RESPECT, ACKNOWLEDGE, ACCEPT: WHAT I LEARNED FROM MY CEO ABOUT EMOTIONS
I have been working with Jeet for almost two years and in that time, I have learned a lot about myself, the world, and connecting with others. When I started at In Time Tec, I thought I was a great leader. I thought I had life all figured out but, like everyone else, I didn’t know what I didn’t know.
Let me paint you a picture: On my birthday last year, I spent the first part of the day in Jeet’s office with angry tears streaming down my face. I had just shouted, “Moods and feelings are beautiful! They are what makes us human!” And he shook his head, knowing that I had no idea what I was actually talking about. That conversation ended with a question from Jeet: Can you surrender to something bigger than yourself?
I went home early that day; not to celebrate my birthday but to really do some intellectual work. After some heavy thinking, some talking with friends, and some emotional breakthroughs, I called Jeet at 2am to let him know that yes, I surrender to the platform.
What followed over the next several months has been transformational in how I listen to myself and my emotions—the moods and feelings that used to run my life. Succumbing to my negative emotions was getting in the way of me being a true inspirational leader. It was preventing me from performing to the best of my ability and it was not producing the results I wanted in life. Jeet has helped me navigate every question, every skepticism, every point of contention. It is my pleasure to share my biggest takeaways with you now.
Natural and Necessary
Emotions truly ARE a part of being human. They are biological and hardwired into our brain through our limbic systems. This system includes:
- the amygdala, which is associated with fear emotion
- the ventral tegmental to the nucleus accumbens, which has a large concentration of dopamine, the pleasure chemical
- the hypothalamus, which regulates how your body responds to emotions
- the hippocampus, which is heavily tied to memory and memories inform how you react to situations
When humans were evolving, fear was the most important emotion; it kept us alive. If threatened, the amygdala would trigger the hypothalamus to react (fight, flight, or freeze). Alternatively, if any pleasure was experienced, dopamine (the happy chemical) would be released.
That same process happens in our brains today; however, humans are faced with less physical threats and more identity threats. I am not afraid of being killed by someone in my social circles but I am afraid of someone lying to me or giving up on me. When I am faced with a situation where I feel there is a chance of someone giving up on me, my amygdala takes over. This is colloquially known as an amygdala hijack—a term coined by Daniel Goleman in his book “Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ.” It is an immediate and intense emotional response that does not match the actual threat.
So yes, emotions are natural; they can also be irrational and get in the way of the commitments you have made to yourself and others. And they ARE beautiful—they add complexity and color to our relationships and lives. So don’t ignore them; Respect, accept, acknowledge them, and understand their place in your life.
Something Jeet shared with me that I found very helpful was to picture yourself in three parts: self, emotions, and commitment.
SELF: Your self is your physical body plus whatever it is that you believe makes you YOU; your beliefs and thoughts and soul.
EMOTIONS: The moods and feelings you experience every day.
COMMITMENT: Whatever you are up to in life that drives you to action.
Before you understand the distinction between your emotions and your self, these two layers are very intertwined. This is how most of us live the majority of our lives: operating as if our emotions are who we are.
Eventually, we discover our commitment and that adds a layer to who we are. It might be the moment you figure out your “why” or when you realize the legacy you want to leave behind. Regardless of the specifics, your commitment starts out abstract and still outside of your self.
And once you surrender to your commitment—when it stops being abstract and starts to become a big part of who you are—you must begin to operate in alignment with your commitment and outside your emotions.
Notice that the emotions are still there. You don’t make them go away. You get to a point when you can pause, acknowledge them, and figure out how they are serving you.
How are your emotions serving you?
Recently Jeet was at an offsite with two other co-founders when he got a call about his mother. Her health was declining and it was pretty serious. His initial emotions were strong and he took some time to be sad. He acknowledged and accepted that feeling and did what he could to respect it and explore how it could or could not serve him. That does not mean that he was able to flip a switch and get over his sadness but it does mean that he was able to set the sadness aside and re-align with his commitment to be peaceful, joyful, and loving. So he shared the news with his business partners and they all had a drink to celebrate all the good that Jeet’s mother has brought to the world.
You see, it isn’t about ignoring them or hiding from them. It also isn’t about letting them takeover. It is a matter of taking the ones that move your life forward and using them and dealing with the ones that get in the way. It is a balance and it takes time to get there.
When you notice your limbic system is in overdrive and you are experiencing any sort of strong emotion; ask yourself: how is this emotion serving me? If you are afraid, is there a legitimate threat? If you are sad, is it helping you get through a tough time? If you are joyful, is it motivating you? Evaluate how each strong emotion is or isn’t in alignment with your commitments.
Let’s say you are in a meeting and someone offers a counter to a point you made; what happens? Do you get angry or defensive? Those emotions will probably not serve you well or forward the action. Ignore them because dwelling on them or surrendering to them will get in the way or be disruptive. On the other hand, what if you just nailed a presentation and you are feeling happy and accomplished? Use those emotions to motivate and drive your next action.
Another Mountain With No Top
Most of what Jeet has taught me comes with the understanding that each skill and tool takes a lifetime of practice. The same is true for growing discipline with your emotions; and in doing so, there are three measurements to focus on:
- Frequency – How often are your emotions controlling you?
- Duration – How long do you let your emotions control you?
- Intensity – How strong is the experience of the emotion?
The goal is to reduce all three elements for emotions that are not serving you. When you first begin practicing this, you are going to fail. You will probably have strong emotional reactions to certain situations very quickly and not be able to move past them immediately. And that is ok. But find tools to help you minimize each measurement.
- Talk to someone outside the experience. Saying what you are feeling out loud to an unbiased party can help it feel more manageable. It can also offer some insight you might not be able to see through your emotions.
- Journal about it.
- Express in the moment. If these emotions are showing up because of a situation with another person, share them. “Right now I am feeling ____ and I know that is not serving me or the situation.”
- Practice breathing exercises.
- Get complete with yourself. Do the intellectual work to discover why you are having that reaction and realize the source. Some of our negative reactions can come from difficult experiences earlier in our lives. Understand and accept that. And then realize the control you have now.
- Meditate or exercise. This can help release different chemicals in your brain to counteract the negative feelings.
- Take a break. Sometimes it is necessary to ask for a few moments to gather yourself and your thoughts. But be sure to always complete the conversation or get complete with yourself.
Since that day in Jeet’s office, I have been on a journey of constantly practicing control over my emotions. Sometimes it looks nothing like control and I end up crying during a meeting. Sometimes it looks like practice and I have to go for a long walk to do intellectual work. And sometimes I have complete control. Everyday I am choosing to surrender to something bigger than myself—to my commitment and to creating abundance—regardless of the emotions I experience. It isn’t always easy or successful but, again, these skills take a lifetime.
I have watched Jeet in action with everything I have shared and I see it work. He has been able to step outside his fear, his insecurities, his safety net, and become a bold leader of a multi-million dollar global software company while mentoring hundreds of people and creating beautiful relationships with those around him. I know he has experienced negative emotions. I also know he has practiced controlling them instead of them controlling him.
As you navigate your own journey, don’t forget that emotions are biological and they will always be a part of you. And then realize it is up to YOU to surrender to your commitment. It is up to YOU to respect, acknowledge, and accept your emotions. It is up to YOU to decide which ones to accept and move past and which ones to use. And it is YOUR responsibility to reduce the frequency, duration, and intensity.
When you can operate outside your emotions, YOU will be a force in this world.
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