How to Improve Your Self-Regulation
How to prepare for the emotion
Avoiding negative stimuli is rarely an option. Stress happens, tough conversations are inevitable, and projects don’t always run seamlessly. So, rather than avoiding conflicts, prepare for them.
Before a stressful situation, think about how you can calm yourself. Establish a few go-to techniques. If you’re walking into a difficult conversation, think about potential negative reactions. How can you respond calmly? What are your “hot buttons” that you need to watch out for? Or, before starting a project, think about what might go wrong so that you can prepare for those potential upsets.
By planning for negativity and your emotional responses, you’ll be less likely to get caught off guard. You’ll stay in control, making it less likely that you’ll say or do things you regret later.
Practice mindful observation
Denial is rarely an effective strategy. When you run from your feelings, those feelings tend to come out in unexpected ways. So, rather than burying your emotions, mindfully accept them. Recognize why you’re feeling a certain way, and don’t judge that emotion.
For example, if you’re irritable, acknowledge and experience that emotion like a wave: let it come and go. “I’m irritable today because I got stuck in traffic and didn’t have time to stop for breakfast.” The simple act of mindful observation will allow you to get unstuck from emotions. Plus, if something comes up later that further aggravates you, you’ll be less likely to lash out since you know you’re feeling irritable for other reasons.
Take time to STOPP
In the heat of the moment, STOPP is a strategy that can help you cool down. Here’s what the acronym stands for:
S - Stop: Stop and pause for a moment. Rather than having an emotional outburst, pause and create a buffer between the feeling and your reaction.
T - Take a breath. Take a deep breath in and out. Get your breathing steady before proceeding to take action.
O - Observe. Consider how you’re feeling right now. What are you reacting to? What thoughts are going through your head? What are your instincts telling you to do? And how could that response affect others?
P - Pull back. Take a step back. Before marching up to that employee or sending out an angry email, get some perspective. Consider the implications of a short outburst. Think about the bigger picture. Ask yourself: “How can I look at the situation differently? How important is this moment in the long term?"
P - Proceed. Now, take action and do what’s most appropriate. How can you react rationally?
Practice letting go
Have you ever rehashed an embarrassing situation over and over again in your head? How did you feel? Better? Often, when we experience a powerful emotion, we tend to hold onto it, replay the feeling, and escalate our sensitivity to it. Rather than getting over the feeling, we make the emotion stronger.
Instead, practice letting go and moving forward. Recognize that something happened, try to feel grateful for what you learned, and then think toward the future. Remember, you are not your emotions. You have control over them. You can choose to move on.
Reframe through cognitive reappraisal
Cognitive reappraisal is a technique that allows you to reframe your understanding of events. There are a lot of ways to think about the same situation. And through this technique, you can choose the healthiest interpretation.
For example, let’s say one of your coworkers, Jack, appeared spaced-out during today’s meeting. You took time to prepare an agenda and felt ignored and disrespected. Your gut emotional reaction is anger.
With cognitive reappraisal, you can reframe that situation with Jack. Rather than thinking his behavior was disrespectful, you might think: “Jack might be going through something.” You can readjust your mindset. And that way, when you confront Jack later, it won’t be out of anger but concern. You’ll communicate the same message: “You need to pay attention during meetings,” but you’ll do so in a more productive and emotionally stable way.
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