Neuroscientists have known for years that unregulated emotions impair our decision-making ability. But it is only recently that scientists have begun to prove that the opposite is also true. Namely that if we effectively manage our emotions, we make better decisions and can create a real competitive advantage.
Think about a time when you’ve been under pressure to make a decision. You might be aware of
your pounding heart, your erratic breathing, your sweaty palms and the tension in your stomach. All
this chaotic biology means your emotions are unregulated and this impairs your brain function and your ability to make good decisions.
So how do you regulate your emotions?
Step One: Take Ownership
The first step is to recognise that it’s we who have created that negative emotion within our
bodies. The increased muscle tension, the pounding heart, the sweaty palms – they have all been
created by us.
Step Two: Get to the Heart of the Matter
As you will have experienced with a pounding heart, for example, our physiology is intrinsically linked to our emotions. So, to regulate your emotions, you need to become aware of your biological data and more specifically your heart rate variability (HRV) signal.
You can learn to control your HRV signal using rhythmic (not deep) breathing so that there is a fixed ratio between the in- and the out-breath. That will bring you into a much more coherent state, in which you can begin to control your emotions rather than letting them control you.
Step Three: Be Emotionally Aware
Controlling your breathing and heart rate variability is only one part of the story. You also need to
be able to choose the right emotional state, and that means recognising what emotional state you are currently in. Most people can recognise about a dozen different emotional states regularly. Many of them are negative such as anxiety, anger, frustration, tiredness, boredom, confusion or disappointment. There are not just a dozen distinguishable emotional states, there are 34,000!
Step Four: Develop Emotional Literacy
Having become aware that there are many different emotions, the next step is to be able to personally differentiate between those emotions. This means cultivating your emotional literacy.
The purpose of an emotion is to drive action. If you are not sure whether you are angry or anxious,
then you are liable to choose the wrong action, the wrong behaviour.
Step Five: Change your Emotional State
Once you are more aware of your emotions and you can accurately identify them, the real game
changer for performance is to change how you feel. Being able to move from frustration to
determination, for example, will help you perform better and increase your chances of success.
If you change your emotional state to excitement or enthusiasm, for instance, you may be able to
infect others with that feeling and compel them towards you until they are experiencing the
same emotion as you.