When our brain is hijacked by emotions, our executive functioning, the clever part of our brain is inhibited. Being able to manage our emotions well is imperative for our performance and only in recent times has it been given the priority status it deserves. This is not just a case of what has become commonly called emotional intelligence, the ability to understand our emotions, this is the skill of managing our emotions for good.
Are your emotions controlling you?
While there is nothing wrong with any emotion we have, some of our emotions are not only distracting but dangerous if we don’t have control. When our emotions are in control of us, we are of course likely to be suffering in our wellbeing. For some of us this gets severe enough to classify as depression, anger issues or anxiety.
Even when our feelings do not interrupt our mental health, the experience of losing control to our feelings is familiar to all of us. When we react with no time to choose our response we have been hijacked.
Look at your behaviour to check whether your emotions are in control. They will be if you find yourself being defensive or attacking, withdrawing or sulking, avoiding thing or people, blaming systems or people, taking too much on or pulling back from everything, saying ‘yes’ when you want to say no or not speaking your truth in the moment in case we make it less likely they will like us, avoiding decision making or getting lost in decisions. These behaviours and many more, are worthy of investigating to see what your clever brain thinks rather than being driven by what your reactive feelings want. And further investigation would be worthy to decide whether this works in our favour or against.
Why are your emotions taking the lead?
What our emotions often want is a way of avoiding pain, a short-term solution to deflect the sensation of the difficult emotion and as fast as possible pulling us straight into a more positive one. However, this denies us the space to sit with the choices we have to change what happens next. We are liable to act unconsciously and subject to making rash decisions with little cognitive input. We react in the same way we always do, short cutting our way through the difficult moment and bypassing our executive thinking.
What can you do to take back control?
Emotional intelligence is not only understanding emotions in ourselves and others, it is the ability to use our emotions for good.
Think of your emotions as guests in your mind, seeing the world through their specialist lens. Imagine that your mind is like a party, and all your emotion guests are bustling away at your party, sometimes being super loud and coming forward telling you what to do and when. One of the most important skills we can develop is to remember that we are the host of our own party, no matter which guest is talking to us loudly.
Strip away the drama and the stories of the past or projections into the future, and the emotions will have incredibly valuable messages for you. By making sure you hear the message of your many emotions (not just the loudest guest) you can seek the best way to approach the next action. What action serves your goals. What little experiments can you deliberately put in place that will help guide you across the difficult emotion, but one step closer to your goals?
Your high performance relies on you controlling your emotions so they do not control you. Learning to welcome and tolerate even difficult emotions allows you to powerfully chose actions that will lead you to your goals rather than further away from them.