In part two of our series on Emotional Intelligence, we are going to talk about Self-Regulation. As you remember from our first blog, Self-Awareness is the first key step in developing your Emotional Intelligence. As we gain the ability to be aware of our actions, both the healthy and the unhealthy, we can begin to work on regulating the way that we interact with others.
Have you ever gotten into an argument with a loved one and said something in anger, only to feel badly about it later on? As humans we tend to say things or react a certain way when we feel like we are being attacked, are experiencing frustration, or believe we are misunderstood, and our snap-reactions are not always the best representations of our beliefs or values.
Self-regulation is our ability to feel an emotion but not feel the need to automatically react upon it.
For example, let’s say that you work in a customer service department, and you have a customer in front of you that is yelling at you, being rude, and causing a scene because they do not agree with one of your company’s policies. You can start to feel your body tense because of the way that they are acting, because you know that this is not your fault, it isn’t your policy, why are they acting this way?
You can either:
A.) Give into the anger and frustration that you are feeling and be rude back to the customer because it would seem fitting for how they have been treating you.
B.) Realize that you are feeling anger because of the customer’s rudeness, but choose not to respond to it and make the situation worse. Instead, you can be calm with them and try to turn the negative interaction into a positive one.
In response A, you may feel as if you are justified in your response, and you might even feel a small sense of victory in being rude back to someone who is treating you poorly, but how will you feel later? Is being rude to someone else something that you value or believe in?
When we can separate our actions from our emotions, we take control of the way that we respond, so that we are able to be conscious in our interactions of how we want to be seen, heard, and understood. Even when a situation is not ideal, if we are able to respond in accordance to our beliefs and values, you will feel better after the incident because you did not back down on what you truly believe in.
Although it may seem hard to do, we can actively work on our Emotional Intelligence and grow our ability to Self-Regulate, which is a useful tool for almost any facet of life.
Exercise 1: Tracking Patterns
Make a list of times that you felt you were unable to control your emotions and reacted in a manner that you did not feel was fitting to your personal values. It could be an emotion relating to any stressors in your life (anger, fear, stress, sadness, etc).
As you look at your list, do you see any patterns in your behaviors? Perhaps you tend to be more rude towards others at work when you miss a deadline, or maybe you have a habit of snapping at your significant other when you feel you are not being understood.
While looking at your list, make a mental note of 2-3 events that occur often in your personal or work life, and file them away. The idea is to be aware of the events and actions that can trigger an automatic response for us so that the next time we are in a similar situation, we can be prepared to choose how we want to react. When we become aware of our natural reactions, it makes it easier for us to take a deep breath to ground ourselves before responding, or providing us the ability to make a conscious choice to not respond in an automatic fashion, so we have the option to respond in a healthy manner.
As you continue through your weeks, keep a running list of events that occur, ones where you responded automatically due to your emotional levels, and the instances where you were able to control your response and were happy with the way you handled the situation.
Self-reflection is a big part of growing your Emotional Intelligence, so spend some time each week looking through your list. If you had an instance where you did not respond in a manner you felt was appropriate, reflect on how you could have handled that circumstance differently in a way which you felt happy with. When you read an event where you responded in a way that was within your values and beliefs, give yourself a pat on the back because you deserve it!
As time goes on, you will be able to fashion your automated responses into a healthy reaction that you chose, in any situation.
Exercise 2: Cognitive Reframing
Another exercise that we can utilize to develop our sense of Self-Regulation is called Cognitive Reframing. This is the act of taking a known stressor, whether that is anger, stress, or negativity, and reframing it into a positive. This helps us to move away from unhealthy patterns in our behavior and instead work towards a more positive outcome.
Simply put, practicing Cognitive Reframing means to actively seek the positive in whatever situation you find yourself in. You can change your mindset and look at the situation without emotion and focusing on the concrete actions that are occuring.
The best example of this is the A,B,C model by Albert Ellis, who is one of the founders of REBT. When a situation arises, you break it down into the following acronym.
- A – Activating Event (the actual event that has occured)
- B – Belief (the results of the event is developing a belief, whether positive or negative)
- C – Consequence (the belief leads to a consequence, and depending on your belief the outcome is healthy or unhealthy)
- D – Disputation (if the consequence of the belief is negative, this is where you reflect and discuss the consequence with yourself through an impartial lense, to try to seek out the positive)
- E – New Effect (because you took the time in the disputation step to reframe the thoughts surrounding your belief, you have the ability to change your outcome from a negative into a positive)
In order to put that into perspective, let’s look at an example.
A: Activating Event
Rhonda was excited and proud about a story she was writing for her blog, so she showed it to her friend Jenny to see what she thinks. After reading the story, Jenny tells Rhonda about some grammatical errors she noticed, along with providing a suggestion in the storyline so that it makes more sense for other readers.
After hearing this, Rhonda feels like she isn’t a good writer because Jenny didn’t seem to like the story and had more suggestions for areas to fix than positive feedback. She begins to doubt that her writing was ever any good.
Due to her belief that Jenny’s feedback was reflecting negatively on her ability to write, Rhonda is doubting that she wants to be a writer anymore. On top of that, Rhonda feels hurt by Jenny because Rhonda didn’t feel like she had anything good to say about the story she was working so hard on and was proud of..
Rhonda decides to look at the event from another angle. She thinks about what Jenny actually said, her emotions aside, and realized that Jenny was trying to help her more than anything else. She was giving her suggestions for how to make the story more believable, and was helping her to find grammatical errors so that the end story would be well-polished when she published it on her blog.
E: New Effect
Since Rhonda took the time to not react out of instinct, she was able to reframe her mindset from a negative reaction to a positive one. This has made her more appreciative of her friend’s honest feedback, and encouraged her to keep writing.
In order to put this exercise to use, take a moment the next time you notice yourself having a negative or unhealthy belief. (This is where self-awareness from part one comes in handy!)
Run yourself through the A,B,C model to see if there was a way to find a positive in the Activating Event that occurred, which led to a specific Belief, which in turn had a negative or unwanted Consequence.
Due to the wonderful nature of our brains, as you begin to work on this skill, it will become a habit as time goes on. Thanks to our brain’s neuroplasticity, we are able to re-train our brains in any way imaginable so we never stop growing.