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When Not To Control Your Impulses at Work


Even meditation masters have their breaking points. Work stress can bring out the beast in all of us — even people like Deepak Chopra, a holistic health guru known for teachings of being mindful, selfless and calm.

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But Chopra, writing for a LinkedIn series, recently called his “impulsive rebellion” to a boss his best career mistake, making the argument that sometimes standing up can be better than letting it go. 

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When an overbearing boss purposely put him on the spot in a staff meeting, Chopra dumped a load of paperwork on him and walked out. Ultimately, that moment of uncharacteristically Chopra behavior led him down a path to his massively successful career in integrative medicine and writing.

Chopra probably wouldn’t advise routinely letting your impulses drive your behavior.  But he’s not the only one giving a nod to our inner gut instinct. 

A mounting body of neurological evidence suggests that emotional impulses should not be ignored, according to the July-August issue of Harvard Business Review. The article entitled “Your Brain at Work” says that leaders should pay attention to negative feelings and try to understand where they’re coming from. Just as Chopra isn’t advocating letting doubt and anxiety rule your behavior, the authors of this article say that listening to impulses can actually produce better outcomes.

For those times when you need to control your impulses — which is, quite honestly, most of the time — Executive Coach Elaine Morris suggests these steps:

  • Take five deep breaths. This buys you time to calm the heck down and think. Once calm, ask for more information and really listen. If you’re still about to blow, go for a walk or find some other way to clear your head.
  • Make a daily effort to relax more. Easier said than done, right? Consider unplugging from email, smart phones and whatever devices tether you to work.
  • Learn your triggers. For 30 days, keep a diary of your strongest emotion of the day, what led to it and how you responded. After 30 days, review the log for patterns, like a common person or unresolved issue. Identifying these can help you take appropriate actions. Plus, it acts a bit like a mirror, letting you see reflect on your own behaviors.

Coach Morris explains that impulse control is an emotional intelligence competency that greatly influences how successful we are at solving problems. Thinking before you act, showing restraint and controlling aggression will help you be a successful problem solver, and ultimately, a successful worker, no matter what your role. 

Tell Us What You Think

Have you ever acted impulsively at work? Share an experience when impulsive behavior proved to be good — or disastrous — for you at work. Share your story on Twitter or in the comments section below.

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