Monday, August 31, 2009

Nothing to do with Relaxation!

Contrary to popular beliefs, mastering emotions does not mean activating a state of relaxation or calm. Quite the opposite, it means creating a state – an internal locus of control - which channels the energy of the emotion in question into a perspective that can relate to and interact with whatever external stressors or circumstances that caused the emotion or stress in the first place.

Just as those moments that we have all experienced spontaneously, when life and our interactions seem to flow easily and effortlessly, this internal locus of control gives us the ability to deliberately respond harmoniously and with greater ease, to take charge of our emotions rather than being the victim of them. When life presents us with circumstances over which we have no control and which we normally would resist, creating stress and conflict, we can now decide to take charge of our emotions and our responses, consciously changing whatever doesn’t serve us to create an energized state from which to respond in an ‘emotionally intelligent’ manner.

This was simply but effectively demonstrated by Helen, a newly qualified temporary counselor at an inner city school. Although truly gifted in her work with children, she was insecure and easily stressed in her dealings with colleagues and administration. She had taken several initiatives to develop her ideas into programs to help the children with their emotions, with great success. However, she had many more ideas that she was not implementing because of her insecurities and lack of confidence.

These insecurities were exacerbated by several teachers at the school who believed that emotional support did not belong in an educational setting. They would drop negative remarks to her about the children she was trying to help such as, “Children who behave like that should be expelled!”, “The children you are trying to help are past praying for!” or, “They should re-instate corporal punishment in schools! That’s all that will work with those kids!” Helen would quietly seethe at these remarks, laughing nervously and turning away to avoid confrontation. She would then lie awake at night fretting because she didn’t have the confidence to stand up for what she believed was right, and wondering if she was undermining her own work. No matter how often the school’s principal or others pointed out her successes, her insecurities would ‘take over’ and she was, as she put it, ‘unable to think straight’.

After a few training sessions learning about and applying emotional mastery (AEM), achieving ‘internal coherence’ – that is her brain and heart being coherent or in harmony – her confidence started to build. She practiced the skills diligently and within a month had gained the clarity of mind and internal locus of control to stand up for her convictions, either by speaking her truth or by ignoring her critics completely and not allowing thoughts about them to take up her time or energy.

There is nothing complex about the skills Helen developed; each day she would practice the slow, rhythmic breathing, and various versions of “the three R’s” (see the next Blog outlining the 3 R’s), generating the sensation in her chest that facilitated the internal coherence. By doing this, she was constantly increasing the coherence of the messages sent from her heart to her brain rather than allowing her thinking brain to be ‘switched off’ by ‘chaotic’ messages. More and more she became ‘emotionally intelligent’. Eventually she not only implemented many more of her ideas with the children, but used the AEM concepts she practiced herself to support the children – with great success; boys that she would previously have had to pull away from fights in the playground on a daily basis, now came to her voluntarily, walking away from a potential fight before it began, they would come to her room, sit down in a corner and slow down their breathing until they had gained some internal coherence, and hence the clarity of mind needed to manage their own behavior.

Nothing to do with relaxation at all really!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

~ emotionally and otherwise!

The word “emotion” is from Latin “emovere” which means ‘to be moved by’. Emotions are what move us to action. For example, the emotion of anger at injustice can move us to positive action of creating justice where none exists; the emotion of fear can move us to protect ourselves, often appropriately so, but equally often, inappropriately.

Emotions used in the way for which they were intended, generate creativity and innovation in each one of us, in every area of life. Emotions that are denied or not accepted drive us to behaviours that are unhealthy or dysfunctional. Conversely, emotions that are acknowledged and channeled appropriately bring about positive action, invoke problem-solving, and give birth to progress.

I ask myself every weekend; what progress have my emotions helped me make this week? How have I channeled my emotional energy? What choices have I made that led to positive action or experiences – in my life and the lives of those around me?
It’s a great exercise!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Today I received an email from a client who is traveling in France. As I daydream over lunch, I am remembering some of the times I have spent in that beautiful country, most recently with my daughter, visiting a dear friend in Aix en Provence in southern France. The Aix countryside is breathtaking, with its lush green valleys and mountains, lavender covered fields stretching out like lilac carpets for acres and acres, infusing the air with a sweet, heady scent. In another view, miles and miles of vineyards seem to go on past the horizon separated only by winding country roads that now and again make their way through a tiny village. Should you care to stop, the stone walls covered in climbing roses and a church tower chiming softly on the hour, invite you to meander through the narrow cobble-stoned lanes and to rest for the occasional café-au-lait or glass of wine at the village square café. There, seated at a tiny table with a red chequered tablecloth, adjusting your chair to fit between the uneven cobbled stones, you may feel the peace of this countryside envelop you and infuse you as has the lavender scent.

This is one of the places my imagination takes me when I need a mental sanctuary. I am refreshed for the rest of the day, inspired to move into whatever task the day demands. Ahhhhh, the imagination makes it so easy to feel content, to re-connect with a feeling of peace …… we just need to remember to do it !

Monday, August 17, 2009

Expressing Anger - When You're 6!

I believe that all emotions have a purpose, and that validating every emotion (i.e. acknowledging that it is there) is paramount to knowing the purpose of that emotion (i.e. what is it telling me?) and being able to manage it, if necessary.

There are many ways to facilitate this acknowledgement of emotions with people, and with children I prefer to make it fun, if possible! One day, I was doing an exercise with a group of girls aged 6 to 9, focusing on accepting emotions of anger (in themselves): the exercise was to express feelings of anger – or other similar feelings that they would like to express – by writing them down. They were promised that no-one would look at their pieces of paper, (which were ultimately to be destroyed).

As all the girls were busy – heads down – writing to their hearts content, the youngest, and only 6-year old, approached me. Quietly she whispered “How do you spell the F word?”
I was a little taken aback, but collected myself quickly and responded in a whisper, “It doesn’t matter. You don’t have to spell it right.”
“But I want to!” she whispered, clearly irritated.
I smiled, hoping she would go back to her writing. Alas, she was adamant.
“How do you spell the F word?” she repeated, whispering a little louder this time.
“I’m afraid I am not allowed to tell you that.” I ventured a little sheepishly, stumped as to what to tell her that she would accept. “and anyway, as I said, it doesn’t matter.””I want to know!” she vehemently whispered loudly. “How do you spell the F word?!”
“Maybe you can use another word?” I ventured hopefully
“NO!” she whispered loudly now, causing one of the other girls to look up briefly.
“I want to know how to spell it!” she whispered again, her voice rasping.
I shrugged. “I’m sorry sweetie, I can’t tell you.” I laid a sympathetic hand on hers, which she shook off impatiently, turning on her heels and with an emphatic exclamation of “Right!” she stomped back to her paper and pencil.
Astonished I watched as she deliberately lifted up her tiny freckled fist with her middle finger pointing straight up in the air. Holding her hand firmly in this position, she turned it around and placed it decidedly down on the paper. With her pencil in the other hand, she proceeded to trace around the fist with the extended middle finger. When she had finished she looked up at me with a satisfied nod.
Then, blow me down, she did it again! And again, and again, and again! Until her entire page was filled with this image.
Suffice it to say, the exercise worked beautifully for her. She completed our session with a huge satisfied grin, announcing to her mother that she had left her ‘angeriness behind’. And indeed her mother reported more than a year later that her daughter no longer threw the huge anger tantrums she used to before, and had taken to writing, not only when she was upset (which was great news) but otherwise too, composing stories that eventually would win her awards at school.

I have simplified this story somewhat, but the essence of it is illustrative; when we are able to acknowledge our emotions no matter how bad they may seem, and express them appropriately, we can move on to the issue of releasing and /or transforming them so they better serve us!

Monday, August 10, 2009

‘Being Right’

I shared a Chinese story recently with some of you and received several requests to share it again! I think the story really resonated - because it’s about ‘being right’, and we have all, at some point, become caught up in the belief that we are right - defending our point, ourselves, our ego, often to the detriment of what we are actually trying to achieve!

In a small temple in the mountains, four student monks were practicing Zazen. They agreed amongst themselves to observe seven days of silence. The first day of meditation began auspiciously, but as night began to fall one of the monks started feeling irritated that the lamps were not being lit.
"It was your turn to light the lamps," he complained to one of his fellow students.
The second monk was surprised to hear the first one talk. "In my concentration to maintain silence, I forgot," he explained
"Listen to you two," said the third student, "Why did you talk?"
I am the only one now who has not talked," concluded the fourth.

With thanks to Colin Turner, author of “Shooting The Monkey – Secrets of The New Business Spirit” (Hodder & Stoughton 1999). I highly recommend this book for anyone who wants business success!