During a recent debate discussing the need for emotional intelligence and agility in the workplace a challenging thought was put on the table when someone presented their perspective that self-regulation was about “hiding emotions wasn’t it?”
I have always considered it as being mindful of our internal narrative, accepting our emotions by recognising and then navigating them for helpful outcomes. Emotions and thoughts can be positive or negative. A recognised human tendency is to unconsciously navigate towards our Negative Automatic Thoughts (NATs), a psychological concept often used in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). It stems from Aaron Beck’s (1976) cognitive model within which he proposes that we can notice our NATs and subsequently process them differently IF we pay attention and learn to navigate them. My approach, to process them differently, is to use a reflective journal and practice daily mindfulness.
To answer the question, I shared valuable and accessible science I had explored to develop our most recent workshop. Psychologist Dr. Susan David’s four key concepts in her book Emotional Agility resonated particularly strongly. She purports that “The process isn’t about ignoring difficult emotions and thoughts. It’s about holding those emotions and thoughts loosely, facing them courageously and compassionately, and then moving past them to ignite change in your life”.
To do this, she developed a four-step conceptual model. I practice it in my professional and personal life and hope you too might find it of use;
- Showing Up:Instead of ignoring difficult thoughts and emotions or overemphasizing ‘positive thinking’, facing into your thoughts, emotions and behaviours willingly, with curiosity and kindness.
- Stepping Out:Detaching from, and observing your thoughts and emotions to see them for what they are—just thoughts, just emotions. Essentially, learning to see yourself as the chessboard, filled with possibilities, rather than as any one piece on the board, confined to certain preordained moves.
- Walking Your Why:Your core values provide the compass that keeps you moving in the right direction. Rather than being abstract ideas, these values are the true path to willpower, resilience and effectiveness.
- Moving On:Small deliberate tweaks to your mind-set, motivation, and habits – in ways that are infused with your values, can make a powerful difference in your life. The idea is to find the balance between challenge and competence, so that you’re neither complacent nor overwhelmed. You’re excited, enthusiastic, invigorated.
So, in response to the view that self-regulation is about hiding emotions, I would argue that the amount of psychological effort required to do so far outstrips that needed to pay attention to them and move on. The model above is a powerful technique that anyone can use.
Amidst all the science, it always surprises me as to where, when and how I get reminded of the power of our emotions and NATs. Whilst on the treadmill my playlist blasted out the Red Hot Chili Peppers “Dark Necessities”. I’m sure there are many interpretations to this song, but for me I leverage some of its lyrics as a positive acceptance that we can navigate our difficult emotions. The line “Dark necessities are part of my design” make me pay attention once again to the thoughts that are part of my design. It’s a positive acceptance that all thoughts and emotions need navigating if we are to be truly emotionally intelligent and agile.
We all have what may be perceived as a dark necessity and it’s OK to call it that and as the lyrics go on to say:
“Darkness helps us all to shine”
Chartered MCIPD, BSc (Hons) HRM, PGCE
Emotional Intelligence Thought Leader & Collaborator