Negative emotions can be challenging to deal with, especially when the events that cause them seem to pile on top of each other. Have you ever been having a great day, but you get a call or email that shifts your mood or energy?
People will often tell you to “just shake it off” as if we should be able to snap out of it and move on, but that might not be enough. We often struggle to “let it go” and act as if we are unaffected by our emotions. This can make us feel ashamed and guilt-ridden when we “fixate” on our problems. Fortunately, there are several strategies you can try to shift negative emotions.
I first heard a saying from The NeuroLeadership Institute is you have to to “Name it to tame it.” You need to be able to name what you are feeling to stop the rush of the limbic emotional system. This is the system that activates our amygdala and hijacks our fight, flight, or freeze response mode.
We can try and convince ourselves that it’s not happening and tell our brains to stop thinking about it, but often that does not work. Each time you tell yourself to get over it, you’re essentially reminding yourself again and again. The more you say it, the more you focus on it. You end up stuck. If you want to shift your thoughts away from the negative, you’ll need to learn how to name the feeling then replace it with other thoughts.
Negative emotions can be challenging to deal with, but there are several strategies you can try to shift them.
Identify and acknowledge the emotion: Recognizing the specific negative emotion you’re experiencing and accepting it can help you understand why you feel that way.
Name the Negative Emotions
Recognizing the specific negative emotion you’re experiencing and accepting it can help you understand why you feel that way.
Journaling is a great way to NAME your negative emotions. Writing your negative emotions is often therapeutic and transformational.
If you only think about the negative emotion, your brain can go down rabbit trails (i.e. role-playing conversations, making assumptions, building on the story, etc.). By journaling, you are staying focused on trying to clear the negative emotions.
Use a T Grid to Shift Your Negative Emotions
Take a regular size sheet of paper and make a large T. Leave the bulk of the writing space to the left and the right of the vertical line. At the top of the grid, write the negative emotion.
- Top (TOPIC): At the top of the chart, write out the reason that is causing your negative emotions.
- Left (PRESENT): On the left side, write out the emotions that are causing you to believe the topic is true. Keep writing until you get it ALL OUT.
- Right (SHIFT): One the right side, allow your mind to find solutions that would be productive, positive, and move things forward. Try to answer the following questions
- WHAT IS POSSIBLE?
- WHAT WOULD MAKE THIS BETTER?
- WHAT CAN YOU DO?
- WHAT DO YOU NEED?
The following is an example how to use the T Grid:
|TOPIC: The meeting this morning went bad and I didn’t show up like the leader I want to be|
|The meeting was not very productive. I was frustrated that everyone was prepared but it was difficult to get clarity on the next steps and actions. It felt like a waste of time. I felt like I should have helped to move things along, but I felt lost in what was best. This makes me feel like a fake or incompetent leader. I feel nervous about not being in motion. I feel stressed that we should be further along and worried that the ongoing ambiguity will soon affect the company’s profitability and will create more issues. I feel most frustrated at myself but also a little unsure of what to do to make it different. I just know we need to be in action, and we are not, but I feel bad about the meeting and the dynamics happening. It feels like people are tired and we are on the edge of blaming each other when we are all working hard but everyone also feels the lack of movement.||I need to write out a vision for what I want our leadership meeting to look like. I need to consider what actions I would like everyone to take and then listen for the actions they want to take so we can more quickly distill actions from reflections. I need to look at the decisions I am avoiding and why. I need to reflect on what is making the meetings feel circular so that I can break the cycle rather than contribute to it or wait for someone else to do it. I need to appreciate the team and that everyone is trying their best. I need to consider my expectations and check what is reasonable versus where I feel pressured.|
Tips for Documenting the Present
If you tend to only use the four main emotions (happy, sad, mad, or tired), it can be useful to use a FEELINGS CHART. Try to recognize what feeling is connected to your negative emotions and why.
This is not about belaboring the point or drawing out stories. It is about naming WHAT HAPPENED and HOW I FEEL and WHY.
Why this Approach is Beneficial to Shift Negative Emotions
When we are hijacked, we can be in a little more of a fixed mindset. We might feel a little more victimized by situations and downshift to our lower-letter self. This isn’t about being wrong, but about recognizing where you are, how you are feeling, and what you are thinking.
When I am in a positive place and forward-thinking I am my Capital “C” Christy versus when I am fighting negative emotions, I can downshift to my lower “c” christy. The more I am able to name and label how I am feeling, the more it neutralizes it. Then I’m able to shift my mindset back to my Capital “C” Christy self.
Benefits of Tuning into Your Negative Emotions
The reality is we will all have situations where we get triggered or challenged by others.
Often surface triggers are prodding something deeper within (old tapes, stories, and baggage). This is why if we can factually and simply list what happened and how we feel, it is easier to keep it on the situation happening rather than the related feelings this situation reminds us of and subconsciously stirs inside of us.
For years we have prided ourselves on being logical, factual, and non-emotional. The challenge is we are humans and as humans, we are emotional creatures. That doesn’t mean we are a crying puddle on the floor, it means that our subconscious mind and heart have feelings that influence and drive our thoughts and actions. When we can acknowledge and recognize those core feelings, we are better able to decide the actions and thoughts we want to have, rather than ramrodding “Just get over it”, but inside our hearts cannot let go.
While there is value in developing a thicker skin and not being hypersensitive, there is also value in not minimizing your feelings. You matter. Your feelings matter.
Valuing your feelings is not low Emotional Intelligence, it is high EI, which is more important than IQ. Great leaders recognize their humanness and the humanness of others. They can be self-aware and self-reflective, which starts with tuning into your negative emotions.
If you’re looking for more information on journal, feel free to reach out with any questions! Here you can find more resources on Emotional Intelligence.