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micro skills

When stress or other emotions derail your goals, it can leave you with “double-bad” feelings.Roberto A Sanchez/Getty Images/iStockphoto

This is part of a series looking at micro skills – changes that employees can make to improve their health and life at work and at home, and employers can make to improve the workplace. The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell have created the Employee Recommended Workplace Award to honour companies that put the health and well-being of their employees first. Read about the 2017 winners of the award

Registration for the 2018 Employee Recommended Workplace Awards have closed. Companies can pre-register for 2019 at

Have you ever noticed the relationship between bad feelings and failing?

Some context is helpful when processing a question like this one.

Here's an example. For the coming year, Jack set personal health goals pledging to make better nutritional choices and increase his physical activity. He hoped he would achieve these goals.

However, within a few days life ramped up again, as usual, demanding Jack's attention and time. By the end of the workday, he was feeling overwhelmed. These bad feelings influenced his decisions to skip exercise and to replace his planned dinner of salad and roast chicken with a takeout burger and fries in an attempt to feel better. The result? Double-bad feelings.

This micro skill assists in short-circuiting "double bad feelings." To understand this, consider that at the end of the day Jack was feeling overwhelmed, which resulted in him failing to achieve his daily personal health goals. After skipping his workout and tossing his plans for a healthy meal, within an hour he began to feel guilty for not following through on his plan.


Can you relate to Jack's situation? The root causes of double bad feelings are often not directly related. However, the emotional impact of two bad feelings, one right after another, can amplify your feelings of failure. One quite common negative consequence for a person like Jack is to consciously or unconsciously quit their personal goal after feeling they have failed.

To curb the risk of being controlled by double bad feelings we need to understand and accept the notion that unchecked, powerful emotions influence our behaviours, and often misguide our decisions. Most of us can relate to making a decision that we later regret because of unwanted feelings or feelings we want to change.

The key point is to understand that in cases like Jack's, when we're overtaken by unwanted feelings (feeling overwhelmed and stressed) and we slip (revert to an old behaviour), this doesn't mean we're a failure. It means only that we lost our focus on a desired goal at that moment and the good feeling associated with success.

We always have the option to refocus and restart our plan or aim to be better the next day. It's helpful to keep in mind that we're human, and failing is often a part of the learning process (such as falling off while learning to ride a bike).


When we're able to accept the notion that when we have unwanted feelings and do not manage them well, we are at increased risk for engaging in unhealthy behaviours that are different from our desired, healthier choices. This information can be helpful when unwanted feelings happen, so we can avoid engaging in behaviours that can result in more unwanted feelings.


Learn how to leverage this micro skill by picking one area where you seem to keep failing because of unwanted feelings that trigger behaviours that lead to additional unwanted feelings.

Set your anchor – Focus on the outcome you want to achieve and why (determine the benefit and value to you). Be crystal clear on what success will feel and look like if you're able to achieve your desired goal.

Anticipate unwanted emotions – To learn how to curb unwanted feelings it's helpful to anticipate them, so that you can prepare for them. One challenge for unanticipated, unwanted feelings is that when they arise you can feel surprised, out of control and powerless. The more you prepare and practice to curb unwanted feelings – such as finding healthier ways to manage stress or feelings of being overwhelmed –the better you'll be prepared to manage them.

Unwanted feelings first aidEmotional intelligence teaches that as you increase your self-awareness for unwanted feelings you can learn to better manage them. Try the following three steps:

Detect – When you notice an unwanted feeling starting to occur, move safely away from what triggered your emotions so that you can create space (for example, excuse yourself to use the rest room, play a favourite song, call a close friend). This gives you time before you react so that you're thinking brain can catch up with your unwanted feelings so you can make better choices. Unwanted feelings are powerful, but they have no control over your behavioural choices.

Re-align – With unwanted feelings can come urges to take actions that you think will make you feel better (such as eating sweets or junk food) but are not in your best long-term interest. Emotionally driven urges are often intense but can pass when we learn to look past them and focus on what we really want. Tap into the feelings you want by locking into them to give you the strength to allow emotionally driven behavioural urges to pass. The more you practice, the better prepared you'll to move past urges when they arise.

Accept or acknowledge – If you slip by doing something or saying something you didn't want to, fix it fast by apologizing and do what is required to fix. Accept that unwanted feelings and choices don't mean you're a failure or define who you are an who you can be. When you successfully curb unwanted feelings and urges, acknowledge it and enjoy feelings you want and worked hard for.

Bill Howatt is the chief research and development officer of work force productivity with Morneau Shepell in Toronto.

This article supports The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell's Employee Recommended Workplace Award. This award recognizes employers who have the healthiest, most engaged and most productive employees. It promotes a two-way accountability model where an employer can support employees to have a positive workplace experience.

You can find all the stories in this series