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Suppress Your True Emotions Often? Science Says It Can Seriously Harm Your Memory

Suppress Your True Emotions Often? Science Says It Can Seriously Harm Your Memory

Think back to one of the best days of your life as a child. Close your eyes and visualize that experience– go ahead, I’ll wait… What did you see?

Flashbulb Memories

So why is it that we can recall events happening years earlier in such precise and vivid detail? This particular phenomenon has intrigued and perplexed cognitive psychologists and neuroscientists for decades. Research has found that our emotional state at the time of an event, can affect our ability to memorize its details.

In 1977, researchers at Harvard [1] published a paper entitled Flashbulb Memories [2] in which psychologists Roger Brown, Ph.D., and James Kulik, Ph.D. noted that people are often able to vividly recollect where they were when an event occurred that was significant to them. The doctors hypothesized that these memories are so emotionally important to us that they’re recorded in our minds as vividly, completely and accurately as a photograph.

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Emotions–good and bad–assist with mental recall

It is amazing how our minds can awaken emotional memories [3] of passionate and unsullied love, pride in accomplishments, or the joy experienced during a particularly poignant event such as the birth of a child. Unfortunately, memories of things we’d rather forget seem to have greater intensity than the pleasant ones. Emotions, good or bad are a way of framing an event and holding on to it indefinitely.

This is why suppressing emotions or limiting your ability to feel during certain times can inhibit your ability to recall important events. Some research points to the fact that when people work to control their reactions to emotional events[4], their memory of the event is affected. Emotional distance keeps you disengaged, not only in the moment but also long term.

Being emotionally inexpressive doesn’t necessarily doom you to a life of dullness with no memories of good times–if you conscientiously practice becoming in tune with your emotions:

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1. Journal how you feel

When something significant happens and you feel “some kind of way,” journal [5] your thoughts and from that, your true feelings will emerge. Recording emotions in writing not only helps with long term memory but it also assists with cognitively processing difficult or complex events.

A journal acts as a free therapist and provides a judgment-free zone for expressing your reactions. It becomes “someone” with whom you can freely express your feelings. Using a journal to self-express can relieve anxiety, help you to understand negative emotional triggers, and resolve problems in your daily life.

2. Express how you feel in your daily conversations

Using “feeling statements” [6] to express how you feel in everyday contexts that are not high stakes and are non-threatening is a great way to become aware of how you are feeling, take ownership of your feelings and express them verbally to others for more effective communication.

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To begin, state your feelings upfront using the words “I feel____.” Once the feeling is identified and stated, it should be connected to an issue or event. And then, when warranted, a solution should be offered–the solution does not necessarily have to be a viable one. Ideally, this allows the other listeners to focus on helping to alleviate the discomfort, rather than defending him or herself.

3. Re-frame negative emotions in a positive light

Or to put it another way, “find the silver lining.” Unfortunately, negative emotions are more powerful and stay with us longer than positive ones. Being able to first understand and own how you feel is important to being able to view it differently. Find the optimistic point of view in an otherwise negative situation. This takes practice and is not easy to do initially.

In the initial stages, this can most effectively be done through journaling. Then as time progresses, you will have retrained your brain to do this automatically and your memories of negative experiences are present but the intensity is lower.

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Emotional memories are powerful and serve to guide and inform us as we navigate the present and prepare for the future. They can inform you of a fundamental truth that you don’t want to acknowledge, help you from repeating mistakes, and allow you to relive the best times of your life.

Reference

[1] http://scholar.harvard.edu/files/schacterlab/files/hirst_etal_jepgeneral_2015.pdf
[2] https://www.apa.org/monitor/2011/09/memories.aspx
[3] https://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/memory
[4] http://www.memory-key.com/memory/emotion
[5] http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2012/05/02/4-journaling-exercises-to-help-you-manage-your-emotions/
[6] https://www.verywell.com/what-are-feeling-statements-425163

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Denise Hill

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Published on July 29, 2020

How to Build Strategic Thinking Skills for Effective Leadership

How to Build Strategic Thinking Skills for Effective Leadership

Have you been thinking of how you can be a more strategic leader during these uncertain times? Has the pandemic thrown a wrench at all your carefully laid out plans and initiatives?

You’re not alone. The truth is, we all want some stability in our careers and teams during this disruptive pandemic.

However, this now requires a bit more effort than before and making the leap from merely surviving to thriving means buckling down to some serious strategic thinking and maintaining a determined mindset.

Is There a Way to Thrive Despite These Disruptions?

Essentially – yes, although you need to be willing to put in the work. Every leader wants to develop strategic thinking skills so that they can enhance overall team performance and boost their company’s success, but what exactly does it mean to be strategic in the context of the times we live in?

If you happen to be in a leadership position in your organization right now, you are most probably navigating precarious waters given the disruptions caused by the pandemic. There’s a lot more pressure than before because your actions and decisions will have a much greater impact these days not just on you, but also to the people who are part of your team.

Companies often bring me in to coach executives on strategic thinking and planning. And while pre-pandemic I would usually start by highlighting the advantages of strategic thinking, nowadays, I always begin these Zoom coaching sessions by driving home the point that this pandemic has now made strategic thinking not just an option but an absolute must.

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Assessing and making plans through the lens of a good strategy might require significant work at first. Nevertheless, you can take comfort in the fact that the rewards will far outweigh the effort, as you’ll soon see after following the 8 strategic steps I have outlined below.

8 Steps to Strategic Thinking

As events unfold during these strange times, you’re bound to feel wrong-footed every now and then. Being a leader during this pandemic means preparing for more change not just for you, but for your whole team as well.

As states and cities go through a cycle of lockdowns and reopening, employees will experience the full gamut of human emotions in dizzying speed, and you will often be called on to provide insight and stability to your team and workplace.

Strategic thinking is all about anticipation and preparation. Rather than expending your energy merely helping your company put out fires and survive, you can put the time to better use by charting out a solid plan that can protect and help you and your company thrive.

Take the following steps to build solid initiatives and roll out successful projects:

Step 1: Step Back, Then Set the Scope

One of the things that leaders get wrong during their first attempt at strategic thinking is expecting that it is just another item on a checklist. The truth is, you need to take a good, long look at the bigger picture before anything else. This means decisively prioritizing and stepping away from tasks that can be delegated to others. Free up your schedule so you can focus on this crucial task at hand.

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Then, proceed with setting the scope and the strategic goals of the project or initiative you plan to build or execute. Ask yourself the bigger question of why you need to embark on a particular project and when would be the right time to do so.

You need to set a timeline as well, anywhere from 6 months to 5 years. Keep in mind that your projections will deteriorate the further out you go as you make longer-term plans.

For this reason, add extra resources, flexibility, and resilience if you have a longer timeline. You should also be making the goals less specific if you’re charting it out for the longer term.

Step 2: Make a List of Experts

Make and keep a list of credible people who can contribute solid insight and feedback to your initiative. This could range from key stakeholders to industry experts, mentors, and even colleagues who previously planned and rolled out similar projects.

Reach out to the people on this list regularly while you work through the steps to bring diverse insight into your planning process. This way, you will be able to approach any problem from every angle.

Bringing key stakeholders into this initial process will also display your willingness to listen and empathize with their issues. In return, this will build trust and potentially pave the way for smoother buy-in down the line.

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Step 3: Anticipate the Future

After identifying your goals and gathering feedback, it’s time to consider what the future would look like if everything goes as you intuitively anticipate. Then, lay out the kind and amount of resources (money, time, social capital) that might be needed to keep this anticipated future running.

Step 4: Brainstorm on Potential Internal and External Problems

Next, think of how the future would look if you encountered unexpected problems internal and external to the business activity that seriously jeopardize your expected vision of the future. Write out what kind of potential problems you might encounter, including low-probability ones.

Assess the likelihood that you will run into each problem. To gauge, multiply the likelihood by the number of resources needed to address the problem. Try to convert the resources into money if possible so that you can have a single unit of measurement.

Then, think of what steps you can take to address these internal and external problems before they even happen. Write out how much you expect these steps might cost. Lastly, add up all the extra resources that may be needed because of the different possible problems and all the steps you committed to taking to address them in advance.

Step 5: Identify Potential Opportunities, Internal and External

Imagine how your expected plan would look if unexpected opportunities came up. Most of these will be external but consider internal ones as well. Then, gauge the likelihood of each scenario and the number of resources you would need to take advantage of each opportunity. Convert the resources into money if possible.

Then, think of what steps you can take in advance to take advantage of unexpected opportunities and write out how much you expect these steps might cost. Finally, add up all the extra resources that may be needed because of the different unexpected opportunities and all the steps you committed to taking to address them in advance.

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Step 6: Check for Cognitive Biases

Check for potential cognitive biases that are relevant to you personally or to the organization as a whole, and adjust the resources and plans to address such errors.[1] Make sure to at least check for loss aversion, status quo bias, confirmation bias, attentional bias, overconfidence, optimism bias, pessimism bias, and halo and horns effects.

Step 7: Account for Unknown Unknowns (Black Swans)

To have a more effective strategy, account for black swans as well. These are unknown unknowns -unpredictable events that have potentially severe consequences.

To account for these black swans, add 40 percent to the resources you anticipate. Also, consider ways to make your plans more flexible and secure than you intuitively feel is needed.

Step 8: Communicate and Take the Next Steps

Communicate the plan to your stakeholders, and give them a heads up about the additional resources needed. Then, take the next steps to address the unanticipated problems and take advantage of the opportunities you identified by improving your plans, as well as allocating and reserving resources.

Finally, take note that there will be cases when you’ll need to go back and forth these steps to make improvements, (a fix here, an improvement there) so be comfortable with revisiting your strategy and reaching out to your list of experts.

Conclusion

A great way to deal with feelings of uncertainty during this pandemic is to anticipate obstacles with a good plan – and a sure road to that is practicing strategic thinking.

In the coming months and years, you’ll need to continue navigating uncharted territory so that you can lead your team to safe waters. Regularly doing these 8 steps to strategic thinking will ensure that you can prepare for and adapt  to the coming changes with increasing clarity, perspective, and efficiency.[2]

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Featured photo credit: JESHOOTS.COM via unsplash.com

Reference

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