Emotional Intelligence 101: Managing Your Emotions
The Power Of Why Over Worry.
Worry. It’s a part of all of our lives. Sometimes it escalates to the point where it takes over and impedes our ability to function. Anxiety disorders, especially among women, are one of the most prevalent conditions seen in primary care offices.
However for most people, worry does not get to that critical point. Instead, it remains at a low hum.
Take for example the lawyer who has a nagging sense that she should do more with her career and get involved with different types projects if she is to make partner. She is not debilitated by worry, but it has become chronic, low level drain on her reserves throughout the day.
Worry can also come to a boiling point, when a confluence of life circumstances becomes overwhelming. Take the woman whose husband’s corporation announces a major downsizing, just as their kids are about to launch for college. She suddenly feels a much more acute level of concern about her own career. Is her position at her company replaceable? Has her work been effective enough for her to be promoted?
These are just two examples out of innumerable ones in which real life, in all its glorious imperfection, impinges on our hopes for smooth and steady sailing.
Life is imperfect, and worry is a part of living.
Most of us tolerate a low level of daily worries. Left unchecked, however, worry can begin to run amok. It may not completely shut us down, but it can have the slow, steady effect of wearing at us and wearying us.
That is why it’s important to stop and ask, Why?
The use of Why to disrupt worry is a powerful arrow for your quiver.
What follows is a mini-primer on how to coach yourself to use Why over worry.
Step 1: Back up. The roadmap of our inner life has a well-described circuitry. Research from the field of cognitive behavioral therapy has identified a linked chain of events. In its simplified form:
a) Thoughts lead to feelings.
b) Feelings lead to actions.
Often, the feeling of worry appears without our specific, formal invitation. Once worry arrives, we are off and running. We respond to our feelings almost “automatically” with actions. The tail has wagged the dog.
The lawyer with the vague but relentless feeling that she should be doing more, begins to step up her work intensity. But after 3 months, she finds herself run down and exhausted. She’s responded to the feeling of worry. But is it effective and warranted? Not really.
What’s a better way?
The better way to is to back up one step in the circuit. Instead of starting with the feelingof worry, start with investigating the underlying thought.
Step 2: Go further. Here is where you ask yourself the first Why. In our example with the lawyer, the first question is: Why are you worried about your job performance. The answer might be: “I feel my peers are outperforming me.”
Look further again: Why do you feel they are outperforming you? “Because I see them proceeding at a faster pace.” Why does that bother you? “Because I may get passed over for partner.”
And again: Why is that important? “Because I want more job security at the firm. But also because I enjoy the prestige associated with it – that’s important to me.”
Now we find that our lawyer has gone from a vague sense of worry to a more pointed, concrete set of concerns: security and prestige.
Step 3: Challenge. Next, she can begin to look at and challenge the concrete set of concerns. Why are security and prestige important to you? Are there other valid and available sources of security and meaning in your life? If so, what are they?
Step 4: Moderate, re-evaluate. Our lawyer can now address her concerns in a more balanced way. Rather than a free floating sense of “I should be doing more,” she can get specific. She may identify a more realistic response: “Security and meaning are important to me. My job is an important source of both. However, my faith and my family are true, deep sources as well. I can also handle an element of the unknown in my life – it’s okay for me to not be in full control. I will do my best at work, but I can accept that it may not always proceed along a perfect path.”
Step 5: Rewire the circuit. One of the hallmarks of anxiety disorders is an all-or-nothing thought pattern. In this case, the lawyer has identified her thoughts, and has re-cast them in a more realistic light. As a result, her feelings are less extreme. Instead of a pervasive, nagging sense of worry and unease, she has pinpointed a manageable area of concern: “I’d like to be able to move forward, but it isn’t a complete disaster if I don’t do it right away.” Her feelings have changed. As a result, she finds her actions are different as well: she is less prone to allow herself to burn-out with long, intense hours at work. And she is less prone to allow self-doubt and recriminations to run around unchecked.
She is still doing her best. But the “fire within” now fuels her without burning her. She is better able to enjoy her work, her efforts, her outcomes without becoming tied to them.
Life will keep coming at us, full of its imperfections and its worries. We will frequently (constantly) be in the position of having to examine our thoughts, in order to manage our emotions, and become more wise with our actions.
But with practice, you can be more selective in how your thoughts, feelings, and actions affect one another.
Starting with the power of Why.
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(photo credit: freedigitalphoto.net/ohmega1982)
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