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This Strategy Increases Emotional Control and Awareness to Reduce Risk

July 12, 2018

Safety awareness begins with self-awareness.  Self-awareness applied to situational awareness creates a true appreciation for your risk exposure.

To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom.

- Socrates

Anger, frustration, fear-based surprise, and other negative emotions lead to bad decisions and increased risk taking.  Psychological studies demonstrate it.  But we don’t need studies to confirm what we already know.  We can examine our own lives and it rings true.

Think about the last time you lost emotional control of yourself.  Maybe it was during a heated argument with a family member.  Maybe you were running late for something important and landed in an unexpected traffic jam.  Maybe you stubbed your toe on the ottoman.  Put yourself in that place.  Feel that anger and try to remember your state of mind.  Is that the state of mind you want to have when making decisions?  Would you trust that state of mind to accurately evaluate risk?

Related: 3 Tips for Staying in Control of Your Safety

Self-awareness can reduce impulsive decision making.  Each of us physically reacts to our negative emotional state in a unique way.  Know your personal warning signs.  Heart pounding, sweaty hands, talking faster or at a higher pitch, clenched jaw, are all examples of physical warning signs that you may be losing your cool.  Identify early indicators that your temperature is rising to help take you out of the heat of the moment.  This can reduce your impulsive decision making.  You can further improve your chances of avoiding harmful, impulsive actions by arming yourself with an implementation intention.

The Implementation Intention Strategy

Implementation intention is an effective strategy for goal achievement and behavior change.  An implementation intention is a predetermined course of action that happens during a specific situation.  They are in the format of when/then statements.  “When situation X happens then I will perform action Y.”  You automatize your response in situations where you lose emotional control.  “I will be safe” is a nice sentiment, but it lacks power because it lacks specificity.  Here is an example of an implementation intention to improve situational awareness:

When I notice my anger rising, then I will take a deep breath and release it slowly before my next action.

Creating a clear when/then rule like this is much more effective than committing to an abstract goal of “stay calm.”  Our brains are much better at processing concrete, specific rules than abstract goals.  In a way, you are setting up little programs in your mind to automatically run when triggered by a “when” stimulus.

By becoming more self-aware and understanding your personal tendency to be more or less in control, you can take steps towards gaining more emotional control and making decisions that positively impact not only your own safety, but the safety of those around you.  

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Brian Dishman Brian Dishman is a Senior Consultant at PSI. He educates safety leaders on the internal factors that impact employee safety. Brian focuses on safety leadership, safety culture development, and the psychology of safety.