Emotional Control

The topic of emotional control is one that comes up frequently in our coaching interactions with senior business leaders. We hear many clients speak of their struggle to control their anxieties and emotions, particularly in workplace environments.

They explain how they deal poorly with even the slightest provocation, becoming acutely reactive to a particular tone, or look, or word used by a colleague. They notice the immediate emotional shift they experience, as they readily move into a place of heightened anxiety, anger or fear.

When things don’t go their way, such clients also notice how high levels of frustration and annoyance spontaneously take over their being, diminishing their ability to remain curious and interested in what is possible.

Often they explore with us the impact of such experiences. They recognise how their own problem solving and decision-making capabilities are diminished when in these heightened and unresourceful emotional states. They also see how not being in control of their emotions not only negatively impacts their own capacity, but often spills into the creation of unnecessary tensions and dramas within their team.

Which leads us to the question, “how do you get really good at emotional control?”

In this month’s edition of “The Psychologist” (November 2015) a leading expert in this field, Edward Slingerland, believes that our conundrum begins with our western culture, which influences us to believe that we should be using our thinking skills in order to exert the effort required to control our emotions.

He questions the value of conscious striving and challenges us to instead apply the practices of the ancient Chinese art of “Wu-wei” and learn how to “relax into the moment.”

He suggests that through Wu-wei, we can instead learn to silence our minds, develop our ability not to think., persuade our conscious mind to get out of the way. To not think…. And that proper and effective behaviour will then flow automatically and spontaneously from the self.

In practical terms, it’s a simple four-staged process:

Surrender to the moment;

Don’t think; instead,

Breathe and then,

Reflect on what came your way.

Wu-wei practitioners recognise that happiness, relaxation and charisma comes to those who practice this “relaxed spontaneity”. They understand that through the skill of effortlessness, we gain emotional control.

Michelle Murtagh