Article Contributed by Amy Sargent

My daughter and I installed a dimmer switch this past weekend. The pendant lamp that hangs over our dining table when on, casts a light too bright for a pleasant dining ambiance, but when off, feels like we are eating in a cave. And we don’t like eating in caves. For non-mechanically-minded individuals, after tracking down the proper tools then successfully wielding the assortment of screwdrivers, wire strippers and socket wrenches (the latter of which we didn’t use of course, but grabbed from our scantily-equipped toolbox ‘just in case’), testing the switch and discovering we were successful made us feel like rock stars. But that’s not the point.

We’ve all probably been told at one time or another that there is a place to be emotional, and, a place to not, as if we should have an on/off switch with the innate ability to flip it to one setting or the other on demand. However, if our emotions are turned off, we eliminate a valuable source of insight and information into ourselves, others, and the situations around us, similar to attempting to eat in a dark cave. In contrast, our emotions need a dimmer switch.

There is never a moment when we shouldn’t listen to our emotions, and tune into what they are attempting to communicate, but there definitely is a need to know when to shine them brightly and when to dim their brilliance, depending on what type of lighting will best illuminate the situation. Behavioral self-control is an emotional intelligence competency that helps us keep disruptive emotions and impulses in check. People who possess this valuable skill are able to think clearly and stay focused when under pressure, restrain negative responses that will cause the situation to deteriorate, and manage impulsive feelings even in trying moments. In effect, they can dim their emotional responses to fit the situation at hand. Without this competency, we tend to react impulsively, are quick to anger, can be defensive, and may become agitated, depressed or sullen when faced with stress on the job. This behavior can quickly turn a well-lit office into a dark, cave-like place of oppression and conflict. And who likes to work in a cave?

“You can’t always control the wind, but you can control your sails.” – Dr. Bob Chope

How is your emotional lighting? If you’re finding that your feelings are getting you in trouble more often than clearly illuminating your path, it may be time to get out your toolbox. Self-awareness is a good first step. Make a list of situations that cause you to “lose it” and write out a plan for an alternative action next time it arises. In the moment, ask yourself, is my reaction going to be constructive or destructive? Talk to a coach or seek out others who are able to regulate their emotions and model a better way, helping you make behavior shifts when needed. Once installed, and put to use, your new dimmer switch can give you the behavioral controls necessary to begin creating the ambiance you desire.