Emotions Cloud Decisions, but How Do You Control Them?

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Image credit: istockphoto.com/portfolio/Guillaume

Emotions can be valuable, helping us understand the context of our interactions and find the motivation to take action when necessary. But emotions that are too strong or poorly controlled can cloud your decision making, ultimately leading you to poorer choices. If you’re blinded by rage or if you’re feeling especially depressed, you won’t be able to analyze your situation logically and objectively.

So how do you control your emotions and make better decisions?

The Limitations of Emotional Control

First, we need to understand that there are some limits to your emotional control. Emotions are a complex phenomenon, and they affect everyone a little bit differently. There are also many different kinds of emotions; for example, there are more reactive emotions like surprise, and more contemplative emotions like jealousy. Different types of emotions can be controlled in different ways, but some are much more difficult to control in the moment.

If you go into this journey with the mentality that you must have total control over your emotions at all times, you’re going to be disappointed. Instead, it’s better to build patterns, habits, and reliable processes that can help you manage emotions when they exist and control your actions as a response to those emotions.

In this guide, we’ll explore some tactics that can help you get your emotions under control, but they aren’t foolproof. Some emotional responses simply can’t be prevented or eliminated. Focus on what you can control, and try not to worry too much about the rest.

Recognize and Lean Into Your Emotions

Recognize and lean into your emotions, rather than fighting them. Too often, people feel like the appropriate response to an emotion like anger is to ignore the anger, push it down, or fight against it. In reality, this sequence may only make you more frustrated, increasing your anger and making you more prone to bad decision making.

Instead, try to recognize and name your emotions when you’re feeling them. Simply saying to yourself, “I feel angry right now” is sometimes enough to help the anger dissipate. It’s also important to actively feel your emotions in the moment, so you have an outlet to manage them. It’s okay to feel angry, as long as you’re doing it consciously and in a controlled manner. This may take some practice.

Understand That Emotions Are Separate From Actions

Next, remember that emotions are separate from your actions. The decisions you make can be independent from the emotions you feel – though admittedly, this is easier said than done.

This is best understood through analogy. Imagine a driver rudely cuts you off on the road; you’ll probably feel frustrated, angry, or panicked. Does that give you justification for succumbing to road rage and running them off the road? Of course not. You can feel angry and still make a logical, objective decision, as long as you’re able to think clearly while experiencing the emotion.

Work on Your Emotional Reactivity

So how do you think clearly while experiencing an emotion? One solution is to work on your emotional reactivity. In other words, you want to reduce the likelihood of an emotion completely taking over your mind when you feel it, by reducing its intensity and limiting its effects on your decisions.

These are some of the best ways to do it:

  • Notice habits and patterns. What types of situations trigger your emotions most intensely? How can you prevent them from affecting you so much?
  • Meditate. Remaining in the present moment and concentrating on your breathing can give you much more power to regulate your emotions
  • Journal. Journaling is a great exercise for overall mental health. It can help you better understand the context of your emotions.

Give Yourself More Time

You can also make better decisions by giving yourself more time, whenever possible. If you’re angry with an employee, give it a day before you decide to fire them. If you’re feeling especially sad, don’t decline an invitation to a party next week without giving it a few hours (or days) of thought. This isn’t always possible, but it helps when the option is available.

Pretend Like You’re Advising a Friend

Consider separating yourself from your emotions by pretending like you’re advising a friend. Imagine that your friend is in the same situation you are, and consider what advice you would give them on their upcoming decision. Because your friend isn’t experiencing these emotions, you may be able to see the situation with greater objectivity and clarity.

We are all constantly experiencing emotion, and we’re all influenced by emotion, whether we like it or not. However, with the right habits and strategies, we can limit the effects of emotions on our decision making and ultimately produce better results.

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