If you are in America as you read this, let me be the first to wish you a Happy Fourth of July (tomorrow). Enjoy your holiday and be safe.
I will publish the second post on Anger Myths in two weeks. I thought I’d publish this article today because it is about the resilience of an American athlete and it teaches a very important lesson about mastering your emotions.
For my readers in other countries, I will stipulate that the same story could apply to other athletes, business people, or anyone who chooses to master their emotions.
An article in the June 19, 2019 issue of the LA Times caught my attention.
The article was about Crystal Dunn, currently a member of the United States Women’s Soccer Team, and her incredible comeback as an athlete.
As noted in the article, Dunn was cut from the team four years ago, “cycled through a range of emotions”, and made a decision which led her to where she is today.
As a reader of this blog, you are very familiar with my writings on Emotional Mastery. It is this perspective that peaked my interest in this article about Crystal Dunn.
The article states “After she was cut from the team four years ago, Dunn said she quickly cycled through a range of emotions from disbelief and anger to pity and embarrassment before finally settling on determination. So, she redoubled her efforts, promising to make herself so good that she would never be cut from the team again. It worked.”
While I don’t know any more about Dunn than is stated in the article, the information that is provided offers an excellent learning opportunity from the perspective of Emotional Mastery.
The foundation of Emotional Mastery is that each person should…
- experience every emotion (this step is an unconscious process)
- validate the emotion as providing useful information (this step accepts the message of the emotion whether or not it is accurate)
- assess the match between the emotion and the perception of the situation that elicited the emotion (this step addresses the accuracy of the message)
- choose a response that deals with the situation, as it is, and allows you to adaptively move through whatever is happening to you (this step is the culmination of Emotional Mastery and the justification for it)
The article implies that Dunn worked her way through eac of these steps.
Her first reaction to being dropped from the team was disbelief and anger. Disbelief is obvious as she did not foresee being cut from the team.
Disbelief could easily lead to anger.
The message of anger is that there is a threat that needs to be addressed. The threat here could be that she viewed being cut as “unfair”, “misguided”, or just plain “wrong”. Anger, in response to unfairness is understandable.
She then moved to pity and embarrassment.
Pity is a “poor me” emotion if it is applied to oneself or an emotion of “poor you” when applied to someone else. The darker side of pity is an implication that one is superior to the person who is the object of pity. For Dunn, self-pity might have involved a sense of sadness for her loss at her position on the team.
Anger, or a sense that the threat is external, and must be rebuffed could give way to pity when the idea of a threat gives way to one’s sense of loss once it is realized that there is no threat.
Pity, it seems, gave way to embarrassment which is a feeling of self-consciousness or shame. The message of embarrassment is “I screwed up, got caught and was subjected to public ridicule. There is something wrong with me.”
Pity could give way to embarrassment when the sense of loss is viewed as attributable to the actions one did or did not do.
Dunn seems to have felt that the effort she put into staying on the team wasn’t enough.
The final emotion that Dunn is reported to have experienced was determination. This message of this emotion is “I can overcome what has happened to me and make it better”.
As an emotion, anger is energizing. It gives you the motivation to overcome and overwhelm a perceived threat. This is great as long as there is a threat that can be addressed. If there is no threat, anger can lead to inappropriate acting-out. We see a lot of this type of behavior in the news.
Both pity and embarrassment can be debilitating if they lead one to withdraw, choosing to get caught up in self-pity and either blaming someone else for what is taking place or taking no action at all if you believe you are unworthy. Pity can lead to depression if you see yourself as helpless, hopeless or worthless.
If, however, as is the case with Dunn, embarrassment, or the sense that she screwed up, leads to a decision to grow from the experience, then embarrassment leads to determination which is very energizing.
And, determination motivates change.
So, what can you learn from the actions taken by this incredible athlete?
First, when (not if), you screw up and your situation “goes to hell in a handbasket”, allow yourself to feel all your emotions.
Second, do not allow yourself to go into a negative spiral with your feelings. Understand that emotions are just messengers and take the time to objectively assess the message your emotions are providing. Ask for an outside opinion if your own objectivity is inadequate.
Third, let your assessments of each individual feeling push you to “cycle through” your emotions. This is letting the emotional process run its course.
Finally, push yourself to choose a response that will move you forward and help you to grow through your situation. Accept the feeling of accomplishment that results and move to determination to take action to “make it happen”.
Congratulations to Crystal Dunn and thank you for an object lesson in mastering one’s emotions.