Putting the brakes on, in time.

Thoughts and ideasIn my last blog I talked about how the pre-frontal cortex (PFC), the thinking, rational, problem-solving part of the brain, is also responsible for “putting the brakes on” inappropriate behaviour. And so, you have your PFC to thank for stopping you from telling your boss what you really think of her. However, under duress, when the emotional parts of your brain are strongly engaged, your PFC doesn’t always step in in time to stop you from blurting out that insult.

So what can be done to reign in those emotional responses that you might regret the next day (er…minute)? Here’s one method:

“Use your words”; something you might tell a 3-year-old struggling with emotional control may also have a surprising effect on dampening emotional responses in adults. Researchers have found that when confronted with an emotional individual, simply labelling the emotional state of that person lessens the individual’s own emotional reaction to that individual. In fact, the part of the PFC thought by some researchers to be crucial in self-regulation shows increased activation during this task compared to when the emotional individual is just observed, and, crucially, the emotional centre of the brain, the amygdala, shows reduced activity during this task.

Now, I’m not saying you should verbally label your aggressor’s emotional state. Saying, “you’re angry” to someone who’s angry probably isn’t going to dispel any of their anger. But labelling your own emotions could just save the day. It’s also no good to beat yourself up over the fact that you’re feeling fearful or angry yourself (“damn it, I’m angry again”). The point of the task is to label how you’re feeling in a detached, non-judgemental way (“oh, I’m feeling angry”).

It’s one thing to be able to label your emotions after the event, and an entirely different thing to be able, in the heat of the moment, to automatically label how you’re feeling. My advice is to practise, practise, practise. The best chance you have of pulling this off is by becoming good at acknowledging (non-judgementally) your emotions and thoughts on a daily basis. Then forgive yourself if it doesn’t come easy in the heat of the moment. It’s only human to feel!

If you encounter persistent behavioural problems in your work-place, contact us at Beyond IQ.

Written by Deb Adams. Posted in Workplace & Personal Relationships

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Deb Adams

Hi, I'm Deb Adams. My background is in neuropsychology and neuroscience, and my passion is everything brain related! I'm particularly excited about brain plasticity (the fact that our brains are always changing and changeable) and what this means for enhancing every aspect of our lives.

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