Emotional Muscle, Music and Becoming Better at Getting What You Want

So what we desire in life is good experiences.  And we can’t create what we don’t have the capacity to create.

It’s because of our “emotional muscle.”  Just like a real undeveloped muscle can’t lift heavy weights, an undeveloped emotional muscle have a hard time feeling strong emotions.

For example, it’s common in us artists and performers to want the experience of being adored and appreciated.  But when your muscle to feel those feelings are weak, you can’t feel them no matter what real life events occur that should make you feel that way.  I’ve been that performer who, upon receiving complements, immediately dismiss them mentally without really taking in what it means, even though what’s said is very positive and uplifting.  I’m not talking about letting complements inflate your ego.  I’m talking more about being open to that feeling of genuine appreciation being expressed.  It is possible in this case to overpower my underdeveloped emotional muscle by flooding me with exceptionally strong feeling of appreciation, but that’s uncommon.

I may be wishing to feel appreciated, but if I am not used to feeling appreciated, even when life events occur where that feeling can be triggered, it doesn’t.

So how does one gain the ability to experience what one wishes to?  This is where imagination comes in.  Vivid and powerful imagination can incite the same emotional reaction as any real life events.

That said, I don’t know about you but imagination takes great effort.  I have to carve out significant amount of safe, alone space to properly travel away from the reality and concoct an imaginary experience that gives me real feelings.  You may be able to switch your mental gear more quickly than I can, but I suspect it’s hard for a lot of us.

A movie is a great way to experience non-real-life situations vividly.  The multi-sensory nature of a movie can create powerful experiences.  But it also requires your full attention, and enough elements, from acting to script to set design to editing, have to work right.

That’s where music comes in, because it has the right combination of high accessibility and emotional punch.  There’s something about the aural experience, of hearing without seeing, that bypasses some of the distractions of visual experiences and cuts straight to heart.  You can have a playlist made up of feelings you want to feel in life.  For example, I adore Toad the Wet Sprocket’s “I Will Not Take These Things for Granted” because it is such a poignant expression of gratitude.  Except I don’t listen to that song often enough, even though gratitude is on my desired-yet-scarce experience list.  It’s not enough to think grateful thoughts.  I need to truly experience the feeling of gratitude, but a lot of times I find myself unable to.  The experience of gratitude feels foreign to me during those times, as if I’ve forgotten what it’s like.

Once you get more used to feeling them, then it’s easier for you to feel that feeling when life events present opportunities.  You’ll get the sense that you’re getting better at creating experiences that you wanted, because the experience you desire is getting created more easily.

To sum up, here is a quick run down of the process I’m describing to enhance your power to get what you want in life:

  1. Recognize that it’s the experience (which is essentially a feeling) you’re after, and separate it from specific events, achievements and goals that you think will create that experience.  This makes you open to having that feeling come to you in many different shapes and forms.
  2. Recognize that you can’t create what you’re not capable of creating.  You can’t feel what you desire to feel if you’re not used to feeling that way, even when the life events that you thought will make you feel that way occur.
  3. Focus on developing your capacity to feel your desired feeling.  Use your imagination if you can, but liberally use arts like music and movie to assist you.
  4. Once you become capable of feeling the desired feeling frequently and deeply, then your real life will follow suit.  It’s because you’ll more easily recognize the opportunities where you can feel the desired feeling, and this time you allow yourself to feel it.

As I write this, I myself am amazed that I have underdeveloped emotional muscle to so many feelings I want to experience.  I’ve accomplished so many of my dreams, yet many of the life experiences I want are still ahead of me.

I’m going to get better at this, and I’ll continue to share what I learn.  I hope you do the same.