For lack of a better word, we're talking about self-management. In more traditional social-emotional and leadership frameworks this is about control, being in charge of, and having power over yourself. We've been conditioned to want to control and dominate ourselves, others, the land... anything we can get our hands on. Let's explore self-management from a perspective that's not so... yucky.
In my early career, I taught peace education and social-emotional learning (SEL). I had the opportunity to connect with thousands of teachers from around the world about how to teach skills like emotional intelligence and regulation in schools. While I still believe attending to SEL in schools is critical for student success, it reinforced a norm of expressing emotion that was only appropriate to white culture and the current school system. It focused heavily on calming down, regulating feelings, being able to sit still, and using a specific and narrow set of words to express oneself. While it was about improving learning, it was also about control.
Having created content for 3 yr olds through adulthood, there are a wide range of skills that can be taught that better support culturally inclusive environments. And while it may be developmentally helpful to start with the basics as children grow, as adults we must be able to develop a greater sophistication in how we choose to regulate ourselves.
I view self-management as self-awareness + awareness of impact + plus action.
It is the ability to:
Here is what it's not about... hiding your emotions, sugar-coating your words, or conforming so much you lose yourself. And it's not about politeness.
Our cultural identities inform what we believe appropriate behavior is and who is allowed to display it... and many of those were shaped by a dominant culture.
First, recognize your whole experience in the moment... thoughts, feelings, cultural norms, physical sensations, wants, needs, etc. This may include examining a range and degree of intensity of your experience. As you become more aware of this, you then choose what actions to take in the moment to care for yourself. This might be that you need to slow down a conversation, take a deep breath, or take immediate action.
Instead of trying to control your emotions, you are instead cultivating an ability to meet your needs in the moment so that you can stay safe, get more deeply engaged, or run away! It is the ability to choose and respond with greater intention, clarity and conscientiousness.
You may want to de-escalate your emotions or nervous system. You may want to pause and choose different words. You may even want to increase the intensity of your response.
In times of strong emotions, hot conflict or ambiguous environments this skill is critical - and I don't know anyone this year who hasn't had to step up their skills in this arena!
You need this to have critical race conversations, to steer your team through an uncertain future, and to guide yourself and others through change.
Let's approach self-management without a lens of colonialism - one that seeks to control, dominate and exploit. There are many good reasons to calm down and self-regulate. But, rather than inflicting submission over ourselves (which leaders will in turn inflict on their teams), let's choose to self-manage because we want to connect deeper, cultivate belonging, and help one another through tough times.
If leaders can understand their relationship to their emotions-thoughts-body-desires, then they can foster an ability to move with and through them to feel more grounded and centered in difficult times. Instead of feeling bottled up or numb, they allow their stress cycles to digest easier and feel more joy.
This week, check yourself when you notice wanting to tell someone else to calm down or get control of themselves. (Between social media and parenting, I'm sure there will be ample opportunities). These internal judgements provide clues to our cultural beliefs and how we regulate ourselves. Notice what things escalate or de-escalate your emotions, thoughts, desires, and body. Have some fun with this!