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Emotional Energy: Why Sweat The Small Stuff?

“Accurately identify your emotions as they occur, and then move on.” Sounds simple, right? Well, as we learned in Checking Your Gauge, Part 1 , only a minority of us can pull off the “identify” part. And “move on”? That’s an even greater longshot. But what we also learned is that a little self-awareness can be the magic ingredient in our emotional energy tank. It enables us to catch negative emotions before we’re triggered to act on them (which depletes the tank).

Think of all the irritations that seep into your everyday life (slow walkers, people speaking loudly on the train when you’re trying to work, finding a proposal you thought you’d sent out 2 days ago still sitting in your drafts folder). Now think of the negative voice in your head sounding its response (Crap! I’m so behind in my work that I’ll never get everything done; I’m such a moron! How am I ever going to ‘make it if I can’t even remember to execute?) Once we recognize these small annoyances, we can intentionally release the associated emotions. After their full 90-second life span has elapsed, we can become clear-headed and move on, instead of staying in-trance by letting the residuals fester. Let’s look at the practical ways to release.

The Science of Release

For the truest results, the process of releasing bad emotions should be examined from a strict black & white, binary, purely scientific Dr. Spock point of view. Our emotional energy tank becomes drained when the brain releases cortisol. By contrast, this precious reservoir becomes enriched when oxytocin is flowing. These opposing actions are determined by how we respond or react to a situation, event or conversation.

Since emotion is deeply-seated in our amygdala, we must actively lead our attention away from this ancient, reactionary part of the brain. But how are we mere mortals expected to accomplish this task on a nearly continuous basis? The answer is that we all have the built-in capabilities, and they’re the kind that successful people use to their advantage. It’s called becoming curious, self-compassionate and proactive. This is as simple as acknowledging the “ughhh”, and then letting that emotion drift away into the wind. It’s called choosing to laugh at yourself, accepting that “it happened, and now I’m over it.”

Related: Resilience as the Fortifier of Your Career

Why Sweat The Small Stuff?

When daily nuisances are managed, we can better manage the big emotional drains in our lives and careers, like losing a job, going through divorce , or experiencing the death of a loved one. The small stuff requires curiosity, compassion and patience….essentially, the changing of one’s mindset. While we don’t get to choose the event, we do get to choose the response, and ultimately, to move on.

The next time you feel agitated by someone speaking loudly on their cell phone while riding the train, you may get a twinge of anger and your eyes may narrow . This is your cue to practice ‘catch and release’. Recognize your anger for what it is, and allow it. Then breathe for a few seconds, and move on. I know, it’s easier said than done. But once you practice this awareness, you’ll be in control of your emotions, rather than letting them control you. Sometimes, the simple solutions have the most profound effects!