Emotion Regulation 1.6: Do What Works

Do What Works

We continue a series on how to effectively manage emotions, so that we can engage more thoughtfully in relationship. All of the skills we discuss are designed to support the ultimate goal of wisdom (see post titled, “Emotion Regulation 1.0”).

Today’s skill is especially practical: Do what works. In other words, play by the rules, let go of vengeance, anger and who/what is right or wrong or what’s fair or unfair. Another way to say this is keep it simple. Human beings have a doggone proclivity to complicate things.

Back to the Basics

In his book, All I Really Need to Know I Learn in Kindergarten, Robert Fulghum lists some of the simple rules of life that he learned in early childhood. “Everything you need to know is in there somewhere,” he says. “The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation. Ecology and politics and equality and sane living. Take any one of those items and extrapolate it into sophisticated adult terms and apply it to your family life or your work or your government or your world and it holds true and clear and firm. Think what a better world it would be if we all–the whole world–had cookies and milk about 3 o’clock every afternoon and then lay down with our blankies for a nap. Or if all governments had as a basic policy to always put things back where they found them and to clean up their own mess. And it is still true, no matter how old you are–when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.”


Someone quipped, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got.” So if you don’t like the outcome of something you’re doing, you’ll have to do something different–and then stick with it for a while when it doesn’t feel familiar.

Choose Your Mentors Wisely

Another way we complicate things is to bow to the advice of people who’s lives we wouldn’t want to live. Why would we listen to people whose own advice led them down a path we wouldn’t want to travel? Find people who’s lives you’d be willing to emulate, and find out what they’re doing to order their lives in such a compelling way. I can guarantee you that they keep things simple.

Henry David Thoreau was onto something when he said, “Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify, simplify! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb-nail.”

Responsible For Self and To Others

In a nutshell, people who live well are responsible for themselves and to others. It’s that simple, and it works.

I like the simplicity of the Buddhist tradition, which states that we create our own suffering by clinging to things that are transitory, things we can’t control. If we can simply accept reality as it is, instead of clinging to a picture of reality the way we’d like it to be, we make life much simpler.

Not necessarily easier, but simpler. Sometimes reality is difficult to accept, but trying to make a cat bark is even more difficult–crazy-making, in fact–and it simply doesn’t work.

Fantasy vs. Reality

Identify what you’re responsible for and take responsibility for it. No more, no less. You may have to face and deal with all the complications you’ve built up while you’ve been trying to force life into your fantasy, but stick to simplicity, and you’ll eventually be living the life you desire.



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