Emotional flexibility is the key to personal growth.

Original author: Aytekin Tank
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What do contempt, hatred, anxiety, shame, and regret have in common?

According to David Hawkins, they can literally kill our body.

It is no secret that emotions can play an important role in mental and physical health. However, the psychiatrist and popular lecturer Dr. Hawkins claims that the daily sensations we experience are a matter of life and death (at least at the cellular level).

Hawkins' theory is based on his discovery: all emotions are characterized by a certain amount of energy . He believes that lower-energy emotions, such as anxiety and shame, contribute to cell death, and more positive states of mind, such as peace, joy, love, and judgment, can truly improve our well-being.

No matter how powerful emotions, we can still not be victims of feelings that adversely affect our lives: studies of neuroplasticity show that the human brain is more than capable of reorganization.

But where do you start? How to learn to manage emotions and use them in such a way as to develop leadership and creative qualities in yourself?

First of all, you need to understand the basics of the brain.

Translated to Alconost

The scientific view of emotions

The brain consists of two main structures.

The first is the limbic system , which controls emotions and behavioral responses and provokes the response of the sympathetic nervous system when we are stressed. This is part of the “hit or run” reaction - the instinctive physiological pathway that the brain follows in an attempt to protect us if it feels that we are in danger.

Have you ever been nervous before an important presentation? - say thanks to the limbic system for jimmy and sweaty palms. If some scorcher cut you on the track and your cheeks started to burn and your heart was beating fast - this limbic system felt a threat. In general, such a reaction helps us survive.

But the second system - the prefrontal cortex - has gone a longer evolutionary path. If someone advises to “think with your head”, he most likely means it  — the conscious part of the brain, thanks to which we can reason, postpone reward and feel the meaning hidden behind emotions.

The limbic system is important because it is responsible for survival, but if it controls behavior for too long , problems can arise:

“Once in the grip of fear, anxiety, depression or chronic stress, a person is not able to give a realistic assessment of the situation,” writes Dave Gray , author of books and a trainer in visual thinking. - “The prefrontal cortex in this case is“ disconnected ”. Creative thinking, ingenuity - all high-level brain functions are suppressed. ”

How to find a balance?

If the limbic system in the brain acts as a gas pedal, then the prefrontal cortex is rather a brake: it helps to slow down, assess the situation and adequately respond to emotions.

Learning to reap the psychological “brakes” is the first step towards  emotional regulation (the ability to control the response to one’s own feelings) and an important stage in personal growth on the path to well-being.

The art of emotional flexibility

No one is born with the ability of self-regulation: babies cannot fall asleep until they are rocked, and older children are not able to calmly stand in line at the cash desk at the grocery store. Children communicate through emotions.

By school age, most of us are already able to restrain emotional reactions in difficult situations - applying positive thinking or being distracted by something.

We understand that we can control emotions, and that they should not control us - and this is the most important aspect of well-being. It is fair to say that emotional regulation is a vital part of social growth and  one of the pillars of mental health.

However, just overcoming emotional reactions and  managing emotions - This is not the same thing. Emotional regulation is aimed at preventing a negative reaction, and managing emotions helps to use them for personal and professional growth.

Psychologist, professor at Harvard Medical School Susan David calls the practice of managing emotions through careful interaction with them " emotional flexibility ."

“Unlike positive thinking and avoidance, which overly emphasize thoughts, emotional flexibility is a set of skills based on the ability to perceive our own emotions, label and understand them, and then consciously move forward,” writes David.

"This is the ability to recognize stress and the ability to get out of it and decide how to act in order to meet your personal values ​​and goals."

If emotional regulation is a science, then emotional flexibility is an art.

With the ability to strategically perceive and curb emotions, we can develop creative, communicative and leadership abilities. About this writes the sociologist Joseph Granny.

He says: "The ability to recognize, shape emotions and keep them in control is the main skill that will help deepen intimacy with loved ones, strengthen their influence at work and develop the ability to turn ideas into results."

How to practice emotional flexibility

1. Do not hide from your emotions

Creating a startup  is always a lot of emotions.

This is a sudden disappointment due to slow growth, and a feeling of powerlessness due to software errors, and even just a misunderstanding in the office. In such cases, I tend to move on with a smile on my face, because there are more important concerns - in addition, I want the team to perceive me as a positive, cheerful person.

Indeed, this is what good leaders do, right?

Keeping calm in case of trouble is part of the art of managing a team, but it is not necessarily the best approach to working with emotions. In fact, the data suggests that the habit of pulling a grin when you are very worried can do a disservice to your body.

Hiding emotions, we still risk: if we avoid our own feelings or strangle them, they often return with renewed vigor. One study found that smokers who were actively trying not to think about cigarettes ended up dreaming of a puff, and because of this started smoking even more .

The habit of blunting emotions can not only negatively affect behavior, but, and more importantly, can limit our potential. To become truly unbending, you first need to feel your own emotions. To gain strength and wisdom, you need to allow yourself to experience difficult situations and life's trials.

Trying to avoid unpleasant emotions is very tempting: quickly leave them behind, be distracted by something or pretend to be positive, but if you go deeper and feel them, it will help you become stronger and more flexible.

“If we don’t know how to process the full range of our own emotions, orient ourselves and feel comfortable in it, we won’t learn to be persistent,” writes David. “You need to practice working with emotions, otherwise they can be taken by surprise. I believe that a strong cultural orientation to happiness and positive thinking in reality makes us less resilient to the vicissitudes of fate. ”

To hide from emotions is to lose touch with ourselves. Heavy emotions reflect what excites us the most: “Emotions such as sadness, guilt, grief and anger are beacons for our values,” says David. For example, if you feel disappointed when a colleague is late for a meeting, you most likely appreciate respect and punctuality.

2. Tell a new story

When you feel anger or disappointment, it seems that the easiest way is to go distracted - to go discuss some issue or open a mail - however, it will be more far-sighted to rethink what we feel - to cast doubt on the meaning behind emotions.

If we view our emotions as “negative,” this naturally leads to an attempt to avoid them. But if we rethink what we feel, it will help to challenge the truth of the ideas behind the emotions and take them under control.

Behind every feeling lies a story. Imagine that you have to listen to unsolicited harsh criticism: you are likely to be annoyed by the lack of tact with a colleague, but if you look deeper, you can understand that his comments are perceived as a threat because you are not confident enough in your own competence.

Often such “stories” are fundamental beliefs that have been firmly established in your life for a long time.

To cope with boiling emotions, Joseph Granny recommends isolating the “primary story”. For example, if you feel ashamed when a colleague criticizes you, try to track the origin of this feeling.

Remember when you first felt ashamed of yourself?

Joseph explains that while we consider these “primary stories” to be true, we are doomed to remain victims of our own emotions — our feelings will be beyond our control.

Understanding the source story is the first step in overcoming emotions, the consequence of which they are.

“I realized the original origin of the stories that I am telling, and learned to overcome at such moments the feeling that my safety and dignity are at stake,” writes Granny.

3. Compilation of an emotional vocabulary

Managing emotions also means simply identifying them. A strong emotion, left unnamed, may seem overwhelming and limitless. Therefore, calling emotions means realistically evaluating their influence and finding an appropriate solution.

Psychologist Lisa Feldman Barrett says that misinterpretation of emotions can cause a wrong reaction - and this happens often, since many emotional feelings are similar.

For example, it is better to describe your condition not as “sadness” (this is a rather vague definition), but try to mark the emotion as “dejected” or “disappointed”.

Feldman Barrett calls this specification “a refinement of emotions”: it helps to better understand the circumstances in which we are, as well as rethink negative emotions in order to less give in to a sense of threat. For example, if you realize that you are disappointed with the investor’s reaction to the presentation you made, it will be easier to deal with this than with an indefinite feeling of sadness.

Braking that speeds up growth

Rethinking and naming emotions can be a “fire escape” for all our sensations, but this should not be the goal. By letting go of consciousness difficulties that emotions can bring, we miss important growth opportunities.

The goal of developing emotional flexibility in yourself is to manage emotions and even use them to move forward in work and relationships. By learning to inhibit the emotions that hold us back, we can rush to what we desire most.

About the translator

Translation of the article was done in Alconost.

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