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How the Search Inside Yourself Program Supports Managing Difficult Emotions

Search Inside Yourself (SIY) training was developed at Google when company leaders decided they wanted to change the way work impacted the lives and productivity of their team. Back in 2007, a team of leading experts in mindfulness, neuroscience, and emotional intelligence developed this unique course specifically for Google, which is now mandatory for all staff at the thriving tech company.

It wasn’t long before the effectiveness of the course spread leading to the creation of the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute and the mindfulness industry revolution.

It is now a globally recognized program used by organizations large and small, to not only improve productivity but also empower employees to experience meaningful personal growth.

SIY Training

A large part of mindfulness and SIY training focuses on the management of emotion. As internationally known psychologist Daniel Goleman says, emotions are critical for decision-making as making decisions depends on our ability to draw on the wisdom of our emotions. Therefore, it is important to increase our capacity for emotional awareness and management in attaining outstanding performance and happiness.

SIY training focuses on the key domains of emotional intelligence:

  • Self-Awareness

  • Self-Regulation

  • Motivation

  • Empathy

  • Social Skills

Courses integrate mindfulness practice, science, and leadership skills to help build resilience to better prepare people to adapt to change. It allows people to remain focused so they can reach their full potential both in the workplace as well as in their own human development.

Practices of SIY

The practices in SIY provide support for people, allowing them to manage difficult emotions in two ways:

  1. Reducing the chance of mind-wandering, which is associated with an unhappy mind (Killingsworth, 2010).
  2. Self-referential thinking (the tendency to see the specific meaning for the self in events).

According to a study by Judson A Brewer et al., humans have a “default mode” of mind-wandering that correlates with unhappiness. Studies showed that meditation practices, including focused attention, open-awareness, and loving kindness, are associated with deactivation of the default mode network. This same network is also responsible for mind/self-referential thinking.

Findings indicated that during meditation, the main nodes of the default mode network were relatively deactivated. They also found stronger coupling in experienced meditators between the areas of the brain associated with self-monitoring and cognitive control, which demonstrated that meditation decreased mind-wandering.

Amygdala Hijack

SIY and mindfulness training provides the skills needed to manage difficult emotions with greater confidence when it arises. Difficult emotions, such as anger, trigger the primitive fight-flight-freeze mode in our nervous system, which in turn, decreases activation in the prefrontal cortex.

When this happens, rational thinking is impaired and lessens our ability to make effective decisions. Daniel Goleman refers to this chain reaction as the “amygdala hijack” when disturbing emotions reach their peak, and the amygdala paralyzes executive function.

Adding to this theory, Yi-Yuan Tang at the Texas Tech Neuroimaging Institute indicates some research has suggested that mindfulness promotes increased activity of the parasympathetic nervous system, which also potentially prevents sympathetic nervous system fight-flight-freeze responses.

Richard J. Davidson, the William James and Vilas Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry and Founder and Director of the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, found that the amygdala “quiets” when we take active control of our attention.

He has focused his research on the neural bases of emotion and emotional style and the methods available, such as meditation and related contemplative practices to promote “human flourishing.” (Goleman, Daniel; Davidson, Richard J. Altered Traits).


In coping with such difficult emotional situations, Stop, Breathe, Notice, Reflect, and Reframe (SBNRR) is a useful SIY practice that includes the following emotional regulation mechanisms:

  • Stop + Breathe + Notice: This starts with body awareness, allowing us to recognize the emotion as a physiological response in our body.
  • Reflect: This next step allows us to label the emotion and reflect on ourselves and others, engaging the prefrontal cortex (PFC)’s executive function.
  • Reframing: This teaches people to change the way they evaluate events in order to alter the emotional significance in their minds.

Current neuroscience research shows meditation practices lead to changes in brain regions associated with Attentional Control, Emotion Management, and Self-Awareness (Study: Tang et al., 2015.), which supports Stop + Breath steps of SBNRR.

Dr. Philippe Golden, a research scientist at Stanford and one of SIY’s founders, explains that “Notice” puts feelings into words to help us understand our experience.

Finally, according to a study by Megan E. Renna, Jean M. Quintero, David M. Fresco, and Douglas S. Mennin, “reframing” helps people re-evaluate situations so that they can appreciate and validate emotional pain and have compassion for their experiences. It is a way of managing or regulating emotion.

SIY offers a unique opportunity to manage difficult emotions. These skills strengthen focus, allowing us to recognize and manage both our own emotions and the emotions of others to accurately assess situations and react appropriately.

To find out more about the Search Inside Yourself (SIY) program lead by Ascent Leadership Institute can support your organization, sign up for our free 30-minute consultation.

For other valuable articles on Mindfulness practices, visit our Ultimate Guide to Mindful Leadership.


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