Learn To Work With Your 3 Emotional States

blooming apple trees over vivid cloudy sky in the gardenWould you like to live in alignment with yourself so that no matter what’s going on around you . . . you stay connected to yourself and honor yourself? If so, read on, because there is a way to live without all of the emotional ups and downs.

These up and down cycles, two-steps forward and one step back occur because we don’t understand that there are three distinctly different emotional energy states. These emotional states need to be acknowledged and worked with in different ways.

In Live Conscious we call these three emotional states the Pond, River and Ocean—PRO is our acronym for this model.

The Pond

Think of being in a pond and notice how you feel. The water is relatively stagnant—no movement. The Pond is isolated so when you are in the pond you are alone and disconnected from others.

The Pond is an emotional energy state of feeling stuck and helpless while suffering. When I’m in this state I avoid the depths of my feelings because I imagine that I will suffer more if I pay attention to myself. To avoid my feelings I disconnect from certain aspects of myself. I distract myself from my pain and my suffering.

The River

Now, think of being in a river and notice how you feel. The water is constantly flowing.

The River is an emotional energy state of feeling energized, taking action, and moving toward a destination. When I’m in this state I energize myself, I connect to my values—the things I care about. I’m proactive and I associate with other people who share my passions.

The Ocean

And now think of being in the ocean. The water is boundless, almost incomprehensible. The rhythm of the waves is continuous. The source of energy contained in the ocean is endless.

The Ocean is an emotional energy state of expansiveness. When I’m in this state I expand beyond personal concerns, needs, or desires. I shift myself from an orientation of “doing” to one of “being.”

We are all familiar with these energy states, we enter and exit these three different emotional energy states all the time, sometimes moving in and out of them several times in one day. Some people are comfortable in the Pond but not so comfortable in the River or Ocean. Other people prefer to be in the River, some prefer the Ocean.

Which is your preferred state?

We each develop strategies to remain in the emotional energy state that is most familiar to us. This means I will frame events and ask questions in ways that will help me maintain my preferred state. For example, let’s say I prefer being in the River. The way I will frame events is by seeing them as opportunities instead of problems.

I will ask questions such as:

How can I resolve this situation?

How do I make the best of this relationship?

What meaning do I choose to make of what’s happening around me?

These questions are appropriate and helpful if I’m actually in the emotional energy state of the River, but if I’m in the Pond, asking these questions will frustrate and hinder me.

When I’m in the Pond my frame is one of crisis—feeling helpless, overwhelmed and at a loss. Asking questions like the ones above will cause me to feel more overwhelmed and make me feel worse. The worse I feel the more I’ll want to disconnect from myself to avoid my feelings. In the Pond I feel dis-empowered so I tend to project my negative feelings onto other people, blaming them for my woes. In the Pond I’m preoccupied with my past and concerned that the pain, failure, or losses I’ve experienced will reoccur.

What’s helpful when I’m in the Pond is to alter my perspective to that of the witness. Until I am present with my pain, until I stop trying to avoid discomfort, I will remain at odds with myself. Only by acknowledging my discomfort—being with myself instead of doing something—will I be able to satisfy the needs that arise when I’m in the Pond. I am in pain and I need to be present with myself.

This is best done by connecting with my discomfort and saying things like:

Sometimes I feel miserable.

Sometimes I feel so disconnected.

Sometimes I don’t know what to do.

The change can be instantaneous

When I acknowledge my discomfort, without trying to fix or avoid my feelings, I change my relationship with my discomfort. And the change can be instantaneous when I acknowledge myself in a deeply honest way—and sometimes that results in some form of emotional discharge. Emotional discharge may take the form of crying, laughing, shivering, or the need to move my body in other ways.

And soon after the discharge occurs I will find myself out of the pond and back into the River where I can be more proactive and engaged in my life.

Many people jump out of the Pond and into the River as a result of falling in love, being temporarily inspired by gurus or teachers, using drugs, meditation and many other means. The problem is that none of these are sustainable.

Sustainable change comes about, in part, by learning to spend time in the River. And this is where Perception Language is so helpful because it’s a way of speaking that does three things:

  1. Perception Language helps us realize and remember that we are making up meaning of all that we experience.
  2. Perception Language helps us take responsibility for our feelings and behaviors.
  3. Perception Language brings us into the present instead of focusing on the past.

Notice the distinction between how I speak when I’m in the Pond versus the River. In the Pond I’m not taking responsibility for creating my feelings, I’m simply acknowledging them. I might say, “Sometimes I feel scared,” and this is different than using Perception Language and saying, “Sometimes I scare myself.” In the Pond I don’t need to make myself feel responsible for my feelings; I need to witness my feelings.

In the River, which is a higher energetic emotional state, I take responsibility for creating my feelings. I recognize that I am the one who is making up the meaning of my stories. I no longer focus on what happened in the past—the meaning of which is made up anyway—instead I focus on what outcome I want to create and what actions I need to take in this moment to make that happen.

No resistance

An interesting thing is happening for me as I learn to more fully embody both the Pond and the River. By allowing myself to fully experience and honor myself when I’m in the Pond, I spend less time in the Pond. I no longer resist my discomfort and therefore I feel less defended. This frees up some of my energy, and with more energy I’m able to spend more time in the River—a higher energy state.

In addition, as I spend more time in the River, I don’t try so hard to hold onto that experience. I’m not afraid of visiting the Pond. So I relax. I stop working so hard to create stability and comfort. I become more open to uncertainty and instability . . . and Poof!, before I know it I find myself in the Ocean.

In the Ocean I go beyond the frame of personal responsibility that characterizes being in the River. I’m interested in making a contribution that is about more than “what’s in it for me.”

Some people describe being in the ocean as feeling like they are “one with the universe,” or that “we are all connected.” I have a different experience. My feeling, when I’m in the Ocean is actually one of separateness. I feel separate from my mental chatter and separate from ideas with which I have limited myself. I experience a great sense of ease along with my passion to make a positive difference in the world.

Better than a GoPro

I help myself greatly with this PRO model. The key is being able to recognize what emotional energy state I’m in and then honor that state by acting accordingly. In the Pond I allow myself to feel my discomfort and I witness myself. In the River I take complete responsibility for the meaning I make and my subsequent behaviors and feelings. In the Ocean I look beyond myself to find how I can make the greatest contribution given the gifts I have.

I don’t believe the question is, “How useful is this model?” I believe the question is, “Will you use this model?” If you do, you can create a new level—a sustainable level—of emotional wellbeing in your life. There are a few reasons why this model is so effective.

First, it helps us be more conscious because we step-back and think about what emotional energetic state we’re in.

Second, it provides us with a distinct strategy to help ourselves after we identify what state we’re in.

And, finally, this process eliminates the self-criticism that often accompanies our emotional lapses. Instead of being critical, we realize that this movement in and out of different emotional states is part of life, and it is something that we can learn to work with.

So, now, with this model, instead of resisting your emotional experiences, you can dance with your emotions—sometimes in the Pond rhythm, other times in the River or Ocean rhythms.

I encourage you to take some time and work with this model. Next time you’re in a “bad mood,” instead of judging yourself or being impatient with others, give yourself a break, find a quiet place and allow yourself to witness your crankiness. Notice what happens.

Please write to me with any questions, or better yet, post them below so that we can all learn from one another.

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4 Responses to Learn To Work With Your 3 Emotional States

  1. Mike September 15, 2015 at 10:47 am #

    Hi Jake,

    Thank you for this insightful article!

    How can I gauge the length of time it is useful to be in the pond? If I am really struggling myself in some way, does it become non-productive or possibly harmful to pond myself for too long of a period?


  2. Jake Eagle September 15, 2015 at 12:44 pm #

    MJ — Great question, thanks for asking.

    So, in this article I am just scratching the surface of how to work with ourselves when we are in the Pond. As we develop our ability to work with ourselves in the Pond we don’t stay there all that long. I would say that if I’m in the Pond more than a day or two I’m stuck because I don’t know how to work with myself.

    My experience is that after I fully connect with myself while in the Pond, I experience some relief, some shift, and it happens quickly. This doesn’t mean that my life challenges are resolved, but rather than my energy state has shifted and I now have a different perspective, more energy to deal with those life challenges.

    What I observe is that people stay stuck in the Pond for a longer period of time when they aren’t willing or able to face and be with their feelings in a non-judgmental way.

    I hope you help yourself with my comments.

  3. Lila March 6, 2016 at 10:12 pm #

    Thank you so much for this insightful article. The model I use similar to this is working with the inner child. The pond is the child in its raw emotional state. Acknowledging the emotions of the inner child creates a sense of calm and safety. Then, we can encourage our child to take responsibility for its experiences. Finally, when we mature, we are not so self-centered. We want to know how we can contribute to the harmonious whole like the ocean. I sing to carry myself and others through these stages.
    With respect,

  4. reesa October 18, 2022 at 2:09 pm #

    great insight! It helps me! thank you!

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