What to do when you become your own worst enemy, and how to win over yourself.
On average you speak sixteen thousand words, a day or nearly six million words a year. That is a lot. What we forget is that this is a fraction of what we think – our inner stream of consciousness, your “inner chatter” that provides a running commentary whether you want it or not.
We are influenced by what we people say, how they say it, when it is said and the context. But we forget the first rule of influence – influence starts with you. As such we influence ourselves and we inform our own behaviour – primarily through our beliefs and attitudes which become apparent to us through our “inner chatter”.
How we behave, and the consequences we incur, occurs when we put a “story” around an event or experience we have just gone through. We tend to behave in accordance with how we feel about this and then incur the consequences. The flow looks like this:
How many times have you had thoughts and feelings which have led to behaviour which has caused you problems? We see someone do something, or ourselves, and we create a story about. For example, “He always takes credit for what was done, yet I did most of the work…” or “The same thing happened in my last job, I obviously can’t do this type of work…”
What happens here is we get hooked by our thoughts in that we either treat these thoughts as facts and therefore true or, with help, we challenge them and rationalize them away which can lead us into situations where we act against what we feel are our values and best interests.
So how can we mitigate our “inner chatter”? How can we avoid either buying into it or suppressing it? How can we approach our “inner chatter” in a mindful, constructive way?
Four Steps for Building Emotional Agility
To do this we need to build emotional agility. This is the ability to free yourself from patterns of negative thoughts and feelings and move forward positively. In doing this for yourself you:
1. Recognize Your Pattern
Notice when you are hooked by your thoughts and feelings – for example, your thinking becomes rigid and repetitive. You are re-running past experiences, or seeing the same attitudes surface again. Only when you realize you are stuck in a pattern can you break out of it.
2. Label Your Thoughts & Emotions
“Name them and shame them”. By naming or labeling your thoughts or emotions you are able to see your thoughts and feelings for what they are. They are transient and may or may not be helpful. Doing this helps you to free up your thinking and begins to break the pattern.
3. Accept Them
Once you have labeled them then just accept them without judging them. You experience your thoughts and feelings and take the time to see what is happening in the moment. What is really happening in the situation and what do you need to do to take productive action?
4. Act on Your Values
You can now consider more choices, rather than going along with your “inner chatter” and you can choose to act in a way that is consistent with your values.
By providing yourself with emotional agility you have the opportunity to change the story you tell yourself which, in turn, allows you to choose to behave in a different way and obtain consequences which are both beneficial and less adverse. Simple and effective. Try it, use it and practice it and build your emotional agility muscle.
This article is partly based on the article, “Emotional Agility” by Susan David and Christina Congleton, HBR November 2013.
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