Viktor Frankl, author of ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ said “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
We all know in theory that we are responsible for our responses and attitudes, but in times of pressure and stress and change, that theory can go out the window as we struggle to regulate our emotions. Any ‘space’ between stimulus and response can evaporate at times. When emotions attached to deeply held beliefs and values are activated, they can easily muddy the waters for a while but with Awareness in action (a human superpower), we can ensure we don’t suffer unnecessarily, or cause suffering for others.
The more we can occupy the space between stimulus and response, the more we can self regulate and maintain equilibrium. This is not to suggest emotional upset is ‘bad’. Rather, emotions can be seen as information if we can observe them – even as we experience them. What we do with that information is what matters. Growing our capacity to stay present to our emotional nature in turn grows emotional maturity – a very helpful quality in a dynamic and ever-changing world.
I grew up with very little emotional intelligence so I have had to work hard to grow any! The space between stimulus and response just wasn’t there and I was very reactionary which was not so helpful. I still have my moments but I offer here what I have learned that has truly made a difference.
Here are my top tips for riding the rapids of emotionally charged situations:
In the face of emotionally provocative ‘stimulus’, PAUSE… The power of the pause is that it creates the space to allow the initial emotional charge to pass through your system. Recognise you are having a response and do your best to consciously breathe and ‘do’ nothing –if only for a few moments. This will allow any initial ‘shockwaves’ to pass through.
Acknowledge the feelings you are having. The sooner you can name them and accept your feelings, the more ‘space’ you create to choose your response. Resisting strong emotions is not helpful – or healthy. This usually requires feeling feelings first (often very uncomfortable!)
Understand it is in our nature to make up what we don’t know (this is ego’s way of attempting to regain control) so be open to enquiry and gather any relevant facts as best you can before you respond.
Even if you are not personally upset about something that upsets others, being empathetic will help you stay present and connected while others feel their feelings. Contribute what you can to reassuring and being of service.
If your emotions are related to your team or organization, consciously lock on to your vision and values and trust that whatever is happening could be taking you closer to those aspirations – even if you can’t see how yet. As your system settles and clarity returns you will always have choice re how you respond if your own integrity feels compromised.
Work with what is in front of you moment to moment but lift your eyes to the horizon frequently to ensure you stay on track with the way you move forward, even if you cannot see your destination yet.
Understand that as uncomfortable as it can be to ‘feel’ at times, emotions are transitory, they move on like the weather. Be patient with and respectful of your process.
As soon as you are able, project yourself into the future and get clear about how you want to be able to look back on the way you handled yourself and your situation. Decide you want to feel good about it and your responses in real time will then align to create that future ‘state’.
The more you stay present to the emotional content of your life, the more you will grow the capacity to ride emotional waves instead of drowning in them. Contact us if you want to support your team/org in growing EQ – from the inside out!