Performance Habit #32 - Don't suppress emotion

The worst thing you can do when you are experiencing high level negative emotions is to try to suppress them. High-level emotion prevents us from thinking clearly, but so does trying to stop them, as our ‘emotional handbrake’ competes directly for resources with our rational brain. Research shows that the most immediate way to neutralise negative emotion is to write down succinctly what you are feeling. Describe it in three words or less and then get on with your day.

High-level emotions stop us from doing our best work. Our emotional centre, when switched on, actually causes our rational brain (the prefrontal cortex) to switch off. For some reason, we are hardwired so that these two regions cannot function at the same time. And usually it is the emotional area that gets the attention in these situations.

But the opposite is also true. When we switch on the rational brain, the emotional area starts to dampen down and this is something that most people don’t take full advantage of. Finding a succinct label for the emotion and writing it down seems to switch on the prefrontal area in such a way that it helps to switch off the emotional region.

Students with high levels of performance anxiety performed thirty percent better on exams when they were asked to succinctly describe their emotions (in written form) just prior to sitting the test.