Have you ever received an email that triggered an immediate negative emotional response?
Most of us would have to say yes. We are compelled to hit “Reply” or “Reply to all” and dash off an angry or sarcastic email. Usually, the moment we click “Send,” we know we shouldn’t have sent it, but then it’s too late. We end up having to do damage control, wasting valuable time and energy. Sometimes our relationships suffer permanent damage. But if we can learn to click “Draft” instead, our email is saved, and we can review it later when we’ve calmed down. Most times we’ll either delete it or completely revise our original email.
What do top performers do to maintain emotional self-control and stay cool in all situations?
First, they show restraint.
Next, when stressed or pressured to defend themselves, they respond calmly.
Then, they calm others.
Finally, they short-circuit “amygdala hijacks” – situations where their emotional brain overpowers their thinking brain.
The center of our emotional brain is the amygdala, part of our limbic system. It responds instantly based on what motivates us and what we care about. Our emotional brain is always on full alert and responds to threats with a primitive “fight or flight” reaction. The center of our thinking brain is the prefrontal cortex. It analyzes slowly for meaning and acts as a brake on our emotional impulses. Our prefrontal lobes receive and analyze information from all parts of the brain, and then make a decision about what to do. They have “veto power” over our emotional brain.
Amygdala hijacks always prompt negative emotions and have four distinct components: Triggers, strong emotions, instant reactions, and subsequent feelings of regret. So what exactly are triggers and what impact do they have on us and our relationships?
A trigger is an event, behavior, or circumstance that consistently causes negative emotions and a fight or flight reaction. Although fight or flight is no longer as critical to our survival as it was thousands of years ago, we’re still highly attuned to perceived threats to our physical and emotional well-being. Stress hormones are instantly released into our bloodstream – our hearts beat faster, our chests feel tight, and our stomachs feel queasy. We may experience feelings of anxiety, discomfort, or anger. In “fight,” we react by turning our negative emotions against others; in “flight,” we turn our negative emotions on ourselves.
Triggers have a huge impact on our ability to think and act appropriately. We allow them to rob us of feeling safe and secure, take away opportunities to make wise decisions, and cheat us of feeling valued and respected. We go to great lengths and expend enormous energy protecting our sense of value when it’s threatened. We blame others, lash out in anger or frustration, rationalize, or withdraw. In his best-selling book, “The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working,” Tony Schwartz identifies these ten triggers:
Feeling spoken to with lack of respect
Being treated unfairly
Not feeling appreciated
Not being listened to or feeling heard
Someone else taking credit for my work
Being kept waiting
Managing a project with someone else’s sloppy work
Feeling criticized or blamed
Having unrealistic deadlines
Working with people who think they know it all
So what are your triggers? Make a list in your journal. Take 100% Responsibility for how you’re going to respond to your triggers. 100% Responsibility is a state of mind, how we think, and choosing a self-empowered mindset. It’s not about being a responsible person – most of us are responsible people.
100% Responsibility is understanding we have free will to choose our own attitude. It’s being aware of how we’re feeling at any given moment. It’s knowing that just because we think or feel something doesn’t mean we are compelled to act it out. It’s understanding that we need to stop blaming, making excuses, and feeling sorry for ourselves – these are all examples of “prison thinking.” It’s believing the only thing we have any control over in our lives is us. And lastly, 100% Responsibility is knowing if we want the people or circumstances in our lives to change, we must first change ourselves.
Team Trek is a world-class provider of leadership training, team building, coaching and culture programs. Go to www.teamtrek.com/subscribe to receive the next Journal in your inbox.