Emotional Discipline

The Power to Choose How You Feel

Charles Manz (Author)

Publication date: 03/12/2003

Bestseller over 20,000+ copies sold

Emotional Discipline

Emotions sometimes get the better of everyone, but it doesnt have to be that way. We can learn how to analyze and control our emotional reactions in any situation.

Emotional Discipline outlines an easy-to-learn process and 25 specific tactics that you can use to gain the power to choose how you feel. Youll learn to cope with a stressful and sometimes threatening world and deal with arguably the most challenging part of the human condition: the constant fluctuations in how you feel that color your experience of life and limit your personal effectiveness.

Emotional Discipline offers strategies that will help you respond to your feelings in the present and to prepare for emotional challenges in the future. Charles Manz outlines the basics of the 5-stage emotional discipline process and describes a variety of mental, physical and spiritual practices that supplement and strengthen that process.

• Winner of the Gold Award for the Self-Help Category for the 2003 ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Awards
• Includes a life-changing five-step process for assessing and managing key factors in the mind, body, emotions, and spirit that shape how we feel
• Debunks the idea that how we feel is beyond our personal influence and shows that, on the contrary, we can choose how we feel every day
• By the author of The Power of Failure and The Leadership Wisdom of Jesus

Read more and meet author below

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Emotions sometimes get the better of everyone, but it doesnt have to be that way. We can learn how to analyze and control our emotional reactions in any situation.

Emotional Discipline outlines an easy-to-learn process and 25 specific tactics that you can use to gain the power to choose how you feel. Youll learn to cope with a stressful and sometimes threatening world and deal with arguably the most challenging part of the human condition: the constant fluctuations in how you feel that color your experience of life and limit your personal effectiveness.

Emotional Discipline offers strategies that will help you respond to your feelings in the present and to prepare for emotional challenges in the future. Charles Manz outlines the basics of the 5-stage emotional discipline process and describes a variety of mental, physical and spiritual practices that supplement and strengthen that process.

• Winner of the Gold Award for the Self-Help Category for the 2003 ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Awards
• Includes a life-changing five-step process for assessing and managing key factors in the mind, body, emotions, and spirit that shape how we feel
• Debunks the idea that how we feel is beyond our personal influence and shows that, on the contrary, we can choose how we feel every day
• By the author of The Power of Failure and The Leadership Wisdom of Jesus

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Meet the Author

Visit Author Page - Charles Manz

Charles Manz, Ph.D., is the Charles and Janet Nirenberg Professor of Business Leadership in the Isenberg School of Management at the University of Massachusetts. Manz has served as a consultant for 3M, Ford, Motorola, Xerox, the Mayo Clinic, Procter & Gamble, General Motors, American Express, and many other organizations. He is the author of several books, including the bestselling The New SuperLeadership and Leadership Wisdom of Jesus.

To learn more about Charles and his work, visit him on the web.

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Table of Contents


Introduction: Discovering the Power of Emotional Discipline

Part One — Emotional Discipline Foundations

1. Create Your Emotional Discipline Process
2. Learn the Key Characteristics of Emotional Discipline
3. Choose the Meaning of Your Feelings
4. Increase Your Emotional Intelligence (EQ)
5. Feel Your Feelings
6. Emotional Kung Fu
7. Weather Emotional Storms

Part Two — Mind
8. Happiness Is a Choice
9. Meditate for a Better Life
10. Mental Reframing
11. Direct Your Inner Theater
12. Think and Grow Richly Alive
Other Mind-Centered Emotional Discipline Choices

Part Three — Body
14. Breathe with Healthful Discipline
15. Enhance Your Emotional Fitness Through Physical Fitness
16. Inner Jogging: Music and Laughter
17. Body Work 101: Massage and Beyond
18. Body Work 102: Tai Chi Movement and More
19. Flow with Balance
Other Body-Centered Emotional Discipline Choices

Part Four — Spirit

20. The Power of Silence
21. The Drama of Subtlety
22. The Power of Purpose
23. Have an Out-of-Ego Experience
24. What About Love?
25. Get a Life, with Spirit
Other Spirit-Centered Emotional Discipline Choices

Getting Started: The Power to Choose How You Feel Motto

About the Author

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Discovering the Power of Emotional Discipline

The vast majority of men [and women] lead lives of quiet desperation.

—Henry David Thoreau

Cecil T Barkly, the division manager, had just returned to his office after attending what he experienced as a grueling meeting with his subordinate managers. He felt irritable and exhausted as he gulped down a cup of coffee and a candy bar and stared at a new report on his desk. He had stayed up late the previous night. In fact, he hadn’t allowed himself a good night’s sleep in days and always seemed to be eating on the run to one meeting after another (which was about the only form of exercise he had taken time for in years).2

As he studied the report his face turned red with anger, he clenched his fists. In his unfocused emotional state he misread some data on a graph, thinking that it indicated a negative trend when in fact it showed marked improvement. He sensed that he should take more time to digest the report and to try to put things in perspective before he acted on this new information. But it was too late, his emotions had already taken over and he stormed out of his office, report in hand, and back toward the meeting that he had just left in progress.

When he entered the room, despite an air of excitement in the wake of just having reached a solution to a problem that had haunted the division for months, the group quickly became tensely silent. Barkly felt overwhelming tension in his body and his mind was filled with angry thoughts as he stood and scowled at the group. He was miserable and he was mad and he was going to let this group know how he felt in no uncertain terms!

“I just received information,” he began as he thrust the report out in front of him, “that despite our massive attempts to the contrary, managers in this division are still using a directive punitive style of management! You all know our instructions from upstairs to improve employee productivity by adopting a supportive and participative leadership style. You mark my words,” he continued, now shaking his fist at the group for emphasis. “You will be more supportive and participative or, dammit, heads are going to roll!” 3

It’s true that how you feel can have a dramatic impact on what you do and say and how you experience life in general. The good news is that there are practical ways to gain The Power to Choose How You Feel. Do you believe this statement? Can you imagine what it would be like to be able to choose how you feel?

How would you like to be able to make choices that naturally replenish your energy so that you no longer feel drained by work and life? How much value would you place on an ability to change feeling bad into feeling good? How might this ability contribute to your personal effectiveness and fulfillment in life and work? The reality is that much of the time you possess this very ability. All you need is the awareness that you possess this power and effective tools to put it to work. What you need is Emotional Discipline.

It is a common tendency to attribute the way we feel to such factors as mood swings, hormone fluctuations, and especially external events. Much of the time it can seem like our quality of life is largely at the mercy of invading feelings that are outside our influence. We hear people say “Sorry, I’m in a lousy mood today,” “I feel exhausted,” “I can’t figure out why I feel so down,” or “I don’t know what’s gotten into me but for some reason I feel great.” It’s as though we simply have little or no choice regarding how we feel. Emotional Discipline, on the other hand, offers an empowering alternative.4

And yet, at least at first glance, the idea of being disciplined about your emotions may seem like a rather unattractive proposition. When I submitted the proposal for this book, a person on staff at my publisher initially had a rather strong and negative reaction. She felt that the idea of emotional discipline was a kind of oxymoron. Her view was that feelings are something to express freely, not to suppress, and that the words “emotion” and “discipline” didn’t seem to go together. In fact, the combination left her with an image of something rather stifling and confining. Her view was that “emotional discipline” was certainly not for her.

A couple days later, after a difficult phone call with a business associate, she found herself surprisingly upset and strongly affected by her feelings. As she reflected on her emotional reactions, with a bit of humor thrown in for good measure, she concluded that maybe she needed some emotional discipline after all.

I encourage you, at least for the moment, to let go of whatever initial skepticism or resistance you might feel about the concept of emotional discipline. Please allow me to share some of the compelling information surrounding this subject that may open a whole new world for you as it has for me. I ask that you keep an open mind for now to the possibility that it might have something worthwhile to offer you that could help you to live and work with greater personal effectiveness and fulfillment. And I invite you to explore with me the abundant healthy choices that you have available every day that can help you gain the power to choose how you feel.

What Is Emotional Discipline?

The simplest, most straightforward answer to this question is that “Emotional Discipline consists of the intentional choices we make to gain the power to choose how we feel.” But to define Emotional Discipline with a bit more depth we need to understand the words “emotion” and “discipline.”5

Emotion. The New World Dictionary defines emotion (derived from French and Latin roots meaning to disturb or stir up) as “… any specific feeling; any of various complex reactions with both mental and physical manifestations… .” Similarly, Salovey and Mayer, authors of the article “Emotional Intelligence,” describe emotions as “organized responses, crossing the boundaries of… physiological, cognitive, motivational, and experiential systems.”1 Together, these definitions point to “feelings” as the primary vehicle of emotions and suggest that feelings are manifest both physically and mentally.

Consistent with this view, in their recent best-selling book The Heart of the Soul: Emotional Awareness, Gary Zukav and Linda Francis describe our experience of emotions as having a physical component, such as pain or discomfort in a location of our body in response to a negative emotion.2 A positive emotion, on the other hand, will create a pleasant sensation. They explain that these physical feelings are accompanied by thoughts. For example, before making a public speech a person might experience the emotion of anxiety through physical discomfort (such as stomach tightness and/or “butterflies”) accompanied by related thoughts (“How did I get myself into this awful situation … I’m just going to embarrass myself. . . they’ll laugh me out of the room”).6

And I particularly like the simple description of emotion offered by best-selling author Eckhart Tolle that elegantly captures the spirit of this discussion. He says emotion is “a reflection of your mind in the body.”3

By viewing emotions as consisting of physical sensations and related mental activity, this means that any given emotion can be identified and examined by studying the sensations in the body (their location, nature, and intensity) and the thoughts that accompany them. For example, imagine that you are swamped with emotion in response to what you perceive as a significant betrayal by a close friend or colleague. Consequently, you notice pain and tightness in your chest accompanied by angry internal self-statements (“How dare she do that… after all I’ve done for her and the way I trusted her… she knifed me in the back…”).

Discipline. The New World Dictionary defines discipline as “a branch of knowledge or learning,… training that develops self-control, character, orderliness,… submission to authority and control.…” If we study these words carefully we can recognize the role of knowledge, learning, and training that broadens the often oversimplified view of discipline. Rather than a stifling, constraining process that limits our choices, discipline can more constructively be viewed in terms of its empowering potential. It can help us transcend the limits of our current learning and overcome disorganized and ineffective responses to powerful forces (such as overpowering emotions) in our life and work experiences.7

In her book Hooked on Feeling Bad, Joyce Moskowitz similarly describes discipline as “to train or develop, training that corrects, molds and perfects.…” And she points out that it stems from the same Latin root as disciple— discipulus, which means student—and thus concludes that discipline means “the training of us.”4 In this sense we might think of discipline as a process of self-education and self-training that helps us to enhance our level of effectiveness and the quality of our overall experience in the world.

To reinforce this idea it is helpful to consider the word disciplines, which is often associated with spiritual and/or religious practices. For example, the disciplines of meditation, prayer, fasting, study, solitude, and service are usually self-imposed with the intent of experiencing personal growth of mind and spirit. In his classic best-seller Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster argues that disciplines should not be thought of as “dull drudgery aimed at exterminating laughter from the face of the earth… the purpose of the disciplines is liberation from the stifling slavery to self-interest and fear.”5

I will refer to the various strategies for applying emotional discipline included in this book simply as “choices.” If you find the concept of “disciplines” helpful, you might think of them as emotional disciplines. Overall, I view discipline as a form of self-training and a path to personal growth that stems from entering into (or for those that prefer a bit firmer and more definitive language, submitting to) a process designed to constructively address our experience of life and work.8

Emotional Discipline. All this leads to a more comprehensive definition. Emotional discipline consists of the various choices you make, both to meet the challenge of current situations as well as to prepare for the future, that provide you with self-training, a path to personal growth, and a repertoire of strategies that you can draw upon as needed, that equip you with the power to choose how you feel. This book will offer a specific approach to introducing emotional discipline into your life. It consists of:

  • imageSelecting (identifying, creating, or customizing) the emotional discipline process that will be used.
  • imageWorking with the process as you encounter work and life challenges that arouse significant feelings.
  • imageChoosing appropriate strategies (choices) for applying emotional discipline to constructively influence your reactions to situations that trigger significant feelings, as well as to help create future constructive and healthy feelings.

Later in this chapter I will talk more about the various choices that can be made to practice emotional discipline. But first it is important to address the question “why go to the trouble?” That is, what does emotional discipline have to offer that can benefit your life?9

The Promise of Emotional Discipline

Why should you bother with emotional discipline in your life and why should you go to the trouble of introducing emotional discipline choices into your daily living? The most simple and direct answer is that they can vastly enhance your experiences of work and life and your overall fulfillment. Making emotional discipline choices not only can enrich your present-moment living and help create a more satisfying and effective future, but can enable you to enjoy a naturally re-energizing lifestyle that can help you avoid feeling depleted and burned out. In addition, by constructively working with and helping to create your feelings, you can vastly contribute to your effectiveness in meeting life’s problems, in your interactions and relationships with others, and in growing into your fuller potential.

For example, research has suggested that emotions have the capacity for helping us to successfully face uncertainty, visualize a positive future, and to speed up decision making. Emotions can also help us to bridge between the rational and nonrational, gain a sense of self-relevance, and facilitate personal adaptation and change.6 One prominent researcher has suggested that emotions represent the “wisdom of the ages” and provide responses to recurrent problems that have withstood the test of time.7

Further, significant research has pointed to the many potential benefits of constructive management of emotions. A growing area of research has been grouped under the umbrella term “emotion regulation.”8 Researcher James Gross has commented, “emotional responses can … mislead us…. When our emotions seem to be ill-matched to a given situation, we frequently try to regulate our emotional responses so that they better serve our goals.”9 And he defines emotion regulation as “The processes by which we influence which emotions we have, when we have them, and how we experience and express them.”10 Research in this area has indicated that effective strategies can be applied for meeting difficult emotional situations that reduce both our negative emotional experiences and our dysfunctional behavioral responses.10

Effective regulation of emotions has also been shown to significantly enhance learning. For example, researchers Isen, Daubman, and Nowicki have found that positive emotions can positively impact problem solving while negative emotion inhibits it.11 It appears that positive emotions engage higher brain mechanisms and enhance processing of information and memory, while negative emotion inhibits higher cognitive functions. For these reasons, as well as evidence that emotions are quite “contagious” and thus easily passed from person to person, Professor Edward Vela argues that teachers should monitor their own emotional state and model and encourage positive emotion for their students.12 Indeed, a great deal of research supports the value of constructively working with our emotions.

Emotional discipline is worth the trouble because it can be the key to harnessing the power and energy of emotions rather than being wounded and drained by them. And this can help us to have the kind of life and career we’ve always dreamed of, even if this result stems more from changes in the way we experience life on the inside as opposed to changes in our external life circumstances.11

Emotional discipline addresses our most powerful lens for experiencing life—how we feel. Think for a moment. Everything we experience is colored by the way we feel. We all know this at a rational level, but it can be very challenging to identify and implement practical ways of applying this knowledge to positively affect our daily living. When we are in a bad mood, the world can look dark and gloomy. And we can end up acting in ways that alienate others and make our life and work more difficult in the future. When we feel stressed and anxious, everything around us can seem threatening, leaving us psychologically paralyzed and exhausted. We may avoid reasonable and necessary risks for making progress or shy away from great opportunities. If we feel sad or lonely, the world can seem like one big melancholy soap opera robbing us of the joy of the present moment. When we feel tired and apathetic, we may find it difficult to do almost anything at all. And so it goes.

Our life experience is greatly influenced by how we feel, which in turn can play a major role in determining not only our level of satisfaction but how we connect with our work and with other people. Learning the art of emotional discipline, and the many tools (emotional discipline choices) available for making its potential power a practical personal reality, can create the foundation for an immensely satisfying, fulfilling, energized, and effective life.

Finally, the primary tenet of emotional discipline challenges us to recognize that our emotions are not beyond our control. This holds us accountable for how we feel and how that affects others by means of what we say and do based on those feelings. Such accountability can be not only a good thing but a necessary thing in human relationships. It can help us to better meld together as a society including in our families, friendships, workplaces, neighborhoods, communities, and nations. It offers the potential to help us better live together for the good of one another.12

The Key Decisions of Emotional Discipline

Effective practice of Emotional Discipline is founded on four primary decisions. Being truly effective in this practice requires that you decide to commit to:

  1. Taking responsibility for how you feel.
  2. Doing things now (in the present) that will prepare you (help fill your emotional energy reservoir) for the future.
  3. Reacting to emotionally challenging situations in a new, more balanced and healthy way.
  4. Making specific choices (applying strategies) to effectively deal with challenges as they arise.

Thus, emotional discipline requires a commitment to preparing for, facing, working with, and responding to emotional challenges constructively. It includes both making choices that equip you to effectively deal with your emotions in the future and addressing immediate issues. Part of Emotional Discipline involves applying a systematic process (such as the one introduced in Chapter 1). But a key part also involves making the decisions above and thereby committing to creating a personal lifestyle in which you can enjoy its benefits on an ongoing basis.13

Choices for Gaining in Power to Choose How You Feel

Focusing directly on our emotions in the heat of the moment is not the only way to gain emotional discipline. A variety of choices, which I organize into the categories of mind, body, spirit, and emotional discipline foundations, can help us to calm or manage negative feelings and stimulate positive ones. In practice these choices overlap, but I will examine them separately in this book for the sake of clarity.

Emotional Discipline choices consist of moment to moment, day to day, intentional and proactive strategies we use that can directly or indirectly affect how we feel. They can make a big difference in how we experience events, our effectiveness in life and at work, and our overall sense of fulfillment.

Sometimes the choices involve taking actions that may seem relatively unattractive in the short run but that can make a world of difference in how we feel later. For example, eating a healthy serving of vegetables rather than a thick piece of chocolate cake, or stopping and facing our difficult feelings about a colleague and learning from them rather than losing ourselves in another more appealing but less important task, may not seem like an obvious way to feel better at the time. But, of course, in the long run, we can feel much better and our lives can benefit a great deal if we make these kinds of disciplined choices.

Nevertheless, it is not simply a matter of using disciplined strategies to bolster our willpower or to help us make short-term sacrifices. Emotional Discipline also involves discovering the joy of making positive and healthy choices by finding ways to enjoy actions now that will help us to feel even better later. Fresh vegetables cooked creatively can be a culinary delight and taking a brisk walk in a beautiful park, to reflect on thoughts and feelings about a problem we need to address with our colleague, can be a freeing experience.14

The amazing thing is that the world is full of healthy and constructive choices that can help us build a life that feels better and that is more effective and fulfilling. And many choices are available to help us more constructively cope and react to our feelings when they are already upon us. The array is as varied as learning techniques for creatively reframing the way we see problems, directly facing and purposely feeling our feelings to lessen their power over us, practicing emotional Kung Fu to put the potency of feelings to work for us, learning some simple and effective meditation techniques, and applying the power of silence.

This book offers 25 specific emotional discipline choices, or ways to gain The Power to Choose How You Feel, including selecting an overall process that serves as the foundation for emotional discipline. For the most part these practical strategies are relatively simple, well known, and have proven to be very effective for many people. They represent a solid beginning set of alternatives that you can expand upon and adapt to your needs. The specific strategies (choices) are designed to help uplift the way you feel about your work and life by equipping you to better respond to your feelings in the present and help you constructively shape them for the future. Together these practical strategies can establish a solid beginning repertoire of choices for bringing the many benefits of emotional discipline into your experience.15

As stated previously, the various choices/strategies offered are divided into four areas: emotional discipline foundations, mind, body, and spirit. Hopefully you will find some of these practical strategies especially helpful for your particular life circumstances. Feel free to “jump around” in your reading after you read Chapters 1 and 2. Those two chapters address selection of a fundamental emotional discipline multi-step process and the key characteristics of emotional discipline, and thus should be read first. The strategies in the rest of the chapters don’t need to be read in any particular order.

Strategies also work across more than the application area they are grouped under. For example, you may find some of the techniques for addressing the mind are very helpful with issues of the spirit or vice versa. You may also discover that certain strategies for enhancing the way your body feels also calm your mind or that better coping with your troubling thoughts relieves all kinds of symptoms in your body. As already pointed out, emotions are manifested as physical sensations in the body (such as butterflies in the stomach or tightness in the chest) along with various patterns of thought (for example, worrisome mental images or euphoric internal self-talk). Also, many believe our feelings are the primary language of the spirit. For example, the information about what is truly right for our lives may be contained more in an inner wisdom that is communicated through intuition and feelings as opposed to conscious rational analytical thinking.16

Please experiment and adapt the suggested emotional discipline choices to your own particular needs and situation. You can combine strategies or use only the parts that resonate with you. I hope the practical choices contained in this book will also inspire you to create some of your own that are specifically customized to your unique needs and perspective. Think of this book as a living document that you can help create, mold, and incorporate into your life and work as you see fit.


Our emotions wield a powerful force that greatly affects the quality of our life experience. Being able to honestly face our emotions and to really be with them is essential for living a full life. And being able to manage our responses to them well, and make choices that foster the creation of healthy emotions for the future, is the key to living effectively.

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Emotional Discipline is hearty soup for the emotional soul. I recommend that you consume it and allow it to help you fully experience the vast benefits of choosing to feel great throughout your life.”

—Jack Canfield, co-creator of the bestselling Chicken Soup for the Soul Series

“With Emotional Discipline you can create your own straightforward, practical, and highly effective way to feel and be better in your work and life.”

—Ken Blanchard, coauthor of the #1 bestselling The One Minute Manager

“… if you choose to be fully energized, deeply inspired, and ready to reach your fullest potential, this book will be a wonderful companion on your journey.”

—Judi Neal, Executive Director, Association for Spirit at Work

“Maximize your own emotional energy …. Emotional Discipline can help you create your game plan to effectively deal with stresses in both business and life.”

—T.L.(Tedd) Mitchell, M.D., Health Columnist for USA Today Weekend Magazine and Medical Director of the Cooper Wellness program

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