According to Daniel Pink in his book “Drive”, there are three rules of mastery: 1) it is a mindset; 2) it is a pain; and 3) it is something that is never attained. It is a journey, rather than a destination.
I embarked on a journey of achieving Emotional Mastery 7 years ago, when my son was diagnosed with autism. A journey of developing a growth mindset, a journey of pain and joy. I have learnt that the best way for my son to learn how to manage his negative emotions is to spend time with a living, breathing model of effective behaviour. My raison d'etre for becoming a Master of emotions!
And today I delivered the first of 11 monthly webinars to the everywoman network, uncovering the art and the science of Emotional Intelligence. Talking passionately about the one skill that differentiates a leader from a boss and a struggling parent from one who enjoys a satisfying family life. The one skill that enables you to have relationships with even the most difficult people.
As Daniel Goleman taught us 25 years ago, it’s about being smart with feelings. And feelings are just data. The art lies in learning to interpret that data accurately. That’s not easy, when only c.30% of us can accurately identify or “label” the emotions, as they occur.
Why is labelling your emotions so important? Because your emotional brain is infinitely more powerful than your rational brain. And your emotional brain instructs the body to produce chemicals, which you experience as emotions. The first step in mastering your emotions, is to understand the signals that those emotions are sending you. Being unable to identify your own emotions is like making decisions based on the wrong data. This can lead to irrational choices and counterproductive actions, which are more common than not.
All negative emotions are just a signal, a message to the brain that what you are doing right now is not working and you need to change it. If you ignore the message or emotional signal, that signal does not go away. It intensifies. You feel even more stressed, even more angry. It intensifies until you realize you need to change something. Your expectations, the way you look at things, the way you communicate or the way you behave.
Appreciate that message. Respect that emotion. Don’t deny it.
I have learnt to appreciate this again and again, as my son is currently struggling with the stress and pressure of the imminent GCSEs exams. His neuro-diverse brain finds it much more difficult to control the chemical signals, which he experiences as a full cocktail of negative emotions. Frustration, fear, anger, dis-engagement and the reactions and over-reactions that accompany them.
But he has learnt to label his emotions, as they occur and try to distance himself from them, by finding practical solutions, such as breathing and counting. It gives him the power to take charge of his emotional brain and drive the very thoughts, feelings and actions that determine results. Learning to go from bad thinking to good thinking and from bad habits to good habits. From knowledge, to experience, to mastery. And that’s not easy. As my dad would say “if it were easy, everybody would do it!”. And that’s why mastery remains a journey and not a destination.
And for that I am very grateful.
“Gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions. The more you express gratitude for what you have, the more likely you will have even more to express gratitude for.” —Zig Ziglar
ADA, February 2020