3 Ways to use your emotions to your advantage

Reading time: 6 minutes


I used to be a youth leader for vKSJ, now KSA, leading the girls aged 16+. Our leadership team being a bunch of socially engaged, highly intelligent and ambitious enterprising young girls. Pretty sure we were going to make the world a better place. I remember me and my young fellow leaders, all female, sitting around the camp fire in a distant Flemish wood. Playing the guitar on a warm Summer night, singing “Total eclipse of the heart” by Bonnie Tyler. Chanting our most favorite and well lived through slogan: “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. As if we had the whole world on our plates. As if we had seen it all. Experienced it all. And above all, suffered it all. We not only lived on emotions. We were our emotions. Hardly survived our first heart-break. Or was it our first unanswered love?

After that we traded high school for university and university for corporate. We exchanged leading the members of our youth movement for taking up challenging company roles. Together we went (at least some of us still being a close group of friends today) through marriages and pregnancies and kids (and some divorces) and much more. We got to know the drill of “real life” and above all learned not to let our girly emotions get in the way of us reaching our goals. We skipped the “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” for a more mature attitude towards our personal relationships as well as our professional lives. As we got older, we got more moderate and understanding.

I guess I only slammed my bosses door once, leaving his office angry. It was perfectly clear that repeating that would not have been an option. I learned that politics and authenticity are two players in a more than complex relationship towards each other. I found out (probably the hard way) that behaving too emotional is not the best thing to do if you want to get your ass up the corporate ladder. So no more total eclipses of the heart (at least not on the work floor). Remember, ambitious girls we were. From guitar playing world saving idealists to grown ups surviving our individual reality. One common denominator connecting us, aiming for that sense of life satisfaction and as much absence of negative emotions as possible.

Whilst I am a strong supporter of the principle that moderation (as in being able to park something temporarily), thinking positive and practicing gratitude all benefit our mental and even overall health, I am also anti the “my career and life is perfect” on social media as well as in our professional/social behavior nowadays. Nothing feels more lonely than hiding your loneliness from the world. Nothing feels more unhappy than pretending to be happy when you are not. So why would you?

In my role as an executive coach I see that personal growth and an understanding of the self don’t come simply and automatically when achieving business goals. They come with repeatedly and consciously confronting life’s adversities. There is no straight ride to the top, and if yours was (so far), chances are that you are not at the top of your possibilities yet. You can be and might even feel successful, yet be “young” and inexperienced in personal growth (and the other way around). Being your authentic successful self does not come from having it “seemingly all together”. Not from hiding from the world when making mistakes. Not from suppressing your true emotions when you feel bad.

Getting older I know it is nothing but good to be emotionally wrecked from time to time. It is perfectly okay not to be okay all the time. Sometimes we simply need that total eclipse of the heart to make a much needed change. Even businesswise. Without a healthy dose of fear you may be able to take lots of risks but will fail to inspire true and continuous innovation. Without some human insecurity and any self-doubt you may be successful though arrogant in your leadership. Without a need for belonging you may be strong but very lonely at the top.

Read on for 3 ways to use your emotions to your advantage.

  1. Use your emotions as a source of information (and stop ignoring the signals)

Biologically seen, our (negative) thoughts and emotions have an absolute survival value. Feeling bad simply is a sign that something is wrong. It can’t be more simple than this. Yet we tend to ignore the signals. To use your emotions as a source of information, combine what you feel with other sources as there are your ratio, your knowledge and your experience. Not to forget your values and your goals.

E.g. know that if you feel lost in your career you currently lack direction. If that is the case, give yourself a break and don’t even try to stop feeling this way. This feeling does nothing but inform you and inspire you to make some changes. So instead of resisting how you feel, take a close look at the circumstances leading up to this point. Take the time. And a piece of paper. Set your priorities. Evaluate your experiences.

  1. Know that feeling and being are not the same

First of all, it is important to accept that it is inherent to life to experience setbacks. Nobody is feeling superb all of the time. Not even your Facebook friends that seem to have nothing but joy and happiness on their agenda. Not even the one that is taking home the biggest paycheck ever. Sometimes we all feel like the biggest loser alive. It’s a universal fact you simply can’t escape from. On the other hand, do you know this great feeling you get when completing even the smallest goal?

Tip: Make use of what is called the “post-reinforcement pause”. In short, when you feel the satisfaction of completing a goal, it allows your mind to rest for a while. That’s why a to do lists is such a wonderful thing. The success of listing your to do’s (hence getting back the overview) can turn your emotional world around in a few minutes. From biggest loser to confident you will succeed in a few bullet points.

  1. The choice of action is yours (and is always there)

If you want to drive straight to the South of France via the Route du Soleil, you need to be willing to pay the toll for the trip. Same in life. Same in career. Important goals and pursuits in your life will be accompanied by challenging times and situations. In order to get there, you’ll need to create a mental space for the ups and the downs. Embrace your emotions. Trust them. Persistent dissatisfaction and unhappiness will always tell you which route to take.

E.g. For me, one of the most interesting topics in Mark Mansons’ book “The subtle art of not giving a f*ck” is where he writes about choosing your struggles. There simply is no goal to be reached without struggle. Want to get fit? Sweat in the gym. Want to get a career? Invest time and energy in lots of working hours. If only your goal is important enough to you, you will be prepared to deliver the effort.

Nevertheless, some people like working out in the gym more than working late in the office. And the other way around. The beauty is, you decide. Whatever it is that makes you unhappy, or insecure, or doubting yourself, you are not doomed to be stuck there forever. If only you are courageous enough to listen to your emotions and accept the truth of your situation (you can trust your intuition), you can and will make a change. That is when feeling bad loses its destructive power (paralysis) and becomes a driver towards motivation, effort and growth.

For now? We are always exactly where we should be, even if it feels as if we are not. So start with dusting off your old guitar, sing your favorite song, and see how you feel. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger version 2.0. What’s next? It might surprise you. Good luck!

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About the author

Sofie Varrewaere is the founder of BigFish4.me and a certified Marshall Goldsmith Stakeholder Centered Coach. After studying a Master in Psychological and Pedagogical Sciences, she ogled into the magical world of Recruitment, Selection and HR Services. Working for the world leader in HR, she has always been in an advisory role in relation to the larger goals of several multinational organizations. In 2013 she started her own company in International executive Coaching. Doing what she is good at, challenging others as well as herself