Your boss comes to your cubicle, and the moment you see the glum look on her face, your heart sinks. Bad news from HQ, she tells you. She has to give a report first thing in the morning, and so she needs you to get her presentation done by the end of the day. She heaves a sigh as she plods back to her office.
This new job assignment has already put you in a funk, but as you read the request from HQ, your heart sinks even further. You need data you can only get from Lois in accounting. You hate dealing with Lois—she’s such an emotional drain.
You call, but she doesn’t answer her phone. You send her an email, but an hour later she still hasn’t responded. So you brace yourself and head for her office—down in the basement. (She says she likes it down there. It’s quiet, and people rarely bother her.)
There’s a knot in the pit of your stomach as you open her door. She’s busy at her computer, but as soon as she looks up, you see the gloom and doom written all over her face.
You tell her your predicament, but she has little sympathy and plenty of complaints of her own. In the end, she says she’ll try to get you the figures before she leaves, but no promises. Your head is pounding as you return to your desk. You know you’ll be working late tonight.
Most people are prisoners of their passions. They believe that an emotion is something that happens to them. They react emotionally to the behaviors of those around them, and they’re infected by the emotions of the people they interact with.
Yet some people have learned how to regulate their emotions. They don’t let other people’s sour moods get them down, nor do they let other people’s bad behavior make them angry. And you too can control your emotions, if you know how.
People who keep their mood on an even keel don’t rely on the brute force of will power to get themselves through emotional crises. For will power is a fickle friend that always abandons you in your hour of need. Rather, emotionally stable people develop habits that tip the balance in their favor.
Here’s a mind-trick I learned years ago. I call it: “Check Your Smile at the Door.” It’s based on classical conditioning, the same process Pavlov used to get his dog to salivate to a bell. Only, you’re going to condition yourself.
Classical conditioning works by associating a new stimulus with an established behavior. In this case, smiling is the conditioned response—something you already know how to do. And the conditioned stimulus—what you’re going to learn to respond to—is a door.
Each time you approach a door, say to yourself: “Check your smile at the door.” And really do check. Are you smiling? If not, then put a smile on your face. It doesn’t matter how bad you feel on the inside. Don’t go through that door until you’ve got a convincing smile on your face and you’re confident you can peal out a chipper “Good morning!”
Doors play an important role in our psychology. They separate one social situation from another, and walking through a door initiates a new social interaction. You know the old adage about the importance of first impressions. But this is true whether you’re meeting for the first time ever or just the first time today.
By walking through that door in high spirits (even if they’re feigned!), you’ve set the mood for the social exchange. And because most people are emotional followers, they’ll take your lead. They’ll let themselves get infected by your cheerfulness. And this will make you feel better as well.
In fact, putting on a happy face boosts your mood in two ways. The first way is what’s called facial feedback. As your brain detects that your “grin” muscles are engaged, it seems to think to itself: “I’m smiling so I must be happy.”
The second way is through social feedback. We’re social animals, and we need to coordinate not just our behaviors but also our feelings to get things done. Emotions are contagious, and as your colleagues respond positively to your “faked” cheerful mood, you starting feeling better as well.
But don’t attempt this for the first time when you’re feeling bad. Instead, you need to start this habit on a good day. On a morning when you’re full of resolve, consciously remind yourself to check your smile each time you open a door. As you walk into your office building, remind yourself to check your smile at the door. When you come home at night, remember again to check your smile at the door. The positive social feedback you get should be sufficient to reinforce the habit
With time, the habit will become ingrained. (You’ll catch yourself smiling as you open closet doors.) Now you’re ready to face Lois in accounting. With a smile on your face and a cheery ring to your voice, you might just make her day. And maybe she’ll be more willing to make yours. (In fact, introverts like Lois often seclude themselves because they know, at some level, that they’re easily swayed by others’ moods. Isolation then is their attempt at emotional regulation.)
Checking your smile at the door is just one small habit you can develop that can have considerable emotional payoff down the road. Who knows? You may even garner a reputation for being a cheerful person. Now that’s something to smile about!
Thanks to Psychology Today