Regulating Emotions: The most important skill no one bothered to teach you
For the bast 6 weeks, I’ve been going to therapy for 1 hour every Monday.
I’ve told almost no one (until now 😊). For whatever reason, I’m at least slightly embarrassed.
- I have problems, like all humans
- I have always hated the idea of therapy without being able to articulate why. Whenever this happens, I take it as a signal that I should try the thing I’m questioning
- I get 6 weeks of free therapy through my job!
At the moment, I have no plans to continue with therapy, but it was a valuable experience.
Regulating your nervous system
The most import skill I improved through therapy is how to regulate my emotions.
Here’s the emotional path of most humans:
It’s a bit exaggerated, but you get the point. We are constantly oscillating between highs and lows as we’re reacting to new events. Some ups and downs are quite normal, but spiking back and forth between these states is not sustainable or desirable.
The internet has only made this harder. There is always a new piece of information flying at us that we have to react to.
But as a result, learning how to keep your emotions between the dotted lines is more valuable than ever.
Humans are social creatures. When something happens, we are always looking at those around us to figure out how we should react. If you react in an extreme fashion and act irrationally, other people around you will too.
A classic example of this is politics. Somehow, politics seems to find a way to bring out the worst in people — even those that are typically very emotionally intelligent.
But if you can learn to keep your emotions in control, you can inspire a similar response in those around you. You can be the change you want to see in the world. You can make better decisions. You can handle stress more easily. You can stop wasting energy on dumb shit and save it for the things you care about.
I can’t think of a more important skill to learn if you want to be a leader at a company.
Like all skills, learning to regulate your emotions takes practice. I like to break it into 3 meta-skills: Daily regulation, Just in time regulation, mindset.
Daily practice: Keeping your emotions in check requires daily practice. It can really be anything. The only rule is that you can’t be bombarding your brain with information to react to during this time. No music, no podcasts, no phone, etc.
Exercise and meditation are the ways I practice every (sometimes) day.
Just in time regulation: This is the act of noticing that your emotions are getting outside the dotted lines. Just taking a moment to notice that you’re feeling angry or upset, and labeling the emotion is often enough to bring you back inside the “regulated emotional” zone.
I struggle with this one. One technique is to have an object that acts as a trigger to remind you to breathe and notice what you are feeling. Again, it could be anything.
Mindset: This encompasses basically everything else. I’m a huge fan of stoic philosophy in this regard. Specifically, I can recommend reading A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy.
Stoicism fits in well with emotional regulation because it asks you to grapple with the “worst-case scenario”. Often times by playing this scenario out, we realize it’s not nearly as bad as we would have expected.
And once we’ve played out our own worst-case scenario, we quickly realize all the things in our life that are spiking our emotions into the stressed or angry zone are not nearly as bad as they seem.
This is mostly just me thinking about life — not prescriptive. Thanks for reading 😃