Achieving Emotional Equilibrium: The Ultimate Balancing Act
Looking at 2 case studies in-progress.
My DRIVEN work has become exclusively focused on coaching for the coming months. Not only is this thrilling, but it’s also been fascinating to witness the patterns and themes these motivated professionals, spanning many industries, are wrestling with.
And like an image slowly falling into focus through a thick fog, I recognize that for a LONG time, we’ve been off target, seeking work/life balance in our frantic lives, when emotional balance is our goal.
This emotional equilibrium used to be intermittently misaligned. Of course, we all go through cycles of ups and downs. By acknowledging that an elevator stops at all floors, we have the opportunity to harness the power to keep that elevator out of the basement with intentional practices.
Such a state has become seemingly elusive to maintain. From a neurochemical standpoint, this makes sense. After all, our nervous systems have been ‘stuck’ on extended high alert since the winter of 2020. Our brains have been constantly scanning for threats, and what we search for is what we find.
I’ve been marinating on the concept of emotional equilibrium while reflecting on two client experiences this week. First, Claudia and I were reviewing the four sources of personal energy. When each is attended to and filled, our reward is resilience. When emotional energy was discussed, I asked her how often she finds herself impatient, irritated, worried, judgmental, or defensive, to which she answered, “You’ve just described me to a tee.”
Then there’s Patsy, who had just been blindsided at work. Her sense of balance was pulled under the current and she didn’t know which end was up. She had become completely untethered.
I asked each woman how they could practice emotional equilibrium. (If you’ve not heard that term, keep in mind that they hadn’t either. I think of it as a state of intentional measured steadiness.)
In my mind, Emotional Equilibrium (which is proactive) is not the same as self-regulation (which is reactive). It’s an acknowledgement that emotions can’t be neutralized by absorbing them or shutting them down. It’s conceding that sometimes we are off our game. If we stay cognizant of our emotions, and accept that state in the moment, we can do our best, even when we’re not at our best.
The aspirational outcome is the ability to catch ourselves more quickly when cortisol-producing emotions are ratcheting up, and then down-regulate them. This means emotions won’t hijack our brain. This doesn’t cease the stressor, but it helps to maintain one’s emotional equilibrium.
The power comes in recognizing that we can mitigate the length of time we’re affected by attending to matters using a slightly different playbook.
Here is Claudia’s game plan:
• She will conduct regular check-ins with herself. Think of these as emotional pulse checks. We hold onto our emotions like holding our breath. When it’s temporary, no big deal. But when we hold onto them for a long period of time, they can threaten our mental and physical health.
Once she’s checked in with herself, she’ll take this plan a step farther and acknowledge what is gnawing at her. Just the act of stating the stressor out loud serves to mitigate the emotional hold it has.
• She will center with her team at the start of meetings. This ties right into a concept called “arriving”. At the beginning of meetings, the team will take a minute in silence to check in with themselves and commit to full presence. This has been successful 99% of the time in centering my attention on who I’m with and why I’m there. All else can “go on the shelf” during the meeting’s duration.
The value for the group comes from each person taking responsibility for being present at the meeting. This allows for full focus on the words spoken, the calls to action and the deliverable details. It’s as if you leave behind your stress with the arrival practice.
• She will compare her work to that of a heart surgeon! This is because she finds herself believing that she can NOT disengage from her smartphone for 45 minutes during a meeting— that is, until she understood email’s effect on her neurochemistry.
Email is similar to alcohol in that we feel like we need it until we put it down. And unplugging from email, while difficult to get one’s head around, is a powerful step toward equilibrium. When you do plug back in, ask yourself if you missed anything urgent.
• She will practice “living in abundance, not in scarcity”. This is the first step in recognizing all she accomplishes, instead of ruminating on what doesn’t get crossed off her to-do list.
Do you have any sense of how much you do each day? We make about 35,000 decisions each day. We process dozens of email messages, and we manage emergencies, expectations, deadlines and details perpetually. And yet, at the end of the day, most of us beat ourselves up about what we didn’t accomplish.
Here’s Patsy’s game plan:
• Intentionally SLOW DOWN. When crisis hits, we tend to speed up. She has committed to NOT making big decisions in her current state.
• Patsy will take this attitude one step farther and commit to not having high stakes discussions until she’s become more grounded.
• I practically insisted that Patsy make some sort of physical activity and self-compassion her two highest priorities for each day.
• And we spoke about how Patsy could give herself permission to temporarily avoid activities that inherently stress her out.
The coaching goal with both of these motivated professionals is to help them recognize that emotional equilibrium is an act of mindfulness. The key is to remember to invite oneself to the present and take one step forward at a time.
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