By Fred Kofman
Philosopher and Vice President at Linkedin
“We gain the strength of the temptation we resist.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
How can you control a wild horse? You can tie the horse down or confine him in a tight corral, but this will infuriate him. It is dangerous for both the horse and those around him. If you put the horse in a vast field, he can run at will and burn his excess energy without hurting himself or others. Instead of tying down your emotions, it is better to give them lots of safe space within you.
You can manage your emotions by expanding your inner space to hold them yet not repress them. You can stretch your awareness through “witnessing”; that is, adopting a perspective from which you can observe the emotion with little attachment, capturing the information that it provides you, and responding in alignment with your values.
Widespread ignorance about emotional regulation may lead you to two bad strategies: explosion and repression.
Impulsive indulgence is not emotional intelligence. You can unload without examining the foundations of your emotions and their effects. These actions usually perpetuate the cycle of suffering, plunging you into a state of increasing frustration. Shouting at others never solves the problem; on the contrary, it usually makes it worse.
So, you may have learned to stuff your anger. After experiencing the downside of your emotional outbursts, you may want to tighten the reins of your heart and become stoic.
But stoicism is not emotional intelligence either. You can remain impassible on the outside while boiling over on the inside. Pressure accumulates until you reach your limit and explode—or implode. In Western cultures, people tend to explode; in Eastern cultures, to implode. One is as bad as the other. As Daniel Goleman says, “Imploders often fail to take any action to better their situation. They may not show outward signs of an emotional hijack, but they suffer the internal fallout anyway: headaches, edginess, smoking and drinking too much, sleeplessness, endless self-criticism. And they have the same health risks as those who explode, and so need to learn to manage their own reactions to distress.”
Regulating your emotions involves conscious expression. To channel emotional energy, you need to recognize it, embrace it, and understand its origins. You also need to acknowledge its impulses, but without surrendering to them. When you develop this discipline, you can fully accept what you feel without acting against your values. In regard to integrity, you are only accountable for your actions, not for your emotions. Emotions are good advisors, but terrible masters. You need to listen to them, but without abdicating your responsibility to behave with integrity.
In the following video, you can find some further ideas on emotional expression and the crucial importance of taking a breath.
Find more exercises related to mindfulness at work here.