I was driving home from work when I nearly hit a construction barrier. My kids were arguing in the back seat… it was a close one. I was pretty upset, and for a long time. I got to thinking about it later. How could I better manage my emotions?
The first step for me is always self-awareness, which is the ability to recognize and understand your moods, emotions, and drives, as well as their effect. It’s being aware of what is happening within yourself. Instead of looking at the world through your emotions, you need to look at them in order to gain perspective. When you get hijacked by an emotion, you are totally taken over by it. Instead of you having an emotion, the emotion has you. What is there to do? Well, you could repress the emotion, but doing so has negative physical results. On the other hand, you could unload on someone; but that usually harms others and creates guilt.
A good place to start is by taking a deep breath and accept your emotions without judgment. Emotions are automatic impulses that arise beyond our control. When you believe a mountain lion is stalking you, you will feel the physiological response of fear. You feel the way you feel, and the best thing to do when you are in the grips of a strong emotion is to take a deep breath and accept it. Once you can do that, you have the opportunity to regulate your impulses. Emotions are terrible masters but good advisors.
To master your emotions, you need to find their root stories. When we feel angry, we believe someone has hurt us inappropriately or someone damaged something we value. Once you understand what is really behind the anger, you can take responsible action such as making a complaint or establishing boundaries. Most people don’t express their emotions because they don’t know how to do it. I have used the following formula that helps express emotions and turn them into effective action.
“I feel ________ when ___________, because I think __________. Does this make sense to you?” (Listen in silence and acknowledge).
“What I would like is ____________, so I want to ask you ______________. Is that acceptable to you?”
This formula helps you take responsibility, avoiding the “you make me feel” mistake.
For example, I could say, “I feel angry that you missed a second deadline on our project because I think you don’t have enough people assigned to this job. Does this make sense to you? What I would like is for you to meet your next deadline, so I want to ask you to sit down and review the schedule and resources together to be sure you can hit the next one. Is that ok with you?”
The above conversation would be so much cleaner and more effective than saying, “You screwed up again. When are you going to get something done?!”
We need to find ways in which we can use the powerful information contained in emotions without letting them take over. The formula above has worked for me. It may help you too. Give it a try and let me know how it goes.