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Behaviour and Self-Control: Can You Keep Yourself In Check?

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It is extra-busy today and everything seems to be going wrong.

Then a colleague says the wrong thing at the wrong time.

Do you react by lashing out verbally or banging your fists on the table?

Or are you able to keep your reaction in check, calmly deciding to respond to the remark with composure and equanimity, and able to carry on with what you were doing?

Your answer to this will help determine your level of self-control and your ability to keep your emotions in check; can you prevent negative feelings from disrupting your sense of composure as you go about your day?

This is the fourth important component of emotional intelligence.

In the first three articles we focused on self-awareness.

Knowing yourself and your emotions is key to be able to exert more control over them.

In this article we start looking at self-management, and begin to consider behaviour and reactions to situations and circumstances.

Are you ‘hijacked’ by your emotions?

We all feel emotions of all kinds, and these emotions all have the power to ‘hijack’ our decision-making and behaviour.

People with high emotional intelligence are better able to control their emotions and maintain composure and clarity, even when their feelings threaten to sabotage their thought processes.

The key to improving your ability to do this is in cultivating self-awareness.

Understanding your emotions and being able to recognise them and how they affect you is the first step to better self-management and self-regulation.

Learning to do this well enables you to keep in check emotions and impulses that disrupt your behaviour – and which often have negative outcomes.

However, this is NOT about bottling up emotions, which is not helpful for anybody.

Emotions need an outlet, so we must learn to recognise that certain emotions are there but manage them in a mindful way as the situation dictates.

Abdicating Self-Control

Unleashing a string of expletives at your colleague is probably not going to end well.

Anger and frustration can derail relationships, damage workplace performance, and lead to undue stress and self-harming behaviour. Such negative consequences are due to the ‘threat response’ produced by the brain when we allow emotions to take over.

Daniel Goleman explains the concept of ‘hijacking by emotion’ expertly in his book, The Brain and Emotional Intelligence:

“During a hijack, we can’t learn, and we rely on over-learned habits, ways we’ve behaved time and time again. We can’t innovate or be flexible during a hijack.”

Of course, there is a time and place for all human emotions! I

nstead, when we are feeling angry and frustrated taking it out on a punch-bag in the gym or sitting down with a friend over a glass of wine and ‘venting’ can be a healthy way of dealing with the emotions.

Understanding this and working on improving your handling of your emotions will help you from becoming hijacked by them, and avoid becoming a victim of their negative outcomes.

Positive signs of self-regulation

How does a strong sense of self-regulation show in individuals?

Here are a few of the signs to look out for in people:

  • Ability to handle impulses well – with well-balanced reactions
  • Composure and sense of calm Unflappable nature even in stressful moments
  • Positivity and ability to see the positives even in difficult situations
  • Ability to think clearly and make cool decisions even under pressure
  • Appearance of being alert and focused
  • Willingness to take responsibility for their actions and not to blame others

Do you need to work on your emotional self-control?

There are some obvious signs that you need to work on your emotional self-control – and some not-so-obvious signs.

This might be something you want to look at if you find yourself doing any of the following:

  • Lashing out or snapping unnecessarily at others
  • Realising after the event that you over reacted to a situation
  • Regularly showing anger or frustration
  • Feeling guilty about what you did or said to someone
  • Reacting poorly in pressure situations Making bad decisions under stress
  • Looking for excuses or for others to blame

How to develop your powers of self-regulation

Improving your powers of self-regulation should help you see more positive results in personal and professional situations.

First work on improving self-awareness.

Then you will have the foundation you need to exert more control over the way you react in situations.

You will recognise the ‘warning signs’ where emotions are in danger of hijacking your mind and behaviour, and you can take evasive action. So that’s the starting point: go back and re-read my earlier article on self-awareness and create time for more self-reflection and mindfulness meditation.

Then try some of these approaches:

  • Try to detail the tell-tale physical signs of emotional ‘hijack’ – does your blood start rushing to your head or do you feel a slight sense of nausea?
  • Reason with yourself – try talking to yourself next time you face a stressful situation with emotions beginning to rise. Use logic to lessen the sense of stress you feel. You may be able to alleviate the tell-tale signs of a ‘stress response’ taking over.
  • Take a step back and deep breaths – when you feel emotions taking over, take a step back and breathe. You may even want to start deep breathing to regain composure.
  • Postpone important decisions – this won’t increase your self-regulation but it might help you avoid excessive fallout from it. If you find yourself frustrated or angry at something, give yourself time to compose yourself before making a decision you’ll regret.
  • Learn from experience - if you still experience situations where you react poorly because of emotions, don’t get frustrated. Learn from the experience and move on… nobody’s perfect!

Self-regulation will take time to improve and longer to master.

But by being more aware of your emotions you will be in a better position to exert more control over the destructive ones, rather than being a victim to them as they take over your decision-making processes and behaviour.

This should equate to fewer frustrating episodes and better outcomes all round.

Ushma Dhanak

Ushma Dhanak

Social & Emotional Intelligence Coach & Trainer

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