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Crew Coach: Self-control crucial to success onboard

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Crew Coach: by Capt. Rob Gannon

Self-control, the ability to keep disruptive emotions and impulses in check, is a key competence for success, happiness and satisfaction in our professional and personal lives. Just consider the opposite, lack of self-control, and I think we can clearly see and feel the detrimental consequences that can accompany it. We may have personal experiences where our lives were clearly affected by our own or someone else’s lack of self-control.

Self-control falls under a broader category called emotional intelligence, which I believe is more important than IQ for thriving and top performance in our professional lives. I think this is especially true for the unique conditions of working and living on a yacht. There is no way we can operate at a high level when working so closely and living together if we lack self-control. Another important thing to remember is it doesn’t just affect the person lacking the self-control but spreads to others around them. This can be deadly, a cancer to a crew or any team.

I’ve studied the work of Daniel Goleman and his books Emotional Intelligence and Working with Emotional Intelligence. Both books contain extensive research that clearly shows the results and importance of this competency. He also lists three traits that people with a healthy grasp on self-control exhibit:

  • They manage their impulsive feelings and distressing emotions well.
  • They stay composed, positive and unflappable even in trying moments.
  • They think clearly and stay focused under pressure.

So, how are we feeling with that list? Are you there, kind of there, or not even close?

There’s a lot going on when things get intense and challenging. Chemicals are firing in the brain, like the stress hormone cortisol. Too much of it diminishes our effectiveness and even our immune system. Past history can trigger an inappropriate response; negative thoughts can build up and start steering our emotions. Yes, a lot going on if we allow it.

The key to developing a better grasp on our self-control is by bringing awareness to it. Understand what is going on with ourselves. Remember, this is self-control we’re talking about, not other person control. It’s about our own reactions and thoughts. That boiler in our head is going to blow if we don’t release the steam, and we can’t release the steam if we don’t recognize it building.

We need tools, practices and habits to help keep us in a healthy balance. Whatever that entails, it’s imperative for us to combat bad stress and lack of self-control. This includes reminding ourselves – gently reminding ourselves – of what it is we are trying to improve upon or nurture within us. I truly believe after many years of observing,  and now studying, human behavior that the folks with issues such as lack of self-control continue to act out and struggle because they never really try to take control of it. You may hear denial from these people, or “that’s just the way I am.” I believe that’s not the way we are, rather that’s what we’ve become. There’s a difference there – and what we’ve become, if undesired, can be worked on and undone.

I leave you with this from Working with Emotional Intelligence: “The ultimate act of personal responsibility at work may be in taking control of our own state of mind. Moods exert a powerful pull on thought, memory, and perception. When we are angry, we more readily remember incidents that support our ire, our thoughts become preoccupied with the object of our anger, and irritability so skews our worldview that an otherwise benign comment might now strike us as hostile. Resisting this despotic quality of moods is essential to our ability to work productively.”

I guess that about sums it up. Without a competency on our self-control, our ship is taking on water and could go down. We need to slow the water coming in and keep those pumps working to stay afloat and sail on.
Enjoy the voyage.

Capt. Rob Gannon is a 30-year licensed captain and certified life and wellness coach (yachtcrewcoach.com). Comments are welcome below.

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