DStressBetterWorker200x233ecision-making is at the heart of what organisations do. Managers must contend with high levels of uncertainty, multi-functional teams, and changing competitive landscapes. Besides making short-term tactical decisions, there is a growing need for long-term, strategic decision-making. Uncertainty, worry, stress and anxiety are common reactions and encounters in today’s workplace.

These reactions impede our performance and can result in a range of different reactions. When the brain encounters events, choices, and people, it tags them with emotional significance. When people later have similar experiences, the brain accesses the tags as a shortcut to producing the appropriate feelings such as doubt, anxiety, happiness, and excitement.

Feelings can be a by-product of thoughts; remembering an impending deadline can produce unease while imagining a good presentation can produce happiness. But feelings can also be activated unconsciously, without our knowing where they originated. A hunch is a real neurological response that manifests itself physically. If we’re feeling stress, worry or anxiety, it affects our ability to get the hunches right. Negative hunches, such as doubt and anxiety, tend to undervalue compared to positive hunches, which we’re more likely to follow.

Stop and look at the negative hunches

Some leaders in organisations want to eliminate these hunches in themselves and their organisations. Many perceive these as feelings that make us look weak and create uncertainty, and we focus on being in control and moving forward. Learning how to handle these negative emotions trains our meta-cognitive skills and our mindfulness, and helps us understand and be curious about where these negative hunches come from. Evaluate them, instead of avoiding them, and understand them. This is not the same as being driven by them. Instead, stop and have a look at them.

Practice under stress 

In Sian Beilock’s book ‘Choke’, she says that choking under pressure is identified as a sub-optimal performance, not just poor performance. It’s a performance that’s inferior to what you can do and have done in the past and occurs when you feel pressure to get everything right. Beilock says that practicing under stress, even a moderate amount, helps a person feel comfortable when they find themselves standing in the line of fire. Stress and worry are milder forms of anxiety and the best way to handle stress is by practicing when under pressure, the same way the police and military do. The experience of having dealt with stress makes those situations seem like regular habits. The opposite is to start avoiding, which leads to increased stress since we never perform or do the stressful activity anymore.

We can’t predict our future reactions 

Affective forecasting is predicting how we will feel in the future, and people often use it when making decisions. For example, people make choices about who to marry, where to live, and what to buy based on their affective forecasts about what will bring joy and fulfilment. The psychology and behavioural economics research to understand and improve affective forecasting to help people make decisions more efficiently.

But studies have proved that we’re terrible at it – affective forecasting is prone to error, which can lead to decisional regret. We’re not good judges of what will make us happy, and we have trouble seeing through the filter of the now. Our feelings in the present blind us to how we’ll make decisions in the future when we might be feeling differently. The need to improve affective forecasting is evident in a range of settings, not only in our personal lives but also in professional settings such as in health care, education, and finance.

Emotional knowledge is key

Several studies provide indirect evidence for a link between emotional intelligence and affective forecasting skills. Foremost, emotional intelligence involves skills in perceiving one’s emotions, and prior research has shown that affective forecasting accuracy is influenced by individual differences in closely related skills, such as mindful awareness and attention to ambivalent emotional processes.

A meta-analysis by Hoerger and colleagues at the University of Rochester shows that emotional intelligence was associated with enhanced affective forecasting accuracy, better memory for affective reactions, and improved affective forecasting skills with experience. In another study by Emanuel and colleagues from Kent State University show that the part in mindfulness that involves observing and acting with awareness – would make people less susceptible to errors in affective forecasting.

The interesting finding in their study is that mindfulness, which is a person’s knowledge of the interplay between internal emotions and external events, may make people more resistant to affective forecasting biases more than the aspect of awareness, which reflects a person’s attention to the present moment. If we can train ourselves in this means we can improve our ability to forecast our future reactions.

Written by Lotta Wallin, consultant in L&D, In focus and well-being Ltd.

Lotta Wallin, a consultant in L&D who works in an International environment with sustaining behavior change by utilizing evidence based methods, tools and assessments. Lotta has broad experience from cognitive behavioral therapy and executive coaching, she is a specialist in adult learning and human behavior, for academic institutions as well as corporate organizations. She designs and delivers training in leadership and positive psychology, to name a few.

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