In today’s world, there is a constant battle for control of your emotions.
Sometimes this battle rages within–like when you strive to keep balanced, despite negative feelings rising inside of you. Other times it’s an external attack–as politicians, companies, and others work to influence you, in an attempt to win your vote, your money…or your mind.
But I can’t control my feelings, you say. Actually, that’s true–to an extent. Since most of the emotions you experience occur almost instinctively, you can’t control how you feel in any given moment. But you can control how you react to those feelings–by focusing on your thoughts.
In my new book, EQ Applied: The Real-World Guide to Emotional Intelligence, I compare your ability to direct your thoughts in these situations to a set of controls on your favorite media player. Just as these controls come in handy when watching a film or listening to music, the following methods are useful to help manage your emotional reactions, which can help you make wiser decisions and avoid saying and doing things you’ll later regret.
So, here are seven tricks you can put into practice right now:
The pause is the most important of all the emotional tools in your toolbox. To pause, you must take time to stop and think before you speak or act. Doing so can prevent you from saying or doing something you’ll later regret.
But the pause isn’t only effective when dealing with upsetting situations. Often, we’re tempted to jump on opportunities that look really good at the time but that we haven’t really thought through. Have you ever found when shopping that you tend to overspend when in a good mood (or maybe a bad mood)? Use the pause to help you identify that mood and determine if you really want to make that purchase or if you’re going to regret it later on.
Try this: If you feel yourself beginning to respond emotionally to a situation, take a pause. When upset, you may find it helpful to count silently from one to 10. If possible, go for a short walk. Once you’ve had the chance to calm down, come back and decide how you want to move forward.
When you communicate, your conversation partner will often react in the same style or tone you choose. If you speak in a calm, rational voice, they’ll respond similarly. Yell or scream, and they start yelling and screaming, too.
Here is where your volume control comes in: if you need to have an emotionally charged conversation, speak in a way that’s calm and collected.
Try this: If the discussion begins to escalate, focus your efforts on “dialing it back” by softening your tone or even lowering your voice. You’ll be surprised at how your partner follows your lead.
If an interaction with another person turns emotional, and leaving the situation is not an option, you may need to hit the mute button. In other words, stop speaking.
This method is useful because at such a moment in time, sharing your point of view isn’t going to help the situation; in contrast, it usually makes matters worse. By hitting the mute button, you allow the other person to express their feelings without interruption.
Try this: Take a deep breath and remind yourself that both your mood and that of your communication partner are temporary. Remember that much of what they say at this point may be extreme or exaggerated; resist the urge to respond in kind.
In many cases, once the person has let everything out they’ll calm down. As you remain on mute, be sure to . . .
Recording is concentrated listening, with the intent to learn more about the other person’s perspective. In other words, don’t listen to help figure out how to reply; instead, listen to understand.
Try this: As you tune into the other person, resist the urge to judge, offer advice, or even try to identify underlying problems and solutions.
Instead, focus on gathering information. The goal is to gain insight: to learn more about how the other person sees you, how they see themselves, and how they see the situation. Through attentive listening, you may identify gaps in your knowledge or perception, or discover basic misunderstandings you didn’t know existed.
Emotionally charged discussions are often rooted in deep-seated issues. If left alone, these problems are likely to continue springing up. That’s why you shouldn’t take a pause or hit mute with the intent of completely forgetting the situation. Instead, use rewind to revisit the topic at a later time, once all parties have had time to cool down.
Try this: Before revisiting a touchy topic, give careful thought as to where and when to speak, with the goal of calm and rational discussion.
It’s also important to consider how you will reintroduce the subject. For example, opening with an apology, with an expression of gratitude, or by acknowledging where you and your communication partner agree may lead the other person to lower their guard and become more open to what you have to say.
Fast-forwarding to the end may ruin a film, but it’s an extremely helpful skill when dealing with our emotions. If you find yourself in an emotionally charged moment, step back and think forward to the consequences of your actions–both short- and long-term.
For example, imagine a colleague has been showing romantic interest in you for years, despite your clear expressions that you’re in a happy relationship and not interested. But one day, after a big fight with your partner, you think differently. Those advances are suddenly flattering–and tempting.
Now’s the time to fast-forward. Forget about how you feel in the moment. Ask yourself: How will this decision affect you in a month? A year? Five years? Think about the effects your actions will have on your spouse, your family members, your conscience, and even your work.
Try this: If emotion is clouding your judgment, take a moment to fast-forward. Doing so can help you achieve clarity of mind and make sound decisions that you’re proud of.
The trailer is useful when trying to get motivated or fight the tendency to procrastinate. While you may not be motivated to dedicate ninety minutes or more to watching a film you know nothing about, you’re probably willing to watch a short trailer. Similarly, a five-minute trailer (or preview) of a task can convince your mind that it’s worth it to follow through.
The trailer is another name for an old cognitive behavioral therapy trick known as “the five-minute rule.” Here’s how it works: force yourself to work on a task for just five minutes, with the understanding that you can quit after five minutes if you wish. Of course, more often than not, you’ll be motivated to keep going. The trailer works because getting started on a major task is often the hardest part.
Try this: If you’re struggling to find motivation to start a task, give it just five minutes.
Remember, you never want to make a permanent decision based on a temporary emotion. Practice using these seven techniques, and make emotions work for you, instead of against you.