as possible, and that leaves a lasting legacy.” But would an online math academy for understimulated students allow me to good impact many people at scale?

The honest answer was “no”. There were just too few people who would want that service. And even if I created the world’s best math website for them, would that impact their lives in a profound way? Again, the answer was “no”.

This realization hit me shortly after the Eureka website went live. By this point, I had poured more than one thousand hours into making this vision a reality. But all this time, I had not realized that I was working on the wrong problem. Eureka was never going to achieve the scale and depth of impact that I desired. So a few months after going live, I decided to stop working on Eureka entirely.

I don’t regret having started Eureka at all. It was an incredible learning experience that taught me both grit and how to communicate a vision that inspires others to join. But could I have realized that my ladder was pointing toward the wrong wall a lot sooner? Absolutely. In fact, it was this process of problem stacking that helped me understand that Eureka wasn’t the right problem to solve. But had I only done it earlier, I would have saved myself hundreds of hours that I’m never getting back.

Do you want to achieve more by working less?
Then stack your problems.

Do you want to replace your busy work with your life’s work?
Then stack your problems.

Do you want to make a difference and also have time to enjoy life?
Then stack your problems.

And how do you stack your problems? Just pick any problem you are currently facing, and then ask:

“What outcome am I trying to achieve by solving this problem?”

Ask that question five times to uncover the core problem you are trying to solve. Then step back to examine whether your problem stack is strong at every point, from the base to the top.

If you discover that one of the problems in your stack is actually not a good way to achieve the outcome you want, then you must:

  1. Replace the weak problem with a stronger one.

  2. Rebuild a completely new stack of problems on top of the one you replaced.

This means that everything you have built on top of the weak problem must go as well. Once I realized that a math academy was the wrong problem for me to solve, it didn’t matter how many volunteers I managed to recruit. It didn’t matter if I built the best math website the world had ever seen. Because it would never achieve the outcome I set out to accomplish: “Create something that impacts as many people as possible as deeply as possible, and that leaves a lasting legacy.” The only right thing for me to do was to stop working on Eureka, and instead find a better organization to build.

This kind of deep change is painful. But the sooner we make it, the sooner we can stop wasting our time doing busy work – and start doing our lives work.

What change will you make once you begin asking: “What outcome am I trying to achieve?” five times?