By regulating your own emotions, you’re likely to affect the way others around you are feeling as well. That’s powerful!
-Dr. Jason Holland, Lifespark
5 min read
Emotions can propel you to perform at your peak or be your worst enemy; it all depends upon your awareness of feelings and ability to regulate them.
Just like any skill, emotion regulation takes practice. So, here are 4 tips for learning how to harness the power of emotions and perform at your peak:
1. Bring greater awareness to your emotions and get good at labeling them as they surface in real-time.
The first step of regulating your emotions is to be able to recognize, label, and accept them. Some of us have a harder time doing that than others.
Studies have shown that people who are able to simply notice and accept what they’re feeling, rather than trying to push it away, are better able to tolerate negative emotion and persevere through difficult circumstances.
If you find that you often don’t know exactly what you’re feeling or that you’re caught off guard by your emotions, try slowing down and becoming more mindful of your internal experiences. Mindfulness meditation practice can be a good way of learning to step back and non-judgmentally observe your thoughts and feelings.
And if feelings emerge that you don’t entirely understand, try on different emotion words (e.g., anger, jealousy, pride, frustration), almost like you would for a pair of jeans.
Say them aloud, sit with each for a moment, and ask yourself, ‘Does this fit for me?’
2. Be mindful of the situation and the way different emotions may help or hinder you.
People respond to their feelings in different ways, and the kinds of emotions that promote peak performance vary across situations.
Drs. Andy Lane and Tracey Devonport at the University of Wolverhampton in the U.K. have studied the role of emotions and performance under conditions of extreme stress and competition, such as in professional hockey, long-distance running, and expeditions to the North Pole.
Dr. Lane explains that, “some people prefer to feel highly psyched and as such excitement, vigour from pleasant emotions appear to motivate (them).”
And although intense negative emotion can be self-defeating, he’s found that anxiety and tension do have an important role to play by acting as “a warning signal” that may prompt someone to “worry about failure and raise effort.”
Lane has also discovered that the type of activity being performed plays a significant role in determining which emotions will be perceived as helpful. “For sports that require intensity, boxing, for example, (athletes) tend to prefer high intensity emotions and sports that require calmness (e.g. shooting)…people prefer lower intensity emotions.”
3. Know that emotions are contagious, and your positive presence can have ripple effects.
Emotions do not occur in a vacuum but rather play out dynamically between people. And peak performance in a team setting, whether it be in sports or the workplace, depends upon people’s ability to recognize emotions in others and respond to them in productive ways.
Dr. Lane suggests that a team can be uplifted by simply “having someone trying to improve their own mood, acting positive, and…offering positive comments.”
Thus, by regulating your own emotions, you’re likely to affect the way others around you are feeling as well. That’s powerful!
4. Intentionally use strategies to dampen or deepen your emotions, depending on the situation and what works for you.
Once you have (A) become proficient at recognizing emotions (in yourself and others) and (B) figured out the kinds of feelings that are likely to enhance performance for you, then you’re ready to begin strategically increasing or decreasing the intensity of your emotions to optimize performance on a given task.
Some emotion-regulation exercises are designed to dampen emotion, such as deep breathing or distraction; whereas, others may be better for building excitement and anticipation, like imagining yourself successfully performing a task.
And of course, as Dr. Lane points out, there are also activities that are good for both.”Many people use music to regulate mood. Music can increase the intensity of emotions or dampen it.”
So, imagine of the difference between listening to Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” versus Marconi Union’s “Weightless” (declared by Forbes as “the world’s most relaxing song”). If you’re looking to get pumped up and excited, “Eye of the Tiger” and other gym classics will be right up your alley. But for calmness and concentration, people often prefer slow, mellow songs, like “Weightless.”
The Bottom Line
If you’re looking to leverage your emotions for peak performance, (1) become more aware and accepting of your emotions, (2) pay attention to which feelings enhance performance across different situations, (3) recognize others’ emotions and how your behavior influences them, and (4) use strategies to increase or decrease the intensity of emotion, depending on the situation and what works best for you.
And if you try any of these strategies, let us know how it goes in the comments below!
Gross, J. J., & John, O. P. (2003). Individual differences in two emotion regulation processes: implications for affect, relationships, and well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85, 348-362.
Hofmann, S. G., Heering, S., Sawyer, A. T., & Asnaani, A. (2009). How to handle anxiety: The effects of reappraisal, acceptance, and suppression strategies on anxious arousal. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 47, 389-394.
Lane, A. M., Devonport, T. J., Friesen, A. P., Beedie, C. J., Fullerton, C. L., & Stanley, D. M. (2016). How should I regulate my emotions if I want to run faster? European Journal of Sport Science, 16, 465-472.
Teper, R., & Inzlicht, M. (2012). Meditation, mindfulness and executive control: The importance of emotional acceptance and brain-based performance monitoring. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 8, 85-92.