Founder Focus: A Proven Technique To Calm Down After Emotional Highs
Date published: 2020-10-09 — by Bernice Lee
The proven way to calm down after feeling strong emotions without unhealthy vices, like smoking or drinking alcohol. Learn to be unflappable with this technique from neuroscience
by Executive Coach, Bernice Lee, teaching entrepreneurs how to make more money by being better leaders
“I’m okay. I don’t know… There’s so much going on. I’m just trying to keep it together. We’re breaking even, but I’m not sure we can cover all the costs next month.” He gestured vaguely around his office. “You know, for staff and everything.” He sighed heavily, leaned back in his swivel chair, running his fingers through his thick, curly hair.
It’s a common sentiment I hear from small business owners and managers these days.
“How do you feel about it?” I asked.
“Uh… I don’t know,” he said with a shrug. “I don’t have the luxury of having feelings about it, right?” He furrowed his forehead as he looked out of the window behind me. I waited.
“I‘m worried. Stressed out. I have a heavy feeling.” He sighed again. “Frustrated.”
It’s a question that I’d asked deliberately and worded carefully. Take notice that I hadn’t asked, “How are you doing?”. Instead, I asked, “How do you feel about it?”
The Iceberg Model
According to the Iceberg Model from cognitive psychology, our thoughts create an emotional response in our brain. That emotion drives behaviour that’s productive or unproductive. (I explained this in greater depth in September’s article. If you missed it, you can access it HERE.)
My client’s thoughts were circling around all of his business problems: endless to-do lists, not making enough money, and weighing different strategies and tactics.
His thoughts were accompanied by emotions that were essentially variations of fear: ‘scared’, ‘anxious’ and ‘insecure’. He might also have been feeling touches of nervousness, overwhelm, inadequacy or helplessness.
Your emotions impact on your ability to think.
Search your memory for the times in your life when you felt fearful. Could you think clearly? Solve problems? Be creative?
That’s because when your brain registers fear it goes into a fight-or-flight state in which you’re not mentally or emotionally prepared to examine situations or problems effectively.
You’re in survival mode. (And I don’t mean Survival Mode in Minecraft!)
That’s why I asked my client, “How are you feeling?”
This question forced him take a step back and examine his own thinking, thereby pausing the flurry of unproductive thoughts and emotions flitting around in his head. The interruption in his train of thought lasted a mere split second – but it was enough to help his brain to escape the flood of feelings and thoughts that were preventing him from thinking calmly and objectively about his problems.
Use this powerful technique from neuroscience to calm down fast from strong emotions
The next time you have strong emotions (positive or negative ones), try this technique to calm down and re-focus.
It’s called labelling.
In one sentence, describe the thought that’s distracting you. Then label the emotion or feeling attached to that thought in one or two words.
“My dream client didn’t accept my proposal. I feel disappointed.”
“My team mate is complaining about XYZ again. I feel annoyed.”
“We exceeded our goals this month. I’m so proud!”
“Our new strategy is working. I’m eager to keep going!”
That’s it. Short and sweet.
Label your feelings. Free your brain.
“Are you ready to put aside those feelings temporarily so we can talk about what you want to do next?” I asked. He turned his head towards me, briefly closed his eyes, and shook his head quickly a few times as if he were shaking off the drowsiness of sleep. “Yeah, sure.”
Once he’d named his unproductive emotions, he could let them go, calm down and free up his brain to be more positive, focused and constructive.
Now it’s your turn.
Try labelling this week and share your experience with me at email@example.com. I’d love to hear from you!
Bernice Lee is Zegal’s columnist about leadership and executive presence for entrepreneurs. She is a coach based in Hong Kong. A former human resources manager for a Fortune 100 Company, she teaches clients how to make more money by being better leaders. Ask Bernice a question by e-mailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org and it might be answered in a future post!
This article does not constitute legal advice.
The opinions expressed in the column above represent the author’s own.