Emotional Intelligenceby Andy Smith
Step two: Self-management
Emotional self-management is the ability to stay focused and think clearly even when experiencing powerful emotions.
Being able to manage your own emotional state is essential if you are to take responsibility for your actions, and can save you from hasty decisions that you later regret.
Self-awareness is a pre-requisite for successful self-management. You need to be aware of your emotions and habitual responses in order to manage them. You should aim to be able to experience your emotions and pick up on the information they give you, without either repressing them or indulging in them.
Rating your self-management skills
This self-rating scale does not pretend to be a scientific or objective assessment. The aim is rather to help you to think about where your self-management capability is now, so you have a baseline to start building on.
Fill in the self-management part of the attached questionnaire (PDF format).
How to improve your self-management skills
Here are some suggestions for improving your emotional self-management. Read through them and find one or two which you feel are most helpful to you.
Practise your chosen methods of calming and self-management until they become second nature. Don’t wait until you are under serious pressure before you attempt them. If you develop your sense of emotional stability through practising when you are feeling OK, it will be more readily available when you really need it.
Take responsibility for your feelings
Once you accept that these are your emotions and you are responsible for them, your attitude can change from the powerless ‘Why am I feeling this way?’ (or even worse, ‘Why are they ‘making’ me feel this way?’) to the more empowering ‘What do I need to do to change the way I feel?’
Be kind to your body
The biggest single difference you can make to your emotional stability is to cut down on coffee. Caffeine (also present in smaller doses in tea, cola and chocolate) mimics the effect of adrenaline to give you an energy surge followed by a dip. This can have a rollercoaster effect on your emotions. Sugary foods have a similar effect.
Respect your body’s natural cycle
We have a natural cycle of rest and activity. Left to ourselves, we would have an hour and a half of activity followed by 20 minutes of rest. The further we get from that natural cycle, the more stress we experience. So take a break in the middle of the morning and the middle of the afternoon, and leave work at a reasonable time.
Your physical posture can have a big effect on how you feel. Try it now: first, slump over and hang your head while trying to remember a good time. It’s not easy, is it? Now stand up straight, look up, and spread your arms wide, and notice how much easier it is to feel good!
Calm yourself instantly
Focusing on your breathing is one quick way to calm yourself. Using your peripheral vision is another way of instantly activating the body’s relaxation response; it works for both fear and anger.
Starting from focusing on a point slightly above your eye level, broaden out your field of vision until you are paying attention to what you can see out of the corners of your eyes, while still looking straight ahead.
Now extend your awareness even further out, beyond the edges of your vision and all the way behind you – 360 degrees.
When you come back, notice how calm you feel and how your breathing has slowed down.
You can do peripheral listening and feeling too.
Monitor your body for tension
Every so often, check your body for tension. If any areas are tense, relax them by imagining that you are breathing into them.
Pay attention to the centre of your body, a few inches below your navel and half way between your stomach and your lower back. Relax your body and imagine your feet are firmly rooted to the ground. Notice how physically strong and centred you feel, and how paying attention to your centre also makes you feel stronger and calmer.
Project an energy bubble
Imagine you’re protected by a bubble of energy projected from your central point, so that anything stressful just bounces off and away.
Rate the emotion on a 0-10 scale
When experiencing a powerful negative emotion, rate it on a scale from zero (no emotion at all) to ten (completely overwhelming) to help to bring it under control. Applying a numerical rating engages the left hemisphere of the brain, associated with positive, upbeat feelings, and reduces activity in the right hemisphere, which (in right-handed people) contains a key centre for processing negative emotion.
Anchor your good feelings
Remember a time when you felt really good and in control. Choose a word, an image, and a (not too conspicuous) physical gesture that sum those feelings up. As you relive that time and the good feelings are coming to a peak, repeat the word to yourself, see the image and physically make the gesture. Practise getting into those good feelings until they are ‘anchored’ in, and you can access them any time you need them just by using the word, the image and/or the gesture.
Rise above uncomfortable emotions
If you are feeling overwhelmed, imagine you are floating above the situation looking down at yourself. Float up until you reach a height at which you are completely comfortable. Ask your inner self, ‘What do I need to learn from this?’
Dealing with the ‘inner critic’
Many people have an inner critic or ‘chatterbox’ that constantly takes a negative view of things. Often, it echoes critical comments made by parents or teachers when we were children. Sometimes, the critical inner voice can be such a constant that we hardly notice it’s there. If you have negative thoughts, isolate the voice and then have fun changing it.
Isolate the voice
- Notice where in your body the voice is coming from.
- What if it came from your left big toe? Would it still have the same effect?
- Move it back to where it was.
- Now what if it said the same things, but in the style of Donald Duck?
- Change it back.
- What if it used a very high-pitched voice?
- Change it back.
- Notice what tone it uses. What if it said the same things in a caressing tone, or a humorous, chuckling tone?
- What if you turned the volume down? Would it still have the same effect?
- Notice which change works best for you.
Challenge negative self-talk
You can control your feelings!
Another way of dealing with an ‘inner critic’ is to train it out of negativity by challenging it. Every time you catch yourself saying or thinking ‘I can’t do that’ ask yourself ‘What would happen if I did?’ If you find you are saying, ‘I mustn’t do that’, ask yourself ‘Who says I mustn’t? And what would happen if I did?’
Monitoring your progress
Keeping an emotional journal, as recommended in the Self-awareness page, will help you to track the improvements you are making. Even when you are having a ‘bad day’, it can restore your confidence to look back and see how far you have come.