Biochemically speaking, emotions have a shelf life of 90 seconds. They’re designed to be transitory. And yet, somehow when our feelings fall on the negative side (i.e. anger) we seem to get stuck in a loop that can be hard to escape. All too often, we blame these feelings on someone else, when in fact, the answer to breaking the cycle lies within.
After 90 seconds, the initial flood of chemicals has completely dissipated. Dwelling on the situation that caused your feelings in the first place keeps powerful, chemicals flowing and you literally stew in your own juices. It takes a little practice, but rather than stewing, you can hit the ‘reset’ button.
A Relentless Loop
Road Rage offers a prime example of getting stuck in an angry loop. Remember the last person who cut you off? What ran through your head? Did you take it personally, thinking that the other person had done something to you? How long did you hang onto the anger?
Let’s replay that scenario. Someone cuts you off. Maybe you were in their blind spot. Maybe they realized they were about to miss their exit and reacted without thinking or looking in the rear view mirror. Maybe they were distracted by a personal emergency. None of the likely reasons that caused the other driver to cut you off had intent to harm.
That’s the way it is in a lot of situations that trigger anger. We create a story and interpret intent behind the other person’s actions. Most often our stories are wrong. Dwelling on the story keeps the anger churning.
Hit The Reset Button
You can use a number of different techniques to stop the flood of chemicals that keep you stewing. It starts by recognizing you’re in the throes of an amygdala hijack. Clenched jaw. Racing heart. BP spike. When angry or afraid, we take short, panting breaths. To interrupt the amygdala hijack, take a few long, deep breaths from the diaphragm.
Next, acknowledge how you feel. Rather than saying to yourself, “I am angry,” phrase your self-talk as, “I feel anger.” Verbs are small, powerful words that create your reality. The nuance of language actually does make a difference.
Finally, rewrite the story you’re telling yourself. Unless you’re a mind reader, you cannot possibly know what’s going on in another person’s head. It’s pretty much guaranteed that the first story you’ve told yourself is off target.
Self-management Builds Leaders
We know from Daniel Goleman and Annie McKee‘s work that a large component of leadership is the ability to manage your own emotions. Part of communication is the biochemical influence we have on others within our sphere of influence. Communication isn’t constrained to word choice, tone of voice, and body language. The chemicals we release also play a significant role in the communication. Great leaders know how they impact others and have learned when to hit the reset button—an important element of emotional intelligence.