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How To Observe Emotions when Practicing Acceptance

Diablo Range, of Emotions
  • Speed Peek (Acceptance; Part 2)
  • Understand More (Emotions, Observing and Dangers)
  • Anti-Challenge Reframing © (Exercise: Recognize and Observe)
  • Short Story (Diablo Range, of Emotions)


This article focuses primarily on imparting over 20 years of my personal experience, insight, and the successful approaches I’ve used to observe and process uncomfortable and painful emotions and feelings in my life.

Condensed, basic information about “what we’re observing” is included in this article.  It is important to read, as it relates to specifics discussed.  1Much more detail on these subjects can be found on many reputable, professional psychology websites.

If you’re not a fan of reading definitions, try a ‘trick’ I use when motivating myself to get started on anything new in life:
Make a comparison between something you are already familiar with and what you are trying to learn about.
For example, when you start reading below,
if you find yourself thinking:
“Who needs to know the difference
between emotions and feelings?”
Remember that posing this question is like asking,
“Why do I need to know where the
steering wheel and gas pedal are?
  I just want to drive the car.”

The better your comprehension of what you are observing,
the more you will benefit.
Speed Peek is within the 4 minute read time

2 Topics You Need to
Understand When
Practicing Acceptance  

1. What are emotions, what are feelings, and what’s the difference?

The primal basic 2 Four are:  Happiness, Sadness, Anger, and Fear.
– Triggered by: Things that happen around you and internal memories.
Powered by: Biochemical and electrical reactions that occur in your body.
Your body responds instinctively, before you can think; pumps you up to handle feelings that are coming.
(Emotion = Fear –> body gets ready to run!)
You Sense physical change immediately.
NOTE: This is important info!  Paying attention to what you are physically experiencing gives you a fast-track to practicing acceptance!

Feelings are the result of emotions combined with thinking
(your past experience/beliefs).
See Understand More for examples of feelings.

EMOTIONS are categorized into either positive or negative experiences, and occur automatically in response to something sensed externally, or in memory.  You don’t think about them before they happen.
FEELINGS, are processed through thinking first; past experiences and beliefs color them.
The way emotions and feelings interact is very complex, and there are many labels. It is an interesting topic if you want to look into it more. Remember, the more you understand about what you are observing, the better you can observe. A few suggestion for searching are at the end of this section.

2. The basic process of observing your uncomfortable feelings:

  • FOCUS ON PHYSICAL changes, discomfort, or pain you are experiencing. Unless you are in a situation that is dangerous to do so, ALL of your attention needs to be on what your body is experiencing.
    Where is discomfort located?
    Use words to describe what you physically sense.
    (My stomach feels nauseous; the muscles in my neck feel tense; my heart is beating faster, etc.)
  • LABEL; give a name to, the feeling.
    (You will see later in this post how labeling your feeling with a name helps you look “at” it, from a neutral point of view.)
  • DO NOT say: “I am”. Call your feeling by name. This made a BIG DIFFERENCE for me; it was a turning point.
    DO say: “I’m feeling the effect of embarrassment, frustration, loneliness, etc.”
    Word this just as you would refer to an object you momentarily come in contact with; because essentially, that’s what it is.
    This feeling is simply something you are temporarily experiencing; it is not “you” yourself.
    (Keep reading for a much more in-depth look at the difference between you and the feeling you are experiencing.)
  • OBSERVE from a neutral, unbiased, nonjudgmental stance.
    (More on this below)
  • BE HONEST with yourself about what you are experiencing.  The point of observing is to discover and gently observe the truth.  Keep it to yourself for the moment if you have concerns about what you find, but do not shortchange yourself by trying to sugarcoat what you are truly feeling.  Denying the existence of what you don’t like gives it power over you; even privately acknowledging its existence weakens it. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain by observing your own feelings honestly. 

1There are numerous different research and theory conclusions about the physical and mental components of emotions, feelings, moods, primal drives, etc.
If you’re interested in learning more about how the body and mind interact when it comes to your emotions and feelings, a search for the words I just mentioned, as well as: Subjective feelings, physiological responses, and expressive behavior, are a few places you can start investigating

[Be honest with yourself]!


How To Get Yourself into
Observing Position:
The Difference Between
You and Your Feelings

How often do you hear, or say, I’m happy … I’m sad … I’m excited … I’m depressed? I don’t know about you, but I word things this way all the time. However, they are common expressions for what I’m “experiencing”, not literally what my body and mind are. No big surprise with this typical “I am” verbiage, that is difficult for a lot of people to wrap their head around the fact that feelings are temporary travelers passing through the ‘city of you’; they can only write the laws and enforce them if you allow them to set up a home, and put them in charge of ‘your city’.

Here is an example of a simile I used, in order to really start understanding that my feelings are things I experience; I sense their effect, but they are not who I am:

I can stand next to a camp fire and feel the heat from it warming me.  This heat changes my body temperature and has influence over my actions and mood.  But, I am a person standing next to a fire; I am not literally the logs and flame.

– Holley

You can even further look at it this way:
Have you ever watched a movie, play, television show, or read a book, where someone is in peril, but they are ridiculously oblivious to a danger that is obvious to the audience?
Are you familiar with intently watching or reading about a character, curious about what will happen next? In fact, so focused and curious, that you kind of get a sense of being in their shoes; following along with their ups and downs?
If so, you know that there is a point you stop feeling side by side with the character. A point when you realize something big is about to happen to them, but the character does not seem aware of this information.
Suddenly, you’re back in the audience, wanting to tell them, “Stop! Don’t go that way! That’s going to be really bad!” or “No, don’t stop!  Keep going!  It’s right around the corner!”  

When you practice acceptance and observe (witness, watch) you have the advantage of being in the audience.  It creates a distance between you and the uncomfortable feelings you experience, which are on a stage in front of you.  This is where the magic happens, because when you’re observing with curiosity from the audience, you have a clearer view of the whole stage, and all of the actors involved.  This better view of the entire scene, allows you to more clearly spot potential solutions and develop compassion.

When you do not observe, you become the actor on stage; limited to the script of the feeling, and seeing only what is right in front of you.  As actor, your performance keeps repeating, until you take a seat in the audience and observe.

Understanding What’s At Stake:
The Results of Unprocessed
Emotional Experiences

Now about those feelings we naturally recoil from, rather than want to embrace.  You’ve read they need to be experience, and read how to go about it through practicing acceptance, but is experiencing and observing these negative feelings really all that important? Why should you really care if unprocessed negative feelings stick around; especially if you’re ignoring them, maybe even forgot about them?
THE ANSWER IS:  By leaving these feelings unexperienced, and unobserved, they build up and we become engulfed by them.  Hauling around the extra baggage of negative feelings greatly influences how clear our positive general outlook is, and how we experience future situations.

How dangerous are they really?  Aren’t they more of an inconvenience, like a little dust on the furniture?  Sure, you’d rather not have ‘dust’, but will it really disrupt your life?
The fact is, unprocessed negative emotions are a lot more than ‘light dust’.
Using a simile comparable to dust, they are more like a dump-truck pouring a mountain of suffocating dirt on top of you. This pile of dirt is not harmless.
Unprocessed emotional experiences CREATE unhappiness and dysfunction. Let me give you some specifics of how it affects your everyday life, what makes it so dangerous:

GAIN from the unhappiness created:

Bitterness           Defeat
Despair               Frustration
Grief                    Hate
Irritation            Jealousy
Resentment       Sorrow

LOSE or Impair when dysfunction
created disables or weakens your ability to experience:

Amusement       Awe
Cheerfulness     Excitement
Gratitude           Hope
Inspiration        Interest
Joy                       Kindness
Serenity            And important drives, like Love

Unprocessed emotional experiences create unhappiness and dysfunction


Recognizing and observing feelings

When we skip experiencing what we are feeling, observing it honestly, and seeing our uncomfortable feelings as something we experience, rather than who we are, we are ruled by these unprocessed feelings.  Whether or not we acknowledge they are present, they are.  Negative feelings that are left unhandled will taint, or can even gain control of, our next thoughts and actions.

Anti-Challenge Goals

  1. Do a mental walk-through with the example scenario; imagine how you might feel, what you may say to yourself, and ask yourself the three questions at the end.
  2. Find a “kick start phrase” that works for you. A few words, or a general idea you can pull up when you realize you are beginning to experience emotions and feelings.
    This is an extremely valuable tool if you find yourself wanting to force change on the situation you do not like.
  3. Point out to yourself anything you already do, or don’t do, that leads to a more comfortable outcome. Try changing or implimenting the actions you believe will work for you until they become habit, or you adopt another means of practicing acceptance

It took quite a while for me to actually use self-prompts like this kick start.  Getting rid of old habits and adopting new ones took time.  I often found myself reacting out of old habit right off the bat.

What helped speed up the learning curve:
I learn to associate initial physical signs of approaching  feelings, with a short prompt.
When I began noticing the physical sensation of anger, fear, or sadness welling up in me, that was my cue to pull up my self-prompt question and focus on it.  My prompt is:
“For Pete sake, what’s IN THERE?”
I posed my prompt as a question, because curiosity has always gotten my attention fastest. 
At the beginning, my mind was rarely successful at pulling up what I was supposed to do. I was too consumed at the moment with emotion and feelings to think about some detailed self-help list of instructions.
However, the prompt at least jolted me into remembering that actions, other than my old response, needed to be taken.  A prompt phrase gave me the valuable moment of space needed to not act rashly when it came to trying to force things out of my control to bend to my will. [Sometimes I do well, sometimes I do not, but there is always some sort of progress.]


You have just become aware your online account has been hacked. Everything from contacts and pass words to Bank accounts and credit lines may be vulnerable.
Not hard to recognize you are starting to feel a wave “negative thoughts” hit you.  You also know you’re trying to practice acceptance.

You end up practicing acceptance, but not right away. Here’s how it goes:

While you give no initial thought to these facts, your instinctual emotion has kicked in and has proceeded to teamed up with your brain to whip up some feelings.
The only attention you pay to what you sense physically is to notice it in passing, as you race to your thoughts. (What you had begun sensing physical, but ignored, was:  Stomach knotted, holding your breath, your heart was beating faster, you sensed a tingling in your fingertips and feet, your shoulders were raised and your neck had begun to ache; you even began to fidget as your body seemed uncomfortably warm.)
Latching onto your feelings, and scouring your thoughts, you pull up past experiences and beliefs about this type situation.  It is not hard for you to come up with words for what you are feeling:  I’m panicked, worried, in fear, angry, vulnerable, and sad!  “Why did this happen to me?!” “I’m going to be destitute!” “The thieves need to be caught and punished for doing this to me!” “This is embarrassing!” “I don’t deserve to be put through this!”
Realizing you have started to spin out of control, you remember practicing acceptance.
So you sit for a moment.  Then you think, “Okay, wait, I’m supposed to recognize and observe what I’m feeling… Well, what else is there to do? I’ve named what I’m feeling.  I’m more than well aware I want to cry, or hide, of physically act out.”

Finally, you remember your kick start phrase
(“For Pete sake, what’s IN THERE?”):
You replace “I am” (“I’m freaking out!” etc.), with
“I’m EXPERIENCING a natural response to instinctual emotion, and thoughts have created painful feelings.”

Now, at last, you have taken a seat in the audience.  You are looking AT the feelings you are experiencing, and the physical pain you are experiencing, with a different perspective.  Yes, you feel it, and it’s still not comfortable, but you also know that what is happening is not the whole of who you are. It will not be every minute of your life, or even your day for that matter.  You are not wrong for feeling what you do.  As you observe from this neutral stance, you see things clearer.  You now recall your past experiences, the very thoughts used to create these feelings: Well, what do you know?! They reflect that the world did not end up coming to an end.

Looking at how the scenario played out, ask yourself these questions:
1. Is the path easier embracing the uncomfortable feelings and practicing acceptance? Or should I have just continued on, in the frantic direction I was going?
2. Do I think it would have been even easier if I had started practicing acceptance as soon as I noticed the physical cues?
3. Since practicing acceptance becomes a habit over time, will I be better off starting now?

Life with Holley
“Anti-challenge Reframing © 2018” was created from an idea, and partial
terminology, derived from a comment made on my June 25, 2018 Instagram
spoof-post: “International Anti-Selfie Day”.  Thank you to Vaughan
(@vaughan.knight  Instagram) for your insightful, witty words: “You could offer
a ‘reframing’ service; new opportunities from old!  Start a new
anti-challenge whenever life doesn’t live up to expectation. Therein lies
something not to be found in the successful events.”

[Diablo Mountain Range, California]


This image is pure magic to me!  Not that there was anything extraordinary about the skill or subject involved, but because I have lived my entire life in this area, and the night this frame was captured, December 17, 2018, was the very first time I became aware this mountain range could be seen from a town I frequent!  At twice the distance from the mountains I usually shoot for sunrise, I’d never considered the possiblity it could be photographed.

When I first spied the rolling spine of Diablo, I thought, wow, it must only now be visible because of the incredible height of my new found perch!  Nope, not even close to logical.  This was taken from five stories high on the farthest side of town from the range, and I’d been in buildings near twice the height, in closer proximity. Perhaps the view from taller buildings was at a wrong angle, or the haze that often hangs over the West side of the valley obsured my view? (Unknown to me at the time, neither explanation was the case.) I’d been all over this town, in every season, many times. Not once had I seen anything remotely resembling mountains to the West. That settled it; clearly, the only reason I had not been aware this range could be seen, is I lacked this specific vantage point. Conclusion drawn, easy enough explained, I was ready to write-off this lifelong overlooking of mountains to the fact the view simply wasn’t available. That is, I would have, had I not made one more discovery.

By the close of 2018, the mystery was no more. I was all set to make an entry in my “History of Holley” book, describing the sudden appearance of Diablo, when I happened to glance West from ground level. I knew the truth instantly at that moment: What I had always thought to be a bank of clouds in the distance was in fact a ridge.

All my life, I knew Diablo stood between the me and the ocean; I just never knew how close it stood. One thing is for certain: From this point on, December 17, 2018 will come to mind whenever I get the notion it’s “obvious” I have all the answers, just because I’ve held a belief a long time.

Image: “Diablo Range, of Emotions”
No post processing; reformat and crop only
f/7.1 – 1/400– ISO 200
focal length 250mm
Canon EOS 80D

(Publishing February 12-16, 2019)


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