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Self-Management: Keeping calm in the emotional storm

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Written by Judy Bankman

Last month, a friend cancelled plans that we had made months in advance. She had bought us both tickets for a special annual event that I was stoked for. Some unexpected schedule changes had happened in her life and she chose to spend that evening with her family instead. When she texted me to cancel, I felt disappointed, hurt, and frustrated. I thought it was unbelievably rude. My inner monologue went something like this: I can’t believe she would cancel on me! How dare she! I would never do something like that.  Part of me wanted to send her an angry text back, and part of me just wanted to forget the friendship. Self-management is what allowed me to control my initial impulses and respond with tact, while still expressing my feelings about the situation.

This incident was an example of positive self-management, which I’m not always capable of. I think back to having fights with my younger brother when we were kids: he’d do something mean, I’d scream or cry (read: poor self-management). I’ve learned a lot since then, but even as adults, I think we all struggle with managing our responses in situations where we feel stressed or triggered. When we struggle with self-management, we lash out at our loved ones, we roll our eyes in meetings, and we cut people off while driving. It might feel good for a split second, but it feels pretty crappy afterward.

I think the key to good self-management is actually the first domain of emotional intelligence: self-awareness. If we’re not aware of what we’re feeling, if we don’t know our strengths and limits, how can we keep our impulses in check? For me, meditation is a good practice for improving self-awareness. By focusing on my breath and how my body feels in the present moment, I can begin to better recognize my internal states. This might begin by simply bringing awareness to tension in my neck or noticing that my feet are cold. The practice of tuning in to how our bodies feel during meditation helps us to notice how our bodies feel when we are angry, or grieving, or let down. This simple awareness is crucial for managing how we react to others.

The beauty of good self-management is that it makes space for empathy. Before I responded to my friend, I was fuming with anger and had very little empathy for her. I was stuck in my own head and my own narrative of being the victim. After I sat with my emotions, pinpointed what was happening, and responded in a kind and honest way, I began to feel more empathy for her. I began to understand how her scheduling demands were somewhat out of her control, and she was acting with the best intentions. I also felt a sense of calm that came with upholding my integrity. I responded in a way that I would want a friend to respond to me.