Anxious, fatigued, unhappy, uncertain? We’ve all been there, all known times when our emotional hot buttons take over. We swear to ourselves that this time we will overcome those emotions and stay committed to our goal, but when it doesn’t work, we react with indulgent self-gratification. “I had such a long day, and I just don’t feel like going to the gym today,” or “I’ve already fallen off the wagon, so I’ll just eat what I want and start again on Monday.”

Sound familiar? Making exceptions “just this once” gives us immediate relief from discomfort, but afterward, when we muster the courage to confront our actions, we become sad, disappointed and frustrated. What happens next? We further engage in indulgence and self-comfort!

Why do we self-sabotage despite our best intentions? Many believe we have no real control over our feelings, but with awareness—and some handy tools in our mental toolbox—feelings can be regulated, managed and manipulated.

Haley Perlus, PhD, adjunct professor at the University of Colorado and author of The Ultimate Achievement Journal and The Inside Drive, describes how to keep your emotions within your control so you can get results.

Eat for Emotional Control

Poor moods can lead to poor food choices, which can further affect mood. We may feel immediate pleasure from sweet carbohydrates and fat, but then we become sad, disappointed and frustrated, and we’re likely to eat more unhealthy foods to console ourselves.

Stay in control by being organized. For example, if you know that you typically start to feel sluggish around 4 p.m., eat something healthy around 3:30 to give you energy. If you get home and grab whatever food is most convenient after a long day, curb your cravings by packing a healthy snack and eating it before you get home.


Research suggests that low- to moderate-intensity movements that are rhythmic and repetitive promote self-reflection, creative thinking and a better mood overall. In addition to your training schedule, begin to incorporate this type of exercise into your day. A quick 10-minute walk around the block can release endorphins into the bloodstream, causing beneficial changes to your mood.

Practice Cognitive Restructuring

Restructuring Negative Emotions

We can’t always control what thoughts enter our minds,
but we do have control over how long those debilitating thoughts linger. Here are two techniques for conquering these thoughts:

Reframe. For example, change “I can’t snap out of this bad mood” to “I can turn the day around by giving myself 5 minutes to get engrossed in this indoor cycling class and feed off everyone’s energy.”

Make molehills out of your emotional mountains. Our thoughts and emotions can so consume us that we get caught up in them and succumb to temptation. Asking “So what?” brings things back into perspective:

  • “So what if I had a difficult meeting with my boss today?”
  • “So what if I didn’t sleep well last night?”
  • “So what if traffic made me miss my kickboxing class?”

This self-talk makes all emotional mountains sound like excuses (which they are). If you want to achieve results, acknowledge the mountains and cut them down to size. Then you can pursue your goals with energy, commitment and drive. In other words, you can feel the emotional pain and do it anyway!


Wallin, P. 2012. Taming Your Inner Brat: A Guide for Transforming Self-Defeating Behavior. New York: Atria Books.

IDEA Authors


  1. Aidan Gambala on April 20, 2020 at 8:38 pm

    I always tell my self that I will cheat today and start fresh tomorrow but I always cheat the next day. This has caused me to rarely make goals or resolutions because I know I will break them. This article has taught me on how to control my thoughts and turn my negative thoughts into positive ones to maintain my stride!

  2. Xavier Wells on April 22, 2020 at 1:48 am

    I thought it was an encouraging and inspirational article because I get into bad moods every now then, by sports or school. But, now reading this article I know it taught new ways to handle that situation and get out of it. One of the strategies that they suggested that I really connected with was practicing cognitive restructuring. I really connected with this because I have to turned a bad situation into a positive experience making my whole day better.

  3. Nevaeh Mcdaniel on April 23, 2020 at 4:41 pm

    This article has taught me the different stages and things you can practice in order to achieve a healthy happier lifestyle, starting with your emotions then actions. If you don’t know how to control your emotions then you will not be able to control the food choices you make. putting things off like the gym or diets will not help, it might make you feel better about yourself but in the end, you’re just going to be guilty. So in saying this, keep the right mindset and you can achieve any goal.
    – Nevaeh Mcdaniel

  4. Michele Place on May 7, 2020 at 11:19 pm

    I like the “so what…” statement. This article reminds me of what its like to have a fussy child. And the solution is to ask the 3 questions…is he tired, is he hungry/thirsty, or does he need changing. I think regardless of age, can ask the same questions of ourselves. It’s tiredness that often sends me in to the kitchen for a bad food choice, and we know how that works. Thirst starts to shut my brain down (only 2% dehydration can affect the brain), as can being hungry and make me feel foggy and unmotivated. And although I don’t need changing anymore, I can change my attitude, perhaps use the “so what” statement, and then change what I might be doing at the moment. Go for a walk, journal, organize something…move. Thank you for starting this conversation.

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