Imagine yourself in a meeting. Someone says something that you are sure will lead to yet another failed change initiative. But the others don’t really listen to you. The thought assails you:
“This project is a car crash in the making.”
Before this thought consciously hits you, the emotion it creates is already washing over you, clouding your judgment, literally, with all kinds of neurotransmitters flooding your brain. It leads to you checking out of the meeting: Either you start arguing, physically leave, or withdraw into yourself, waiting until it is over, all the while silently seething. Either way, you’re not able anymore to hear the others’ perspectives and arguments.
Before you know it, that thought has made you leave the conscious leader’s playing field and enter into a victim mode.
Neuroscienctific research has us know exactly how emotions are made and how to prevent getting washed over by unwanted ones. But more often than not, the emotion strikes so quickly that we are not fast enough to stop it in its tracks. Instead, we let our thoughts feed the emotion on and on and on. Because here’s the thing:
An emotion lasts no longer than 90 seconds.
So if you are consumed by it longer than that, you are in fact feeding it with new thoughts. But how do you stop this feeding frenzy?
Are you ready for building your personal emotions disruption hack?
Here are a few ways to disrupt the neuropathway from the information you interpret to the emotion it triggers:
Turn your focus from your thoughts to physical sensations.
For instance, touch one finger tip with another and focus so deeply on the sensation that you feel the fingertip ridges on your fingers. Do that for 90 seconds. Then notice your emotional state.
Or follow your breath as it enters your nostrils and streams into your body. Notice how it enters your belly, or how your lungs fill, first in your chest and then all along your back. And breathing out, sense the air leaving your body. Where does it leaves first and last? Do that for 90 seconds and then notice your emotional state.
You can scan any place in your body: Wriggle your toes in your shoes under the table and try to feel every single toe and the weight of your two feet on the ground.
You can do all these little things during your meeting, to recover from your reaction and to connect to your inner leader who is curious and in relationship with the others, and who is creative and will try to find a way of generating a new solution that might work for everyone in the room.
In many ways, this is no different to what my mother used to tell me:
“When you’re angry, always count to 10 before you respond!“
If you have a moment of self-awareness in the midst of an emotional roller coaster, there is another helpful hack to deflood your brain and get into the driver’s seat again:
Scan your body.
Where does the emotion sit? Does it make your belly tense? Does it tighten up your solar plexus? Is it in your throat? Your heart area? Or do your hands feel numb? Scanning your body for all its reactions to your emotion activates the reflective and decision making parts of your brain, and releases neurotransmitters which balance the chemical cocktail released by the emotion. Ann Betz has explained the neuroscience behind this really well in a Coaches Rising podcast on the neuroscience of resilient leadership.
But what can you do when you don’t remember any of that in the moment?
That is a likely scenario as emotions do wash over our brain in a split second. The key is to stretch the time from when the external event occurs and your internal reaction starts, thereby giving you a moment to choose your response rather than just reacting. And this takes practice.
Develop your own mental gym!
These tricks are all mental muscles you build over time by repetitions, just like you have to go to the gym regularly to build physical muscles. Shirzad Chamine calls this Shirzad Chamine calls this mental fitness: You strengthen your mental muscles by making these little exercises a regular practice in all of your meetings. You take regular 2 minute micro breaks for your mental gym throughout the day, say every 2 hours.
More and more, when you are in resistance to a situation, your new habit of refocusing your mind will automatically kick in.