• Hugo Menard

Common ways of handling 3 common emotions that hinder you

What do you do when you’re in an emotional state that you don’t want to be in, and it gets in the way of doing work? When I work with clients one-on-one the methods we use, whilst very effective, do require training and practice, and having someone guide you through those processes is ideal. But the reality is, different things work for different people at different times. Having a variety of options to choose from to be more emotionally intelligent is useful.

In his original book on emotional intelligence, Goleman shares some more common approaches you can employ when you find yourself having to deal with some of the most common emotions that disrupt us. You don’t need someone to guide you through these tactics, they’re simple and to the point.

Experiment with them and see what works for you and what doesn’t. 

The big ideas

There are two main elements that are the foundation of all these methods.

First, you need to become aware of your emotions. The sooner you become aware that you’ve gotten triggered, the sooner you can act to address that. The sooner you act, the easier it is to handle the situation as your emotions and thoughts haven’t had the time to build as much momentum, and thus the chances of unwanted consequences goes down.

You can also become aware of how you feel about feeling/thinking a certain way, and what you’re thinking about the thoughts/feelings you’re experiencing. For example: if you’re angry, you might be irritated that you’re angry, or you might be disappointed in yourself for getting angry again so easily. You might be ruminating over what you would like to shout at someone in your anger, but then the thought behind that could be “I really shouldn’t do that, I’m such a bad person, I just can’t snap out of it”. 

A good way to help you become aware of all this is to pay attention to your emotional habits. What are the things that are most likely to make you angry/sad/frustrated/anxious ect? Is there a person that drives you up the wall? Is there a kind of situation that always puts you on edge or makes you feel mellow? As you become more aware of this, you can go into situations that you recognise are likely to cause you emotional disruption with more conscious awareness than usual.

The second foundational element is to do something that is incompatible to the emotion you’re feeling. For example, if you feel angry, do something that is calming, if you feel down, do something that invigorates your body. 

Science has shown that trying to purge yourself of emotion doesn’t work. Rather, the more you feel an emotion and the more you act on an emotion, the deeper that emotional habit becomes ingrained.

Frame of mind

Most of our emotions are below the surface of our conscious awareness. Yet despite this, they play a significant role in how we act, the decisions we make, the thoughts we think and the possibilities we see.

By the time we have become consciously aware of a particular emotion, it has often already gained some momentum below our conscious awareness. And it’s because it has become more intense that we then become conscious of it. So just know going into this, that even when you develop your emotional awareness, even when you catch on to emotions more quickly, they’ll often already have power behind them.

This is a practice and a process. It’s not done overnight. You can’t simply do these things starting today and be highly emotionally intelligent tomorrow. Be patient with yourself, and take it one step at a time. Different people will also have different difficulties. For some people, becoming aware of emotions is overwhelming. For others, the difficulty is in noticing anything happening at all.

Managing anger

Anger is perhaps the emotion that comes up the most and that we are the worst at handling. It can explode out of nowhere. Yet it can feel good as it often gives us a sense of power, of self righteousness, of energy in the moment and a drive to do things that may otherwise be scary. The more we feel our anger and vent our anger, the stronger it gets and more reasons we come up with for being angry. 

For example, we might start out being angry at someone for falling short on an important task they were supposed to do. But if we vent our anger we can often start to think: “and he also does this other annoying thing, and he let me down this other time as well” etc.

A common trigger when it comes to anger, is that of being endangered. This can be both physically and metaphorically. For example, if someone picks a fight with you, you might respond with anger. Similarly, if someone says or does something that endangers your sense of dignity or self esteem, if they verbally insult you or treat you unjustly, anger is a common response.

When we experience anger, there is a chemical reaction that occurs in our body. When these chemicals are released, it creates an internal environment where we are then more likely to get angry again. This is why trying to purge anger out doesn’t work very well, because you just keep re-producing the same chemical reaction again and again. It’s also why a good strategy for dealing with anger is to take a time out. Go for a walk, go for a run, do some deep breathing, do something that’s calming, watch a movie, play a video game, distract yourself in the short term. This is not to suppress what you’re feeling, but rather to let the chemicals run their course.

As long as those chemicals are in your body, you’re not going to be thinking straight. And the more you get angry, the more unreasonable you get.

This brings up an interesting point of dealing with anger at work. Because, you will not do your best work when you’re in the grips of anger, and you may in fact make things worse, make a mistake, and then get even angrier. Therefore, it may be more productive to go for a walk then and there in the middle of the day, or go to a separate room and watch a TV show, if you or someone on your team gets particularly triggered.

Watching a TV show looks like the opposite of productivity, and in the short term, productivity will likely go down. But that can be regained when someone is working in a more optimal state after they’ve cooled down. Disagreements can be resolved more fully and done so with a level head. Having that time-off to cool down also creates a better vibe for everyone else working on the team, rather than having to deal with an angry person.

(Note: you’re going to have to make a judgement call on how angry someone has to be to warrant time off, and be careful not to create an environment where the expectation is that people should always be up beat and eager to work, and that that they should just get rid of negative emotions. It’s a balance where on the one hand there’s an understanding that emotions effect performance, and on the other hand, working with the reality of being human and not being nosy about someone’s emotional state). 

Another aspect of dealing with anger is to challenge your thoughts. Whether you go outside or watch a TV show, the idea is to not fester in the emotion of anger but instead to question the thoughts that are adding fuel to the fire. This is why the more conscious you are and the quicker you realise you’re angry, the easier it will be. Because the more you can become aware of the thoughts you’re thinking, the more accurately you can challenge each thought. 

For example, if all you’re aware of is the thought “I’m so angry at Joe”, you’ll have less to question (and thus have less leverage) than if you’re aware of thinking “I’m so angry at Joe, and I think he’s up himself, and he should have done xyz, and he did it on purpose, and it’s all going to come crashing down on me”. When you’re aware of all those other thoughts, you can challenge each one individually. This makes the task more manageable as you’re taking it in bite sized pieces, and addressing multiple facets.

Finally, you can try to reframe the situation that caused you to feel angry. For example: is there any benefit to this problem? Does this problem allow you to develop a certain skill or gain some knowledge?

This will be most effective once you’ve done some cooling off rather than when you’re right in the heat of the moment and the chemicals of anger are at their peak.

Managing anxiety and worry

Worrying has a purpose. It helps us focus on what might go wrong, so that we can come up with a plan in the event that it does. The problem is when worrying gets out of control, when we can’t turn it off, when we come up with not just one plan but 10 or 50, when we just worry without coming up with any plan at all and instead go around and around imagining all the worst case scenarios that have no basis in reality and end up resolving none of them.

As you’re probably aware, simply telling yourself “just don’t worry” doesn’t work in the least.

As before, becoming self aware of when you start to worry is the first step.

What are the things that cause you to worry?

It can also be useful to become aware of what “worrying” feels like in your body. This is because you might not always be immediately aware that you’re worrying, but noticing that there’s a pit in your stomach or that you feel dizzy in your head, are easier and more noticeable signs to catch.

Because worrying causes your system to be aroused, using a relaxation technique is useful for countering that reaction. This could be slow, deep breathing, muscle relaxation or something else that you find works for you.

However, simply being aware that you’re worrying and relaxing your body may not be enough. That’s where taking a critical mental stance can be the third pillar to stabilise your state. For example, if you’re thinking “Tom’s going to hate the work I’ve done and I’ll lose my job”, mentally question this. While you’re relaxing your body you could critically think “how likely is that to actually happen? Are there really no other alternatives that could take place?”

You can think of this as throwing doubt at your worries. Have you ever had the experience where you were just about to leave the house, you knew you had everything, but then someone asked “are you sure you’ve packed xyz?” Even though you knew you had it, there was still a part of you that doubted, so you double/triple checked.

If you throw doubt at your belief that “Tom’s going to hate my work”, the solidity in that belief will often begin to falter. In this way, you’re using doubt to help you rather than it hindering you.

The above techniques have worked even for people who worried to such an extent that they had a psychiatric diagnosis. Give it a try, and remember that with all of this, it’s something you get better at. You can be discouraged if it doesn’t work the first time, but don’t let that discouragement mean you give up too quickly.

Managing melancholy

Melancholy puts you in a state where you’re looking inwards. You’re able to mourn (whether it’s someone’s death or a project you’d poured your heart and soul into but that didn’t work out how you’d hoped). From that place of mourning, you can learn what needs to be learnt, make appropriate changes, and take the next step.

The problem comes up when we get stuck in mourning and end up out of balance, not enjoying the pleasures of life.

Again, becoming aware that you’re mourning and challenging your thoughts are good approaches. Here are a few other tactics that are specifically useful for melancholy:

1) Schedule time for things that will bring you pleasure and lift your mood. Doing so allows you to begin to ingrain a new emotional pattern. This can be going out with friends, taking a rollercoaster ride, doing a puzzle, watching a movie, going out in nature, going surfing, exercising in general, playing video games etc

2) Set yourself a little task that is easy to do, but that if you did it, it would be a little victory. Maybe you’ve got some paperwork that you’ve been putting off and it’s been weighing down on you. If you can be kind to yourself and say “OK, I’ll do that paperwork (or just some of that paperwork), and then I’ll go out to dinner with friends”, That’s moving in the right direction.

3) Relationship breakups are often a cause for melancholy and can seep into all other areas of our life. Rather than continually revisiting all the good times you had and all the things that you won’t get to do and experience now that’s it’s over, see if you can reframe the situation and focus on all the ways that the relationship was bad, and all the things that you no longer have to put up with.

We constantly edit our memories unconsciously, so why not try doing it consciously if you’re in a bit of a funk?

4) Find someone who is worse off than you are. If you had a project that didn’t work out, find someone who lost their job. If you feel unwell, find someone who is diagnosed with cancer/a terminal illness/has a painful condition etc. Studies found that when we find someone who’s worse off than we are, we feel better about ourselves and the situation we’re in. I wouldn’t recommend this as a long term strategy, but it could be a useful tool to ignite a change.

5) Finally, what is perhaps the most potent antidote to melancholy, yet the least practiced, is to help someone else in need. This is because seeing as melancholy is a focus that goes inwards, placing your attention off of yourself and onto someone else breaks that pattern. It also touches on most of the other approaches that have just been listed: doing something for others can be pleasurable (1), you often don’t need to do some big deed, it can be a little accomplishment that you can feel good about (2), you’re often helping someone who is worse off than you in some way (4).

To recap tha main points

There are many other emotions you’ll experience, but these will give you a good idea of the approach to take: Become aware, question your thoughts, and do something that is incompatible with the state you’re in - going for a walk is a great one for most moods because it helps if you need to calm your system down and breathe some fresh air, but it also helps if you need to give yourself a little boost because it gets your blood flowing and you’re limbs moving.


Emotional intelligence: why it can matter more than IQ by Daniel Goleman

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