Ah, the holiday season. That time of year when we experience those delightful emotional extremes — from the joy and exhilaration of spending time with people we care about to the discomfort of performance reviews and dinner with difficult in-laws.
Even if, on balance, you enjoy the holidays, when your emotions start running the show, the rollercoaster ride between the highs and lows can feel incredibly stressful and uncomfortable.
WE HAVE A CHOICE
When the doctor hits the patella of your knee with that little hammer, your leg jerks up – you can’t help it, it’s a natural reflex. Though it sometimes feels the same with our emotions, it’s not. True, we can’t control the specific emotion that wells up in a particular situation, but we can make a choice as to what we do next and how we respond.
As with any new habit or skill, however, it takes awareness and practice to become the master of your emotions. (What, you were expecting a quick fix? ;-) You’re in luck, however: I’ve put together a step-by-step training plan that lays out exactly what and how to practice.
Here we go:
THE TRAINING ROUTINE: PREPARATION
1. Have a morning practice.
Just as pilots check their flight plan, set the controls and evaluate the instrument panel in readying for take-off, you too will benefit from preparing yourself for the day ahead. Whatever you do — meditate, take a walk, do yoga, read a motivational book or write in your journal – investing the time (even 15 minutes is beneficial) to quiet your mind and plug into your inner energy source will give you a sense of perspective, help you regain your equilibrium and allow you to stay grounded as you move through the chaos of the day.
And don’t even think about making the “I don’t have time” excuse. That’s like saying “I don’t have time to find my car keys so I’m going to walk to work.” You always have time to set yourself up for success.
Like the Dalai Lama says: “We all know that on days when we are in a good mood, when the whole world seems to be smiling at us, we can accept predicaments or bad news more easily than if our mind is already upset, frustrated or troubled, when the slightest incident might cause us to explode with negative emotions.”
2. Identify your triggers.
This is not your first Christmas dinner with your extended family. And, most likely it’s not the first time a colleague has lost his temper or you’ve gotten critical feedback from a boss or colleague. Though we may feel ambushed, there are recurring scenarios where we can anticipate potential friction and think through how we typically react.
So, start a running list of those situations that tend to stir up negative emotion – you know, the juicy stuff like anger, resentment, insecurity, guilt. Now you can strategize what you’ll do or say in the heat of the moment when it may be difficult to think clearly.
3. Visualize and practice.
So you’re at the annual holiday party, and your obnoxious colleague – who gets even more obnoxious when he’s drinking — starts bragging about how much his bonus was. Imagine how you’ll respond when he needles you about yours and insinuates that his was much higher. Imagine the various ways that scenario could play out and how you’d handle them (I’m thinking one of them could involve a suave James Bond impression).
(Don’t worry that imagining a scenario will make it more likely to happen. Actually the opposite is true – simply envisioning a solution may make the problem moot.)
Then, as much as possible, look for opportunities to simulate what you feel in those emotionally charged situations – to practice or rehearse when the stakes are low and your emotional reactions won’t be as costly.
For example, if you’re uncomfortable with confrontation or rejection, practice returning an item to a store or asking for a refund. If you’re worried about losing your composure during your performance review, practice receiving criticism from a friend or trusted colleague.
Forward-thinking and preparation are critical to navigating emotional minefields and not losing your cool in the moment.
Let me know in the comments how it goes! I’ll be back in five days with Part II, a step-by-step plan for how to handle your emotions in the heat of the moment and the post-mortem.
P.S. Psst, I’ve got my own holiday sale going on. As a loyal reader of my blog, you can use discount code HOLIDAY to get 50% off the Mental Toughness Summit recordings from 2012 and 2011 featuring exclusive interviews with Paralympians, neuroscientists, sports and performance psychologists, Navy SEALs and world-class performing artists: now only $47. Get them here.