First of all, acknowledge that there are people and corporations with a strong interest in conditioning you to maintain the (false) belief that you need external validation to feel a certain way.
Marketers spend billions to convince you that you need to drink their pop, eat their food, wear their clothing, drive their cars, and shop at their outlets to feel happy, cool, fashionable, popular, confident, successful, etc. Who benefits most when you adopt the belief that you need to dress a certain way to feel fashionable or drive a certain car to feel cool?
When you understand that you have the ability to consciously direct your thoughts to create any feeling you want, whenever you want, you’re not going to make such people rich. But you will be much more free, since you’ll gain the power of conscious control over your own emotional states. This is a skill that takes practice, but it is a learnable one.
In a matter of minutes you can feel any emotion you want. This is nothing unique — experienced actors can do it too. If an actor can laugh uproariously or cry rivers of tears or shout with intense anger over something completely fake, then you can certainly learn to be 100% confident on cue as well (and really experience the genuine emotion).
The skill is anchoring. Anchoring means conditioning a specific emotional state to be linked to a simple trigger, just as Pavlov conditioned his dog to link getting fed with the sound of bell. So if you make a certain movement, you automatically surge into this emotional state within a few seconds. The tennis player Andre Agassi and the basketball player Byron Scott both used emotional anchoring in their athletic careers, and emotional conditioning has been used by German Olympic teams with outstanding results. To anchor, choose to associate a specific movement with a specific emotion and, when necessary, activate said emotion by repeating the movement or gesture.
Advertisers use anchoring on you all the time. This is why Pepsi will pay someone like Michael Jackson $20 million to be in a 30-second commercial (OK, so that was years ago). They want to condition you to link the emotions you get from hearing a particular song to their product. This emotional conditioning works a lot better than trying to logically argue why you should consume sugar water and chemicals. And it works… to the tune of billions.
Dr. Wayne Dyer said that when he was learning about self-actualization in college, a professor posed this question: If a totally self-actualizing person unknowingly showed up to a formal event wearing overly casual attire, how would s/he react? The answer: S/he wouldn’t even notice. That’s the state of total emotional mastery, where no external event can knock you into a negative emotional state. A mind like water.
The problem isn’t that external events have control over your emotions. The problem is believing that they do. Abandoning this belief and realizing that you have the innate ability to control how you feel at any given moment, regardless of your circumstances, is the first step to emotional mastery. Events are neutral. What causes you to feel a certain way is how you interpret an event, how you think about it.
The same event (even one as serious as the death of someone close to you) will be interpreted differently by different people. You were taught to represent certain events to yourself as tragic, while other people on this planet were taught to celebrate those same events. The event itself has no meaning but the meaning you assign to it, and that act of assigning meaning (whether done consciously or unconsciously) is what causes you to feel a certain way.
Once you understand this, you can begin to take conscious control over these assignments. When stricken with a terminal illness, some people interpret it as terrible and go into a deep depression. Others interpret it as a challenge and find a way to overcome the illness. And still others see it as a wake up call to re-evaluate their priorities and make the best possible use of the time they have left, developing deeper bonds with the people around them and living much more fully. To some people it’s an ending, while to others it’s a new beginning. But this doesn’t have to be a subconscious reaction — it can be a conscious choice. Whenever something happens that you would normally say “makes you depressed,” you can choose to find and assign an alternate interpretation that makes you feel empowered instead of disempowered.
Instead of failure you can see a learning experience. Instead of a loss, you can focus on deepening your feelings of gratitude for what you do have. Instead of rejection you can see a temporary mismatch and a renewed opportunity to find the perfect fit. Just because TV teaches you to feel a certain way in response to a certain event doesn’t mean you have to blindly accept that interpretation, especially since the TV business benefits when you feel down and thereby tune in to try to change your emotional state.
Between stimilus and response lies the opportunity for conscious choice. You can be fired from your job and turn it into a victory instead of a defeat (countless football managers have done this). You can go bankrupt and move on to even greater wealth. You can be injured to the point of disfiguration and turn it into an advantage to inspire others. You can be dumped by your girlfriend, feel suicidal, and yet still bounce back (Damon Albarn did).
On the other hand, you can enjoy outstanding external success and yet abuse yourself to the point of death (John Belushi did).
For any seemingly “negative” event, you can find someone who turned it into an empowering experience. And for any “positive” event, you can find someone who interpreted it in such a way as to destroy themselves. Avoid the trap of letting events subconsciously control you, and use the power of your consciousness to decide your own interpretation of events for the greatest good of all.
When you reach the point of becoming independent of external events, then you’re truly free.