With our online NLP Practitioner starting in less than a month, I wanted to share some ideas of how to manage your emotional state. These ideas are based on the emotional intelligence content from Robert Dilts at NLP University where I work as a faculty member and I presented this during their Practitioner programme last month.

The seven stages of transforming difficult feelings

There are seven stages to transforming difficult feelings. The first is to realise you are not in a good state: you pause, breathe and then attempt to leave the situation you are in. Once you have gained some space, these steps can help you regain your composure and also provide lasting change.

It is worth remembering that when adrenaline is triggered during a difficult encounter or after some troubling news, the blood that usually flows into your neocortex (the part of your brain that is used for reasoning) is channelled into your limbs so you can fight or flee. Although this can be useful in dangerous situations, generally the impairment of your thinking abilities mean that you do not make the best decisions. That is why a process to manage your state is so important:

  1. Recognise – The first step is simply to be aware that you are not in a good state. This is probably the most important and challenging part of this process: Sadly, I often recognise my negative state when it is too late, after the event. Stay vigilant, it is never too late to become aware of your state.
  2. Acknowledge – Accepting that emotions are not necessarily good nor bad, they simply exist and more often than not are short-term and can provide useful information. A simple, but powerful principle is to make room and allow this feeling to simply exist, rather than pushing it away and forcing yourself to pretend it is not there.
  3. Holding – This allows you to ‘be with the feeling’. By holding this emotion, without pushing it away but also without magnifying it, allows your system to begin to settle.
  4. Understanding (positive intention). This is probably best explained by a personal example. I remember recently feeling a sense of panic (fear) regarding a family member. I went through the first three stages above until I felt a bit more settled. Then I asked myself what was this emotion trying to teach me, what was its positive intention? I realised, that partially the feeling reminded me that I genuinely care for the person involved and perhaps this was a call to action? However, I felt that this was only partially true, which leads me to..
  5. Resourcing – Learning the ability to access two states at the same time allows you to more easily hold difficult feelings. By recalling a time when you felt, for example, grounded or calm, and then allowing that to combine with the difficult feeling you create an unfamiliar – not necessarily pleasant, but new – state.  Once you can practice holding this new state with curiosity rather than fear, it somehow reduces as if saying to you, “Thanks for finally listening and trying to understand me!” It is often our fear of experiencing our difficult feelings that creates more stress than the original feeling itself.
  6. Transforming – I suspected my feelings about a family member may have had an earlier genesis, from when I was a child. I used the now more contained feeling to track back to an early memory. I was trying to take care of my parents, but really, I was trying to take care of myself. So, I realised my need to help others was actually an unmet need to take care of my younger self.
  7. Integrating – How could this new information be useful for my present predicament? I recall a maxim from anger management specialist David Woolfson who said, ‘Let the client do the work’. This can also apply to your family: let them do the work; let them sort out their own issues, even if it may feel uncomfortable to standby and do nothing, it can be the best thing to do. I felt this was the case here.

The importance of tracking state

The above may seem a long journey to finally (and happily) do nothing. However, it is about managing feelings and stopping impulsive behaviour that you may regret later on. Other times you may decide you need to act, but at least you are acting with all your wits about you.

I know some people may think this is overly procedural and unnatural – ‘Just express your feelings!’ they may say. Although it is important to be authentic and not over-think things, this process is not to prevent you having feelings, it is way to track your state so you have more choices other than ‘losing it’.

Others may say that anger is an important way to assert boundaries and show someone when you mean business. I fundamentally disagree with this approach. Although I have often said things in anger, I am generally not proud of those moments. If the only way you can assert boundaries and express your needs is through rage, then you deprive yourself from letting a powerful part of your character develop. It is how to express yourself directly, while still remaining in control – this is a far more impactful way to communicate in my view.

How to keep your cool

On spotting when you are heating up into a negative state, a coach I know shared with me that his approach to ending conflict with his wife – to rush off to the toilet. Once there, he could use the time to follow a similar process to calm himself down and gain some perspective. When he returned, he found that often he and his wife would have a good laugh rather than ‘locking horns’ and having a shouting match (which happened when he didn’t press pause and rush to the loo!)

Learning to manage my state was one of the best gifts I gained from learning NLP and coaching. Although it undoubtedly helps personal relationship, the biggest benefit was to me. I learned the importance of living in a state of contentment and how to make adjustments so I could regain that state. Perhaps most important of all, I learnt to be at greater peace with myself when uncomfortable states arise.

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