… about your emotional weight

How much “weight” do you carry every day?

Isn’t work challenging enough without adding weight?

You may be thinking, “What kind of nerve does Eric have, talking about my weight?”

Actually, this post is NOT about the extra pounds on your frame. (After all, you likely already know that every 10 pounds of weight loss equals 40 pounds of added pressure OFF your knees. Put it differently, for each pound of body weight lost, there is a 4-pound reduction in knee joint stress among overweight and obese people with osteoarthritis of the knee.)

The BIG story is about your emotional weight. The impact of it is actually…

The Research

If we did a poll at your school, there would be BIG votes for teaching students better social-emotional skills. This month, though, it is not about the students (directly), it is about the staff at their school (you and your colleagues).

This month, the BIG story is about the emotional weight you carry. Unfortunately, the impact of it is actually far GREATER THAN YOU HAVE EVER IMAGINED.

The three greatest weights that you may carry are: 1) sadness / grief, 2) frustration / anger and 3) guilt / shame.

Each of these can be absolutely brutal on your well-being; you might as well pile 30 pounds (or more) of poisoned canned foods into a backpack and wear it every day. The emotional guilt is THAT toxic. And each of these three emotions is stressful.

Many times when we hear about stress, we think of this “crazy” or “out of control” feeling of “losing it.” Yes, that happens a LOT. But chronic stress is much more insidious. It is most often brought upon by ourselves.


Let’s unpack these briefly, so you have a chance to identify them and maybe even begin to lighten your load a bit.

Your sadness and grief can be a healthy emotion when, as an example, we are experiencing a loss (or have lost) a loved one. The greater the attachment, the greater the grief. The pain of losing a son, daughter or spouse can be overwhelming. It also puts you at higher risk for depression.

The frustration and anger you feel is likely due to someone else having wronged you. It is likely they don’t even know it. If they were aware, they are unlikely to say, “I am sorry.” That would at least be something for you. You are angry towards them and have not forgiven them. This emotional baggage eats at you and you can feel the vitality draining out of your body every day. You will need to forgive them. Do you have the tools to do that?

The guilt and shame you feel is because someone triggered feelings in you of being “less than.” The usual person is a colleague, family or figure of authority.

But the most sinister culprit is you. Yes, you may feel guilty or shameful about what you did (or did not do) that you were expected to do. This weight on your emotions is toxic. Every day you feel small is like another razor blade cut that diminishes your growth and well-being. On top of that, it is VERY bad for your brain.

Before we get to your strategies, I ALWAYS want you to know WHY you are using each one. Every single item has far MORE research than I have provided here, but to prevent the “glazed eyes effect”, you get just a taste of the evidence.

By the way, the evidence for these is in the “citations” section at the end of this newsletter.

Getting Started with Actionable Strategies

Each of the above three emotions (sadness / grief, frustration / anger, guilt / shame) are typical – – – and for a brief time, may be appropriate. Let’s go for the strategies you can use right away.

The sadness / grief emotion seems to be a nearly universal “bad” emotion. Yet it is you that assigns the value (good or bad) to any experience. Did you get that? I really mean that; you and I assign a value to what happens and we say it is “bad” as if that’s the only possible interpretation… but it is not.

Because of a gang-related shooting (5 shots) in Los Angeles, a top basketball prospect, Rodney, was unable to ever walk again. But his girlfriend stuck with him through two painful years of therapy and married him. Still in a wheelchair, ABC’s Extreme Home Makeover crew knocked on Rodney’s door and eventually built him a dream home. He got scholarships and financial support from thousands, went to college, got a PhD, and became a counselor who now provides support for minority students. Today, still in a wheelchair, Rodney says, “Even with everything I’ve done, I’m not close to where I want to be.” Why? He felt driven to not let people down who believed in him.

The strategy for the sadness / grief emotion is gratitude. Focus on what you have, not what you wish you had. Extended grief can be toxic for your health. At some point (3 months to a year), it may be time to rebuild your life around new joys.

STRATEGY: When you take your health (physical, emotional and mental) and make it a top priority, you can take 10 cans out of your backpack. You will feel lighter. Say to yourself 3 things every day that you feel grateful for. Set new goals in life both for the 3-year mark and weekly goals. Do a daily gratitude writing intervention; it was associated with significantly greater and lasting effects on your brain. It may be time to reconnect with those you love and do more of the things that feed your soul.

The frustration and anger you feel is because you were wronged by someone else. You will need to forgive them. A lack of forgiveness can increase rumination, which may decrease the availability of cognitive resources such as glucose that can otherwise be used to cope with cognitive and physical challenges (HINT: you WILL get more tired at work than you should be.)

You are well aware that we have different brain wave states. They are delta, theta, alpha, and beta. The most relaxed and focused concentration happens in the alpha state. One way to train your brain to access the high powered alpha state is through meditation. An accelerated way towards mediation is through biofeedback. Seven of the most high-powered people you could imagine (monks, visionaries, billionaires, actors, mystics and creative geniuses) spent a week using biofeedback.

Here’s what they found out.

The single biggest secret of alpha states was a surprise to all participants. Amazingly, everyone discovered this all at once: grudges and anger are the biggest factors that suppress alpha waves. Yes, it is that BIG of a deal.

STRATEGY: You will have to forgive every single person in your life who has ever wronged you and not shared remorse for it. You were hurt by other people who either 1) were unaware they were hurting you, or 2) were aware and they have been hurt. Healthy people do not intentionally hurt people. Repeat this to yourself: hurt people hurt people. They need your forgiveness, not your anger. Every time you forgive another person in your past, your brain goes crazy with positive energy.

A state of unforgiveness is like carrying a heavy burden — a burden that you bring with you every day to work. Aren’t you tired enough at work without adding this burden? Multiple studies show that forgiveness lightens the physical burden of life. In fact, your forgiveness can enhance the availability of cognitive resources such as glucose that can be used to cope with physical challenges in your teaching.

The guilt and shame you feel is because someone triggered feelings in you of being “less than.” The usual person is a colleague, family member or figure of authority. Yes, you may feel guilty or shameful about what you did (or did not do) that you were expected to do. But this weight on your emotions is toxic.

STRATEGY: Sharing the feelings you have with a good friend (who accepts you and will not judge you) is critical. Shame cannot exist when it is “vented” and “aired out.” Ask yourself how you might be able to respond differently next time. Write out your new choice so you’ll remember it. Next, you’ll need to forgive yourself for any perceived wrongs you did.

Listen, all of these emotions are not easy to deal with. EVERYONE has emotional issues. The question is how well you can cope with your imperfections and what kind of healing will put you on the path to vitality, love and joy.

One last thing; we are not perfect. Join the club! When you mess up and don’t have a great day, DO NOT beat yourself up over it. Do not make up an excuse as to why you are unable to “do” a certain item or process on any given day.

Guilt is a terribly unproductive emotion. Forgive yourself and recommit to the next day. Do not expect perfection of yourself; expect constant effort. Every day, do something. Every day, put one foot forward.

Tennis legend Arthur Ashe said, “Start where you are. Do what you can. Use what you have.” You can’t get any more profound (or useful) than that. So… you are about done reading. Go ahead and select the strategy to start NOW!

Congratulations! You’re on the way to a great day!

One of our many long-time readers wrote to say, “Hi, Eric, I am a third grade “academy” teacher at a Title I school. I am relying on everything I have ever learned about teaching, and I am learning or improving strategies every day.  I wanted you to know that your resources (books, emails, newsletters, webinars) are an invaluable part of my learning process. I consider your monthly newsletter a vital part of my growth. 

For the past few years, I have incorporated strategies in my professional development plan prompted by a suggestion in one of your newsletters.  As I have carried out those suggestions, I have watched my students become more and more engaged and motivated to learn. Thank you for your impact on the education world!” Cherelyn B.

Another of our long-time readers wrote to say, “Eric, please continue to send your newsletters/emails to me.  Your content motivates me AND reminds me of the strategies I should be engaging in when in the classroom.  Keep sending those monthly e-mails.” Judy A.

Eric Jensen
CEO, Jensen Learning
Brain-Based Education

Brown JH, Clarey AM. (2012). The social psychology of disintegrative shaming in education. J Drug Educ.42, 229-53.
Cherry MG, Taylor PJ, Brown SL, Rigby JW, Sellwood W. (2017). Guilt, shame and expressed emotion in carers of people with long-term mental health difficulties: A systematic review. Psychiatry Res.249, 139-151.
Exline J. J., Worthington E. L.Jr, Hill P., McCullough M. E. (2003). Forgiveness and justice: A research agenda for social and personality psychology. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 7, 337–348.
Farrow TF, Zheng Y, Wilkinson ID, Spence SA, Deakin JF, Tarrier N, Griffiths PD, Woodruff PW. (2001). Investigating the functional anatomy of empathy and forgiveness. Neuroreport. 12, 2433-8.
Gausel N, Brown R. (2012). Shame and guilt–do they really differ in their focus of evaluation? Wanting to change the self and behavior in response to ingroup immorality. J Soc Psychol. 152, 547-67.
Karremans J. C., Van Lange P. A. M. (2008). Forgiveness in interpersonal relationships: Its malleability and powerful consequences. European Review of Social Psychology, 19, 202–241.
Kini P, Wong J, McInnis S, Gabana N, Brown JW. (2016). The effects of gratitude expression on neural activity. Neuroimage. 128:1-10.
Wood C. W. (2008). Hurt people hurt people. Maitland, FL: Xulon Press.
Xue Zheng, Ryan Fehr, Kenneth Tai, Jayanth Narayanan, Michele J. Gelfand (2014). The Unburdening Effects of Forgiveness. Effects on Slant Perception and Jumping Height.Social Psychological and Personality Science. Vol 6, Issue 4.
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