Who is in charge, you or your emotions?

Thanks to the Olympics, it’s been an inspiring summer of seeing the most gifted and dedicated athletes in the world showing us the heights of human ability and self-control.

At 15, Kyla Ross, one of the ‘Fab Five’ on the US women’s gymnastics team and the youngest competitor of the entire 530-person American field, seems mature beyond her years — often acting with more poise than her older teammates. When the women were named to the Olympic team, Kyla was the only one of the five who was not bawling.

“She’s just not a crier,” said McKayla Maroney, world vault champion and Ross’s best friend for a decade, told the Associated Press. “She’s just not as emotional as everybody else. She kind of keeps things inside.”

This ability to control her emotions is what gives Ross the demeanor of a fierce and focused champion, and is an excellent example for all of us.

Of course, the incredibly emotional moments of the Olympics are what make it exciting – not so much, however, in the corporate and other professional environments where most of us operate. As Tony Robbins says: “Whoever controls his emotions, wins.”


Just to be clear: we absolutely need to recognize and experience our emotions: They’re like a GPS system, guiding our awareness of what we want and spurring us to action.

Still, it’s important to make the distinction between feeling emotion and letting emotions dictate your behavior, i.e. being emotional.

Letting our emotions – whether it’s anger, frustration or disappointment — run the show shows lack of self-control and, especially in a professional context, is interpreted as weakness. What’s more, when reason is clouded by emotion, we literally can’t see the situation clearly and often say or do things that we wouldn’t have if our rational brain was in charge. (Like this engineer who applied for a job and let fly his rude flag fly when the interview didn’t go as he wanted.)


It’s easy to say, “Well, I was taken by surprise.” But if you’re not anticipating situations that might trigger your emotions, then you’re operating in reactive mode — which, by definition, means you’re one step behind.

Whether it’s criticism from your boss in a team meeting, a performance review or a dreaded conversation with a difficult colleague, don’t wait until you’re in the middle of an emotional situation to try and deal with it.

You need to formulate a plan, something simple that you can remember in the fog of emotion. Here are the basic components:

Take a deep breath. Go into your body, where the emotion is. Instead of resisting that tightness in your chest or pit in your stomach, dive into it and feel it. This will help you get back to neutral.

Decide ahead of time where you’ll put your focus if you’re hit by a wave of emotion – something concrete, like fixating on the title of a notebook on the table, or a simple mantra like “Stay in control.” If you drive a gearshift, you could even imagine yourself shifting into neutral.When we’re feeling emotional, it’s hard to focus.

Later, away from the heat of the moment, do a debrief. See if you can pinpoint exactly what triggered your reaction. Did your boss mention that quarterly earnings were down and you jumped to the conclusion that there would be layoffs? Once you understand why you’re feeling what you’re feeling, you can come up with a plan of action — to get more information, for example, or simply blow off steam with a good workout.

Controlling your emotions, by the way, is a skill that doesn’t happen overnight. So if you’re someone whose eyes instantly well up with tears or you have a tendency to punch things when you’re frustrated, it will take practice to interrupt the pattern and choose a different one.

Now you have a plan on how to do that. If you want to learn more how to manage your emotions, check out our article on amygdala hijacks!