Posts Tagged ‘behavioral self-control’

We get to choose

Article submitted by Amy Sargent.
We’ve all had to modify our habits and behaviors in the past month, and because of this, it’s become increasingly important we tend to our emotional wellbeing.
 
Giving up routines
It’s hard to let go of our normal routines, especially routines we enjoy. It can be frustrating, annoying, and depressing. This disruption to our normal routines can be confusing and scary and _______ (fill in your own adjective). And many feel downright restricted, for good reason. Some of us can still get outside — some can’t. Some of us have huge houses to roam — some are cooped in very small spaces. Some of us get to work — some are getting paid not to work — and some can’t work at all. Some of us are financially sound — some are struggling to pay rent and feed our families. Some of us are alone — and some feel overwhelmed by all of the family members at home under the same roof. Some of us are sick in hospital beds — and some are still enjoying health. Some of us don’t know anyone personally who has succumbed to the disease — some have lost dear, loved ones.
 
How will you respond?
Noo matter our differing circumstances, we are in this together. We have all had to modify our lifestyles to some degree. And despite what some can do and what some can’t do, we have one thing in common. Choice. Choice as to how we respond to this upheaval of life as we knew it.
 
One choice is to let ourselves be filled with fear, worry, and dread, allow negativity to take hold, and complain, gripe, and blame. Many go down this path, and they can — it’s their choice. However studies show that consistent stress, fear and worry can take a toll on our bodies. If continued, it can wreck our immune systems and mental health — and have a negative affect on everyone we interact with.
 
Another choice is to choose emotional wellbeing. It’s not always the easiest route. It takes considerable effort to fight against the natural tendancy of negativity when times are hard.
 
This month I watched a video of a man who ran a marathon inside his tiny, dark apartment living room. Can you imagine the monotony of running ’round and ’round your kitchen table for 6+ hours? And think about being his neighbors in the flat below! I saw that a neighborhood conducted a socially-distanced dance party. I saw quarantined individuals singing from their balconies. I watched a dad who made his daughters laugh uncontrollably (and drove his wife crazy) by acting like a dinosaur every time his girls said the words, “dinosaur dad”. I’ve seen a boy smiling as he rides his bike outside my window every afternoon. I’ve witnessed moms getting creative with crafts to keep their kids occupied. I’ve participated in video conversations where people shared things they’re grateful for. My neighbors have been gardening. One friend has been riding her horse. Another friend initiated weekly virtual happy hours with her colleagues. My daughter-n-law, who was sick with coronavirus, got a new puppy, and shared the photos of her laughing at his antics, which brought us all joy, despite the extreme discomfort she was in.
These people, as many around the world have done, have chosen to find joy despite their negative circumstances.
 
Yes, times are difficult. We face so much uncertainty and it’s easy to let fear creep in and take hold. But have you ever been one to choose the easy route? Think back on all of your own past success, accomplishments you are really proud of, great and small. Was it easy to get there? Did it really take no effort? You can do hard things. You’ve done it before and you can do it again. We all have and can.
 
Finding Joy
What do you like to do? What makes you laugh? What makes your heart sing? Yes, I know — you most likely can’t do these things, right now, in exactly the same way you did before. But are there ways you can modify a bit and still make them happen? Maybe it’s a video chat with your best friend. Of course that’s not as good as being with them in person — but at least you can see their face and hear their voice. Maybe it’s opening your window and letting in some fresh air — even if you can’t go outside. Maybe it’s practicing yoga in your tiny apartment — not as good as your class at the gym, but better than nothing? Maybe it’s watching a funny movie at home instead of the theater. Maybe it’s getting creative with the limited food staples you have and coming up with a new dish…even if it turns out badly! Maybe it’s grabbing a pencil and sketching what you see from your front porch. Maybe it’s writing encouraging notes to friends to cheer them up. Maybe it’s having family members take turns creating a ‘restaurant night in’ so you feel like you’re still eating out.
 
And maybe it’s learning to find joy in the little things which may have gone unnoticed up until now.
 
The choice is ours
Again, we can choose negativity. We get that choice. But our emotional health is vital during times such as this. So I’d like to encourage you to fight the tendancies toward pessimism. See if you can’t try at least one thing today which will lead to a positive outlook, even if it’s just for a moment. If you can’t muster anything up, simply write down a few things you’re thankful for. Then try it again tomorrow, and maybe extend the time you spend doing it. Each day, increase the number of things you write down, and begin looking in all the nooks and crannies of your life for more. Share these with others so they, too, can benefit from your walk toward improved an improved emotional outlook and possibly be encouraged to do the same.
 Choosing positivity is not being naieve, or silly. Trust me, we still will remain very aware of the trying circumstances which surround us all. Things like this aren’t something we can just block out.  This is tough, maybe one of the toughest things we’ve experienced. But despite what’s going on around us, most of which we have no control over, when we choose to engage in joy-producing activities, we can at least begin to exert energy toward the thing we have control of — our own emotional wellbeing.
We get to choose.

How to Better Manage Your Stress

Article submitted by Amy Sargent.

Do you know anyone like this?

“Stress level: extreme. It’s like she was a jar with the lid screwed on too tight, and inside the jar were pickles, angry pickles, and they were fermenting, and about to explode.”  —Fiona Wood

It’s a great visual. My brothers and I used to come home from school on hot, August afternoons when Mother was canning bread and butter pickles. They were angry pickles. The acrid odor of vinegar engulfed the entire kitchen and we’d sprint, eyes watering and throats tightening to keep from gagging, out the back door in pursuit of a breath of fresh air. The thought of being around a jar of fermented pickles ready to explode today is enough to send me running.

Imagine your stress-induced emotions as acetous pickle juice just waiting to explode from a pressure-filled jar. Maybe it’s how you’re feeling right now…as if you’re on the brink of detonating into an eruption of anger, or find yourself jetting quickly toward an emotional melt-down. Prolonged stress can do that to the best of us. And while stress most likely won’t be going away any time soon, we can learn to make choices which will help us better manage it.

The Negative Impacts of Stress

Stress is a normal part of everyday life, but if we don’t learn to get a handle on it, it can wreak havoc on our mental and physical health. Based upon results of a stress study done by the American Psychological Association, 66% of people regularly experience physical symptoms of stress, and 63% experience psychological symptoms. Because our natural stress response is not designed to be continually engaged, we must find ways to shut it off.  Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, discovered that prolonged stress disrupts the balance in the brain, throwing off the normal cadence of brain cell communication. (https://psychcentral.com/blog/how-stress-affects-mental-health/) A study done by Columbia University Medical Center researchers found that negative impact of stress could be likened to smoking more than five cigarettes a day! (https://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2250106/Stress-bad-heart-smoking-cigarettes-day.html).

“Learn how to cope, sweet friend. There will always be dark days.” — Kris Carr

Your Stress Triggers

Developing awareness around your stress triggers is a good place to start.  Grab a journal, ask yourself these three questions, and note your responses:

  • Which situations occur on a regular basis which cause you to feel stressed?
  • Which people in your life could you name as sources of your stress?
  • Which circumstances turn routine situations into stressful situations? (For example, do you feel more stressed when you haven’t eaten, or when you’ve overeaten? How does sleep (and a lack of) affect your stress levels? When you let your worries run rampant, do you find you’re feeling more stressed?, etc.).

If you can become aware of your triggers, there’s a good chance that you can avoid escalations, shifting behaviors before they turn toxic.

What are you feeling?

Do you recognize what stress feels like in your body? Those who have strong stress management skills are able to detect rising stress before it reaches a dangerous level. Physically, you may experience headaches, fatigue, or shoulder pain. Other common symptoms are stomach aches, excessive sweating, back pain, and a racing heart. Behavior-wise, you may find you are taking a habit to an extreme, like overeating or excessive smoking. You may find you’re short-tempered, grinding your teeth, or driving too fast. Emotionally, you may find you are bothered by unimportant issues, getting the cry-feeling more often, or feeling depressed and dejected. Cognitively, you may have trouble thinking clearly, or struggle to translate your thoughts into clear words. You may find it hard to concentrate or find yourself more forgetful than normal.

Learning to recognize how stress rears its ugly head in your body is something you want to tune into.  Next time a stressful situation arises, take a moment to notice what you’re feeling and write it down.

“Everyone has the ability to increase resilience to stress. It requires hard work and dedication, but over time, you can equip yourself to handle whatever life throws your way without adverse effects to your health. Training your brain to manage stress won’t just affect the quality of your life, but perhaps even the length of it.” –Amy Morin

Stress Reduction Techniques

Though you may not be able to make the stressful situation or person go away, you can learn how to control your own responses. Here are some techniques you can try to reduce the feeling of stress. Which of these could you undertake, in the moments when stress arises?

  • Practice gratitude.
  • Take long, deep breaths.
  • Exercise.
  • Get some extra zzzz’s.
  • Remind yourself that this too, shall pass.
  • Rediscover your sense of humor and laugh.
  • Listen to relaxing music.
  • Spend some time in nature.
  • Meditate.
  • Become a realistic optimist and focus on positive outcomes of the current situation.
  • Have a good cry.
  • Forgive…yourself and others.
  • Eat healthy food and resist junk food/stress eating.
  • Do something you find to be fun.
  • Slow down.
  • Practice boundaries (learn to say no when needed)
  • Forgive others’ poor behavior.
  • Refuse to let irrational ideas and thoughts swim around in your head.
  • Visualize yourself in a peaceful place.
  • Pray or other spiritual practices.
  • Quit procrastinating and tackle some items on your to-do list.
  • Call a friend who is able to put you at ease.
  • Fill in the blank (what works for you?) __________________________.

Create an Action Plan

Now that you’re aware of your triggers, understand what you’re feeling, and have a few techniques to use,  it’s time to create a plan. Grab a journal and write about these prompts:

1-The stress symptoms I need to notice and pay attention to are:

2-My current stress triggers, including both situations, people, and circumstances, are:

3-How do I currently deal with these stressors?

4-What’s a better way I could respond to these stressors?

5-What is one technique I can incorporate to remind myself to engage in stress management, as I begin to recognize my symptoms?

6-When do I anticipate the next stressful situation to happen?

7-What will I do when it occurs?

If you’re struggling with creating an action plan, consider teaming up with a social + emotional intelligence coach to walk alongside you.

I get it–changes are hard–but remember the jar of pickles. Who wants to be splattered by pungent negativity every time you lose control of your emotions? Sure, it’s tough to adjust how we respond to the stresses of life, but well worth the effort to learn to open your jar of emotions slowly and carefully so you and others can enjoy its contents.

“You must learn to let go. Release the stress. You were never in control anyway.” —Steve Maraboli

 

Diffusing family feuds over the holidays

Article contributed by Amy Sargent.

If you dread holiday gatherings because you have to spend time with your family, you’re not alone. I’ve talked with so many who say they wish they could just skip the holidays so they don’t have to ‘deal’ with certain family members. And if you’ve ever had conflict with someone you’re ‘supposed’ to get along with, you know how rough that can be. With certain members of your tribe, you probably can even predict exactly how long it will take before a disagreement will begin–10 minutes after walking in the door–as soon as you sit down to dinner–when Uncle George brings up politics–it seems to happen at the same time and around the same issues, year after year.

Unless you’ve opted to ditch the family altogether and hop a plane to a tropical island, it’s most likely you’ll be interacting with the clan a good deal over the next few days. But it doesn’t have to be a place of arguing and bickering. I’d like to offer an alternate solution…something you can do to help to keep negative situations from escalating into an all out family feud. But before we go there — I want to suggest three things you can’t do:

  1. You can’t control what others think of you.
  2. You can’t control what others say about you.
  3. You can’t control what others do.

In other words, you can’t control others. No matter how much you may want to, you don’t get to be a puppeteer and pull the strings to make everyone act in a way you would like. But what you can do is control your own thoughts and actions, especially your own communication skills. Choosing to be intentional about how you communicate with your family can have a direct influence on the nature of  interactions at your upcoming holiday celebrations.

Communication is the ability to listen deeply to understand what others are saying, and in turn send clear and convincing messages back to them. It can take the form of verbal or non-verbal — often people say as much with the expression on their face as with the words that come out of their mouth. And again, though you can’t control how others communicate with you, you can manage how you communicate with them.

What does it look like to be a good communicator?  Some seem to think if they talk loudly enough to command others’ attention that they have this competency down pat. But I beg to differ. People who have strong communication skills often aren’t the ones doing most of the talking. They are able to put others at ease so they feel comfortable sharing openly. They are effective in give-and-take, knowing when to talk and when to let others speak. They listen to understand, as opposed to listening to prep what they want to say next. They are able to hear feedback without becoming defensive, can deal with difficult conversations straightforwardly without the need to retaliate or run away, and make others feel valued for their opinions and outlooks, even if they differ from their own.

Those who struggle with communication–and a few particular family members may immediately come to mind–can be difficult to connect with and come across as unapproachable. They may interrupt, or talk too much, or fail to listen when you speak–and isn’t it so easy to tell when someone’s not listening? They lack tact when expressing their opinions and tend to think it’s their way or the highway. They often don’t ask open-ended questions or seek to understand the why’s behind what someone is saying. They rarely make good eye contact and often won’t pause to let others respond or jump in. They may even ridicule others or have emotional outbursts when things get heated.

Sound familiar?

Again, you can’t control those who are poor communicators. And that should come as a relief. Knowing there’s not a thing you can do to keep Aunt Ethel from sharing too much information about her bowel troubles, or to prevent Cousin Mike from bragging about his recent promotion, or to prevent dad from hurling insults about your career aspirations (or lack of) is very freeing. It’s hard enough to control yourself, let alone attempting to herd everyone around you. Who has time and energy for that? What you CAN do is manage and modify your own behavior to make interactions with family members as pleasant as possible.

“One of the most beautiful qualities of true friendship is to understand and to be understood.” Lucius Annaeus Seneca

It takes effort to be intentional about your conversations, and preparing ahead of time can help. Thinking about behaviors which can enhance conversations as well as knowing which ones to avoid will enable you to walk through that door with confidence, no matter whom you’re about to face. Then, in the moment, you get to choose to act appropriately despite what others say or do.

To keep conversations positive and prevent them from going downhill this holiday season, here are some behaviors you can try:

  • Smile.  Sounds simple, but mustering up a genuine smile when you first see the family can help diffuse negativity from the start. Your body language communicates attitude far before your mouth forms words. As well, a warm hug, when appropriate, can work wonders. Research has found that a 20-second hug actually releases oxytocin, one of the feel-good hormones, into our system, which can work miracles toward melting down tension and negativity. I realize that long of a hug may be a little awkward–and not appropriate with some–but you get the idea.

“Peace begins with a smile.” ― Mother Teresa

  • Ask to understand. Think of conversations as a portal to learn more about the other person, rather than a chance to speak your peace. A good rule of thumb is to ask more than tell. Instead of asking questions that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no”, try asking the hows and whys.  “How do you like your new job?”  “Why did you choose [insert location] for your vacation?” “I’d love to know more about how you [insert topic]. ” Asking open-ended questions can make the other person feel valued and help you see things from their frame of reference.

“Empathy begins with understanding life from another person’s perspective.” –Sterling K. Brown

  • Actively listen. Have you ever caught yourself asking a question then not even listening to the answer? We all do it. Tuning into what the other person is saying, asking questions to clarify, and repeating back what you heard shows you care. Nod when you agree. Mirror their expressions as you hold eye contact. Try to picture what they’re describing (except maybe Aunt Ethel’s bodily function details!). Good listening makes others feel valued and enables you to learn more about them.

“There’s a lot of difference between listening and hearing.”
― G. K. Chesterton

  • Discard distractions. Simply put, put your phone away.  There’s nothing more devaluing than someone glancing at their phone while you’re talking…so don’t do the same to others. Even better, turn it off for a few hours so you can really focus on the person in front of you.

“Cell phones bring you closer to the person far from you, but take you away from the ones sitting next to you.” — Anonymous

  • Build bridges. Look for “me too” moments–common ground upon which you can both agree. Listening for shared experiences, shared dreams, and shared emotions, and letting them know you can relate, builds rapport and connection. Focusing on what you agree upon can diffuse tensions that arise from being at odds.

“No matter what message you are about to deliver somewhere, whether it is holding out a hand of friendship, or making clear that you disapprove of something, is the fact that the person sitting across the table is a human being, so the goal is to always establish common ground. ” –Madeleine Albright

  • Resist rivalry. When someone says something that feels like an insult, it’s easy to come back with a retort of your own. If possible, try not to take things personally, even if comments sound as if they’re (or are!) directed to you. Usually when someone puts another down, it is coming from a dark and empty place within their own heart. Offering compassion and realizing they may in a struggle you don’t understand can help you resist the temptation to view them as an opponent.

“Don’t take anything personally.  Nothing others do is because of you.”  — Don Miguel Ruiz

  • Express appreciation. Everyone likes to hear a compliment. Try to find something about the person or what they’re saying that you like, even if most of what’s coming out of their mouth is annoying you. Offer a sincere compliment–it is better-received than any festively-wrapped gift.  It could be as simple as, “I like the way you think about that” or “I value the direction you’re going”, or “That was a thoughtful thing to do”, etc. A great sentence starter is, “Do you know what I like about you?”

“Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” — ancient proverb

  • Find the fun. It’s hard to keep your sense of humor when others are stomping on your last nerve. But retaining your ability to ‘laugh at the craziness’ can go a long way in keeping things positive.  Of course your humor should never be demeaning or hurtful, but stepping back and grinning at the ‘uniqueness’ of each family member can help keep spirits bright.

“A sense of humor is part of the art of leadership, of getting along with people, of getting things done.” — Dwight David Eisenhower

Intentionally steering your conversations down a positive path this holiday can be a great start toward building better family bonds. It won’t be perfect…bad habits can take a while to break. But doing your part to create uplifting, engaging conversations is vital to developing authentic, amicable interactions with the family and can help avoid feuds. And you’ll feel better knowing you showed up with your best. Will it be easy? No. But will it be worth it?  Yes.

“Getting along well with other people is still the world’s most needed skill. With it…there is no limit to what person can do. We need people, we need the cooperation of others.” — Earl Nightingale

Putting a stop to poor behavior

Article contributed by Amy Sargent.

Have you ever reacted poorly to a situation that you regretted later?

Yeah, me neither.

Of course I say that tongue-in-cheek. If we are human and breathe air, we all have reacted in a way that could’ve left something to be desired, probably more times than not. When our ‘hot button’ is pressed, it is easy to slip down a path of hurtful, destructive behavior.  In the moment, reacting out of frustration or anger ‘seems’ to be the right thing.  But later, you know the sick feeling that sets in. Whether it’s when you’re cut off in traffic, or being disrespected by your manager, or during an argument with a loved one, it’s easy to allow someone else to trigger our bad behaviors.  But we are not helpless to our poor choices. Notice I used the word allow.  Others can’t make us act poorly — that’s on us.  We get to decide how we allow ourselves to react in difficult situations.

I don’t know how many people I’ve heard say, “This is just who I am” in response to being called out on poor behavior.  As if there’s nothing that can be done because it’s who they are, down to their DNA wiring. And that’s usually where the excuses follow: “My dad was this way”, or “that person made me mad”,  or “she disrespected me”, “I felt lonely”, or “it’s the only way I’ve known.” Think of the excuses you’ve heard when you’ve called someone out on poor behavior.  Or think of the excuses you use when someone calls you out. But reacting poorly does not need to define who we are — it defines what we do…actions, responses, behavior.  And the good new is, behavior can be changed.

Behavioral self-control is a competency of emotional intelligence and one that has a powerful impact on the quality of our relationships. Those who are strong in behavioral self-control are able to manage their impulsive feelings, even when distressed or in trying moments.  In times of pain or conflict, they can think clearly and remain ‘cool under pressure.’  They are able to restrain negative reactions that can be hurtful to themselves and others, and make the choice to not escalate the problem when attacked or provoked.

Those that struggle in this area — which is most of us — tend to react impulsively and respond to struggles in a non-constructive way. They tend to get involved in inappropriate situations because they don’t think they can resist temptations, and become angry, depressed or agitated when faced with stresses that trigger hurt feelings.

“He who blows his top loses all his thinking matter.” — Chinese proverb

If you’re one to tends to act poorly when under stressful or hurtful situations, take heart. Again, this is not who you are but how you’re acting.  Making an effort to  shift ways of thinking and behaving is something we are all capable of.  Self-awareness is a good first step. Do you recognize poor behaviors in your past?  Do you recognize any trends (are you doing the same sort of things when the same sort of negative events are encircling you)?

Once you’re aware and decide that you’d like to make a shift, consider asking yourself these questions to move toward more healthy reactions:

  • What are my triggers? Write down the incidents and feelings that cause a negative response.  These may be the same situations in which you act on impulse, and it is good to name these.  At this point, don’t try to figure out why they are hot buttons–just write them down to get them out in front of you.
  • What am I feeling?  In these trigger moments, what are you feeling and where in your body are you feeling it?  Does your heart race?  Do you get a headache?  Do you feel shame?  Do you feel angry toward someone not involved in the current situation? Do you feel sick to your stomach or do your hands start to shake? Do you feel depressed or discouraged?  Start noting what you’re feeling in these moments of tension.
  • What am I telling myself?  Positive self-talk is vital to making a shift from poor behaviors to more constructive ones.  Note what that little voice whispers to you in the moments of stress.  Some common negative self-conversations are: “This [insert poor choice] is what I get  because I’m a bad person”, “I’ve worked hard so I deserve [insert poor choice]”, or “I always mess this up, so what does it matter if I [insert poor behavior]?” Be honest on this one — learning to hear your negative self-talk and stopping it when it happens can help you rewrite your behavioral story.
  • How do I react? Write down any typical behaviors you’ve engaged in when you feel those feelings and hear that negative self-talk.  Do you drink too much? Do you lash out at someone else?  Do you hide and withdraw from relationships? Do you seek out unhealthy relationships just to feel connection? Do you go shopping? Be honest with yourself and note the route you usually choose when your triggers are set off. Again, being aware of these is a great place to start.
  • How do these behaviors make me feel? In the moment, poor behaviors can give us a temporary ‘lift’ — but the guilt and regret that sets in shortly after often take away that high and can lead to self-loathing and depression.  Make a 2-column chart and label the first “what I do” and in the second “how I feel”.  It’s helpful to see the correlation between behaviors and the resulting feelings.
  • What damage have I caused? Take a moment to write out the cost of the hurtful behavior.  It may be “I blew my budget again”, “I had a terrible hangover”, “I’ve ruined my chance at a promotion”, or “I’ve broken someone’s trust”.  Whatever it is, the best thing at this point is to own it by recognizing damage done.
  • How could I respond differently? Again we’re back to choice — we get to choose how we respond.  For each of your triggers, write out an alternative response that could potentially bring about more positive results.  Knowing there are other choices to make can help when your button is pushed next time…and there will be a next time.  Coming up with new ways of responding is a way of preparing yourself for those future struggles.
  • How will I feel when I choose a better response? Self-worth, proud, happy, confident, etc. Come up with your own words, write them down, and post them somewhere you can see them every day.

Finding a trusted friend, counselor, or coach to help you stay accountable as you embark on this new path can be a great resource. Just speaking your intentions out loud to someone can help with awareness next time it happens. You don’t have to do this alone.

Finally, learn to forgive yourself. You’re going to mess up — we all do — and even though you had good intentions on reacting better, you’ll still find yourself saying or doing something you wish you hadn’t have from time to time. Apologize where needed, ask yourself the above questions again, spend some time talking to  friend, coach, or counselor, then get out there and try again. Author Steve Goodier says this:

“Bring it up, make amends, forgive yourself. It sounds simple, but don’t think for a second that it is easy. Getting free from the tyranny of past mistakes can be hard work, but definitely worth the effort. And the payoff is health, wholeness and inner peace. In other words, you get your life back.”

Some hurtful actions may have greater consequences than others, and you’ll have to deal with those. Poor behaviors, especially those you do on a consistent basis, can destroy friendships and break down relationships. Some relationships will need to be put to rest because some behaviors are too painful for the other person to deal with or forgive. But don’t let that keep you from getting up the next morning and trying again.

Remember that making shifts in a new direction isn’t something that happens overnight, and it’s not easy. It’s hard work, exhausting at times, and you may hit places of doubting whether or not you can ever behave any differently.  Stay in the fight. Your progress may be slow, but well worth the effort.  Your sense of self-value, knowing that you have control over how you act, is empowering and will open you up to healthier, happier relationships.  You got this.

“As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world, as in being able to remake ourselves.” — Mahatma Gandhi

 

 

Exploding emotions: Do you know your triggers?

Article submitted by Amy Sargent.

I couldn’t help myself. I knew it would be better to stay silent, to not comment, to cool down and walk away. But my frustration levels had hit an all-time high and I could feel my heart beating faster and faster as I thought about what I wanted to say…what I needed to say…what I had to say. So I opened my mouth and out it came. It’s as if I had no filter to screen out the ugly, hurtful, harmful words — they just tumbled out in a jumble of anger, resentment, and fury. I regretted them immediately as I saw the pain on my friend’s face — he didn’t deserve this lashing.  Sure, I was upset — but my lack of self-control made an already difficult situation even worse.  Now I’d inflicted hurt upon another with my sharp tongue, and both of us now felt bad.  Oh, if only I could take those words back! But the harm was done and it would take weeks to repair our relationship.

How many times do we act on impulse only to regret it later? If only we had a way to control our reactions…

Wait a minute. We do. It’s called behavioral self-control and it’s a competency of emotional intelligence. It’s that ability to keep disruptive emotions and impulses at bay. It’s that capacity to stay composed, upbeat, and unflappable, even in moments where our patience is tested.  It’s the power to restrain negative reactions and keep a clear head when we’re under siege. Those who are good at this are able to maintain their composure even in high-stress situations, and when faced with hostility or opposition, remain ‘cool” under pressure. Behavioral self-control is a powerful competency to possess, and we are all capable of owning it.

But let’s admit it: some of us aren’t so good at it. We react on impulse and become angry or agitated when conflict arises. We tend to be quick to anger, defensive, and can get involved in inappropriate situations because our ability to resist the temptation of a non-constructive response is weak.

What is it that causes us to make knee-jerk reactions when our emotions are involved?

Have you ever attempted to open one of those cans of pre-made biscuit dough?  You know the drill — you peel off the paper at the “Peel Here” tab, slowly, carefully, knowing once you pull it back to where it’s sealed, the trigger, there’s no going back: the can will explode and out pops the dough. It can be a bit of an unnerving process. I’ve actually heard of people who have a fear of that impending explosion and choose to not open the cans!  Similarly, we can be afraid to open our ‘can of emotions’ as our brain has a trigger point, too. The Amygdala is located in the temporal lobes and is the part of our brain that is involved with experiencing emotions. Part of the limbic system, its primary role is to process decision-making, memory, and our emotional responses (http://brainmadesimple.com/amygdala.html). An Amygdala hijack is a phrase coined by Daniel Goleman in his book Emotional Intelligence, to describe an overwhelming emotional response that does not match up to the actual stimulus. Fear is usually involved. Looking back on the interaction with my friend, though my angst was understandable, my reaction was over-the-top in comparison to the reality of the situation. I exploded just like that can of biscuits, startling and disturbing both of us in the process. I experienced an Amygdala hijack. Instead of responding with reason, an emotional trigger caused me to, in the moment, experience fear, then determine that the situation was of much greater significance than it actually was.  The result? I said things that weren’t exactly the most beneficial to our relationship.

“He who blows his top loses all his thinking matter.” – Chinese proverb

We all explode from time to time. Losing it is natural, and normal if you will — but not conducive to building healthy relationships.  The good news is that behavioral self-control is something we can grow in, even if we’re pretty bad at it.

A good place to start is to keep an emotional mood journal.  It doesn’t have to be anything fancy — just grab a piece of paper and a pen and/or your cell phone memo pad and start taking note of how you’re feeling in the moment…and why you’re feeling it.  Go ahead and try it — right now, how are you feeling?  Try to be specific with the emotion — especially around the negative ones. Instead of “mad”, maybe you’re frustrated, or disgruntled, or discouraged, or just plain tired.  Alongside the emotion, write down what you think the cause may be.  These ‘whys’ are your hot buttons — your triggers — that place where the seal on the can will burst.

Do this for several days — a week maybe — and look back over your entries to see if you notice any trends. Are certain emotions coming up at a particular time of day (pre-coffee, maybe?).  Are they only when you’re around a certain person? Are they occurring when you feel stress, or a pending deadline, or are they arising when you’re fearful about something? Jot down any patterns you observe.

Once we are aware of the emotions we are feeling, and when we’re feeling them, we then can move to managing our behavior. In week two, write down how you react when you are feeling these emotions. Do you get quiet? Do you say something mouthy? Do you stuff the feeling down deep and distract yourself with something else? Do you eat? Do you get negative and depressed? After noticing your reactions, note whether your reaction is helping the situation or making it worse. Then do a damage report. Access the destruction your actions are causing, on yourself and on your relationships with others. Sometimes, unfortunately, it takes seeing the harm we are doing to spur us to make a different choice.

“Anyone can become angry — that is easy.  But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, and the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way — this is not easy.” — Aristotle

The next step is to begin to look for new and more positive responses to those emotions. Brainstorm what  you could do differently and write these down. Post these somewhere where you can see them throughout the day. If the biscuits would stay fresh, I’d recommend setting a can on your desk as a reminder of how quickly an Amygdala hijack can occur — and how powerful the explosion can be. Maybe just download a picture and keep handy to serve as an admonition. When that old familiar feeling arises, glance at the photo and check your list. Take a breath, pause, and choose the response you want rather than reacting. Easier said than done, I know. Working with a trained social + emotional intelligence coach can help with this process.

“Our ability to pause before we react gives us the space of mind in which we can consider various options and then choose the appropriate ones.” — Daniel Siegel

Finally, once you’re able to respond to these emotions in a more constructive manner, note how you feel after making better choices. With most skill sets, practice makes perfect. Well, in this case, you won’t be perfect, but with practice you can start down the road toward behavior change, improving your mental well-being and making choices that lead to happier, healthier relationships. And maybe take some of the fear out of opening that can.

 

 

Who’s the problem?

Article contributed by Amy Sargent

Think of all the negative issues that can arise in a typical workplace.  A peer takes credit for your work. Your manager has an over-inflated ego. Your subordinates don’t work as hard as you. Your boss can’t control his temper.  A colleague drops the ball.  A customer backs out of a contract. No one notices when you go above and beyond.  You don’t get enough vacation time. You’re underpaid, overworked, and understaffed…to name a few. If you’re like most of us, you’re quick to point the finger at the culprit, and most often that finger is pointing away. But what if you — we — are the source of our frustrations?

“Think about how different your work environment would look if everyone understood and embraced ultimate responsibility.” — David Naylor, EVP of 2logical

Emotional intelligence is the ability to be aware of our own emotions and those of others, in the moment, and manage our behavior appropriately. It’s not about getting others to behave better.  It’s about learning how to  recognize our emotions and manage OUR OWN actions in a way that most benefits the situation at hand.  But how often do you see people focusing on their own behavior?  It’s so much easier to bad mouth or lay the blame on those around us when things aren’t going so well.

In this terrific article by David Naylor below, we’re called to view our conflict in life with a different lens. Have a read!

https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2017/05/17/if-theres-a-problem-youre-the-problem/#5f182eff668b

How is your conflict resolve working for you?

scarlettArticle contributed by Amy Sargent

I often get accused of being passive-aggressive when it comes to resolving conflict. And I don’t deny it. Well, at least not the entire accusation. When conflict arises, I am passive but I am not aggressive. I’m not a yeller, I don’t explode, and I’ve never thrown things or slapped someone in the face like they do so promptly (and somehow seemingly consequence-free) in the movies. Remember when Scarlett threw the vase at Rhett? (Me either, it was a little before my time, but I’ve heard about it.)  When in conflict I tend to camp out in Wayne Dyer’s mindset when he said, “Conflict cannot survive without your participation.” But my lack of vase-throwing does not elevate me above those who do. My passiveness is equally hurtful and unhelpful in conflict resolve. It drives people nuts, especially those who tend to be competitive or controlling. Heck, it drives me nuts! Why can’t I just voice my opinion, yell a little, and get mad?!

Just a few weeks ago I received a phone call from someone carrying quite a bit of pent-up anger directed toward me. (These are rare, mind you, lest you think I’m a high-conflict sort of person). She was upset, to say the least, and I could hear a shaky anger in her voice. She became quite vocal, asked me questions but answered them herself, and even threw out a bit of name-calling.

I know her words probably should have riled me up, but they didn’t. When she reached her peak of spewing, I sensed the blank expression on my face and could actually feel a cloud of grey, emotionless fog creeping into my bones. I wasn’t tuning her out. I actually heard her quite nicely (because she was very loud at that point), and think I understood where she was coming from. It’s just that she’s someone who gets angry often, at many people, and I’ve learned to separate her stress from my stress. She gets upset but that doesn’t mean I have to get upset. Nevertheless–my passiveness, though it may protect my heart in moments such as these, actually escalated her anger and didn’t help with the conflict resolution one bit.

I have always carried a bit of guilt about my lack of Scarlett-ness when it comes to conflict resolve because so many people have told me it’s not healthy. Well-meaning friends have actually chided me to show my anger, to punch something! Passiveness is my own brand of avoidance, I’ll admit. But sometimes it really seems to work to de-escalate a situation. Yet other times, like on the recent phone call, it just makes things worse…which leaves me not feeling so great about my problem solving skills.

So is avoidance good or bad?! I only recently learned, from the work of Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann in 1974, creators of the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI) to assess an individual’s behavior in conflict, that there are different approaches to resolving conflict and each approach is correctdepending upon the moment. The 5 Conflict Resolution Styles they came up with are:

  • Competing
  • Compromise
  • Avoidance
  • Collaboration
  • Accommodation

Who would’ve known?  I’ve always thought there was one best practice to resolving conflict, and knew I didn’t have it. I figured I just needed to be more assertive. And the thing is, I do. At times. But sometimes, I need to be more accommodating. And other times, a little more compromising would do the trick. It’s not that one way is any better or worse than another way –it’s just a matter of figuring out WHICH method is most appropriate for the situation at hand.

So how do we know when to use which style of conflict management? Authors of  the book Competence in Interpersonal Conflict, William Cupach and Daniel Canary, said this,

“There is little value in preparing a cookbook of recipes for conflict success. The effects of conflict interaction depend directly on what the participants do mentally with conflict behaviors – that is, how they process and interpret those behaviors.”

Regrettably there’s not an easy formula to use, an ‘input = output’. I’d love to tell you that when this happens, do this, and when that happens, do that, but these things called human beings are involved in interpersonal conflict.  Living, breathing, feeling humans with erratic behavior, differing backgrounds and all levels of maturity and ability to manage their own emotions. Not to mention what you bring to the table. And when these feelings clash in passionate discourse, the ability to choose the correct conflict management style can be difficult to say the least. We have to use social and emotional intelligence – the ability to read, in the moment, our own emotions and those of others, and manage them appropriately. In the moment. That’s the hard part. Because in the heat of the moment is when it’s extremely difficult to exercise any kind of control, but in the heat of the moment is when we need to use social and emotional intelligence the most!

And we all have our go-to, preferred style when it comes to managing conflict. What’s yours?  Know that this is normal. We develop it based upon our past experiences of what has worked – and what hasn’t, even from our early childhood. We also learn our style based upon the corporate culture in which we work. For example, in your office, how is conflict typically resolved? Are there frequent blow-ups? Does your manager immediately call a meeting? Do certain coworkers avoid other coworkers? Sometimes we tend to go with the flow of ‘how things are’ in our work environments and adopt those styles as our own. As well, we can learn our own style of conflict resolve based upon observing others and seeing what works (and doesn’t work) for them.

No matter your current style of conflict resolve, it doesn’t mean you can’t stretch yourself to learn a new way of operating. Phyllis Bottome, a British novelist, put it this way:

“There are two ways of meeting difficulties:  You alter the difficulties or you alter yourself meeting them.”

Since most conflicts that arise can’t exactly be altered, as they’ve already taken place, our choice is how we alter ourselves to meet them.

Learning to use each of these styles, depending upon the situation, will increase our interpersonal effectiveness and ability to work well with others. Let’s look at the 5 styles to 1-see which best describes you and 2-learn when using this style is most effective:

The Competitor.  You are assertive and aggressive, and tend to dominate disagreements. You demonstrate little concern for the opinion of others. While this method can be hurtful and stifling to the other parties involved, the Competitor is vital in situations where decisiveness is necessary. Emergencies in which quick action is needed cry out for the Competitor, often when the issue requires an unpopular action.

The Compromiser.  You are cooperative and assertive and act as a bridge between team members. You are agreeable to both sides of the conflict and can see the benefits of both viewpoints. The danger in this is that you are seen as not having a firm set of values, and at times you may not even recognize what you stand for. But the Compromiser is very beneficial to situations where a temporary settlement is called for on issues that are more complex, or when you need to find short-term solutions for the benefit of the relationship.

The Avoider.  You (me) can easily shrug off conflict. You refuse to engage in heated arguments, never let your temper rise and quickly disconnect from the other person’s viewpoint. Though this style can delay problem-resolve, and if overused breeds a lack of empathy, it is helpful when there are more pressing matters to tackle to keep everyone focused on what is important.  The Avoider can ‘turn down the heat’, (you’ve heard the saying it takes two to tumble) and slow things down so all of the information needed to resolve the conflict can be gathered.

The Collaborator.  You are a good listener and like the Compromiser, able to cooperate and assert your opinions simultaneously; however, you actively seek to find a resolution so both sides win. You can be taken advantage of by more assertive team members, but this style is crucial when the objective is to integrate differing points of view and keep the team intact.

The Accommodator.  Harmony and cooperation are important to you. You are willing to put aside your own needs out of concern for the others and for the sake of the team. Though you tend to resist changes that are inevitable, this style is valuable when it is important to keep the peace or elevate positivity. Being accommodating is a good style to use when you realize you are wrong, or need to be the voice of reason. The Accommodator’s influence has a long reach and when conflict comes up again down the road,  teammates remember that you were willing to see things from a different point of view.

So there you go. Easy as pie, huh? Just pick the right style for the right situation and you’re set!  We all know it is easier said than done, and learning to navigate conflict resolve with ease can take a lifetime. But we may as well get busy figuring this out, as conflict is a part of being human. Saul Alinsky, community organizer and writer, sums it up with this:

 ”Conflict is a part of life. Change means movement. Movement means friction. Only in the frictionless vacuum of a nonexistent abstract world can movement or change occur without that abrasive friction of conflict.”

Conflict is not going away. But learning to deal with it in a healthier, more productive style can be learned. And the rewards of learning how to use the correct style of conflict management for the right occasion will bring us the gift of healthier, stronger interpersonal relationships.

“Every problem has a gift for you in its hands.” – Richard Bach

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