Emotion Regulation

Emotion Regulation and Lessons From Hogwarts

Learn how to deal with strong emotions—the Harry Potter way!

Posted Apr 05, 2018

Adobe Stock
Source: Adobe Stock

"I don’t mean to be rude, but listening to you and everything you are talking about has really tired me. You spit out so much, I don’t even know what you are saying. What is wrong with you … are you defective?” Says an executive, red-faced, and aggressive, in an advisory board meeting, in front of 40 other highly successful executives to you as you are presenting an idea to them... 

Chances are, you will be full of emotions and ready to rage (or run away) and simply be left tongue-tied with irrational fear.  

You scan the room, looking for some type of non-verbal support, and realize the other 39 people are looking at the red-faced guy with stares of ‘seriously, I can’t believe you just said that’ … it is clear the red-faced guy is an outlier. Everyone is now aware that he is indeed a silly clown.

Next steps:

- Visualize the person as a silly clown
- Calm yourself
- Thank the red-faced guy for his comments
- Proceed with your presentation

Easier said than done…

There is nothing you can do in this moment to change this guy—you only have power over yourself.

Enter emotion regulation.

I don’t prescribe to emotional intelligence, but I am a huge fan of emotion regulation. Reason being: research strongly supports emotion regulation, not so for Emotional Intelligence (see work by Professor Dana Joseph who completely debunked that shiny object). There are very real and powerful differences between emotion regulation and emotional ‘intelligence’. Emotion regulation is so powerful that even the famed wizards & witches of Hogwarts created a spell to help them with emotion regulation. Harry Potter and his friends were actually taught cognitive reappraisal in their 3rd year at Hogwarts (The Prisoner of Azkaban). Cognitive reappraisal is a very effective type of emotion regulation and allows a person to nip an emotional response ‘in the bud’ before fully experiencing the emotion. Result: increased focus and enhanced job performance.

Professor Lupin showed Harry, Ron, Hermione, Neville, and their fellow students at Hogwarts how to control their irrational fear through a spell: ‘Ridiculous’ (with beautiful Queen’s English). It allows a person to create a funny non-threatening image of a potential dangerous/scary event. In doing so, it actually frees up critical psychological resources (b/c you are not worrying or off-tasking about what could go wrong) thereby allowing you to focus your resources fully towards the situation at hand and boost performance.

Favorite example: Neville Longbottom, Harry’s clumsy but brave friend, is presented with his worst fear – the ominous Professor Severus Snape. Neville casts the spell and Snape is covered in Neville’s Grandmother's clothing, looking ridiculous, and allowing Neville a brief, but powerful laugh – emotion nipped, resources preserved, moving onward and upward for Neville!

Research consistently demonstrates that those that utilize reappraisal outperform those that don’t … and, it is a truly unique concept.

Adobe Stock
Source: Adobe Stock

So, when you are faced with a potentially threatening situation at work, put on a smile, whisper ‘Ridiculous’ to yourself, create a mental image of something funny (like a red-faced executive dressed like a clown … red button nose and all!), and proceed with your work achieving new heights.

Want to learn more about emotion regulation science—check out Professor Gross and his lab at Stanford. This is the real deal.