Have you ever noticed there is really little one can control except how we choose to react…. I wrote this while winging my way back from Philly the other day. It really was an uneventful flight, yet after watching 100+ people board the plane; I can only assume that "control" is not something everybody understands, yet.
I don’t think they even realize they are behaving from a place of overwhelm, thus the reason I titled this "Autopilot." To be fair, overwhelm isn’t just an emotional response, it’s a physical response. You can just see it in their faces and the way they move…. The feeling of overwhelm is part of the physical response stress, together these two are commonly called the fight or flight response (no pun intended.)
Fight or flight is the rapid surge of high levels of the hormones adrenaline and cortisol released in our body. These hormones affect reasoning and thinking. They are not bad guys though, at low levels, cortisol actually facilitates our mental functions.
Since I’m on a plane, I’ll steal a flying analogy– Did you know when you fly, if you start out just one degree off course you end up in a totally different part of the world? It’s the law of exponential growth. You start at Airport X, you fly one degree off course, soon it becomes two degrees, than four, than eight off course…. Same idea holds true for emotions, they can infect an entire group. A study by Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis titled Social Intelligence and the Biology of Leadership states that "destructive emotions infects an entire group and inhibits its performance. Leaders are themselves not immune to the contagion of stress. All the more reason they should take the time to understand the biology of their emotions."
Train yourself to control your emotions instead of being controlled by them, notice when you begin to feel overwhelmed and take action to calm yourself so you can maintain clear thinking when it is needed most. Being able to think clearly under stress will increase your effectiveness as a leader. Awareness is key, many notice the physical sensation first, some call it a gut response, a knot in the stomach… my favorite "turtleing," that sensation of shoulders so high that your ears disappear.
Knowing that much of the overwhelm response is physical, does not excuse us from not using our mental gifts to overcome an autopilot response. The physical response of emotion(s) e.g., anger, can easily overtake us. Again, awareness is key; anger can quickly be disabled by knowing it is a secondary emotion. One must be hurt, frightened or frustrated to get angry.
Go beyond just noticing "I’m angry." What are the impulses and intentions running through your mind? An impulse is usually that thought "I feel so (angry) (mad) (sad)… I could…." then, look to the intention behind it. What do you hope to accomplish? With every impulse and intention, the law of cause and effect comes along for the ride. "If I respond this way, what’s likely to happen, next?" Develop solutions; "A better thing to do would be…." "If I try that, the benefits will be…."
Under stress the typical first response is to revert back to old habits, no matter how unsuitable they are for addressing the new challenge. As they just told me, "put your mask on first, then help others…." To be a true leader one must have an awareness of and control over the autopilot button.
"If I lose my temper, you lose your head. Understand?" ~ Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland