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The Smart Way to Manage Emotions

The Smart Way to Manage Emotions

What’s the smart way to manage emotions? It’s easy: learn about the science-based patterns about how our emotions work and how to manage them. If we know about how our minds work, we can be intentional about influencing our own thinking and feeling patterns. We can evaluate reality more clearly, make better decisions, and improve our ability to achieve goals, thus gaining greater agency, the quality of living intentionally.

So how do our minds work? Intuitively, our mind feels like a cohesive whole. We perceive ourselves as intentional and rational thinkers. Yet cognitive science research shows that in reality, the intentional part of our mind is like a little rider on top of a huge elephant of emotions and intuitions.

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Roughly speaking, we have two thinking systems. Daniel Kahneman, who won the Nobel Prize for his research on behavioral economics, calls them System 1 and 2, but I think “autopilot system” and “intentional system” describe these systems more clearly. The term “intentional system” in particular is useful as a way of thinking about living intentionally and thereby gaining greater agency.

The Autopilot System

The autopilot system corresponds to our emotions and intuitions. Its cognitive processes take place mainly in the amygdala and other parts of the brain that developed early in our evolution. This system guides our daily habits, helps us make snap decisions, and reacts instantly to dangerous life-and-death situations, like saber-toothed tigers, through the freeze, fight, or flight stress response. While helping our survival in the past, the fight-or-flight response is not a great fit for modern life.

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We have many small stresses that are not life-threatening, but the autopilot system treats them as tigers, producing an unnecessarily stressful everyday life experience that undermines our mental and physical wellbeing. Moreover, while the snap judgments resulting from intuitions and emotions usually feel “true” because they are fast and powerful, they sometimes lead us wrong, in systemic and predictable ways.

The Intentional System

The intentional system reflects our rational thinking, and centers around the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that evolved more recently. According to recent research, it developed as humans started to live within larger social groups. This thinking system helps us handle more complex mental activities, such as managing individual and group relationships, logical reasoning, probabilistic thinking, and learning new information and patterns of thinking and behavior. While the automatic system requires no conscious effort to function, the intentional system takes deliberate effort to turn on and is mentally tiring. Fortunately, with enough motivation and appropriate training, the intentional system can turn on in situations where the autopilot system is prone to make errors, especially costly ones.

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Blog-–-Autopilot-vs-Intentional-text

    Here’s a quick visual comparison of the two systems:

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    Autopilot System Intentional System
    • Fast, intuitive, emotional self
    • Requires no effort
    • Automatic thinking, feeling, and behavior habits
    • Mostly makes good decisions, 80% of time
    • However, prone to some predictable and systematic errors
    • Conscious, reasoning, mindful self
    • Takes intentional effort to turn on + drains mental energy
    • Used mainly when we learn new information, and use reason and logic
    • Can be trained to turn on when it detects Autopilot System may be making error

    The autopilot system is like an elephant. It’s by far the more powerful and predominant of the two systems. Our emotions can often overwhelm our rational thinking. Moreover, our intuitions and habits determine the large majority of our life, which we spend in autopilot mode. And that’s not a bad thing at all—it would be mentally exhausting to think intentionally about our every action and decision.

    The intentional system is like the elephant rider. It can guide the elephant deliberately to go in a direction that matches our actual goals. Certainly, the elephant part of the brain is huge and unwieldy, slow to turn and change, and stampedes at threats. But we can train the elephant. Your rider can be an elephant whisperer. Over time, you can use the intentional system to change your automatic thinking, feeling, and behavior patterns, and become a better agent in taking charge over your life and reaching your goals!

    I hope this information fills you with optimism. It does me, since you can use these strategies to get what you want and achieve success in life!

    • What steps do you think you can take to evaluate where your emotions and intuitions may lead you to make mistakes?
    • What can you do to be prepared to deal with these situations in the moment?
    • What can you do to be an elephant whisperer and retrain your elephant to have thinking, feeling, and behavior patterns that match your long-term goals?

    Featured photo credit: Emotion via flickr.com

    More by this author

    Dr. Gleb Tsipursky

    President and Co-Founder at Intentional Insights; Disaster Avoidance Consultant

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    Last Updated on February 20, 2019

    How to Get Promoted When You Feel Stuck in Your Current Position

    How to Get Promoted When You Feel Stuck in Your Current Position

    Are you stuck in the same position for too long and don’t really know how to get promoted and advance your career?

    Feeling stuck could be caused by a variety of things:

    • Taking a job for the money
    • Staying with an employer that no longer aligns with your values
    • Realizing that you landed yourself in the wrong career
    • Not feeling valued or feeling underutilized
    • Staying in a role too long out of fear
    • Taking a position without a full understanding of the role

    There are many, many other reasons why you may be feeling this way but let’s focus instead on getting unstuck.

    As in – getting promoted.

    So how to get promoted?

    I’m of the opinion that the best way to get promoted is by showing how you add value to your organization.

    Did you make money, save money, improve a process, or some other amazing thing? How else might you demonstrated added value?

    Let’s dive right in how to get promoted when you feel stuck in your current position:

    1. Be a Mentor

    When I supervised students, I used to warm them – tongue in cheek, of course – about getting really good at their job.

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    “Be careful not to get too good at this, or you’ll never get to do anything else?”

    This was my way of pestering them to take on additional challenges or think outside the box, but there is definitely some reality in doing something so well that your manager doesn’t trust anyone else to do it.

    This can get you stuck.

    Jo Miller of Be Leaderly shares this insight on when your boss thinks you’re too valuable in your current job:[1]

    “Think back to a time when you really enjoyed your current role. I bet there was a time when this job was a stretch for you, and you stepped up to the challenge and performed like a rock star. You became known for doing your job so well that you built up some strong “personal brand” equity, and people know you as the go-to-person for this particular job. That’s what we call “a good problem to have”: you did a really good job of building a positive perception about your suitability for the role, but you may have done “too” good of a job!”

    With this in mind, how do you prove to your employer that you can add value by being promoted?

    In Miller’s insight, she talks about building your personal brand and becoming known for doing a particular job well. So how can you link that work with a position or project that will earn you a promotion?

    Consider leveraging your strengths and skills.

    Let’s say that project you do so well is hiring and training new entry level employees. You have to post the job listing, read and review resumes, schedule interviews, making hiring decisions, and create the training schedules. These tasks require skills such as employee relations, onboarding, human resources software, performance management, teamwork, collaboration, customer service, and project management. That’s a serious amount of skills!

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    Is there anyone else on your team who can perform these skills? Try delegating and training some of your staff or colleagues to learn your job. There are a number of reasons why this is a good idea:

    1. Cross-training helps in any situation in the event that there’s an extended illness and the main performer of a certain task is out for a while.
    2. In becoming a mentor to a supervisee or colleague, you empower then to increase their job skills.
    3. You are already beginning to demonstrate that added value to your employer by encouraging your team or peers to learn your job.

    Now that you’ve trained others to do that work for which you have been so valued, you can see about re-requesting that promotion. Be ready to explain how you have saved the company money, encouraged employees to increase their skills, or reinvented that project of yours.

    2. Work on Your Mindset

    Another reason you may feel stuck in a position is well explained by Ashley Stahl in her Forbes article. Shahl talks about mindset, and says:[2]

    “If you feel stuck at a job you used to love, it’s normally you–not the job–who needs to change. The position you got hired for is probably the exact same one you have now. But if you start to dread the work routine, you’re going to focus on the negatives.”

    In this situation, you should pursue a conversation with your supervisor and share your thoughts and feelings. You can probably get some advice on how to rediscover the aspects of that job you enjoyed, and negotiate either some additional duties or a chance to move up.

    Don’t express frustration. Express a desire for more.

    Share with your supervisor that you want to be challenged and you want to move up. You are seeking more responsibility in order to continue moving the company forward. Focus on how you can do that with the skills you have and will develop with some additional projects and coaching.

    3. Improve Your Soft Skills

    When was the last time you put focus and effort into upping your game with those soft skills? I’m talking about those seemingly intangible things that make you the experienced professional in your specific job skills:

    An article on Levo.com suggests that more than 60 percent of employers look at soft skills when making a hiring decision.[3]

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    You can bone up on these skills and increase your chances of promotion by taking courses or seminars.

    And you don’t necessarily need to request funding from your supervisor, either. There are dozens of online courses being presented by entrepreneurs and authors about these very subjects. Udemy and Creative Live both feature online courses at very reasonable prices. And some come with completion certificates for your portfolio!

    Another way to improve your soft skills is by connecting with an employee at your organization who has the position you are seeking.

    Express your desire to move up in the organization, and ask to shadow that person or see if you can sit in on some of her meetings. Offer to take that individual out for coffee and ask what her secret is! Take copious notes and then immerse yourself in the learning.

    The key here is not to copy your new mentor (think Jennifer Jason Leigh in “Single White Female.” Just kidding). Rather, you want to observe, learn and then adapt according to your strengths. And don’t forget to thank that person for their time.

    4. Develop Your Strategy

    Do you even know specifically WHY you want to be promoted anyway? Do you see a future at this company? Do you have a one year, five year, or ten year plan? How often do you consider your “why” and insure that it aligns with your “what?”

    Sit down and do an old-fashioned Pro and Con list. Two columns:

    Pro’s on one side, Con’s on the other.

    Write down every positive aspect of your current job and then every negative one. Which list is longer? Are there any themes present?

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    Look at your lists and choose the most exciting Pro’s and the most frustrating Con’s. Do those two Pro’s make the Con’s worth it? If you can’t answer that question with a “yes” then getting promoted at your current organization may not be what you really want.

    The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why. –Mark Twain

    Mel Carson writes about this on Goalcast that many other authors and speakers have written about finding your professional purpose.[4]

    Here are some questions to ask yourself:

    • Why is it that you do what you do?
    • What thrills you about your current job role or career?
    • What does a great day look like?
    • What does success look like beyond the paycheck?
    • What does real success feel like for you?
    • How do you want to feel about your impact on the world when you retire?

    These questions would be great to reflect on in a journal or with your supervisor in your next one-on-one meeting. Or, bring it up with one of your Vital Work Friends over coffee.

    See, what you might find is that being stuck is your choice. And you can set yourself on the path of moving up where you are, or moving on to something different.

    Because sometimes the real promotion is finding your life’s purpose. And like Mastercard says, that’s Priceless.

    More Resources About Career Advancement

    Featured photo credit: Razvan Chisu via unsplash.com

    Reference

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