I’ve written before about the relationship between our thoughts and feelings. How we feel governs our reactions and behaviour, and therefore our effectiveness as a leader. Self-awareness and the ability to control the impact of our thoughts and feelings on our behaviour, are central to good leadership.

Allow me to share a perfect illustration of this, from something that happened to me last week.

How currency anti-fraud measures nearly ruined my day

I went up to London for meetings and picked up a cab from the station. The driver asked if I could pay in cash, so I reached into a pocket of my rucksack where I keep a wallet with a few notes in it: usually sterling, dollars and euros. But on this occasion, there were only dollars in it. I was flummoxed as I knew there had been some sterling in there the day before (when I’d last used the wallet), and I hadn’t let the bag out of my sight since then. I mentally retraced my steps and was starting to feel really upset about it.  Had I unwittingly been mugged? Had I completely forgotten about already spending the money?

I went into my meeting and felt very distracted and irritated by the loss. Then suddenly I had a brainwave: my wife must have borrowed some money. I’d left my bag by the front door last night and she could easily have dipped in if she’d needed some cash. “That must be it!” I told myself and immediately felt calmer and was able to contribute properly to the meeting again, regaining my focus and concentration.

After the meeting I gave my wife a quick call just to make sure that my assumption was correct. To my surprise, she said she hadn’t been into my bag and then started speculating about how I might have lost it. Now I was really hot and bothered! I felt bewildered and confused. As the day progressed, I decided I just had to accept the fact the money was gone and I couldn’t do anything about it.

When I got home much later that night, after a work dinner, I went upstairs to my office to unpack my bag and there, in the corner of the sofa, was my missing cash. I realised that it must have fallen out as I’d repacked my bag in preparation for my day in London. The slippery polymer sterling (as opposed to the paper dollars) must have slid out without me noticing.

It could be said that the Bank of England’s decision to move to polymer bank notes rather than paper ones, for reasons of fraud reduction, was the cause of all my angst! But in reality, what this experience proved to me is that we only ever live in the feeling of our thinking in the moment.

What story are you telling yourself?

As I mentioned on LinkedIn just the other day, I’m reading a book called Crucial Conversations at the moment. In it the authors advise, “You can have your emotions, but don’t let your emotions have you.”

They write about the four steps we go through when our thoughts and feelings are provoked:

  1. We see or hear something
    2. We tell ourselves a story about it and what it means
    3. This makes us feel something about what we’ve seen or heard
    4. We then act on that feeling

So you see, storytelling isn’t just central to leadership (you can explore this further here) but it’s also central to the connection between our thoughts and feelings, and subsequent (re)actions.

Next time you sense your thoughts and feelings starting to trigger your behaviour, notice what is going on. You can’t control your thoughts or your feelings, but you can perhaps change the story you tell yourself and therefore influence what happens next.

I’d love to hear how you get on so please get in touch.

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