Posts Tagged ‘emotional self-control’

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 ( 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.



Do you play well with others?

Article contributed by Amy Sargent

“This job would be easier if people weren’t involved.”

It’s one of my favorite tongue-in-cheek sayings.  While true, as most of our conflict comes from interactions with others (though we all do struggle with self-conflict from time to time), most of us wouldn’t have a job if it weren’t for those around us — peers, colleagues, supervisors, employees, customers, clients are a vital part of any business. But working collaboratively with others can be difficult, frustrating, and downright annoying at times.

At some point in most relationships, conflict is going to happen whenever there is more than one person in the room. And our conflict management skills, which are a competency of strong emotional intelligence, are what can make the difference between frustrating, unresolved disagreements or enabling conversations where all parties can pursue the best possible solutions.

We all have a role when it comes to conflict, whether we are the vocal one who loses our temper or the quiet doormat that stays silent.

“Conflict cannot survive without your participation.”  — Wayne Dyer

It’s no monkey business:  learning how to navigate conflict can increase our sense of well-being and job satisfaction and contributes greatly to the quality of relationships both at work and at home.

How well do you play with others?

Ask yourself the following questions and see how many you can answer yes to:

  • I can see potential conflict before it arises and help de-escalate the situation.
  • I can handle difficult people with tact.
  • I can lay down my own expectations and be open to hearing the perspectives of others.
  • I can manage tense situations with diplomacy.
  • I can create a safe space for all parties to share their perspectives.
  • I can help all parties involved understand the other perspectives in the room.
  • I can hear diverse opinions and find a common ideal.
  • I can orchestrate win-win solutions.

Five Conflict Styles and when to use them

We all have our own ‘style’ when it comes to conflict resolve, but that doesn’t mean we can’t grow and learn other approaches that may better serve us and the situation at hand. In 1974, Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilman created the Thomas-Kilman Conflict Mode Instrument, which identifies five styles of conflict. There are situations that arise when some styles work better than others. Here is a quick guide:

1-Competitive/Controlling – A quick and decisive action is needed (vital in emergency situations), or the other party would take advantage of cooperation on your part.

2-Collaborating – The issues (and/or relationship) are too important to be compromised and the objective is to integrate differing viewpoints.

3-Avoiding – There are more important things to tackle, there is no chance of achieving your objectives, the parties need time to “cool down” or take time to gather more data.

4-Accommodating – You realize you are wrong, or understand that the issues at hand are more important to the other person and/or you need to build ‘credits’ with that person.

5-Compromising – It’s too risky to be too controlling, both parties are committed to mutually exclusive goals, you need a quick or temporary solution under time constraints.

Time for a Shift

How do you know when it’s time to shift your approach to conflict resolve? Simply put, when your approach is not working.  Losing friends left and right? Colleagues can’t stand you? Coworkers shut down and won’t share their perspective with you? Feel agitated and stressed when conflict is discussed? People walk all over you in meetings?  You are the only one talking in meetings? You get what you want but no one is alongside you to enjoy it?  If you find yourself in a confusing or disturbing conflict, try asking yourself these honest questions:

  • How was my behavior received by others?
  • How did I feel during the conflict?
  • How much do I care about the outcome?
  • What were my expectations of the situation and did they match up with reality?
  • What judgments did I make about the others during the conflict and were they accurate?
  • What did I want to see happen? What did they want to see happen?
  • What is my investment into this situation? What is theirs?
  • Am I acting in an old pattern of behavior that no longer serves me?
  • What can I say/do going forward to optimize the outcome?

Which of the five conflict resolve styles is your primary ‘go-to’ when faced with conflict?  Does it serve you well in all situations or could you stand to develop a new approach? If you struggle in the area of conflict resolve, good news! Behaviors in conflict resolve are learned and can be changed. Finding a social + emotional intelligence coach to walk alongside you to make behavior shifts can be a great place to start.

“When team members trust each other and know that everyone is capable of admitting when they’re wrong, then conflict becomes nothing more than the pursuit of truth or the best possible answer.” —  Patrick Lencioni

Where Do Your Emotions REALLY Come From?

atpicArticle contributed by guest author Aimee Teesdale

Here’s a quick question for you: have a look and see how you’re feeling this very moment and ask yourself, why do you feel that way? Seriously, take the time to figure out what exactly is the cause of whatever emotion you’re experiencing right this very instant.

Relationship counselors, life coaches, Catholic priests in the confession booth and even lawyers have all heard people explaining why they think their lives are simply not the way they want them to be. And usually, the reason goes a little something like this:

“My university course is making me stressed…”

“My wife’s colleague is making me jealous…”

“My horrible job is making me angry…”

“This weather is making me depressed…”

When I asked you above to find the cause for your own current emotional state, did you say something a little similar? Maybe you were “grumpy because the people next door are making noise” or, “bored because there’s nothing good on the telly.” But as innocent as these explanations are, the trouble is they’re not really true.

Let me explain. As a life coach, I’m all about the awesomeness of self-awareness and learning how to take charge of your thoughts, your feelings and hopefully, the dreams you have for your life.

When you frame your emotions as something that other people make you feel, though, you’re quietly giving away all that power. You’re handing over your own agency and control to external forces.

If a 300-pound gorilla walked into the room now, physically picked you up and threw you out the window, then I guess you could technically say the gorilla made you break your leg on the way down. But the stone cold truth is that for the most part, nobody makes you feel anything. Nobody holds a gun to your head and forces you to feel any emotion. And even if someone did have a gun to your head, whether you felt angry or calm or afraid would still be completely up to you.


What I’m saying is that the way we respond to events in the world is entirely under our control.


When you say that someone or something else “makes me feel…” you’re actually subtly disempowering yourself. Things in the world happen, of course, but your emotions about them are all your own.

I hear you asking, so what?

Well, if you truly believe that the source of your negative emotions is outside of you, then you have immediately convinced yourself that fixing things is someone else’s problem. And you can’t do anything about the choices someone else makes. So you rob yourself of the opportunity to gain emotional mastery.

If your wife was flirting with a colleague, for example, forcing her to change jobs doesn’t solve the problem, since your jealousy didn’t actually come from the colleague …it came from inside you. Saying that the weather is to blame for your bad mood immediately makes you powerless – what on earth can you do about the weather, right?

Because the source of the depression is not the weather, it’s you. And seeing things this way allows you to start thinking of solutions, and start seeing the deeper cause of things.

So the million dollar question is – what IS the deeper cause of things anyway?

Well, that’s simple. Thoughts.

Your university course isn’t making you stressed – a course is just a neutral thing that has completely different effects on different students. No, it’s your thoughts about your course that are stressing you. Your job isn’t making you angry. Unless you have a very strange job, there are no 300-pound gorillas or guns involved. It’s only your thoughts about your job that are stressing you.

The great thing about reframing situations this way is that you instantly get your power back. Why? Because thoughts can be changed! Thoughts are 100%, absolutely, completely and utterly under your control.

I’m not naïve of course, and it may actually be true that you have a cheating wife and an awful job. But it’s only once you start looking at what is and isn’t under your control that you can really do anything about it anyway.

If you answered my initial question with a form of “X is making me feel Y”, then try to rework that right now. Instead of saying, “I’m jealous because of what’s-his-face who always flirts with my wife”, say, “I’m jealous because of my thoughts. My last wife cheated and lied to me, and I haven’t learnt to trust again, and that’s making me feel jealous”

The first explanation gets you nowhere and means that how bad you feel is simply up to whatever what’s-his-face does. The second – well, that’s where things start to get interesting! If you follow the second explanation, you immediately see what a possible solution could be.

Can you think of other ways to reframe the source of your emotions so that you are in control?

Recommended reading:



The offense of being offended

offendedArticle contributed by Amy Sargent


Has anyone done something to you, or said something to you, even if it was a few days ago or maybe even months, and you’re still stewing on it?

Yeah, me too.

Most likely we all have people in our lives that offend us. When you read through status updates on social media, it’s almost like a play-by-play of events that people are offended by, both big and small. Family, friends, strangers in a store, coworkers, policy makers, restaurant owners, pastors, no one is excused from their seeming wrongdoings and missteps. And it can make us feel/appear “cool”, witty, smart, and funny to express offenses publicly. I am guilty as charged.

“It’s now very common to hear people say, ‘I’m rather offended by that.’ As if that gives them certain rights. It’s actually nothing more… than a whine. ‘I find that offensive.’ It has no meaning; it has no purpose; it has no reason to be respected as a phrase.” — Stephen Fry

It is a competency of emotional intelligence to exercise the ability to stay composed, positive, and kind in trying moments. Those with this skill set are able to remain cool under pressure and choose not to escalate a problem when they feel attacked or aggressively confronted by someone. Just this morning I read these wise words: “A man’s (or woman’s of course) wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense.” To our glory?  One definition of glory is this: “High renown or honor won by notable achievements.”  If this is true, then it is a notable achievement that will bring us honor when we choose not to notice, to choose not to call someone out, to choose not to be angry, or hurt, or slighted when that someone offends us.

Who is your someone? The one person you let get under your skin, and with whom you allow yourself to be offended by? The one you can justify being offended by because what they’ve done (and are doing) is really hurtful. I know who mine is, and it’s not an is but an are, not a someone but a somethem. They irritate me and seem to make an effort to continue to do so. However, I have a choice. I can choose to stay in my anger toward them, allowing them to depress my day and wreak havoc on my spirits, or I could try this ‘overlooking’ thing.

Are you up for a challenge today? Test this this little nugget of wisdom out and see how it works. Make an attempt to choose, not what everyone else around you is doing, but to overlook someone who is has offended you, just for kicks. Of course this is not referring to staying in a relationship with someone who is dangerous or can cause you harm. But the everyday people in your life that are offensive — who annoy you, who push your buttons, who tweak you the wrong way–what if today you gave them a break? Let them off the hook? It doesn’t mean you forget what they’ve done, or pretend it hasn’t happened, but you choose not to be offended by them.

How does it look to not be offended?  For you it may be shifting your thoughts when you wake up and not allow yourself to brew on the offense first thing in the morning. It may mean not talking about it in the kitchen at work with your coworkers. It may mean saying, “Sure!”, when your manager asks you to do something in a way you read as demeaning instead of rolling your eyes or giving her ‘the look’.  It may mean giving your coworker a smile instead of a sneer, or allowing that person who you disagree with to express their opinion, no matter how annoying it may be. It may be asking a colleague you dislike out to lunch to better understand why they do the things they do.

You of course don’t have to. But it’s Monday. The start of a new week. Why not give it a try today and see what happens? Maybe tomorrow too. Maybe even next week — but that’s a long way off so let’s see how this goes first.

The trouble with being too busy

poolArticle contributed by Amy Sargent

I posted a picture of myself a few weeks ago relaxing at the pool on my lunch hour. I had to laugh at the comments that came in:

“Must be nice.”

“Work much?”

“You must never need a vacation!”

“Some of us have the life!”

First of all, I had already worked about 55 hours that week by mid week and it was my lunch break. I don’t know about you, but though I often work right through the lunch hour, once in a great while, when possible, it is nice to take a break for a few minutes and relax. Eat lunch. Talk to a friend…and yes, even lay by the pool. Yet it’s almost as if taking a lunch break isn’t acceptable in our professional world, especially if it truly involves ‘breaking’ and not ‘still working’. Productive, results-oriented people don’t take lunch breaks, right?

Over the years I have gotten to know me and, despite its unpopularity, have learned that if I don’t spend some time outside each day relaxing or enjoying the moment, I tend to get tense, stressed, and negative. This directly affects my productivity, ability to stay positive, and how I interact with others. For me, taking a short break actually makes me more productive during the work day.

“We all have one life to live, but if we are too busy to notice the world revolving around us, then we are not living.” — Rex Wilson

Are you really living?

Keep count one day of how many times you hear the response “Busy!” when you ask how others are doing. Our typical conversations consist of, “Hey, what’s going on? Too much, I’m crazy busy!” or “Do you want to meet this week for coffee? Would love to—but I have too much on my plate—maybe next week?!” Being overly busy has become our norm, but the downside is that it limits our ability to tune into our emotions and how we’re feeling in the moment, which in turn affects our ability to respond well. Busy may be the standard – but how emotionally intelligent is it?

“It’s in the quiet that our best ideas occur to us. Don’t make the mistake of believing that by a frantic kind of dashing around you are being your most effective and efficient self.  Don’t assume that you’re wasting time when you take time out for thought.” – Napoleon Hill & Clement Stone

Music to my ears. Maybe my pool time is not wasted time after all.

Emotional self-awareness is a vital component of emotional intelligence. It’s the ability to be aware of your own gut instincts and react appropriately to them. It’s being able to use your feelings as a valuable source of information to guide your decisions throughout the day.

Why is it so vital?

First of all, our inability (or refusal) to listen to our emotions can have many negative physical effects on our bodies. If you’re experiencing chronic headaches, lower back pain, neck or shoulder pain, and anxiety, these may be signals that your emotions are trying to tell you something.

Secondly, if we aren’t aware of how we’re feeling, then we can’t manage our behavior, and if we don’t manage our behavior, we’re going to blow up important relationships by acting impulsively. Author and psychologist Daniel Goleman says this,

“If you are tuned out of your own emotions, you will be poor at reading them in others.”

The social side-effects of not being emotionally-aware are irritability, treating others abrasively, and impatience. Think back on the last time you were, say, really exhausted. Did you like how you reacted to those around you that week? Most of us are too busy to even stop and reflect on how we’re feeling in the moment, which leaves many in react mode instead of act mode. It’s difficult to lead and work well with others when we can’t read how they are feeling at a given moment, let alone be aware of our own emotions.

Finally, when we tune out our emotions, we may begin to fail to notice when our day-to-day actions are not aligned with our vision and values and find ourselves way off course.

Are you too busy?  Take this short, simple online quiz to find out:

“People are clearly coming around to the idea of taking breaks and even ‘doing nothing’ in order to lead a healthier lifestyle,” –Liz Pryor, author & speaker

In an article entitled The Importance of Emotions, the author says this:  “In order to take good care of ourselves it is important that we know what are needs are. Our emotions help us to know what are needs are through what we feel. If you feel anger you know that you have to solve a problem with a situation or a person and that you must change your behavior. When you respect your needs you feel happy.”

Emotions help us stay aware of our needs, and the needs of others.

So how do we began to be more emotionally self-aware?

  • Slow down so you can begin to listen to your inner voice.  It normally doesn’t shout loudly so if you don’t tune in you may not hear it. It will always take a back seat to a frantic lifestyle, and if you don’t stop and listen closely you will miss its song.
  • Carve out some time each day for relaxation, meditation, and leisure.  I know, you’re too busy. We all are. But start with just a few minutes each day to do something that is non-work related that brings you enjoyment.
  • Take notes. Get in the habit from time to time of jotting down how you are feeling – and why. You can keep a simple journal to record your range of emotions and the intensity of each emotion. If you prefer to track your emotions on your phone, there are many apps available to help:

Because our emotions are essential in providing valuable insights and information about ourselves, others, and the situations going on around us, can we really afford to tune them out any longer?

The more adept we are at discerning what is shaping our moods and mental well-being, the more able we are to manage our behavior. The results? Greater productivity, effectiveness, confidence, and a feeling of being in control of our lives. Recognition alone can diffuse (or heighten) an emotional reaction. As you learn to know and understand your own emotions, you’ll also begin to be able to understand what drives the actions of those around you, improving relationships and connections.

What’s in a Smile?

Young Man and a Young Boy (6-7) Looking at Each Other Laughing --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Article Contributed by Amy Sargent

In a split second, are you able to determine the emotional state of the person across from you? Some researchers say you can, and being able to do this can increase your social intelligence — that ability to, in the moment, to be aware of others’ emotions and use that information to manage your relationships.

Remember the relationship god Nick Marshall became in the movie What Women Want when he suddenly could hear what others were thinking? Just imagine how much more effective we could be in leading our teams and inspiring our co-workers if we knew exactly what they were feeling!

As we connect with others, we tend to emotionally mirror — that unconscious reaction that happens in a split second when our inferior frontal gyrus recognizes someone’s facial expression and tells us to mimic it. When they smile, we smile. When they frown, we frown. And it’s this mirroring that can help us better tune into others’ emotions.

“A pair of US psychologists in 2011 found people who used botox, a popular anti-wrinkle treatment that freezes muscles, were less able to judge others’ emotions compared to subjects who only used dermal fillers (which plump the skin rather than freeze it). “

Interesting, huh? Apparently not being able to mirror interrupts vital emotional brain signals necessary to correctly interpret emotions.

Apart from mirroring, there are many competencies of social intelligence that we can develop and strengthen to better read how others are feeling. Which skills from this list, if developed, would be most helpful to you in navigating your relationships at the office?

  • empathy
  • situational awareness
  • service orientation
  • communication
  • interpersonal effectiveness
  • powerful influencing skills
  • conflict management
  • inspirational leadership
  • catalyzing change
  • building bonds
  • teamwork and collaboration
  • coaching and mentoring others
  • building trust

Just being aware of your strengths and weaknesses in these areas can give you a good start down the road of behavior change — and tuning in to how your teammates are feeling. Read more of this interesting article by Belinda Smith here:  Why smiles and frowns are contagious