Jun 20, 2011   //   by Steve Wooding   //   A Slice of Lemon, Articles  //  No Comments

RoadsignsIN SHORT: Emotions are real life-signs and they let you know you’re still alive and journeying. What you do with them is up to you..!

“Emotions are the wind and waves.
Unleash them and destruction follows.
Ride them, and you can conquer the world.”


(~1315 words – approx 7-11 mins to read)

Before you read any further, I’d like to ask you to do something. I’d really like you to remember the last journey you took, no matter which mode of transport you used. As you recall it, think about how often you passed a sign of some sort. It may have been a road sign, or perhaps one pointing you in the direction of the station or some other destination. It may simply have been one that shows the name of a street or building. We pass them all the time, and sometimes even use them to confirm that we are in fact in the place our sat-nav is telling us we’re in!

One of the things we need to learn as road-users, whether you’re on a bike (excellent!) or driving, is what each road sign means. There’s actually a really simple way of giving yourself a head-start on them, based around the fact that there are only three basic types of road sign:

  • WARNINGS: red-bordered triangular signs with a graphic in the middle
  • ORDERS: circular signs, red are DON’Ts and blue are DOs
  • INFORMATION: usually rectangular, sometimes with a pointy end

Yep, it really is that simple. ALL road signs fall into those categories, though there are a handful of oddities regarding shape and colour, such as the octagonal ‘STOP’ sign.

What’s important to remember though is that all road signs are really just SUGGESTIONS – on their own can’t force you to pay attention or obey them, though there may be serious consequences if you decide to ignore them.

When it comes to navigating though life in its broader sense there are other kinds of signs that many people look to. The superstitious regard certain occurrences as lucky or unlucky (touch wood…!), some look to the movements of the stars and planets as signs about the future whilst others look for meaning in what might reasonably be defined as simple coincidence.

However, we all have a built-in signpost system that we carry with us every day – our emotions!

Now, before you begin to assume I’m about to espouse the benefit of ‘following your heart’, a word of caution. Remember that road signs, when read and understood effectively and acted on appropriately, are designed to make your road journey safer and more efficient. However, when they are misread, ignored, taken for more than they actually are, or acted upon inappropriately, your journey becomes trickier, perhaps more dangerous not only for you but those around you too. And sometimes they’re not in the right place, they get obscured, worn or broken and so become less useful and less effective.

Your emotions are just the same.

Some are warning signs, designed to let you know that there’s something to be careful about up ahead. They’re there to get you to pay a little more attention to your route, the conditions or surrounding environment.

Some emotions are there to give you ‘orders’ of sorts, moving you towards things that are good, enjoyable, positive and useful, or away from things that are bad, harmful, negative or damaging.

And some emotions are simply information about your current situation.

Of course, this is the ideal situation. In reality we often confuse emotions – our feelings – with facts, or we interpret them as stopping points allowing them to occupy out whole attention when they were just there to point our attention to something else. This make about as much sense as coming to a screeching halt at a ’30mph’ sign and pondering at length whether it’s worth completing your journey in case you do end up going over 30 and wondering how many points you’ll get on your license and whether you could lose your license and have your car impounded because you didn’t pay the fine on time and what people will think of you and that you could lose your job and even your relationship because you can’t be trusted to do a simple thing like obey the speed limit…

And if that sounds a little extreme to you, bear in mind that there are people who really do that with their emotions.

Let’s take anxiety as an example. Anxiety, when we read it properly, is simply a warning that there’s something up ahead that we’re not sure how to deal with yet. It’s purpose is to have us slow down a little, just like the signs you see outside schools, and focus our attention on the coming situation so we can come up with a plan of action. Anxiety is NOT a ‘No Entry’ sign, or an order to panic, nor is it information that the rest of your life is going to be a disaster because you aren’t certain about the next few steps. And neither is anxiety full-blown fear, though often it’s misread to be.

Anger, that really big emotion, along with its little sister Frustration, are simply information from your inner self that, rather than not knowing what to do yet as in our previous example, you think you do know whadt needs to be said and done but it’s not happening. It might not be happening at all, or perhaps just not as the pace you’d like. And, oddly, you may even turn it on yourself because you know something needs to be done but you won’t or can’t do it.

Anger then, is a call to assertive action to remedy the situation, but it doesn’t justify using any means to that end; anger doesn’t give you the right to step from assertion to aggression, into violence or threats, or even simply shouting and screaming*.

Let’s take one more example I’ve been asked about quite a lot; Attraction. Some might not label this as an emotion per se, but it’s definitely a feeling we all experience from time to time. We might notice someone and feel attracted to them, from a quiet appreciation to full-blown jaw-dropped staring. Attraction though is simply a sign that you find something about that person desirable, pleasing, engaging. It might be physical, but it’s equally as likely to be an attribute of their personality or philosophy.

For some though, attraction can be confusing. For example, if you’re already with someone but you begin to feel attracted to someone else, it’s NOT a sign of impending doom for your current relationship – it’s simply appreciating something about the other person, nothing more. Neither is simply feeling attracted to someone a license to act on that feeling. It might, however, be a subtle cue to check whether there’s something lacking in your existing attachment and take appropriate action.

There are scores of other emotions we could examine like this – sadness, guilt, regret, happiness, contentment, elation, grief, excitement – but every one of them would come to the same conclusion: emotions are signpost on the journey of life. Negative emotions are not something to be wallowed in, or ignored, but acted on appropriately. Equally, positive emotions are not there to be sought to the exclusion of all else, but are there to keep you on the right track.

So, before we finish, I’d like to ask you to do something. I’d really like you to remember the last 24 hours, no matter what they held. As you recall them, think about how often you experienced an emotion or feeling of some sort. It may have been an obvious one, or something more subtle, or even a mixture of several. Note each one and ask yourself three simple questions

  1. “What was that emotion trying to get me to pay attention to?”
  2. “Did I honestly give it proper attention and act appropriately?”
    (And if the answer is “No.” then ask “What were the consequences?”)
  3. “What will I do the next time I feel it?”

Emotions are real life-signs and they let you know you’re still alive and journeying. What you do with them is up to you..!

Until next time,



*In fact, research shows that those who vent their anger like this are more prone to feeling anger, or using violence or threats in future, and are more likely to experience stress-related symptoms and eventual serious conditions such as heart problems. Conversely, those who focus the energy anger carries into constructive and positive action are more likely to deal with it effectively in future too, and also report feeling more content in general and more able to manage stressful situations.

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