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Almost 20 years ago I was sitting on a classroom at the ‘Universidad de Los Andes’ learning about System’s Theory. In that class-room, I learned a very useful paradigm: Almost anything you care to look at, can be interpreted as a system that takes some inputs; processes them; and provides some outputs.
Throughout my career as a consultant, I ended up calling this framework the ‘I.P.O’ equation , which confused many of my colleagues who were convinced IPO stands for ‘Initial Public Offering’ instead.
One of the corollaries of this thesis is that with any system there are three ways to improve it:
- You stream-line its processes, making them quicker (more efficient) or better (more effective)
- You intercept its outputs before they reach the end-user by establishing stringent Quality Assurance rules, and discarding anything that does not meet those rules
- You control its inputs and ensure that they are of the highest possible quality
So what happens when we apply this level of thinking to ourselves? One of the critical inputs we have in every day of our lives is our emotions. But how do we control our emotions so that our interactions are more positive and fulfilling?
Sorry to say, but you can’t. At least, I have not found anyone that can truly control how she or he feels. This leaves us with a serious dilemma: If we can’t control a very important input into how we experience every moment, what can we do about it?
The answer is rather obvious: We find ways to improve the way we ‘process’ our emotions. This is particularly important for negative emotions. How do you process them? Wen you process them, do you try to ‘release’ or ‘discard’ them?
Let’s take a closer look at a few of them:
How do you release anger? Do you punch, throw objects, or scream? What impact does that have in others and in yourself? Are there other ways in which you could process anger? Maybe you can try to identify songs, places, even thoughts that make you calm down. How about next time you’re angry, you process that anger by thinking of a calming idea, or going to a place that makes you feel peaceful?
How about Hurt? Do you withdraw or go on the attack? ‘Fight or Flight’? Do you talk things over, or do you make assumptions that you know ‘why’ the other person hurt you like that, and you know it was maliciously intended? Maybe you can try instead to put yourself in the shoes of the other person for a second, and understand their situation. What could be going through his mind to make him act like that, despite his typical good nature and caring attitude?
You can do the same exercise for Resentment, jealousy, despair, sadness and even grief. Denying those emotions in your life will only bottle them up until the pressure escapes through a very destructive explosion. Instead, you can prepare for them by developing a higher awareness of what you do when in ‘automatic pilot’ (we all have one of those), and identify alternative ways to deal with them.
You may be wondering what made me think of this topic. Over the last year, I had a couple of instances at work where I got extremely agitated about the way things were done, and my automatic pilot drove me to become more vocal and aggressive on the topic. I wanted to ‘win the argument’. Later on, one of my mentors made me realise that feeling passionately that an injustice was being carried out was actually a very good emotion to have; but that the way I decided to act on it had not taken us on a positive path.
Then last week, I got some news at work that made my blood boil. I felt hurt, angry and betrayed by some of my leaders. I had to take some time out in order not to go straight to their offices and ‘sing a couple of truths’ to their faces. I had to actively choose to process those emotions in a very different way than what I would have done a year ago. And I think the outcome achieved was far more positive than if I had allowed my auto-pilot take control.
So there you are. Systems theory applied to the realm of human emotions and life as a system itself. I encourage you to reflect on your own automatic ways of reacting to stress, injustice, or loss. Are they serving you well? If not, how else could you process them? What can you do to ‘kick you out’ of your automatic patterns, and consciously choose a different path?
COntrolling your emotions? You can’t. So if you can’t control a critical input, what doyou do about it?
You figure out how to process them; and as importatly, how you ‘dispose’ of them.
How are your emotions being actively released, particularly negative ones?
What do you do to release anger? Hurt? Resentment? Jealousy? Despair? Sadness? Grief?