Five Ways to Improve Your Self-Management

Self-management is how you control and manage yourself, your emotions, and your abilities.  This includes one’s ability to manage impulses and focus on more important priorities and goals.  

In short, a person who’s strong in self-management is not easily knocked off track by adversity, tense situations, or stressful times.  

Your Brain

We have two brains.  As social scientist, Daniel Goleman, says, “We have two brains; one that thinks and one that feels.”  

The Thinking Brain

The Neocortex, our prefrontal lobes, represent our Thinking Brain.  This is the area responsible for all logic, rationality, and processing information.  Recall from a prior newsletter that this is the “rider saddled up on top of the elephant”.  

The Feeling Brain

Then we have the Limbic System, which is our Emotional, or Feeling Brain.  This is represented by the “elephant” in Jonathan Haidt’s famous analogy of “the elephant and the rider”.  The Emotional Brain is responsible, of course, for how we feel in certain situations and about certain people.  It also provides the energy for us to move, change direction, or change our behavior.

The Amygdala

The area between your brain and your neck, the brain stem.  This is called your amygdala.  It’s your “fight or flight” mechanism, otherwise referred to as our survival brain.  This area is responsible for survival, as it stores information, memories of the past, and triggers your alertness in certain situations.

The amygdala is responsible for the perception of emotions such as anger, fear, and sadness, as well as controlling aggression. The amygdala helps store memories of events and emotions so that an individual may be able to recognize similar events in the future. 

For example, if you have ever suffered a dog bite, then the amygdala may help in processing that event and, therefore, increase your fear or alertness around dogs.

The Amygdala Hijack

If someone scanned your brain during the tense moments which cause you enough emotional stress and frustration to overreact, the scan would show high activity in the amygdala and the emotional brain. 

In a moment of distress, anger, or fear, this high activity in the amygdala and the emotional brain is known as the amygdala hijack.

When the amygdala hijacks our brain, it makes us focus our attention on, and obsess about, the cause of our distress. 

Neurologically speaking, in moments of distress, anger, or annoyance, all of the blood leaves our thinking brain and floods the emotional brain. 

In effect, we lose ten to twelve IQ points for a brief moment, which is why we say or do things we later regret in the heat of the moment. 

“A temporary moment of pride can often cause pain forever…”

Conversely, when you’re in an upbeat mood, all the blood runs from the emotional brain down to the amygdala, which generates a good mood and inhibits the amygdala from becoming distressed. So, the trick to remaining calm in tense situations is to give our brains time to recalibrate and put our thinking brain back in charge so that we don’t say something or do something we regret. 

A leader can use this same strategy to stay calm in tense moments by keeping their rocky emotions at bay while maintaining a confident, enthusiastic tone. 

Ultimately, as Daniel Goleman says, 

“Self-management is the emotional intelligence component that frees us from being a prisoner of our feelings. Self-management allows the mental clarity leadership demands and keeps disruptive emotions from throwing us off track. Leaders with this level of self-mastery embody an upbeat, optimistic enthusiasm that tunes resonance to the positive range.”

Here are five ways to improve your self-management over time:

  1. Deep breathing.  Try this, breath in through your nose and out through your mouth.  Place your hand on your stomach and feel your lungs filling up with air, breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth, repeatedly.  (When you do this, feel your body and mind relaxing.  Remember, the goal is to give yourself time to put your Thinking Brain back in charge.)
  1. Take a break every 90-120 minutes.  Drink cold water.  Take a walk outside and get some sunshine or Vitamin D.
  1. Consider what you’re grateful for and write it down if you can.  This will force you to turn the negative thoughts and emotions off and your positivity back on.  It’s impossible to be grateful and negative at the same time.
  1. Laugh.  Actively seek out people and situations to bring your mood back to a positive, uplifting place.
  1. Provide positive feedback to someone else.  It’s amazing what happens when we take the focus off ourselves and focus on others.  Our mindset shifts from “woe is me” to “wow I’m helping someone else”; and we become fulfilled.

Imagine all the good and positive work you’re doing at work, with your business partners, and people with whom you interact most frequently.  All the positive and productive work is like filling up a bucket with water, and that water can be used to pour back into others, feeding their minds, bodies, and souls.  That “water”, all the positive and productive things you’ve done, nourishes relationships, lives, and lays the foundation for your career growth.

However, one momentary flare up when you lose control of your emotions is like kicking over the bucket and losing all that water – all the positive and productive things you’ve done – to build up and lay the foundation for your life and career.

Guard against those momentary flare ups in pride by working on improving your self-management.  This component of emotional intelligence will not only set you apart from the pack, but it will also gain you respect and credibility over time.  That leads to trust, which results in career growth, promotions, stronger relationships, and a more meaningful, happier, and more successful life.

Have a great day.

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