Updated: Feb 28, 2021
I know I sound like a broken record when I tell you how inspiring all of my coaching clients are. I have a lot of quotes and stories in my backlog to post on Social Media or add to this blog. But this one didn't go into the backlog and made it straight onto the blog. It was just mind-blowing what this client came up with today. I want to be crystal clear here. The framework I am summarising for you in this blog post is my client's intellectual property. All of this knowledge and wisdom was already inside of her. My only contribution was to help her dig a little bit deeper to get these nuggets of wisdom out of her so that she can work with it.
What just happened?
Are you familiar with situations in which after the fact you are just glad it's over? Or in hindsight, you wish you would have reacted in a different way? Job interviews or some work meetings can leave many of us wishing we would have projected more confidence or handled the situation differently. Usually, this is caused by emotions (stress being one of them) running high, and then our lizard brain is taking over. When you feel threatened and afraid, the amygdala (part of your brain) automatically activates the fight-or-flight response by sending out signals to release stress hormones that prepare your body to fight or run away. Today, there are far fewer physical threats, but there are a lot of psychological threats caused by the pressures and stresses of modern life. When stress makes you feel strong anger, aggression, or fear, the fight-or-flight response is activated. It often results in a sudden, illogical, and irrational overreaction to the situation. You may even regret your reaction later. (read more about the different functions performed by different parts of your brain here)
My client's goal for the session
We started our conversation by celebration my client's success, who aced a challenging interview process and got the job. She actually had fun during the interview process. But that's stuff for another blog post. As part of her preparing for the new role, she wanted to come up with a plan to be more aware of her stress levels and emotions. Being aware of her stress levels and emotions would allow her to manage these emotions, manage her reactions and project more confidence in meetings with clients as well as with her colleagues. So we started to talk about potential physical and emotional symptoms of stress. On the physical side, we identified things like speaking faster, mixing up your words, feeling agitated or fidgeting hands. On the emotional side, it's the internal chatter that goes on in our brains. "How do I get out of this situation?" The fight-or-flight response, as mentioned earlier.
Where we got stuck and where the magic happened
But then we got stuck a little bit. My client felt that these stress symptoms listed were too generic and might not apply to her at all. She wanted to identify her individual symptoms in order to come up with strategies that actually work. So I asked: "What would be most helpful right now?" and this is where the magic happened.
A Framework to Recognise and Manage your Emotions
Her response was: "I want to come up with a framework to recognise and manage my emotions". And then she got very concrete. I'm amazed by this analytical yet simple approach. Again, I didn't come up with this, my client this. I am simply summarizing and sharing because I think this can be helpful for some of you.
The goal of this framework is to:
Observe situations that cause your emotions and stress to go up
Identify your individual stress symptoms
Analyse what happened and why
Come up with strategies to react differently in the future when you notice your stress symptoms
The steps are:
Timeline and check-ins: Define a timeline for this project and some check-ins. In this case, the overall timeline was a year with monthly and quarterly check-ins.
Self-reflection - Observation: Especially, in the beginning, you want to capture your emotions/stress and your responses as frequently as possible. Note down any situation where you felt stressed or very emotional and write down how you noticed (your stress symptoms) and how you reacted. Not sure what emotions you felt? Check out the Feelings Wheel. What else did you notice, maybe a headache that day? Note it down. Don't overthink it at this stage, just observe. This is your information gathering stage.
Come up with a routine: I advise you to come up with a routine that works for you. Are you commuting to work by train and can you use that train journey to take some notes? Or are you more the type to reflect and meditate at night time? Just make it work for you.
Choose your tools: What makes it easy for you to capture these situations and emotions? Some ideas are the notes app on your phone, Google Docs or Trello. And a reminder app to keep you on track ;)
Recognise patterns: The monthly check-ins are a great opportunity to identify some patterns. Is there a specific scenario that repeats itself? Or do meetings with that one specific colleague tend to raise your stress levels? What are some of the typical stress symptoms that you displayed?
Analyse: Once you see a pattern you can try to analyse it. What is it that might trigger you? Maybe your colleague is obsessed with details and processes whereas you just want to get things done?
Be proactive: Once you know what's going on, you can come up with strategies to change your reaction to these situations. Sometimes just being aware of the difference between e.g. you and your colleague can help already.
Measure your success: Managing emotions is not something that is easily quantifiable. So how can you measure success? Keep on writing your journal and keep on observing. You might notice that certain situations don't make it into your journal anymore. The situations still exist but don't cause stress or frustrations anymore. Maybe you even improved your relationship with that colleague whose behaviour used to trigger you. Another sign of success would be that you run meetings much more efficiently.
At the end of the session, I like to ask my clients about their key learning or takeaways from our conversation. And here is another nugget:
"So much data resides inside of us. But we are not even aware of it. If everyone would take just a few minutes a day to refelct on their emotions the world would be a better place."
I hope you find this useful. I certainly do. Keep in mind this is a framework and might or might not work for you. Working on yourself is a highly individual process and I am happy to guide you thought that process. If you feel that managing our stress and emotions might be something you want to work on, please reach out to me and book a discovery session: firstname.lastname@example.org