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#64 Emotion as a habit

While writing a book about reaching for and achieving your dreams, I realised that one of the biggest enemies of achieving them is, "One day…”

One day was yesterday. One day was two weeks ago. One day is 175 years into the future.

"One day" becomes a way of maintaining the gap between where we are now and where we want to be.

How do we maintain this gap?

Let's say there are a thousand steps you have to take between where you are now and reaching your dream, and those thousand steps will take you a year, or 3, or 20.

Let’s also assume that you are a relatively healthy 30-year-old who will live until you are 90. That gives you 21 900 days left to live, around 5 000 of which will be spent in old age with degenerating faculties and a limited ability to achieve things.

One day” keeps us from achieving our big dream by pushing those thousand steps into the future, one day at a time, until you run out of days to achieve it.

Emotion as a habit

Your brain does not care about your dreams.

Your brain’s main goal is to help you save energy and survive, which it does by automating as many processes, thoughts, beliefs and emotions as possible. If it can keep you in a familiar space that feels safe and comfortable, all the better.

Emotion as a habit is your brain protecting you by defaulting to a preset emotional state in a given circumstance.

For example, it might go, “Don’t worry about checking in or thinking about it, we have decided that you will feel ‘ugh’ in the morning until at least your third cup of coffee”. It bypasses any evaluation and now you’re just grumpy, waiting impatiently for your caffeine kick to stop feeling ugh.

That familiar emotional state is directly linked to how we maintain the thousand steps between now and “one day”, in a chicken and egg cycle:

  • You wake up in the morning feeling ‘ugh’

  • You don’t take or create opportunities to go after your big dream because, “I will go after my big dream one day

  • Not taking action amplifies the emotions of powerlessness and frustration

  • Those emotions drive thoughts such as, “I will never be able to reach my big dream”, "I wish I could but...", "It's too hard because...",

  • These thoughts reveal beliefs framed in identity statements such as, "I'll never be able to do it", "I'm not good enough”.

  • Those identity statements continually reinforce the automated default emotional state.

  • You wake up the next morning feeling ‘ugh’ and powerless, and the cycle continues.

Your default emotional state

You can't take steps forward when you are in your default emotional state. Or rather, you can still move forward, but if you don’t manage to replace your default emotional state with something helpful you will you will roll back down the hill every time you start to make some progress and fall back into your old patterns and habits.

I like that the acronym for Default Emotional State is “DES”. If you don’t take charge of your DES, you will stay stuck in your safe, comfortable and often unhappy space, unable to break through your barriers.

And that stuck, safe-but-unhappy space will become your DEStiny.

Train your brain

There is good news though; you were born with the tool you need to challenge your default emotional state:


Through curiosity, you can identify the default emotional states that keep you stuck in a space where you feel safe and comfortable and rewrite them. It won’t happen immediately, and you will encounter resistance.

  • The voice of the judge will continue to ask subtle questions: "I don't know what's wrong with me (for not accomplishing the thing I set out to achieve today).”

  • The voice of the cheerleader will continue to make cosy excuses: "Why won't my past just give me a break?”

  • The old belief system will still try to pull you back with beliefs like: "I don't have discipline”, “I'm not structured”, “I'm not good enough to do it”, “I can’t function before my third cup of coffee”.

You can always give in to those thoughts and beliefs and roll back down the hill to your old, safe, comfortable and unhappy destiny.

Or you can practice curiosity, and start rewiring your brain from craving the emotional numbness of the safe and comfortable to craving the challenging discomfort of risk and adventure, of effort, of discipline.

As you start rewiring your default emotional state, going after your big dream then becomes your DEStiny, even if it is uncomfortable from time to time.

Taking the 1000 steps towards your dream won’t magically become easy, but you will get unstuck and start moving towards your Big Dream, one step at a time.



What recurring situations trigger recurring familiar emotional responses in you? Here are some examples:

  • waking up in the morning

  • engaging with a specific colleague or family member

  • doing admin or a household task

  • facing a challenging task

  • getting stuck in a task or conversation

What emotions are you experiencing in that situation? What emotions would you rather be feeling?

Are you willing to embrace discomfort in order to get unstuck and move towards your big dream?


If you need tools or coaching to rewire your default emotional state, join the Clarity Quest or book a needs assessment to work with me.

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