Darlene is a senior leader at a prestigious hospital. She’s also a wife and mother to two children. Before she worked with a coach she struggled with an intense conflict between the amount of time and energy she spent on the job rather than at home.
Her inner critic made her feel guilty putting in just 50 hours a week when her peers were spending 60-80 hours at work. So she compensated by answering emails in the evening, which distracted her from engaging with her family. That triggered another critical voice in her head that condemned her for neglecting her husband and kids. She just wanted both voices to shut up.
Darlene had become hooked by her negative emotions, causing her to ruminate on what was wrong her. Although others saw her as smart and successful, kind and caring, But Darlene was controlled by her inner experience. She frequently felt she was failing on all fronts.
We’ve all had times when we’ve become overly critical of ourselves. And of course there are those occasions when we’ve badly overreacted to a situation, breaking down into tears or becoming defensive. Our fight or flight instinctual responses drive our negative reactions and – unless we can redirect our thinking – lead us into losing our composure.
We become overwhelmed when external challenges combine with an internal negative assessment of ourselves. When we’re flooded with negative emotions we’re unable to manage problems using strategies that produce positive outcomes.
Once Darlene realized that she couldn’t break free from her inner critic on her own, she got a coach to help her defeat her debilitating self-talk. The first stress management strategy she and her coach implemented was developing a regular exercise routine. Ineffective emotional reactions happen when our body has accumulated too many stress chemicals, her coach explained. Even on days when Darlene was only able to get several 10 minute walks around the hospital, she was able to burn off enough stress chemicals to diminish her emotional hiccups.
Next, the coach took her through a values clarification exercise. Darlene realized that her family and her job were both important, for different reasons. What she valued most about her family was support – they helped one another to see the strengths each possessed that enabled them to succeed. What Darlene valued at work was having purpose – she helped cancer patients get the care they needed.
When Darlene’s internal conflict arose, her coach encouraged her to focus on her priority in that moment, and to assure her inner critic that she’d change her focus when appropriate. At home, she put away her electronics and told the critical voice that work demands would receive her undivided attention the next day.
Darlene was surprised that her coach didn’t tell her to avoid negative thinking. In fact, he ask Darlene to monitor her moods throughout the day. When she found herself feeling bad, he suggested she ask herself “To what extent am I focusing on what my inner critic is saying? What negative emotion is that generating? How can I create positive feelings to restore balance?”
If several things went wrong in Darlene’s life, her inner critic went into overdrive. She would become overly controlling with other people as a way of compensating for feeling that she was an abysmal wife, mother and manager. Her fears and self-doubt haunted her.
Her coach described how people can be at their best in challenging situations by mindfully managing negative emotions. Successful people swiftly shift away from distressing thoughts and emotions by transforming them into positive actions. They counteract negative reactions using these 5 steps:
- Recognizing habitual patterns regarding how they become hooked by their negative, fear-based thoughts and feelings. For example, “I hate project meetings because I usually come away feeling disrespected and discouraged.”
- Labeling negative thinking and emotional reactions. E.g., “my colleague in accounting criticized the budget I put together and I’m afraid my project will never get off the ground.”
- Accepting that negative thoughts and feelings are fleeting and can be changed: “I don’t have to let the voice of doubt about my capabilities keep me from focusing on what makes my project worthwhile.”
- Reframing the negative reaction by turning it into a positive, proactive behavior: “I can rally support for my project and ultimately get the budget approved.”
- Acting on shared values that provide solid grounding and build relationships: “My project can meet the revenue needs of my organization which will fund the efforts of other departments.”