In my previous post, we talked about the inner workings of our brain when it creates emotions. Emotional mastery starts with our brains forming concepts and relying on past experiences to associate a real-time response.
Becoming knowledgeable in our brains’ methodology to form emotions enables us to understand the various ways we can influence the process.
After all, we can’t begin to improve or develop emotional mastery if we aren’t aware of our weaknesses or reasoning. Once we have acknowledged the areas we wish to improve upon, we can focus consciously on developing stronger emotional mastery.
First, let’s take a look at what emotional mastery truly means.
What is Emotional Mastery?
Emotional mastery, often referred to as emotional intelligence, was coined by Salovey and Mayer in 1990. Mastery generally refers to our ability to perceive, express and understand our emotions while acknowledging their cause and effect.
Due to the nature and overall impact emotions can have on our daily lives, emotional mastery as a whole is often sought after by high-level employees in a business, individuals seeking greater fulfilment in relationships and those looking to improve their communication and general well-being.
Mastering our emotions requires us to be self-aware of how and why we experience certain reactions to external and internal stimuli. For that, our Limbic system – a group of interconnected structures within the brain – is responsible. Our hypothalamus controls our emotional responses while the hippocampus preserves and retrieves memories. The amygdala coordinates external responses, and the limbic cortex impacts our mood and judgement.
While our brain works hard to develop these emotions, we can look at how emotional mastery impacts our lives.
Whether you are aware of it or not, the emotions you experience impact every part of your day. They can influence the decisions you make, the people you talk to, the opportunities you find and your relationships.
There are a few key areas:
Communication: Emotions help us understand how someone feels, interact with other people through emotions and break down cultural barriers. Emotions are instantly recognisable, whether we can verbally communicate with someone or not. Communication is essential for developing healthy business and personal relationships. Being in control of your emotions allows you to stay level headed and think about your responses with a clear mind.
Well-being: emotions help us govern a sense of complete well-being. The emotions experienced in our daily lives result from our brains conceptualising a response based on previous experiences. We may naturally feel a negative emotion in response to a particular action. Emotional mastery helps us challenge these concepts and alter them.
Being present: It’s almost impossible to be present when acting based on emotional responses, especially when we do not understand their origin. Everyday situations can quickly turn heated should an emotional response take over. We no longer act in the moment but rather act based on previous experiences in similar situations.
How to Master Your Emotions
Unfortunately, emotional mastery isn’t something you can master in a few hours, days or even months. It takes consistent, conscious effort to change our past concepts and build upon/alter our neural connections. Yet, there are multiple things we can do to accustom ourselves to begin shifting focus to these emotions.
Build Upon or Construct New Concepts
We form emotional responses through concepts. Our brains can’t develop a reaction to each stimulus thrown its way. Instead, it compiles everything into a core concept and produces the appropriate emotional response.
These, however, are deeply associated with past experiences. If we attend a team meeting where we are scrutinised, we may become angry, nervous or annoyed. In the future, our brains will refer to this experience when conceptualising a response to other team meetings. New experiences help us cultivate new concepts, whether we learn them through leaving our comfort zone, through a book, new perspective or otherwise. Being aware of previous experiences also helps us to tackle our preconceived concepts.
Not every team meeting will be the same.
By entering these events with an acknowledgement of what we are feeling emotionally, we can rewrite our old concepts. New experiences can also help us stimulate our brain and develop new, positive concepts.
Distinguish and Recategorize Your Emotions
We may experience an angry response to a specific situation, but is that response the same feeling or emotion experienced through another concept? It’s easy to compile our emotions into one particular category – negative or positive, further expanding upon that into anger, happy, annoyed and so on.
We can categorise anger further into evasiveness, dispassion, self-blame, destruction, hurtfulness and selfishness, to name a few. At face value, categorising your emotions may not seem beneficial, but it does provide you with further information about what you’re feeling. Developing emotional mastery requires you to be conscious about your emotions, which is challenging if you aren’t sure what your emotions mean. By further categorising, you provide yourself with more information to act on.
Secondly, work on becoming consciously aware of how you physically feel while experiencing these emotions. How our body reacts physically is not always a direct representation of how we feel.
Shaking, anxiety, sweating, or pain are sometimes our bodies’ way of coping with particular stress. Once we separate these feelings from our emotions, we can remove the personal attachment, giving us a chance to identify the cause and effect.
To summarise, interfering with the body/emotion relationship helps us identify our emotions as a singular entity.
Emphasise the Small Wins
Any entrepreneur will tell you to focus on the small wins when growing your business, and it’s no exception when focusing on building new concepts.
Positive experiences aid in cultivating stronger, more positive concepts in the future. If our brain only has positive experiences to draw on as a reference for concepts, it will likely generate positive emotions when reencountering the same stimulus. You can do this by noting down these experiences and re-visiting them before you believe you’ll reencounter the same scenario. This isn’t dissimilar to writing down negative emotions, which allows you to dissect them and see them for what they are. Another method is to envision these experiences through meditation or a similar process to bring these experiences to the surface.
Further emphasising the need to forgo negative experiences and spend less brain power thinking about the past. Fixating on negative experiences informs our brain, through repetition, that we need to remember this emotion, feeling or experience.
Emotions in the Workplace
We’ve seen that emotions impact our daily lives in all facets, but business is especially crucial as leaders and employees’ livelihoods are on the line.
One poor decision or series of poor choices can alter the lives of many. But to what extent do emotions influence these decisions? Research has shown that we would be inefficient at decision making without emotions.
Generally speaking, we thrive when we experience a small amount of emotion. Experiencing fear may propel us to take risks, motivate us to take action or provide us reason to seek aid. Happy emotions can keep our spirits high; our mind focused on the tasks we find enjoyable, and keep us working consistently hard. When we cross the line into becoming over emotional, we tend to see negative results. Being overly optimistic can lead to a lack of forward planning, excitability can result in a lack of focus and clarity and so on.
As a leader, your responsibility is to maintain a healthy emotional level, which brings us back to the idea of emotional intelligence; without knowing your emotions, you won’t be able to leverage them to your benefit. A challenge arises when you look outward at your team.
Managing a team is far more than ensuring they do their work. It’s a sum of managing expectations, goals, direction and information, communication AND emotions experienced. Emotions thrive on collective feedback. You may have noticed that happiness is often contagious, and thus, the same applies in groups.
If one person is extremely excited about a project, they cause a group reaction. As a leader, managing these emotions and knowing when to address and bring them down is invaluable when seeking team cohesion. You will spot when these emotions are being displayed and why, by working on your emotional intelligence. Being in tune with your feelings allows you to effectively communicate ideas and thoughts to your employees without causing a negative response. Consider how you would communicate with someone that was angry. What vocabulary would you avoid using? What ideas would you present as an alternative or solution rather than stoking the fire?
These questions sound simple but are rarely asked by leaders when they lack emotional intelligence. Instead, they project their own experiences and emotions as a solution rather than consider another person’s point of view.
Experiences like this are what separate emotionally intelligent leaders from those that are not.