Understanding the Process of Emotions

Dr. Eve Ekman recently presented a session on Overcoming Negativity and Judgement as part of the Wise@Work Virtual Communities series organised by Wisdom Labs.  Eve’s professional work focuses on developing emotional awareness, compassion and mindfulness. In pursuit of this goal, she draws on her knowledge, research and experience in areas such as integrative medicine, clinical social work and contemplative science. The mission of Wisdom Labs is to improve mental health in the workplace and the organisation offers guided virtual communities and a stress reduction app as a means to pursue these goals.  The positive outcomes from these tools are reduction in workplace stress, combating loneliness and burnout and improvement in teamwork.

Eve facilitates the Cultivating Emotional Balance Online Course and is Director of Training at the Greater Good Science Center (GGSC), University of California Berkeley.  Eve demonstrates the benefits of her yoga and meditation practice in her concise, calm, practical and insightful presentations in many contexts, including in large organisations around the world.   Her video presentation on cultivating emotional balance and fluency at the 2013 Summer Institute for Educators (GGSC) is another example of the depth and passion of her work in developing emotional awareness

The process of emotions

Eve made the point at the outset that we have to understand the nature of emotions if we are going to learn how to keep them under control.  She explained that emotions are more than feelings (e.g. feeling good or bad about something).  In her view (informed by scientific research), emotions are really a process – a process involving “a trigger, an experience and a response”.

The trigger for a feeling of frustration and anger in the workplace could be something like the internet freezing continuously, someone who continually talks loudly in your open office workspace or the fact that your views and suggestions are ignored by management.   Working from home in the current lockdown environment of the Coronavirus can provide multiple triggers for frustration such as distractions, inadequate computer resources and managers who lack an understanding of your personal situation and associated difficulties (such as young children at home).   

Our experience of frustration and anger and associated thoughts of unfairness have a “biological correlate” – in other words, our thoughts and feelings are reflected in our body.  We may feel “uptight”, experience soreness in our back, arms or legs or have a stiff neck or headache.  Our response to the trigger and associated feelings and bodily sensations, can be mild, measured, “over-the-top” or involve some form of calming of ourselves and our emotions.

Eve suggests that we draw on integrative science (Western and Eastern approaches) to identify emotions as “constructive or destructive in how they are enacted” – in other words, how we respond, how our emotions play out in our words and actions.  Whether we choose a constructive or destructive way to act out our emotions will depend on how well we have our emotions under control at the time. 

The capacity to consciously chose an appropriate response to our triggers and associated feelings is described as emotional fluency or as Susan David calls it, “emotional agility”.  Eve’s facilitation in workplaces and her research, confirm that meditation and mindfulness practices are a pathway to developing emotional fluency/agility.   Without awareness of our emotions and how we enact them, we can be easily captured and controlled by them, resulting in harmful interactions and poor decision making.

Reflection

Viktor Frankl reminds us that between a stimulus (a trigger) and our response, there is a gap – wherein lies the opportunity to exercise choice in how we respond, and in the process, free ourselves from the enslavement of our emotions.  As we grow in mindfulness through meditation, reflection and mindfulness practices we can build our self-awareness in relation to our triggers, thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and habituated responses and develop self-regulation to deal with our emotions constructively.

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Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

A Reflection to Address Absolutes

In the previous post, I discussed the concept of absolutes advanced by Lance Allred.  Absolutes are those firm, unshakeable beliefs we hold about our self, others or the world around us.  They constrain our perspectives and influence our behaviour.  They are relatively immoveable and do not dissolve in the face of rational argument.  Absolutes shape our thoughts, feelings and reactions and impact our effectiveness and our relationships. They develop early in family life and are often reinforced culturally.  The downside of absolutes is that they stop us from realising our full potential – they act like clots in our circulatory system, stemming the flow of creativity and responsiveness.

A reflection to surface and address an absolute

It seems to me that the starting point for addressing the absolutes in our life is to begin with developing self-awareness and move to identifying strategies to self-regulate our reactions.  It is important to focus on one aspect of our present experience that we find unsatisfactory because of the negative thoughts and emotions that the experience elicits in us.  We are complex beings, so beginning with one relatively small absolute can develop our self-awareness and improve our capacity to respond effectively without the baggage of our past.

There are several steps in the meditation:

  • Being grounded: It is important to become grounded so that you can achieve a sense of focus, balance and insight.  Being conscious of your posture and breathing helps to ground you in the present.
  • Deciding on an anchor: Your anchor is designed to enable you to come back into the focus of your reflection whenever you become aware that you have become distracted or diverted in your thinking.  The choice of anchors is a personal thing – I still like to feel the sensation of my fingers coming together.
  • Focus on an unsatisfactory experience: Decide what you are going to work on to unearth an absolute that is negatively impacting your thoughts, feelings and behaviour. It could be some recent interaction or activity that made you upset or threw you off balance.  It does not have to be a major issue – in fact, initially it is better to start small. [I have started with the fact that I get upset and annoyed when I make a mistake at social tennis.]
  • Explore your emotions during the incident: What were you feeling?  What was the intensity of those feelings?  What was the catalyst for those feelings – what really happened?  Who were your feelings directed at – yourself or another person? [In my case, with my tennis mistakes my feelings were annoyance, frustration, anger and shame.]
  • What thoughts were behind your emotions: Why did you experience those emotions?  What was the incident triggering in you? What belief (absolute) about your self or the other person was driving your emotional response?  Whenever your thoughts include a “must” or “should”, you are beginning to access an absolute that is locking you into a response that reduces your flexibility and constrains your perspective.  [When I get upset with my tennis mistakes, my underlying thought or absolute is that “I must be seen to be competent at tennis.”] 
  • Explore the nature of your identified “absolute”: Take a close look at your absolute.  Is it a rational or realistic thought?  What is its origin? Is it embedded in a childhood experience or something that happened in later life?  Where did it come from and why is it persisting?  What does it say about your sense of self-worth – is your sense of who you are dependent on what someone else thinks or says?  [Tennis competence was a way to prove my worth – it generated respect and admiration.  It made me feel good about myself. My identity is tied up with the self-perception that I am a very good tennis player.]
  • What strategies could you adopt to reduce the impact of your “absolute”: The starting point is to acknowledge your absolute and how it is playing out in your life and relationships.  What could you do to reduce or avoid your negative, conditioned response?  Are there ways to build in a gap between the stimulus (the catalyst) and your response to give you the time and freedom to respond differently? Are there other offsetting, positive thoughts that you could entertain instead of your “absolute”?  [For my issue with tennis mistakes, one strategy has been to progressively loosen the relationship between my sense of self-worth and the outcome of the game – that is, not measuring my sense of self- worth on whether I won or not.  This still leaves the issue of being upset with my tennis mistakes.  A strategy I am trying here is to express gratitude that I am able to play, that I can run and hit the ball, that I can hit some really good shots – that is, appreciating what I have and not focusing on the negatives and lack of accomplishment.]

Reflection

Even relatively minor “absolutes” are very hard to dislodge.  Using a reflection like the one described above can help to chip away at an absolute and reduce its hold on us by eroding our sense of certainty about the underlying belief, by seeing it for what it really is (e.g. illogical, unfounded or unnecessary) and developing alternative ways of thinking and feeling.  As we grow in mindfulness and self-awareness, we can develop deeper personal insight, identify how absolutes play out in our life and develop more creative and positive ways to respond to negatively experienced stimuli that will inevitably recur in our daily lives.

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Image by John Hain from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Developing Inclusion through Mindfulness

In a previous post, I discussed the six core traits of inclusive leadership and acknowledged the role that mindfulness plays in developing inclusion in our thoughts and behaviour.  In this post, I would like to develop this theme further.

Inclusion involves openness and receptivity to what is different and diverse.  It is the foundation of real knowledge, insight and wisdom.  It involves more than being sensitive to diversity but also valuing and embracing it.  So, it entails not only a way of thinking but also a way of being in the world.

Through mindfulness, we can become aware of our implicit biases and emotional responses to people who are different from us.  We are then better able to manage our habituated responses and increase our response ability.

So much of our bias is unconscious and conditioned by our social, cultural, geographical and educational environments and associated experiences.  One way into our biases is through meditation on our emotional reactions to people and situations that challenge our view or perspective of the world.  Our feelings of discomfort can portend our inner bias and raise awareness of our tendencies to exclusivity.

If we can stop ourselves from reacting automatically, breathe deeply and consciously, notice and name our feelings, we can respond more appropriately and, eventually, act in a more proactive and inclusive manner.  If we reflect on the pattern of our thoughts and actions when we meditate, we can isolate negative emotional responses to a particular person or group.  Having identified the stimulus and the nature of our reaction, we are better placed to manage our response.

When we reflect through meditation on our thoughts in particular situations, we can more readily isolate our assumptions and stereotypes and understand how they are impacting our behaviour.  Through this increased self-awareness, we are better able to develop inclusive thoughts and actions.

Research has demonstrated that loving kindness meditation, which typically incorporates self-compassion and compassion towards others, can mitigate unconscious bias.  This approach to developing mindfulness places increased emphasis on similarities and entails expressing desire for increased well-being, happiness, equanimity and resilience for others.  Development of positive intentions towards others builds an inclusive frame of reference and affirmation of diversity.

As we grow in mindfulness, we see our biases in a clearer light, understand their impact on our behaviour and become more open and able to adopt inclusive behaviour.  Developing inclusion in our words and actions can be achieved through mindfulness if we consciously employ meditations that invoke acceptance and inclusion.

 

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of pixel2013 on Pixabay

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Overcome Reactivity through Mindfulness

Throughout the day we are often on automatic pilot, reacting to events and to others in an unconscious way.  It may be that we react to something someone said or did – like hearing a perceived criticism or being cut off in traffic.  Our automatic response is to be angry or annoyed and to lash out at the other person either in word or action (or by sending that angry email response).

Tara Brach, in her meditation podcast, defines this reactivity as “reacting out of our habitual patterns without consciousness”.  All day and every day we will find ourselves in a reactive pattern, being totally unaware of where we are operating from.   Viktor Frankl reminds us that there is a space between stimulus and response and that we have the choice of whether we use the space to manage our response.  He suggests that in the space lies freedom and choice – the opportunity to break free from reactive responses and to exercise conscious choice in how we respond.

People are becoming increasingly reactive because we are fast losing the capacity to be in the present moment – to respond to life with full awareness.  The growth in the incidence and violence of “road rage” is evidence that people are reacting mindlessly when they experience some delay in traffic or are frustrated by the actions of another driver.  We can act out of impatience rather than being patient and understanding that we are traffic too.

If we practice reflection on our daily activities, we can begin to notice how reactive we often are.  It is a useful exercise to think about a single event where we were reactive and to capture the moment – thinking about what happened, how we felt both bodily and emotionally and how we responded.  We can then focus on what we could have done differently to avoid being reactive.

When we are in the midst of a situation that is stimulating a negative response in us, we can use the S.T.O.P. practice to create some space for ourselves and better manage our response.  Meditation practice can help us to more frequently access this process to pause and stop ourselves from being overly reactive.

Tara suggests that one of the easiest practices during meditation to become grounded in the present is to listen to the sounds that surround us – in a way that is neither interpreting or evaluating the sound.  For example, you might be fortunate enough to tune into the sound of rain as it falls, noticing the ever-changing pattern and different impacts as it hits the ground or buildings.

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation practice and reflection, we can become more self-aware, more aware of our reactive responses and better able to consciously manage our response to life and the varying stimuli we encounter throughout the day and night.

 

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of RobbinHiggins on Pixabay

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Mindful Leadership: Self-Management

Self-management relies very heavily on self-awareness. If we are not conscious of what we are thinking, saying and doing – and the impact of our thoughts, words and actions – we are incapable of managing ourselves.

Self-management, according to the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute, is “the process of managing one’s internal states, impulses and resources”.

Viktor Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning, identified the opportunity space for self- management:

Between stimulus and response, there is a space.  In that space lives our freedom and our power to choose our response.  In our response lies our greatest happiness.

There are a number of ways to develop self-management.  I will discuss two approaches in this post:

1. Managing Your Response to Negative Triggers

We all have situations, people or events that “set us off”.  They may stimulate anger, frustration, annoyance or anyone of the multitude of negative emotions.  As Vikto Frankl pointed out, we really have a choice of how to respond.  In a previous post, I discussed the SBNRR process (stop, breathe, notice, reflect and respond) to help you manage your response to your negative triggers.  Reflect is an important stage of the process because it seeks to get us to move beyond the particular negative stimulus and response to gain insight into any observable pattern, e.g. obstinacy when dealing with a person in authority.

2. Mindful Listening

Mindful listening requires us to be fully present to the other person, to understand what they are saying and the significance for that person.  It also means to be able to reflect back their words and feelings, and the depth of those feelings. It requires discipline to stay with the other person’s conversation and to avoid diverting the conversation to yourself and your own experience.  It also means avoiding interrupting the other person mid-sentence.  All of this takes considerable self-management.  Mastering mindful listening is a lifetime pursuit – in the process you will develop self-management and grow in mindfulness.

Self-management contributes to the development of mindfulness; as we grow in mindfulness it becomes easier to manage ourselves and our responses. Both contribute to the development of mindful leadership.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of moulinaem on Pixabay