In general, emotions can be tricky territory. Are they good? Bad? Useful? Problematic?
Let’s face it – those of us who work in professional contexts receive a lot of mixed messages about our emotions these days. On one hand, popular culture still suggests that emotions should be kept out of the workplace – suck it up, get things done, don’t let your emotions get the better of you… as they say, there’s still no crying in baseball.
On the other hand, companies are now investing heavily in soft skill trainings like Emotional Intelligence, designed raise the bar when it comes to how we navigate our feelings – and the feelings of others – in workplace.
This poses some interesting (and nuanced) challenges for leaders today:
If you’re a man, it behooves you to develop your compassion, your ability (and willingness) to listen to others at the table, and to show an appropriate level of emotional concern when your team is facing real and difficult challenges… while still bringing a level head to important decisions in the boardroom.
If you’re a woman, you need to understand when and how to bring the “softer side” of your leadership (which may come totally naturally, or require a lot of practice, depending on your natural inclinations and early-career training)… while avoiding coming across as a pushover.
And you must be able to demonstrate fierceness, while never (yes still never) letting on if you actually get mad.
With all of these nuances at play, there are times when even the most skillful leader can find him or herself confronted with what feels like a no-win scenario – where it seems near impossible to be in RIGHT relationship with their emotions at work.
If you relate to any of these challenges, you may also have noticed that some emotions are simply more difficult for you to navigate than others. I certainly have!
For example, some people struggle to feel grief, even when it makes sense. Some struggle with anger – either to let themselves feel it… or to successfully contain it… or both.
Funny enough, however, the one human emotion that appears to be most challenging for a wide range of people also seems to be the LEAST controversial – we all want it.
And we struggle to have it.
Which emotion is the most difficult of all?
According to Dr. Brené Brown, vulnerability researcher, TED Speaker and story-teller extraordinaire, one most DIFFICULT of human emotions to tolerate is JOY.
Over decades of research (involving listening to the stories of thousands of men and woman of all ages) she found that when people think about the high points that bring them the most joy, their thoughts frequently shift quickly to worst-case scenarios that involve losing the very person, situation, thing, opportunity or circumstance that sparked Joy in the first place. (Hear Dr. Brown share her insights here).
Ironically, it’s also the pursuit of JOY that drives us.
Consider this – let’s say you’re a person who’s spent a lifetime keeping your emotions at bay for the sake of your career, success, or general “peace of mind.” When you imagine doing the (potentially difficult) work involved with re-building a generative and thriving relationship with your feelings, you’re probably hoping to gain some type of benefit, right?
Often, it’s a longing for the feeling of joy that serves as the biggest motivation to dive in.
If you want to live a happy life, full of joyful moments that last…
then dancing with this self-sabotage that Dr. Brown describes is the territory.
THIS is the challenge.
As an embodied leadership coach, I regularly support both women and men who are traversing the personal and professional path from emotional shutdown (covering up anxiety, frustration and burnout) to emotional aliveness, empowerment and thriving.
The doorway? Joy.
In the context of this work, we bump into these internal sabotage mechanisms that literally push joy away on a regular basis. In order to feel more Joy, it’s not enough just do DO things that make you happy. You have to let go of the invisible (and incredibly sticky) habits that lead you to turn it away. While this doesn’t take more TIME, it does require a shift in mindset and a different kind of relationship with your physical body.
One of my teachers calls the internal ceiling effect that blocks positive emotions your “having-ness level” – can you TOLERATE the sensation of having something good? Of not pushing it away? Of allowing it to be in your life for a little bit longer, so that you actually receive the nourishment that it has to offer?
If not, you will find that you can sit in front of a veritable buffet of positive experiences in your life and nonetheless feel as though you are starving.
Last year at a live event for women leaders, I was facilitating an group embodiment practice designed to help expand one executive’s ability and willingness to celebrate (and enjoy!) the successes of her team. She was there in body… but we could all see that she wasn’t letting it in. In a moment of inspiration, I looked across the room at her and heard myself say:
“This matters. And it’s bigger than your humility. Your personal capacity to tolerate these positive emotions will be the ceiling for your entire team’s success.”
The room fell silent. The words echoed off the walls and landed on all of us –including myself – like a ton of bricks.
The truth is, I’ve struggled to embrace Joy since I was a child. It’s one of the reasons I’ve spent a lifetime learning how to work with the body to unlock our human capacity to feel alive and feel Joy – of course, it’s exactly the medicine I needed myself.
And it is my Joy to share what I’ve learned with others.
If anything in this article resonates –
- a desire to re-habilitate your relationship with your emotions for the sake of more nuanced leadership…
- the fear of vulnerability along with the hunch that it’s probably worth it…
- a longing for Joy, even if it means you may feel other emotions that are more difficult as well…
- the experience of both craving more Joy, and pushing Joy away, at the same time…
Then I invite you to begin your own Joy research today:
In your regular daily or weekly movement practice (i.e. exercise),
experiment by focusing on the positive (rather than negative or painful sensations) in your body. Whether you run, walk, bike, swim or ski… allow your body to tell you what feels great – and practice keeping your attention there.
In the rest of your life,
try spending one week tracking the moments where Joy finds its way in… and observing what you do in the seconds, minutes and hours that follow. Do you change the subject? Think about something else? Suddenly feel pain? Pick a fight? Doubt? Worry? If so… you are not alone. Try extending the length of time between the Joy… and what happens next. Or, as Dr. Brown suggests… try adding a few thoughts of gratitude to create space between you and your internal Joy ceiling.
I know, these experiments sound ridiculously simple.
But trust me – simple is a good thing. It works.
My clients will attest that the MOST simple exercises, when done with intention, have the power to light the way for you to discover exactly what holds you back, when it comes to embracing positive sensations and emotions this year.
And… simple doesn’t mean it will be easy.
My clients will also tell you that some of the “simplest” assignments – the ones that changed their lives in powerful and unexpected ways – were also the ones that challenged them to the core. That’s also good thing.
You got this.
You can totally tackle this shift on your own. In fact… I challenge you to start today.
That said, if you know you’re the kind of person who miraculously squeaks out of the things that most matter to you… and you feel you could use a bit more structure and some regular, concrete support… consider joining the 21-Day Embody Joy Challenge this year. It’s designed to change your relationship with Joy, for good.
This simple, virtual journey uses guided meditation, powerful questions, and embodied practice to take the lid off your mental, emotional, and energetic capacity for Joy – revealing hidden blocks and helping to end self-sabotaging habits by replacing them with new habits that welcome and embrace the feelings you most want.
Leading in Motion’s next Embody Joy 21-Day Challenge begins January 6th, 2019. If you would like to join this enlivening, invigorating, and uplifting program to help kick-off the New Year right, you can go here to register.
Wishing You a Powerful & Fulfilling New Year!