Master Your Emotions With These Four Techniques
September 13, 2020, Uster, Swiss canton of Zürich. We are just a few minutes from the start of the international triathlon Olympic distance, which is planned to start at 8:25am. We are more than 300 male athletes waiting in line for the start of the 1.5km swim in the Greifensee lake. The water temperature is 22°C and there’s a slight fog over the water and the surrounding fields, which makes our natural playground much less welcoming than it was a few days ago when I came to scan the tracks under a beautiful sun.
I’ve prepared for the last three months for this triathlon and while standing on the start line, for some unknown reason, my mind starts to freak out and think of all that could possibly go wrong during the race. My breathing rate increases and a stream of negative scenarios come to my mind. Fortunately for me, I know this little nasty voice, the one from my ego who tries to preserve me by all means against any risk or failure. Then I step back mentally, acknowledge this emotion, breathe out, reconnect to reality, answer that protecting voice saying that it’s gonna be okay and that I’m more than prepared for this course; then I let go of this negative emotion.
This little trick really helped me to put me back in a positive mindset and to start the race with a serene and positive mindset (I finished in an an overall time of 2h 31min, having targeted 2h 30min (🙄😉)). Today, I want to share four techniques that will help you to master your emotions and manage any emotional rollercoaster that you may face:
1. Being aware of your emotions and observing them with detachment
“To be free from your emotions, you need to have real, immediate knowledge of your emotions” - Arnaud Desjardins.
Nothing can be more exact than this: The most important step to mastering your emotions is to recognize them. They will often come under the form of physical sensations (physical tensions, a racing heart, tightness in the chest… ) or negative chatter in your mind. Become more aware of those signs.
Then detach yourself from your emotions. One trick for this is to consider your ego as a third person, as advised by Joël and Sean Luzi in their book Mobilize your emotional resources (original title in French Mobilisez vos ressources émotionnelles). This ego and its emotional rollercoaster is not you, and you even need to be critical towards it and its negative chatting.
Your negative emotions only exist in your mind and you are not your emotions. Your emotions will come and will go. As proposed by Thibaut Meurisse in his book Master Your Emotions, think of your emotions as clouds and yourself as the sun: The sun is always there, whether or not it's hidden by the clouds. In a stressful situation, Meurisse recommends asking yourself: “Is that situation stressful in itself?” I find it very powerful as you often realize that what happens negatively in your mind is often far from the more positive or neutral reality.
“Emotions come and go, but you stay. Always” - Thibaut Meurisse
2. Accept the situation and focus on what you can control
The second technique is to accept the situation triggering the emotions and to focus on what you can control. As Meurisse explains, for the things you have control over, think about the actions you could take to optimize the situation in your favor. For the things you have no control over, accept them and let go of your need to control them.
Based on my sport experience, I can also recommend the following concept proposed by mental coaches and consultants Pier Gauthier and Jean-Marc Sabatier in their book The Power of the Mind (original title in French La Force du Mental), where they advise using emotions as signals that you can leverage: Fear tells you to prepare, anger tells you to motivate yourself, sadness tells you to recharge, happiness tells you to celebrate and to surf on motivation.
Last but not least, it is always good to put some objectivity back in a situation when you’re overwhelmed by emotions, by reminding yourself of the quantified goals and the indicators that help to evaluate the situation objectively rather than emotionally.
3. Increase your self-confidence and remain positive
Fear and negative emotions are often linked to our belief that we’ll not be able to manage whatever may happen in the future, thus lead to a lack of self-confidence.
In their book, Gauthier and Sabatier give the following advice which I find to be the best in terms of increasing your self-confidence:
- Your self-confidence must be there from the beginning and must be independent of the immediate result. Daring to make or do new things also means including a risk of failure and you must also accept the possibility of losing. Your level of confidence must be evaluated in the specific situation, not as a generality.
- Increase your self-confidence by giving yourself proof over and over again that you have been able to rely on yourself in the past. Self-confidence builds up gradually with your successes, provided that you accept failure.
When facing emotional ups and downs, it’s also important to remain positive and to keep in mind that every problem has a solution.
“Most of our fears are a threat only to our ego, not to our survival.” - Thibaut Meurisse
4. Bonus: how to manage your negative emotions when you’re on edge
OK, what if you are really on the edge emotionally, for example at work with a colleague, and you need to regain control of yourself and your emotions quickly? Below is an efficient five-step ritual proposed by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz in their article The Making of a Corporate Athlete for Harvard Business Review.
A prerequisite for this ritual is that you first need to become more aware of signals from your body telling you that you’re on edge. Then follow the five steps:
1. Take several deep breaths and if you can, close your eyes.
2. Relax your face muscles.
3. Make an effort to soften your voice and to speak slowly.
4. Try to put yourself in the shoes of the person who was the target of your anger to imagine what he or she must be feeling.
5. Focus on framing your response in positive language.
I hope that those four techniques will help you to master your emotions. Did you find value in what you’ve read? Visit my blog at julientrom.blogspot.com for more than 50 articles about career, marketing, and mindset.
“Harvard Business Review’s 10 Must Reads - On Mental Toughness” (in English).
“Master Your Emotions”, Thibaut Meurisse (in English).
“La Force du Mental”, Pier Gauthier and Jean-Marc Sabatier (in French).
“Mobilisez vos Ressources Émotionnelles", Joël Luzi and Sean Luzi (in French).