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Regulating Your Emotions

Anyone can become angry that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way this is not easy. –Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics


“The ability to control my emotions and my actions, regardless of circumstance,sets me apart from other men.” -- Navy SEAL Creed


Whether by our own failures or the failures of others as leaders to control and regulate emotions well, we all have plenty of evidence to support those powerful quotes. The key to surviving change--serious change, the kind that truly threatens you and your plans--is maintaining control of your emotions. When you are managing a challenging schedule (with work, school, other activities), sometimes stress and other people’s priorities and attitudes can get the better of you and make it difficult to control your emotions. In general, emotional reactions to any situation have a strong possibility of making things worse. Keeping emotions regulated is a trait we consistently find in effective leaders.Leaders love to plan and execute, but a famous statement within the SEALS is, “No plan survives first contact with the enemy.” For a SEAL team, this has literal meaning, but it also applies to life and leadership in general. Change happens. Change will come. Sometimes it will be unwelcome, even threatening. There's only one way to get through it. If you stay focused and keep your emotions in check, your team and your business will have the best chance to survive.Great leaders don’t let temporary emotions drive permanent decisions. What they feel today doesn’t determine what’s happening tomorrow. Emotional decisions are almost never good decisions. But think about all the terrible decisions you’ve made when you were emotional. You could write a book of the words and actions. A good night’s sleep, conversation with a wise outsider—slowing down and letting emotions settle always is best. Don’t do something permanently stupid because you are temporarily upset.Great leaders don’t believe emotions are reality. It’s never as bad as you think when you’re emotional. And it’s probably not as great as you think when you are feeling good, either. Putting a little distance between your emotions and your decisions is a great strategy. Talking to a trusted objective counselor is good, too.Great leaders refuse to allow their emotions to bleed into selfish behavior. Terrible situations are fueled by terrible emotions. In the same way that stubbing your toe makes you forget about whatever else you were doing until the pain is resolved, your emotional pain (no matter its source) makes you more selfish as a leader. We don’t listen well to others, withdraw and blame, spread sadness.Here are some quick tips to develop better control over your emotions:

  • Learn to respond instead of react. Take a moment to pause and consider what just happened instead of just instantly reacting to new information or a new situation. By taking a few seconds to pause and consider, you can calm yourself briefly and you will be likely to produce a better response.

  • Don’t panic. If you panic publicly, your team’s morale will plummet. That will throw your company deeper into chaos. Stay positive, calm, and reassuring. If you must vent, do it away from the office.

  • Focus on what you can control. Once you have been presented with a stressful or emotional situation, try to identify what you can and can't control. If something is done, you can't change it. You can only determine what to do now. You can control your response, and to a certain degree, you can likely control what happens next. By focusing on what you can control, you are empowering yourself. By dwelling on things you can't control, you disempower yourself and make yourself more frustrated and more stressed. Stay focused. Remember what your mission is and keep your team moving toward that goal even in a chaotic environment.

  • Figure out what's important NOW. When you are presented with a challenging situation in life, it's important to prioritize what things you must act on now. If, for example, you arrive at an important meeting, get out of your car, then realize that you just locked your keys in the car, what's important now? The meeting is important now, not your keys. You can deal with the locked car after the meeting. Don’t freak out.Take a few moments to pause and consider. Refocus your mind on what's most important right now and prioritize your plan of action.

  • Display unity.If you disagree with other company leaders about how to proceed, fight it out behind closed doors. If your team senses confusion at the top, it will weaken your company. Always present a unified face to your team.

  • Know that you can handle anything. Whatever challenges you are facing that may cause stress or negative emotions, you can handle them. Ask yourself,Am I going to die from this?”If the answer is "no," then realize that you CAN handle the situation. Sure, some situations are extremely difficult to deal with, but step by step, we can find solutions and move forward.

  • Look for the opportunity in obstacles. View challenging events as more neutral than negative. You can even start finding the good in difficult situations in terms of what lessons you can learn, skills you can develop, and new motivation you can gain.Say "No problem" a whole lot more. You’ll start to believe it and other people will, too.

  • Let your emotions fuel your passion. Emotion isn’t all bad. Passion is an indisputable characteristic of great leaders. Passion is directly fueled by emotion and is practically impossible to fake. Passionate leaders are attractive, and not easily overlooked. Just keep it positive.

  • Prepare now. Sound preparation is vital to surviving change. Give your team members the autonomy and encouragement now that will allow them to step up and assume responsibility when change occurs.

Learn to regulate your emotions. Your reaction to a situation literally has the power to change the situation itself.

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