A lot of the high-achieving people I work with are adept at taking care of themselves in certain ways. They might work out regularly. They might eat nutritious foods. Some are great at setting boundaries with colleagues.
But when I ask people how they take care of themselves emotionally…crickets.
And I get it. I really do. It can be extremely challenging to even know how to take care of yourself emotionally. Very few of us were trained in emotional mastery. Let me give you an example.
I once worked with someone who was pretty out of touch with her emotions, except for one: anger. She would often scream at people in the office if she wasn’t happy about something. She would throw things in her office. And direct her rage at people who made mistakes in epic verbal attacks.
One day, I caught her in one of these moments. She was standing in the middle of the office screaming at her employees—all early twenty-somethings who were frozen in fear. Her face was red, her body rigid.
I walked to her, keeping my body very calm and started talking to her in what psychologists call the compassionate parent voice.
“Hey, hey there. I can see you’re super upset, but you know what? Everything’s just fine. It can be fixed. It’s all right. Why don’t we go into your office and talk about it.”
Her entire body relaxed. She turned to look at me and nodded. “Come on, everything’s going to be fine.” I ushered her back to her office where she poured out the emotions the anger was masking.
In order to put the joy back into your job, understanding your emotional world is crucial. This is a foundational pillar of self-mastery.
In my example above, if this woman could coach herself through the anger with self-compassion, she could develop greater emotional regulation and an expanded ability to express her needs. By expressing her needs, she could invite more of what nourishes her into her work and her life and the anger she felt would dissolve.
A few weeks ago, I shared one of the top three most powerful ways to put the joy back in your job. Here is the second powerful practice I’d like to share with you:
Use self-compassion to develop emotional mastery.
I bet you didn’t think I was going to say that, did you? But it’s true. Self-compassion is one of the best ways to help discover why you feel what you feel. It can help prevent what’s called, “flooding,” which is when your body is flooded with stress hormones that take your executive functioning offline.
When we’re flooded with stress hormones, we unplug our ability to think rationally and we go into habitual and instinctive reactions. When we’re flooded with anger, fear, stress, overwhelm or burnout—it’s almost impossible to access our joy.
Try this: This week pay attention to any emotions that come up.
- Identify what you’re feeling. Name the emotion and write it down in a journal.
- Notice its results. See if you can tell how that emotion makes your body feel or notice what behaviors the emotion causes.
- Engage self-compassion. Put your hands on your heart, one over the other (or put your hands anywhere on your body that feels comforting and supportive), and talk to yourself in a compassionate voice in the second person.
You might feel like an idiot at first or that I’m an idiot for suggesting this ridiculous exercise, but trust me. It works. Researchers at Stanford, The University of Texas at Austin and other institutions have joined the party on the power of self-coaching, self-compassion and touch.
Note: Sometimes we can access our emotions in the reverse—meaning, we can notice our behaviors (binge watching TV, mindlessly using our devices, eating or drinking without awareness) and then see what thoughts we were thinking before we engaged in the behavior. Those thoughts are bread crumbs that can lead us to the emotions themselves.
All right friends: I’ll leave you with this. The more aware of your emotions you are, the more control you have over what you feel. And this is a powerful pathway to creating more joy in your job (and life).