In January 2019, the social media world was captivated by the gymnastics routine of 21-year old American, Katelyn Ohashi. Competing for the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Ohashi leapt, flipped, and turned in a high-energy performance that gained perfect 10 scores from the judges. However, it wasn’t simply the scores that led Ohashi’s routine to hit the headlines.
Ohashi’s journey to that performance, and the follow-ups that kept her in the spotlight, was filled with challenge and opportunity, success and failure. In 2013, she won the American Cup, defeating future Olympic Gold Medalist, Simone Biles in the process. A year later she was seriously injured before, having returned to competition, fracturing her sternum in 2016. The 2018 National Championships saw a fit-again Ohashi win the floor title — her first national championship victory.
This technically brilliant athlete, repeatedly broken but seldom beaten, then took the floor at 2019’s Collegiate Challenge. Complementing her skill this time, however, was a routine that showed the crowd more of herself, more emotion, than ever before. Where she had been technically astute to win the American Cup in 2013, Ohashi now combined this with something seldom seen in the sport: authentic emotion.
In assessing what was different about this performance, Ohashi highlighted emotion as a key element in her development as an athlete and person,
Everyone is watching us, and we’re not supposed to show emotion. As a gymnast, I’ve always compartmentalized my life, which is a blessing and a curse. But over time, I’ve learned that my sport doesn’t fully define me, and I think that’s where a lot of the joy in my routines comes from now: I’m not compartmentalizing as much, and I know who I am beyond my sport.
By being mindful and taking the risk to embrace emotion, Ohashi took the skills that made her a success in her field and elevated her performance to a level that transcended gymnastics — both in terms of community impact and her own mental wellbeing.
We’re not all chasing our 15 minutes, but we could all learn a lot from Ohashi’s approach.
Katelyn Ohashi exemplifies a technical expert who used emotion to further her impact. In our workplaces, much like in sport, we often feel that showing too much emotion will make us lose our competitive edge. We’re afraid of appearing weak but, in reality, there is strength in vulnerability.
So, how do we find the balance that allows us to wear our hearts on our sleeves, be strong, feel confident, and excel?
First, it’s important to feel comfortable and supported. This is often something that is out of our control — but we can have an influence on others. If we’re open about the presence and power of emotions, we’re taking a leadership role. This isn’t just about CEOs and managers, everyone can play a role in leading emotional culture. Often it’s just about being kind to one another, but there are other ways you can evolve your emotional intelligence to increase your emotional leadership.
To master your own emotions, you need to be comfortable with the emotions of others. To help us find the tools to do this we can refer to the book Your Kingdom; A Guide to Wellbeing and Potential, following the crane in living in the now. That ability, to live in the moment and be mindful, of ourselves and others, is the first step in acknowledging that emotions exist. This sounds obvious, but how often do we try and bury them, especially negative ones? Equally, when we see emotions traditionally defined as negative in others, how often do we try and belittle or compensate for them?
These questions lead us to another animal within Your Kingdom, the self-talk hummingbird. The simple process of writing down our self-talk, acknowledging and labelling those negative thoughts, creates a space where we can accept those emotions that weigh us down. Identifying these emotions also helps us deal with them rationally and can provide us with some context for them: knowing our triggers and being honest about our emotions allows us to determine response mechanisms. Remember, dealing with emotions is about response, not control.
People “catch” feelings so identifying the people who can influence your own emotions is important. Body language and eye contact are important tools to use here. If you’re in a meeting with someone who challenges your emotional well-being, limit eye contact with them. Similarly, if you’ve identified someone as supportive or particularly positive, try and increase your eye contact with them. You can help others with your body language too. If you’re cold, put on a jersey rather than folding your arms in a self-cuddle. People view folded arms as emotionally cold or defensive, whether that’s your intention or not.
If you’re able to be present and identify your emotions, put in to place your own strategy for responding to these, then you can bring a positive mindset to meetings and group situations.
It’s not fake it until you make it, it’s deal with it so you can help others deal with it.