I have a milestone birthday fast approaching. I used to get emotional about birthdays, but not anymore. Maybe it helped to hear my grandmother Muz (who lived to be 91, and who I miss every day) tell me “Birthdays are better than the alternative.”
Even if you’re not celebrating a milestone birthday, you likely have your own reasons for showing some emotion. Maybe a long job search is getting to you. Or maybe the increased pressure to bring in new business at your workplace is feeling exhausting, or impossible. Or maybe you’re just sad that summer’s ending, always way too fast. No matter what emotions you’re experiencing, emotion doesn’t have to be negative. Emotions can get us in motion, moving closer toward our goals.
I had lunch with a former colleague who remarked how her workplace was getting “so emotional” lately, what with extreme financial pressures motivating surprising actions from her teammates. Later that same week, a typically dependable colleague failed to meet a commitment, and no one knew why. That is, of course, until he revealed his extreme stress over a family illness.
“It’s just business,” we claim, “it’s not personal.” But as these folks discovered, that’s a myth. In fact, it’s all personal.
Human beings, by their very nature, are messy. We distinguish ourselves from other life forms not by our opposable thumbs, but by the fact that we think, therefore, we feel. And sometimes when we feel too much, especially in the workplace, we often respond by freezing our action. We might not say that’s what we’re doing, but we’re doing it. Don’t believe me? See if any of these sound familiar…
- “We need to make the execs more comfortable with the concept first…”
- “I don’t want to tell the boss about that until the time is right…”
- “My teammate is losing it; I’m just going to work around him for a while…”
All are ways that emotions are freezing–or at least significantly slowing–action. And when we freeze our actions, we add more stress and build even more emotions as we get overdue on our demands and fall further behind on meeting our goals.
But emotions don’t have to freeze us. They can actually help us to get into motion. But how? The next time emotions slow you down, here’s a simple formula you can use to get you back in motion:
Emotions are just body-shaped stop signs. Mine may be rounder than yours; yours may be taller than mine, but we all have this built-in signaling device.
When a feeling hits–especially a strong one–obey the sign and stop. If an emotion is getting in your way–like fear, anger, or frustration–it’s safer to stop for a moment then to keep stepping into it, feeding it, scratching it. Your body is smart, and uses whatever you feel to teach you something. So stop at the sign, recognize the emotion and then…
Once you’ve stopped, it’s time to look both ways. Notice more clearly what’s happening around you that’s driving the emotion. Get clear on what you’re really experiencing–for example, is it anger, or is it really fear? Is it frustration with my colleague, or am I just jealous?
To help you see a clearer picture, try asking some more demanding questions of yourself, such as:
- What exactly is (or is not) working here?
- What is this emotion trying to tell me? Protect me from? Push me toward?
- If I could change one thing, what would it be? What’s keeping me from making that change?
- What other support do I need here? Who can I ask for that support?
So while you’re looking, make sure you…
Listening doesn’t only happen with your ears (although your ears are a good start, especially if you’re asking questions like those above of a colleague or customer). But listening can also happen in your gut, your intuitive self, your internal ticking that knows the truth when you hear it.
When you’re listening to your answers, give yourself the present of being outcome-neutral. That means withholding any judgement about the answers–they’re not right or wrong, they just are. It’s easier to listen when you know you’re not being judged.
Once you’ve listened to your reactions, you have something you didn’t have before-pure honest information that you now understand and can work with. You’ve taken the ethereal emotion and made it something real and understandable–something you can act on. You’ll get unstuck and have the data you need to make your next decision.
Learning to listen to your emotions moves you forward faster than any other skill can. When you stop, look, and listen, you’ll no longer be frozen. You’ll be ready to move forward, and you’ll thank the emotion for putting you in motion again.
While we think a lot about managing our negative emotions, I’m focused on increasing my favorite one, which is joy! It always puts me in motion! I keep favorite songs in my “rainy day” file to create joy and move me forward when fear or frustration sneak back in!
What are your tools, techniques, and inspiration sources for using your emotions to get into motion?