Jul 10th, 2020
Do you find yourself always calm and control in emotionally-charged situations or do you go into complete overwhelm and lose control of your behaviour? Hi, this is Grant Herbert, International Influencer and Sustainable Performance Coach, and today, I want to continue our conversation around Emotional Intelligence by learning to manage our disruptive emotions.
So, let me start by saying that managing emotions is not about getting rid of them. Emotions are there for a purpose. Our emotions are cues and clues and signs to help us to navigate what's going on around us and within us. The way we feel gives us an indication of how we are processing external stimuli. And depending on whether or not that is linked to a highly-charged experience, a memory or a belief structure that you have, that will determine whether or not you respond in your logical brain or react out of the emotion.
I don't know about you, but this is a major problem that I've had to work on for my entire life. I've been able to learn through my studies in Emotional Intelligence how to employ a strategy so that even though I have the emotion going on, whether it's positive or negative, I can allow the decision-making process to happen from the logical brain, from the prefrontal cortex.
As we've talked about before in our neuroscience 101 that our brain has certain parts within it that control different functions. And if we look at it from just an overall holistic view so that we can understand what I'm talking about here today, we have the limbic brain, as some people call it, which is deep in the center of the brain, which, linked to the hippocampus and our emotional memory, have a couple of sensors there, little almond-shaped nodes, called amydalae and what they do is they determine whether or not there's a threat by the data that's coming into the brain.
So, all data except smell, which is in the olfactory system, comes into the brain via the thalamus and what it does, it then distributes that data to the limbic brain and to the neocortex at the same time.
Now, depending on what the amygdala finds when it does that threat assessment, it will determine whether or not that data continues to go to the logical brain. If the amygdala senses that there's something that we need to fear, there's something that we need to put a hold on what we're doing, we need to fight, we need to freeze, whatever it is, then it will give the signal, "Warning! Warning! Danger, Will Robinson!" And it'll actually cut off all the sensory data from continuing to go to the logical brain.
The prefrontal cortex is the executive command center just behind our forehead here and it's the front third of the cerebral cortex, the neocortex, and it makes good decisions. It's there for emotional regulation. It's where our creativity takes place and where we decide on logic what we're going to do. So, if our emotional situation traps how we feel and traps all that data down in the emotional brain, then we just go over and over it in our head as an emotional thing that's happening, asking ourselves, "Why does this happen?" And then we react based on our beliefs, our previous experiences, et cetera.
So, what we want to do is we want to learn a strategy to get it back up into the logical brain so that we have a greater chance of responding in a way that's healthy; healthy for us and healthy for others, rather than react. People say that we should avoid overreacting. What I like to do is put a distinction on it that says, "Let's not react to anything, unless it's in an emergency situation." What we want to learn to do with our emotions is always to respond. So, let me teach you a process that you can take away and use right now to be able to keep yourself in a managed state when you are going through emotionally-disruptive experiences.
Now, this is a five step process and the key elements of this process is that it provides a couple of things. It firstly provides the power of the pause. When we experience something in our emotional brain, we can go from that original thought to a learned, ingrained, conditioned behaviour just like that. So, what we want to be able to do so that we can get out of the emotion and back up into the logic as we want to be able to pause and break that pattern. The second thing that it does is it helps us to light up the logical part of our brain by asking a series of questions and going through a process that is logical. So, let's have a look at it.
Step one: what we want to do, firstly, is we want to recognise and name the emotion that we're going through. As we've talked about before, the first thing we've got to do is increase our emotional vocabulary so that we actually know which emotion we're going through and when so that, in the moment, we know which emotion so therefore, we know which one we're managing. Because there's a different strategy for happiness or feeling happy than there is for feeling frustrated, for example. So, step one is name the emotion.
To do this, we ask the question, "What is the emotion I am going through right now?" So, there's two things here. The first thing we've done is we've engaged the logical brain by asking a "what" question. A "what" question is looking for data. It's looking for information. So therefore, it's going to light up the logical part of the brain. The second thing that we've done is we've initiated the power of the pause. So, the first thing we do is name the emotion.
Step two in the process is to audit our thoughts. I love the word audit in this context because an audit is a logical process. When you have an audit done on your taxes, they look for information, not for story. So, when we do an audit on our thoughts, we are, once again, engaging in a logical process and we're looking for information of things that we might be thinking that are creating the emotional disruption. To do this, we ask the question, "What am I thinking right now?" So, step two is to audit your thoughts.
Step three is to decide on the outcome that you want. When we are in emotionally-charged situations, when we've got a pattern of reacting, we forget what it is that we want in the first place. I don't know about you, but there's been many a time where I've got into the emotion of something and I've totally forgotten the logic of why we started the conversation or why that situation even happened in the first place because I got trapped down in the emotion. So, step three is to decide what do you want to happen right now.
And the question we ask ourselves is exactly that, "What do I want to happen right now?" So, once again, we have engaged in a process, in a logical question, so that we get focused on what it is that we want to happen. So therefore, we're able to have a strategy and a response that is going to move us towards that outcome.
Step four is to control the sabotage. I don't know about you, but I know that even though I know the outcome that I want, I can do and say things that will make sure that I don't get there. And I'm not even talking about those unconscious sabotage strategies that we all run, I'm talking about consciously reacting or saying something that is definitely counterintuitive to the outcome that I've decided that I wanted. So, what we need to do here is metaphorically put a piece of duct tape across our mouth to stop and avoid that sabotage. So, to do this, we once again ask some questions and we can do this two ways.
So, the first question we can ask is, "What could I do right now to sabotage that outcome?" Or as we get more in tuned with this new process and it becomes second nature, we can ask the question, "What is one thing that I can do right now to move towards that outcome?" So, depending on your level of maturity in this process as to whether or not you would use the first one, the second one, or a combination of both, the key element to remember here is that we're asking a "what" question so that we're keeping it in the logic and we're pausing around what we would normally do in that situation.
Step five is to decide on the strategy. It's like a chess player. I'm not a great chess player. I know the fundamentals of the game. I can play a game of chess. However, I've never put enough effort into it to be like these masters who know five or six steps in front, moves in front, what they're going to do. I just move a pawn or move the king or move whatever I need to move to stop that thing from happening that I think might happen.
And that's just like working in the emotion, but what a great chess player does, it has a strategy that says, "If that move there takes place, I'm going to do this one." Or, "If that move takes place, I'm going to do this one." Or indeed, "I already know five steps, the five moves down the track where I'm going to move."
So, in this controlling and managing our emotional situation in this disruption, step five is choosing a logical path, a logical strategy, a next step that we can do so that we can respond.
For example, if I am feeling frustrated, the strategy for feeling frustrated would be to remove myself from this frustration, remove myself from the thoughts that are creating the frustration. My strategy could be to ask questions, to get clarity around the misunderstanding around the emotions that I was going through before I allowed myself to get frustrated. So, step number five is to decide on a strategy.
So, there you have it, five steps that you can go through where you name the emotion, where you audit your thoughts, where you decide on the outcome, where you control the sabotage, and where you decide on the strategy so that you can respond and get the outcome that you want. Managing our emotions, as I said, is not about getting rid of them, it's not about ignoring them or suppressing them, it's about acknowledging them, feeling them, and then having a strategy to use them to help us to go forward in a logical response.
Well, that's it for me this week. Join me again next week when we continue to look at our behaviour and how we can change our behaviour to get the outcomes that we want. I'll see you then.