USING THE S.T.O.P. PRINCIPLE TO DEAL WITH UPSETTING SITUATIONS
It had been a pretty hectic week for Maggie. This week alone, she ran two shifts daily with less than four hours of sleep. On her last shift, she became overwhelmed. The rent was almost due and her payment had been delayed due to an issue with her bank account. She had to pick up groceries but her car mysteriously broke down so she had to take the bus with two arms full of heavy groceries. Her daughter, Helen, had recently started acting up and it was concerning. She had been very defiant of late and they almost always ended the day with heavy confrontations where hurtful words were exchanged. Everything that could go wrong was going wrong and Maggie was feeling terribly stressed.
She sighed in relief as she put her key in the knob, thinking of the long shower awaiting her, only to get a call from Helen’s class teacher. Helen had not been turning in assignments and her performance was woeful in the few she did turn in. She also had a pending project that was due in two weeks, yet no draft had been submitted. This was totally unlike Helen so, she decided to give Maggie a call to clarify things. Of course, she thanked her daughter’s teacher for the information and ended the call. She was furious! Here she was trying to make life as comfortable as possible for her daughter instead, she’d been playing truancy! As she rushed to Helen’s room to give her a piece of her mind, she decided to practice the S.T.O.P. principle that she had learnt from one of our training sessions.
Life is full of twists and turns. Some days, it’s all exciting and other days it’s gloomy. What do you do when life decides to skip the excitement and hands you the gloom? How do you deal with your emotions when everything that can go wrong is going wrong? How do you respond to such upsetting situations? The answer is simple, utilize the S.T.O.P. Principle.
The S.T.O.P. principle is the acronym for:
- S – Slow down
- T – be Thankful
- O – Observe your emotions
- P – Plan the next steps
This is an important principle to adopt if you ever want to become an emotionally intelligent manager or parent who is not ruled by emotions. Emotions in themselves are not the enemy. They’re like pilots that inform you about what’s going on in your body. How you handle that information is what determines whether you’re emotionally intelligent or not.
When something happens that jolts you out of your comfort zone, which is what upsetting situations do, the biological response is usually to react not respond. To “react” is to respond through your emotions rather than logically thinking through situations. To “respond” on the other hand, is to rise above your basic emotion and delay your come-back until you can access the logical part of you.
It is human nature to react to upsetting situations rather than respond. This is the default biological design. Here’s how it works: When there is a trigger (i.e. the upsetting situation), the first part of the brain that receive these signals is the amygdala. The amygdala is the seat of emotions and it is responsible for every emotional reaction you give. Therefore, when you take an action while the signals are still stuck in the Amygdala, your responses are likely to be reactionary. The prefrontal cortex (PFC), however, is the seat of logical thinking and it takes some time before these triggers (i.e. the upsetting situation) make it to the PFC. The time frame is dependent on your mastery of Emotional Intelligence (EI) tips and applications. When you respond aggressively to an upsetting situation, it is most likely because you did not give your prefrontal cortex enough time to receive the signal before responding, hence, your reaction.
STEP ONE: SLOW DOWN.
The S.T.O.P. Principle gives you adequate time to recalibrate so that you can view the trigger objectively. Helen’s mom held back and decided to slow (calm) down, which is the first step in STOP. She refused to let her amygdala control her despite the intense stress she was under. So, delaying her response to the upsetting situation gave her time to gather her thoughts. Now, this time interval will vary for different people depending on the severity of the situation and (most importantly) how well they’ve trained themselves to respond in a logical manner above emotional responses. To engage the first “S” in the STOP principle, you could:
- count from one to ten in your mind,
- take a stroll (away from the object of stress),
- take deep breaths,
- listen to soul music,
- go to the spa, or
- lock yourself up in a room and scream your heart out!
Just do something relaxing. Anything that takes you out of the “fight or flight” stance triggered by the upsetting situation works perfectly. In my moments of intense emotions, I try to watch a movie if my situation permits otherwise, I take very long strolls preferably around nature so that I can clear my head and return to my pre-stress state.
STEP TWO: BE THANKFUL.
Once you escape the clutches of an impulsive response, learning the art of gratitude is your next stop. Gratitude is a powerful calming mechanism It helps in the release of all your happy hormones. When you express gratitude, your brain releases dopamine and serotonin (they are the two crucial neurotransmitters responsible for happiness and ‘feeling good’), and they make you feel calm. Gratitude infuses your heart with love. When you step into an aura of gratitude, your mountainous problem pales in comparison to the goodness in your life. Do you know that when a person is high on drugs, these “happy hormones” are usually released in excess. So imagine the powerful infusion of goodness that’s being evoked just by stepping into a state of thankfulness. These hormones enhance your mood immediately, making you feel happy from the inside out! This is an absolutely important process in the S.T.O.P. Principle because sometimes when you are calm from your walk [or whatever calming technique works for you], the emotions evoked by that upsetting situation may still be brewing underneath. Sometimes, it’s a false sense of calm you experience when you take that stroll. Thankfulness ensures that you truly let go of the pain and anger that has been triggered and it positions you to be empathetic and in charge of your emotions.
STEP THREE: OBSERVE YOUR EMOTIONS.
When you are done practising the “S” and “T” of the S.T.O.P. Principle, the next step is to observe your emotions. Are you calm enough to make a rational decision? Do you still feel clouded by your emotions? Are you able to understand why the other party behaved in that manner even if they’re wrong for doing so? If your answer is no, simply repeat the first two steps because we need you to ensure that you can identify the specific emotions you feel, understand why you feel that way and own those emotions. You need to be in a state of mind where you can accept whatever response you dole out as your unbiased thoughts not a reactionary mistake. When you react emotionally, chances usually are that the issues become forgotten and persons feel attacked. I know that when I do not practise the S.T.O.P. Principle, I end up going back to apologise for my actions or utterances even if I was not initially wrong. It is quite painful to apologize for acting rashly when you were the one who was attacked in the first place. I can assure you that when you do not observe your emotions before taking a step, you’re setting up yourself to be the “bad guy”.
STEP FOUR: PLAN THE NEXT STEPS.
If you observed your emotions and are self-aware enough to identify your dominant emotions, then it may be time to plan what your response should be. It’s your response, therefore, you’re under no obligation to hurriedly reply [except in the case of an emergency]. Take your time to think through your thoughts, the consequences of your actions and responses as well as the synchrony your response has with your value system. When all of these are aligned, then it’s time to take action. You’ll feel more at peace with your response when you do this.
So, what did Maggie do when she realized that her daughter was not just spinning out of control but truant? She simply went back to her room to vent off her anger. She screamed off her frustrations, pain, and anger. When she was done, she felt better. She was able to find things to be grateful for and as her hear swelled with gratitude for the beautiful memories she’d had with her daughter, love and empathy filled her heart. By the time she engaged Helen, it was from a place of connection, empathy and a desire to genuinely understand why her daughter suddenly flipped. They had an intimate conversation where she found out that Helen had been depressed lately which was why she skipped assignments, had emotional meltdowns, among other things. It was eye-opening. Imagine that Maggie had continued with the exchange of hurtful words during their ‘usual’ times of heated arguments, Helen could have become suicidal thinking (wrongly) that no one loved her.
Leaders, managers, teachers, administrators, counsellors, have all used the S.T.O.P. Principle to break down emotionally limiting barriers. This simple yet profound principle has the potential to not just make you an emotionally intelligent parent but an emotionally intelligent human as a whole.
If this article helped you in any way, do write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and don’t forget to leave a comment
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