Our emotions influence practically every decision we make. That’s why it’s so important to understand emotions and how they work–and learn how to keep them under control.
In my new book, EQ Applied: The Real-World Guide to Emotional Intelligence, I outline a series of simple practices that will instantly enhance your ability to manage your emotions, and the emotions of others. Practices like asking yourself the right questions to build self-awareness, or taking a pause in an emotional moment to avoid saying or doing something you might regret.
You can even combine these two methods to great effect: By asking yourself the right question, at the right moment, you can achieve greater emotional balance.
I actually learned this trick from a very unlikely source:
Comedian and television host Craig Ferguson.
Years ago, Ferguson gave the following advice in an interview:
There are three things you must always ask yourself before you say anything:
Does this need to be said?
Does this need to be said by me?
Does this need to be said by me, now?
With enough practice, it only takes a few seconds to go through these questions mentally. (Ferguson quips that it took him three marriages to learn that lesson.)
For me, this quick mental dialogue is a lifesaver.
For years I struggled with the tendency to speak too quickly, without thinking things through. But this three-question method helps me avoid saying or doing things I later regret–like sending an angry email or judging a situation before I’ve gotten full perspective.
At the same time, this method doesn’t discourage me from speaking up when appropriate; there are times when the answer to all three questions is a resounding yes–even when what I need to say isn’t comfortable for me or the recipient. When those times come, this method allows me to speak with confidence and to be assertive when it counts.
But maybe your tendency is the opposite. If you naturally hesitate to voice your opinion, the last thing you want to do is discourage yourself from speaking up. Instead, you may use the following question to help manage your emotional response: If I don’t say this now, will I regret it later?
These are just two examples. The key is to first use questions and reflection to get to know your habits and tendencies. Once you build this type of self-awareness, you can brainstorm your own questions, with the goal of keeping your emotions balanced.
So, the next time you’re tempted to speak out of turn, or make an off-color joke, or say or do anything else that could easily come back to haunt you, ask yourself:
Simple, quick, smart…and will save you lots of pain in the long run.
EQ Applied: The Real-World Guide to Emotional Intelligence teaches you how to make emotions work for you, instead of against you.
A version of this article originally appeared on Inc.com.