Mastering your emotions

Part 3 of 4 in The Apple, the Line and Your Emotions series.

Another essential part of the toolkit that those observed leaders employ, is that they constantly work to master their emotions.

This is not an area often discussed, and some people prefer to steer well clear of the subject. Men like myself – of the age group I fall in (boomer, baby!) – are especially prone to rather use our ostrich response than to discuss our emotions openly. We’d rather stick our heads in the sand and pretend that this is not happening! It is tough for us to discuss our feelings!

Many of us men were also brought up with the belief that men are tough and are not supposed to show their emotions. Growing up, we often heard the words: “Boys don’t cry.” That response is still hard-wired into our personas.

Something I encourage all to do, is to become curious about their emotions. If we can better learn how they impact us, we can use these emotions to serve our best purposes. An informed decision, a managed approach, is so much better than a laissez faire approach where you simply let things go and hope for the best.

A handy tool I use is the Master Your Emotions” tip sheet, by Nancy MacKay, the Founder/CEO of MacKay CEO Forums. Nancy did her PhD on leadership and is a veritable fountain of knowledge in this area. Here are her words (in italics), augmented with my observations and recommendations:

Emotions determine the quality of your life and emotions are contagious. Your ability to motivate and inspire the people around you will be enhanced by mastering your emotions.

As we live in the present, in the here and now, this is also the place where our quality of life lives and our happiness is found. If you are a master of your emotions, you can use them to help improve your current state, which influences your future state, the people around you and the decisions you make. It is true that emotions are contagious and as leaders, this brings the added responsibility that our emotions and our mood will have a direct impact on those we lead. If the boss shows up in the morning all grumpy, pretty soon the mood on the floor or in the office will change. People’s behaviours will change. Hushed tones. Furtive glances. A place to watch your back and stay out of trouble will be the result. This will also have a direct effect on morale and how work is conducted. Client service and productivity will suffer, followed closely by the bottom line if this happens regularly! A leader who, on the contrary, shows up with pep and determination, with a contagious smile and an abundance of energy, will have the exact opposite effect. So remember—when you are entrusted with a leadership position—you also get the responsibility to set the tone for the mood of your team!

Develop a positive emotions mindset by applying the following seven key strategies.

1. Choose positive emotions: love, happiness, optimism, determination, confidence, gratitude, curiosity, passion, health, resilience.

As we have learnt how to focus our thoughts, and how to constantly work to keep them above the line, we are now in the good position to choose which thoughts we want to allow to live in our minds. By choosing the positive ones, we allow our lives to be richer, more fulfilling and all around we are left with a higher quality of life, more happiness and ultimately an abundance of joy.

The beauty of this is that we can do this despite our circumstance. By choosing these emotions, we actually become stronger as people and as leaders. We become untouchable by the negativity around us, and we do not allow the negative emotions of others to infect us. This reminds me of a well-known passage in the Bible (Ephesians 6:10 to 18) where we are encouraged to put on the full armour of God to keep us standing against all evil.

An important distinction to make here, with the choosing of positive emotions, is that this strategy should not be confused with the philosophy of positive thinking. This does not mean that we start treating all in life as positive. We are not putting on a pair of rosy-coloured glasses here! The negative emotions will still come up for us, but now we will have a strategy how to handle those (see next point), and we will choose to focus on the positive emotions and spend most of our time there. We are however not denying the existence—and the usefulness—of the negative ones

2. Embrace negative emotions: anger, frustration, disappointment, fear, hurt, sadness, guilt, overwhelm, loneliness, inadequacy. Every emotion serves you if you take action. What else could this mean?

When we experience these emotions, it is important that we stop, breathe, take stock of where we’re at and then decide on how we can make that emotion work for us by taking action. By feeling the emotion, by not denying it or trying to shove it under the proverbial carpet, we can become curious about it and find out how it can serve us.

Emotions to me are like the gauges in an airplane. They tell us what is going on with our inner workings. They are there to keep us safe. It is essential to know your airplane fuel tank is running low when you are cruising along; it is equally essential to know when you experience feelings of inadequacy or overwhelm. They may just be telling you that you are not refilling your life tank regularly enough and that you are on course for a massive crash!

This principle holds true for all our negative emotions. By first identifying the emotion, then becoming curious about it, and then taking action, we are set on the success path of a richer life.

An important technique I’ve learnt as part of my coaching training is that, if you can feel the emotion in your body, it will be easier for you to recognize it next time it rears its ugly head. By physically getting into touch with where it sits in your body—a pain the neck, a tightening of muscles, a feeling in your gut?—you will be better equipped next time to identify and deal with it. I know that e.g. when I start feeling sorry for myself, a feeling of a dark cloud comes over my head and face. It is then the time to get up, take a break, sing a song or go for a pee or something! I’ve learn that by sitting there and wallowing in that sorry state of mind, it inevitably affects the rest of my day and I may even end up in a state of depression if I don’t do something about it.

The Golden Rule when in a negative emotional state. You are best to not talk to another human being, you are definitely not allowed to write anything down and for goodness sakes, you are absolutely not allowed to send an email, when in a negative emotional state. You first need to identify the emotion, find out what it means and then lift yourself out of the negativity before you communicate. If you process your thoughts by writing emails, simply do so, but you are not allowed to send that email before you’ve reread it once you are back above the line.

3. Own your emotions. You create your own emotions based on your interpretations. Choose commitment over hope.

You alone are in charge of your emotions. No-one can take control of them if you don’t allow it. I may bring you tools and encouragement, coaching and even cajoling, but in the end it is your decision and yours alone. It is important that you understand this. You may have lots of people influencing your state of mind, some people may be able to ‘push your buttons’, but in the end it is only you who can decide how this will affect you, your day, your life, your happiness, your joy.

It is most important to choose commitment over hope. To commit to some sort of action, even just identifying the first next step, will set you off on the path of progress. By simply hoping for things to change, you leave too much to chance. Commitment brings action; hope brings no activity at all. It just leaves you vulnerable.

4. Learn from emotions and move on. Don’t avoid and endure emotions.

Much of this was said already. Emotions are fleeting. They are important and determine how we feel in the here and now, but they come and go. It is best to enjoy the positive ones when they show up, and to learn from the negative ones when they rear their ugly heads. The important thing though is to then move on – to e.g. take action to address whatever you’ve learnt from the negative ones.

5. Master emotions by moving.

An incredible effective but simple tool I’ve learnt to use is that we can use our bodies to help our minds to change its proverbial gears. It has been proven that when you feel stuck in an emotion, you can simply move your body and that will allow you to easier reframe and improve your state of mind. When you e.g. feel low, get up, take some deep breaths and walk a bit. You will immediately feel an improvement. When stuck in traffic, force yourself to smile, take a deep breath (or practice some square breathing.) and jive in your seat to some music or start singing your favourite song – you will definitely feel better and you may even be able to let that guy – who just cut you off – go with a smile and a wave, instead of a finger and an expletive! In the boardroom, or when we are closely scrutinized e.g. when in an interview or negotiating an important deal, it is not always possible to get up and go somewhere or to burst into song! This is the time where you can simply use the technique of crossing or uncrossing your legs or arms, to signal to your mind that it is time to change gears. It is a simple technique and it works.

6. Practice every day to develop a new success habit.

Lots of ideas and recommendations were presented above. Each one, when applied regularly, can become a new habit helping you along on your path of success. To tackle them all at the same time will however be totally overwhelming. It is therefore recommended that you take one per day and start using it every day. Within a week you should have seven new game-changing and life-enriching habits! Imagine where you will be after a month, after a year …

7. Develop your top 10 list of what makes you feel good.

I use the simple exercise in my workshops asking my participants (sometimes known as my victims :-)), to simply list any activities and experiences that make them feel good in life in general. I encourage them to come up with at least seven in the first go-around. Then I ask them to prioritize those. If you have limited time and other resources, which one will give you the greatest impact on your ‘feeling good scale’ if you focus there? They typically list things like family activities, eating ice cream, listening to music, exercise and the like. Once I had a troublemaker listing ‘sex in the shower’ to thunderous laughter of his group! At least he was honest!

After the workshop I send them off with two pieces of homework:

  1. Go revisit your list and build it out to 10 activities in priority order. Post it in a prominent place so you can constantly be reminded. Make a concerted effort to spend a considerable amount of your time in those areas. If your life is otherwise arranged, re-arrange it over time. This is important. It will improve your current state, your day, your week, your year … your life!
  2. Discuss this with your loved one(s) and ask them to hold you accountable to your list. Encourage them to develop their own lists and then to start holding one another accountable. Work together to be happier together!

Enhance your emotional intelligence by focusing on five key areas:

1. mood

Remember, you set the tone of your group in the way you show up. As a leader this is an important responsibility we carry.

You can control your thoughts, which will have a major impact on your mood. By recognizing negative emotions, learning from them and moving on, you will be able to improve your mood. By reframing, you will be able to look at the exact same thing that before would have negatively impacted your mood, and getting it to actually improve your current state and your mood.

2. adaptability

We are highly adaptable beings. Our minds are incredibly powerful. Remember that you have it in you to rise above whatever negativity life brings. Simply master the three techniques of firstly focussing your thoughts, secondly living above the line by reframing those thoughts, and lastly learn to master your emotions. Use these techniques to adapt and change as needed. Your quality of life will be enhanced. Your happiness will increase. Very soon your joy cup will start overflowing!

3. stress management

When we are stressed, we are not at our best! When we allow negative emotions to linger, when we do not come up with an action step to help address that emotion, feelings of anxiety leading to stress are inevitable.

I found that my stress is like a tank that life is constantly filling up for me. I work down the stress by exercising (running especially), singing, praying, practicing gratitude and spending time in the activities of my Top Ten Joy List. What works for you? I recommend you develop a similar system for your life.

4. interpersonal relationships

We live in the here and now. We interact with people. When we show up with mental toughness, we are better equipped to build positive interpersonal relationships. We will not take things so personally. We will not choose negative behaviours like defensiveness. Instead we will be open and curious. We will be able to bring value to our relationships. We will be able to support others better, and become better at the journey of life.

and

5. self-awareness

To be aware of what our minds and our bodies tell us, is critically important. When we are able to adapt and change to better suit (and serve) every situation—with full awareness of what makes us tick and what our limitations are—we will find ourselves on the path of successful relationships (with others and the self!), we will be on the road to joy!

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