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The 4 practices of emotional control

Submitted by on Monday, 7 January 20132 Comments

Poor emotional control among managers is a massive disengager in the workplace, so we thought we would share 4 simple practices you can use to practise emotional control when things get hot!

But before we do so it’s important to understand…

What emotional control is – and isn’t

the 4 practices of emotional controlEmotional control is not about suppressing your emotions. Depending on the type of lives we lead, we go through every day experiencing hundreds of emotions. Many of these we simply ignore or discard without a thought.

But on some occasions, we feel an emotion and, for whatever reason, we may react to an emotion negatively. If other people are present (or, more likely, the cause of your ire!), this reaction may spill over and create a firestorm of other emotions, for example anger, rage, frustration, aggression – and this reaction can harm our relationships.

Of course, after the event we may rationalise ‘this person deserved it’, or ‘it was unavoidable’. It may be that the person actually did not deserve the reaction, and the reaction related to someone or something else and that person just happened to be there at the time of your outburst!

Emotional Intelligence

This post is here to help those who want a ‘shovel-ready’ emotional control mechanism that is so easy it will work in the heat of the moment.

Good Emotional Control also gives you greater mastery of the Head-Heart-Hand relationship described here.

The 4 practices of emotional control – Body, Beat, Breathing, Brain

Between what triggers an emotion and how we respond to it, there is a space – and that space is where our choice is.

The less space between trigger and response, the less choice we have over our reaction. But if we increase that space, we can also increase the options available to us. Here are the 4 practices of emotional control that enable us to do exactly that:

1. Body 

When we get stressed, our body tenses up in many different places. Our body is preparing itself – perhaps instinctively – for the fight or flight response.

This response may be helpful, say, if we need to fight or flee. Our muscles tense, adrenaline starts to rush, and the body readies itself for action. However the body tensing also causes our breathing to be restricted and a ‘downward spiral’ then takes place, leading us to situations where mindless conflict can arise.

In most cases, we don’t want or need to fight or flee. So the first practice of emotional control is to take control of the body. Here are some tips:

Make sure your fists are unclenched and blood can run freely to your fingers

Relax your neck and shoulders. These always tense in a fight or flight response, reduce oxygen flow to your brain, and reduce your options.

‘Unclench’ your face. Let your facial muscles relax.

2. Beat

When we encounter a stressful situation, our heart rate usually soars. This is a panic response that sets off a chemical reaction of adrenalin rushing around our body. So if we want to avoid this knock on effect, here are some tips:

In a conflict situation, override your instinct which cust off yur awareness of your body and instead listen to it. The way to do so: listen to your heart beat.

Consciously tell your body to slow down its heart rate. Use the third practice of emotional control to help you:

3. Breathing

Typically, when we enter a stressfull situation, our breathing becomes shallower. By taking control of our breathing, we can override the ‘fight or flight’ response that comes from our instincts. Here’s how to do that:

Take one deep breath and hold it. Then, after a few inevitable short breaths, take another deep breath and hold it.

After your third deep breath, you should be in control of your breathing again.

As soon as you can, take another deep breath and ‘push’ it down into your diaphragm. The objective is to make your breathing patter longer and deeper.

4. Brain 

The fourth practice of emotional control is the brain. When we get stressed, our brain goes into overdrive, spewing out thoughts of a ‘fight or flight’ kind.

To increase our options, we need to break this pattern. We can do this by:

Having in our mind at all times an image that we can use to relax us. One image could be waves gently crashing against a beach. Another may be walking along a path on a hillside.

Letting go ‘the voice’ of inflammatory words that trigger us. We can do this by having a sound to break that – for example the gentle crashing of waves.

Directing the brain to look actively for positive thoughts.

The 4 Practices of Emotional Control – summary

We may not always be able to control a situation, but we can control our response to it. Using the 4 practices of emotional control – Body, Beat, Breathing, Brain – is a simple and effective way to do so.

Please tell us what you think in the comments box below. And please be sure to check out our Emotional Intelligence programme which trains this essential people skill.


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