Most people don’t realize just how much power and control they have when they feel their backs are up against the wall and their emotions starting to boil. When triggered, emotions can create feelings that tend to manage us rather than us managing them, which can be overwhelming.
When those feelings are negative, allowing them to manage us can have devastating consequences. Good news! We are all born with the skills we need to keep our cool even when things heat up so we can continue to enjoy the peace of mind that we all crave. The secret is curiosity!
Using curiosity to become self-aware and understand what triggers our emotional buttons, allows one to shift to a place where we manage our emotions instead of our emotions managing us.
As we become aware of our emotional triggers we can learn to manage those triggers and dim them so we can stay calm and carry on in any conversation. This allows us to create deeper connections and a greater understanding.
How To Keep Calm and Carry On
1. BFF Your Values!
Our emotions begin at our values. Rarely do people take the time to understand and identify their values, AND ensure they are living them. When we don’t take the time to understand our values and live in alignment with them, we will always find ourselves living in emotional chaos. Life feels messy.
For example, if time is a value for you – every time someone is late to meet you, you will find your emotional buttons being pushed and feelings of frustration and anger will reign, setting a tone that may not be helpful for your meeting and may lead to conflict in a relationship.
Understanding your values puts you in the driver’s seat and allows you to see where your thoughts and feelings are taking you, both of which influence behavior. Once you understand what is triggering your emotions then it becomes easier to access calming strategies to help you stay cool, curious and connected when things get heated.
1.) Get curious to understand and identify your top 3 personal values. You can find several lists of ‘values’ on Google. Spend some time reviewing the words on the list, identify a few that hold meaning for you, and then reflect on these until you have found 3-5 that you know hold value for you.
This may take 1-2 weeks to complete and is well worth the time. Next, define what each value means to you, as well as how you are living those values daily.
2.) You now have identified your personal navigation system, the GPS that helps you live aligned to your true self. Reflect, how are you living each of these values? What can you do to ensure you live aligned with each of your personal values?
2. Practice Calming Strategies
Calming strategies are important as they allow us to BE (connected to self) instead of DO (react). When we can BE in the moment and stay connected to self, we can then focus on staying curious to learn and understand ourselves and others (i.e. the reason behind our boiling emotions).
The idea is to consistently practice a calming strategy that works for you so that you can easily access it when you need it.
Get curious and explore different calming strategies that might work well for you. It is important to consistently practice at least one so it becomes easy to access it in the moment. Most include deep slow breathing that automatically helps us feel calmer and more at peace.
Here are 3 popular strategies that help our clients achieve calm so they can get curious and carry on:
1.) Happy Place: This strategy involves thinking about a place that has a calming effect for you – AKA your “Happy Place”. This might be a tropical waterfall you came upon while hiking where you felt complete tranquility or a sunny corner of your home.
It may involve other senses such as listening to a piece of music, smelling wonderful fragrances, eating your favorite food. The goal is to be able to take yourself to this place so you can feel calm, tranquil, fully at peace.
2.) Meditation: Meditation is popular these days and many people have a daily practice of meditation. There are many types of meditation that can be explored to find one that you feel comfortable practicing, one that helps you achieve a state of calmness and tranquility and helps you access that state when needed.
3.) Seek solitude: For some, excusing themselves from the emotion and finding a quiet corner, or bathroom stall, is just the remedy. This gives them the space to calm themselves with deep, slow breathing and return once they feel centered.
3. Ask Open Questions to Understand
When emotions run high, our default is to become defensive, judgmental, blaming, and shaming (internally and/or externally) without ever intending to do so. It just happens. We shut down, think only of who is right and who is wrong.
No one wants to be wrong so we push to ensure we will be right thinking this will make us feel better. As we push to make our opinion known and considered ‘right’, we close down the conversation, eliminating the possibility of expanding the train of thought. This process is very destructive, creating misunderstandings and limiting opportunities and innovation.
The key to challenging moments and dealing with conflict is curiosity. It helps you stay calm, seek clarity, focus to understand, and be open to explore and discover possibilities. All of these contribute to finding common ground upon which to develop new opportunities.
Asking open questions (who, what, where, when, how) allows you to stay open and curious to learn what is going on rather than slip into a place of defense which leads to judgment, blaming, and even shaming – which shuts down opportunities, fractures relationships, and always leads to conflict.
The coolest part is, asking questions also makes us feel good! Findings in neuroscience confirm that when we are curious about another, the neurotransmitter dopamine and hormone oxytocin, which make us “feel good”, are released in our brains.
Not only do these substances make us feel good, but they also create a connection between the heart and the brain that leads to a greater sense of openness and connection. This occurs in all instances when we are connecting with another using curiosity.
So, when you find yourself getting emotional, activate your calming strategy, ask an open question, and actively listen. Then ask another open question and actively listen. As you keep asking open questions and actively listening to learn, you will notice your emotions start to dissipate and you will be able to stay connected and calm in any situation.
Asking open questions can be hard, especially in emotional moments. Focus on putting a WHAT or HOW in front of whatever you want to say to help keep you open, curious, and able to connect at the moment.