“There’s no secret to balance. You just have to feel the waves.” ~Frank Herbert

As Renegades, a vital component of our self-improvement and personal development efforts is to strive to develop our inner selves for the sake of bettering those around us.

One such way is to provide balance for others by working to discover and develop a stronger sense of balance within ourselves: conditioning the workings of our minds to find a more consistent range of emotional balance.

In Part One of this two-part series on balance, we first discuss finding balance in our individual range of emotions so that we can function as a sort of “counterbalance” to friends loved ones who are in need of emotional stability and equilibrium.

What is a Range of Emotion?

We can imagine someone’s “range” of natural human emotions — from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows — like a radio wave frequency that alternates between peaks and dips at random intervals. The extent of the “range” of one’s emotions will vary from person to person and will be influenced by a litany of unpredictable and unforeseen circumstances that affect us in life.

Experiencing fluctuations of emotions is completely normal. But dramatic swings in emotion can be physically taxing, mentally draining and put serious strain on our relationships and personal happiness. The Mayo Clinic graphic (right) displays the extremities of emotional swings for those who suffer from the very serious and life-long medical condition called manic depression or bipolar disorder.

Ideally, we’d have a “shorter” emotional range that would lessen the severity of the highs and lows we experience, allowing us to achieve a more peaceful inner balance. Thankfully, with practice and thanks to the scientific nature of the human brain, we can actually train our minds to react with less severity and begin to achieve a more consistent range of emotional balance in our daily lives.

Conditioning the Mind to Find Balance

Can we actually train our minds to find balance through a steadier range of emotion? According to Dr. Howard C. Cutler and recent medical studies, we can indeed. In The Art of Happiness, Cutler details how humans can systematically train their minds to find balance and happiness by “deliberately selecting and focusing on positive mental states and challenging negative mental states,” which can ultimately influence our brain to change it’s wiring of nerve cells and neurotransmitters.

Experiments in the recent past by doctors Avi Karni and Leslie Underleider at the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH) sought to measure changes in the brain based upon subjects’ practicing certain tasks and routines on a weekly basis. The results of the study showed that the area of the brain involved in the repetition of the tasks and routines actually physically expanded, “indicating that regular practice recruiting new nerve cells and change the neural connections that had originally been involved in the task.” Studies like these indicate that there is physiological basis for the possibility of training, conditioning and transforming the workings of our minds to be happier and to find greater emotional balance.

Feeling like a Victim of Erratic Emotions

The chances are that at some point in your life, you have felt like a victim to (or even developed a bit of a fear of) your own unpredictable range of emotion; something that can take you to the heights of happiness, ecstasy and bliss one day and then down to the depths of sorrow, remorse and dismay the next. Feeling emotions is normal and mood swings are certain to occur to us regularly. We go through normal swings of moods throughout the day. It’s not irrational, illogical or abnormal to experience an array of both happy and unhappy feelings in a 24-hour period, from tasting a great cup of coffee to dreading the morning commute, laughing with a friend on the phone, getting irked by a coworker during the day, watching a thrilling sports game on TV at night, and so on.

What is difficult to judge and certainly impossible to quantitatively measure is what one’s “normal” range of emotion should be. However, we know what a balanced range of emotion feels like to each of us on a personal level and we can certainly understand what an unnecessarily extreme range of emotion would be: imagine an abnormal, hysteric response like viciously attacking a car driver after a minor fender bender or breaking down sobbing if you burned your morning breakfast.

Making the Choice to Improve Ourselves

Fortunately, as Renegades we have little to fear because by understanding and harnessing the natural power of the human mind and with concerted practice, we can work to make the range of our emotions steadier. We will always be vulnerable to the erratic nature of life; all of it’s highs and lows that we encounter without warning and must endure without question. But, as indicated by the aforementioned scientific studies, we can make efforts to actually train our brains to be more balanced so that when we encounter them, we aren’t so harshly emotionally impacted and will not take as long as normal to return to a natural and more level emotional state.

Through concentrated efforts of intent introspection — developing a better sense for the motivations of our behaviors, recognizing personal triggers that influence our emotions and reactions to events and interactions with others, and so on — we can actually begin to condition our minds to “feel the waves,” as Frank Herbert says in the quote above.

There is no secret and there is no trick to achieving a better, healthier and steadier emotional balance; but when we train ourselves to “feel the waves” — or, recognize our triggers and understand our range of personal emotion — and then work to progressively get better at “riding out” the waves — lessening the severity of our range of emotions by, for example, taking counteraction to offset an unwanted high or a low — we discover and begin to harness a special kind of inner balance.

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Flickr photo credit: Pink Sherbet Photography