5 important steps to control strong emotional reactions
Hello and thanks for tuning in to this update…
Being able to tame your emotions and reactions in your professional life is a key piece in maintaining your credibility. Furthermore it has direct effects on your brain, body and quality of life in a significant way! When stress is diverted and relaxation is engaged there is less Glucocorticoids in the body – this means we have better immune function, calmer logic, and importantly a more ready supply of dopamine, which is the neurotransmitter responsible for motivation and seeking new possibilities. It also means our professional relationships are protected from the potentially destructive force of anger.
Here are 5 cooling steps that come straight from neuroscience and are easy to use…
If you’re new to this I’m going to try and keep it simple so you can play with it. If you want to know more about brain effects with each step, just message me back and I’ll do my best to reply.
When to use this?
Here’s the basic idea. You can use this technique when you bump into an intense mental and emotional reaction to a particular situation. If the feelings don’t shift and are of no obvious purpose, then it’s about re-working it into something more useful. To use the 5 step technique, you can:
1). Talk through the steps with yourself – internally if you’re in a private space
2). Speak the steps out loud. Research shows that talking out each step out loud engages more “top-down inhibition”, this is when logic cools the fires of emotion
3). Talk through the steps with someone you are connected to, as a good empathetic attachment with another also cools the fire of emotions
5 Important Steps to keeping your Cool…
In this step you notice when you are in some kind of intense emotion and you do a couple of important things. Firstly you label what you are feeling, “I am feeling (x)”. When you label your emotion you have effectively named it, in order to tame it.
“Realise,”also means you notice where in your body you feel the sensations. When you can be present to the body sensation you engage more of your right brain. The big deal here, is that the right brain is responsible for global thinking so to speak. This means the brain is prepared to perceive your difficulty in the wider landscape of your life. Suddenly that e-mail was just an impersonal collection of words from another person having a bad day. Get back to body sensations and the experience starts becoming fluid.
You have honored the way you feel by labeling it. Therefore, if the feeling was trying to get your attention it doesn’t need to persist. The top of your brain has sent signals to the emotional parts of your brain to cool the fires. Now the emotion has been stripped back to a sensation and is free to move in to something else or just dissipate. After all, all emotion in its basic substrate is simply “Energy – In Motion”, that means it wants to move.
As a coach, I notice how much of the suffering people experience really comes down to what the Buddha called “The darts we throw at ourselves”. In mind-brain speak this is about the story we create around an event that tends to create much more pain the actual reality of the event itself. The stories we create are really a collection of interpretations and inferences that unless we are mindful of our internal life, move like run away express trains on a high speed railway. One way of thinking about an awakened person is that they can easily separate the reality from the story they create around it. For this step I’m going to make an example
Event: A colleague sends you an e-mail that casts an un-favourable light on your contribution in a project.
The Reality (just the first dart…unpleasant but temporary)
One human being has expressed an opinion about something.
The Story (the darts we throw at ourselves)
I am always being undervalued in this team. This person has a vendetta against me. How can I work with them when they think so poorly about my abilities…. I have to sit in the same room as them in meetings, I thought we were friends, I feel betrayed… And on and on and on… Maybe I should leave the company??
Each one of the inferences that you read in the above paragraph is linked through associative neural networks to other feelings and memories in the person’s life. In other words, without knowing it, this feeling of isolation suddenly resonates with an old feeling from school or links to the neighboring feeling of being a little unconformable in your family structure. And before you know it the person is having an internal thunderstorm of emotions and secondary reactions (darts). All of which you might have noticed, they are throwing at themselves!
All you want to do in this step is get used to “splitting” or “de-coupling” the reality from the story and when possible use those labels and say it out loud; i.e: “The relaity of the situation is, one person has expressed an opinion about one of my contributions. The Story I gave it was that…x/ y z”. You’ll be amazed at how calm you feel, you may even chuckle at how easily you stopped the runaway express train!
In this step you want to accept a more generic reason for how we encounter intense reactions. For example when you can understand intense reactions from the view point of the brain they seem less personal. Here are some examples that will help you further detach from the unwanted emotions and thoughts.
- I had this reaction because the brain learned to treat apparent threats with an intense reaction. There was a time when this helped survival.
- As a way of protecting ourselves, parts of the brain such as the amygdala developed to be particularly sensitized to bad news.
- Sometimes I react in an unwanted way because I have had experiences in the past that have taught me to be this way.
- In my development I am only learning to accept that very little is to be feared, and that my life is intertwined with other people and therefore this will effect me, albeit temporarily. I accept that I am interconnected and interdependent on the world around me and this is a fundamentally sound arrangement.(these affirmations come from worldwide philosophy and are backed by neuroscience)
Now that the reaction has been tamed by “Top-Down” inhibition. We can start to creatively re-appraise what the event or situation could mean. Generally speaking if you take the view that anything we encounter that is vaguely challenging could be there in some way for your betterment you’ll usually feel happy and resourceful. If we consider the seemingly critical feedback from a work colleague it is very plausible that it could mean any of the following.
- That you have a friend that cares enough to be honest with you
- The other person is helping you to be at your best
- The feedback is an opportunity to address something else in your life that you weren’t paying attention to but was actually effecting your performance
There are literally thousands of potential meanings that you could grasp that enables the negative to suddenly spin and feel useful. There is a reason however that this is step 4. Emotion has first to be cooled in order to appreciate some creative re-framing (new positive meanings) for an event.
In this last step you want to finish by asking yourself an outcome question to take your attention in to a desired direction
- “How do I want to be instead”
- “What do I really want from this”
It never ceases to amaze me how timeless and empowering it can be to ask yourself an outcome question. What’s better is when you can quieten your mind and really access a state. A state wants to include a set of body sensations and perhaps even an image. As with all of these steps, a little bit of time pays off. More dopamine, a better self image, a stronger pre-frontal cortex, a less reactive brain, more happiness… better health, the list goes on! When you have connected with a good outcome state and there is some shift in your physiology and mood then and only then re-engage the situation.
Here are the 5 Steps in short:
It would be nice to hear how this one goes for you. It’s sort of like medicine, it works when you use it. So I encourage you to take literally 2-3 minutes to use it on a current challenge and find out what happens. And if you need any more encouragement… Remember…
“When you direct your mind… you are shaping your brain; and when you shape your brain you change your mind for life”
Stay cool where it counts