When things feel out of control, paying attention to how you feel can help you take back control

Sometimes, it feels as though life sneaks up and rips the carpet out from under our feet.

The feelings that come with unexpected change or loss can be overwhelming and leave us wondering if we should fight, flight, or freeze. When that change or loss requires us to make a decision, we can experience difficult and complex emotions. The good news is that facing a decision means we have control over how we respond and act.

For most of us, our instinct is to get past the discomfort and get on with our lives quickly, so we make quick (often poor) decisions. Choices made in this state - without reflection and real thought - can miss the mark altogether, and end up making things worse. 

Emotions are the key to making decisions

Our emotions can be the key to making good decisions. But here’s the rub - it requires taking time to pause, recognizing what you are feeling, and deciding how you want to feel when you’re on the other side of the decision you’re facing. Think of it as examining current state and future state, with a smattering of emotions and deliberate thought in the middle. This last part - envisioning what the best outcome feels like - can point you toward the ‘right’ or best decision.

Steps for emotionally-laden decision making

The first thing to do is determine if there is, in fact, a decision or choice to be made. Is the change or loss forcing you into making a choice between multiple options, or is it an opportunity to do something different? Is doing nothing an option?

Next, figure out how you feel about the situation and the decision in front of you. What is the dominant emotion you are feeling? Is it fear? Anxiety? Overwhelm? Unease? Perhaps it’s excitement at the opportunity ahead. Naming your emotions can help to create space between them and your actions, preventing you from acting too quickly and without adequate thought. Pausing also affords you time to decide if your feelings are based on past experiences, assumptions (perhaps false), and if they are appropriate, given the situation. 

Now, get out your crystal ball and imagine having made a successful decision. What do you feel now? Are things more clear or certain? Are you less anxious? Can you think straighter? Did your decision take you somewhere pleasant? Envisioning a successful future can give you the confidence to make a decision when you are feeling stuck or that things are not in your control.

Next, allow your mind to go back to the current situation. Is what you first believed to be a decision, still the decision you need to make, or has it changed after naming your emotions and envisioning a successful future? 

Emotions are hard

Sitting with our emotions is hard work, but developing a habit of being able to do it will serve you well throughout all of life’s curve balls.

Pausing is powerful

When things feel like they’re crumbling or blowing up, we often believe we don't have the time to stop and think; we want to react as quickly as possible.The most prudent way forward is to pause, breathe, examine our feelings, and validate what we are truly facing. Sometimes, remaining in the pause, and waiting for more information to come in, is the best way forward for now. 

Want more?

TallTrees Leadership offers support and resources to healthcare professionals. We specialize in helping you get unstuck, thinking through difficult situations, and helping you take back control. Visit our website if you’re interested in what leadership coaching is all about. 

More on managing emotions about things out of our control in our How to stop worrying about the things you can’t control blog. If you are experiencing a difficult situation or decision and want to talk to someone about how you can face it thoughtfully, we are here to help.

If you are a leader seeing your team members struggle, read about one of the most powerful things you can do to support them when things are difficult in our blog, Dear leaders: don’t be afraid to get vulnerable

Want more? Read the article, Emotions Aren't the Enemy of Good Decision Making in the Harvard Business Review

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