Scenario 1:
It’s Monday morning and you are feeling great. You took the time Sunday evening to really get yourself organized, and you planned out for the week in order to help things go smoothly. No sooner do you arrive at work and someone comes up to you with a pressing problem that is going to completely undo the great preparation you put into making this a great week. You say to yourself, “” can’t believe all my work I did on my own time last night just went down the toilet!” (or worse).

Scenario 2:
It’s Friday afternoon and you are feeling great. This was the week you were going to really bring closure to several projects. For once, you were going to leave work (and leave on time) and be able to really compartmentalize work and enjoy the weekend. Right as you are ready to leave, a customer calls and immediately you can hear that something has gone wrong—something that is going to turn into a major corrective action—something that is definitely going to bleed into your weekend. You say to yourself, “This person just ruined my weekend!” (or worse.)

Scenario 3:
It’s mid-morning on Wednesday and you are doing relatively well. Relatively, because you know you are at capacity for the week in terms of what you can handle and get done. In that moment, one of your reports comes up to you and needs to talk. You know full well you don’t have time for this, and you also know full well this person has a real problem with expressing themselves in a few specific words. You say to yourself, “Here we go again, I don’t have time to listen to all this unimportant stuff they want to share with me!” (or worse.)

In our living systems chapter of LEAD 365 we defined emotional maturity as the ability to not react when everyone around you is reacting. We learned that how leaders respond to anxiety in the system while consistently leading with courage and compassion is the single greatest determinant of whether positive change occurs.

So go back and review the three scenarios above. Maybe this is exactly what last week looked like for you.  What else do all three have in common? What they all have in common is this: You talk to yourself.  And the things you say to yourself in those moments have an enormous impact on your ability to deliver an emotionally mature response, remain calm, and to lead with courage and compassion.

Albert Ellis, a cognitive psychologist, describes these situations in his book A New Guide to Rational Living in terms of ABCs. Life is a full of ABC events:

  • A: an Activating event (an angry customer calls on Friday afternoon)
  • B: your Belief system
  • C: an emotional Consequence (anger over the impact on your weekend)

You get from A to C by going through B. Your beliefs shape what you tell yourself about the event that just happened (A), which then shapes your emotional reaction (C). But here is the thing: The event (A) did not cause your emotions (C). What really causes your emotional response (C) is your belief system (B). Remember what beliefs are? Things you know to be true but cannot prove.

It is impossible to control the events of life (A). And it is nearly as difficult to control your emotions (C). But you can control your beliefs. And when you start controlling your beliefs, your emotional response will eventually change.

It is great to talk about the need for emotional maturity and leading calmly with courage and compassion. However, most of us need a plan for HOW we will begin to do that. For many of us that begins with those little things we tell ourselves on Monday morning, Friday afternoon, and at all points in between.

Take a minute to look at your own life. What little things are you telling yourself? Are they pointing to some beliefs that you want to change? How might you start reshaping your beliefs in order to change your ABCs and become more emotionally mature? 

Image by Jon Grainger. Used under CC-BY-2.0 license.