The Way to Thrive: Emotional Intelligence – What, Why, How

Emotional intelligence is, quite simply, a superpower. It’s the other kind of smarts and involves understanding what we’re feeling, what others are feeling and allowing our behaviour to be guided positively by that knowledge.

This is why we love it:

  • it fuels close, healthy relationships;
  • it guides how we are seen and treated socially; 
  • it leads to better decision making
  • it is a strong predictor of job success;
  • it gives us the muscle to express ourselves and have needs met in a positive way;
  • it helps us manage and express emotions in such a way as to avoid them damaging relationships or our own physical health (by holding them in).

Decades of research has proven that emotional intelligence is a greater predictor of success than IQ. It’s the reason people with average IQ’s can often outperform those with higher IQ’s. Now for some stats. According to Travis Bradberry, co-author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0

  • 90% of top performers are high in emotional intelligence;
  • People with a higher emotional intelligence make an average of $29,000 more per year than those with lower emotional intelligence
  • There is such a definitive link between emotional intelligence and income that every point increase in emotional intelligence adds an extra $1,300 to an annual wage. This has been established across all industries, at all levels, right across the world. 

Some people naturally have a higher emotional intelligence, but the good news is that it’s something that can be grown and developed in anybody. 

  1. Be aware of your thoughts and feelings as they happen.

    Emotions contain important information but too often, we feel things automatically without stopping to see if they are directly because of the situation at hand or leftover from past experiences. If feelings are driven by a current situation, it’s sensible to allow behaviour to be guided by those feelings. For example, if we’re anxious – there’s probably something to be anxious about so fight or flight might be necessary. If we’re feeling close to someone, that person is probably worthy of our love and trust so it’s not only safe to drop our guard and let them in. 

    Sometimes though, the feelings we feel are leftover from past experiences. When this happens, the feelings happen automatically and we act on them without giving their validity a second thought. If, for example, you’re having difficulty forming close relationships, is it because of the people you’re with or because you’ve been hurt before and old scars are infecting new relationships? If you’re anxious, is there really something to be anxious about, or is your fear detector too sensitive (maybe because it’s been triggered too many times) or responding because something from the past that was never resolved. Unless you tune in, your tendency will be to act as as though you still have a reason to be guarded or scared – whether you do or not. 

    It’s so important to pay attention to the feelings behind behaviour. By being aware of thoughts and feelings as they happen, they can be assessed for what they are and we can act more deliberately, rather than on impulse or out of habit. 

  2. Observe your behaviour 

    Be aware of how you act when you feel certain emotions and how this plays out in day to day life. How does the way you feel fuel your behaviour in relationships, in a crowd, your productivity, your creativity, your mood or your confidence. Are you behaving the way you want to behave? Or do your actions seem to happen without much thought at all. Behaviour can become automatic – we think, we feel, we act. When this happens, behaviour plays out unchecked. The more awareness you have around what you do, the more you’ll be able to inform your behaviour and act to effectively meet your needs.

  3.  Take Responsibility (Response-Ability).

    This isn’t easy but honestly, it makes such a difference. Your emotions and behaviour are yours to control. They come from you and only you can change them, if you want to. You can’t change what other people do, but you can change how you respond. You might feel sad or angry in response to something someone does, but what you do with that sadness and anger, and how long you hang on to it for, is up to you. We have so much power over our lives. The difficult part is realising it and being brave and bold enough to use that power to act deliberately. It’s not always easy, but it’s always the best way to look after ourselves.

  4. Respond, rather than react.

    Reacting happens automatically. There’s a thought (‘I’m fat’) that automatically brings up a feeling (‘shame’) which automatically prompts behaviour (‘eating/ snarling at someone close to you’) in such a way as to get distract from the emotion and to feel better. 

    Responding, on the other hand, involves slowing the process down enough to notice the thought or the feeling. Then, with full awareness of what’s happening inside you (‘I’m feeling guilty because I haven’t exercised for a while’) you make a deliberate decision on how to behave (‘I’ll go for a walk’). 

    Being able to slow down enough to get a clearer picture of what’s going on for you always leads to a response that is more likely to get you what you need. It keeps relationships intact, stops you from saying ‘yes’ when you mean ‘no’, and stops your emotions running your life. It also builds your capacity to be assertive by allowing you to sensitively share what you’re feeling or thinking with the right people at the right time in a way that you can be heard and get what you need.

  5. Be Empathic – With Yourself and Others

    Empathy is about reading people and situations, understanding why people the way they do and letting them know that you understand. This is the cornerstone of healthy relationships. When people feel noticed, they will naturally feel closer to you. Showing empathy isn’t always easy. Sometimes it involves putting your own thoughts and feelings aside for a moment to stop them from blurring your view. 

  6. Connect to Others. And Make it Easy For Them to Connect With You

    Show interest in other people and be open to connecting with them on a level that’s deeper than how interesting the menu is. This doesn’t mean you need to be outgoing and extroverted – not at all. Shy people often have an enormous amount of emotional intelligence because they are so empathic and think before they speak or act. Emotional intelligence means that you make the effort to read the person and act in such a way as to encourage the connection. Often it’s just about being interested in them or their story. You don’t need to be profound, witty or the life of the party. You just need to be open, responsive and curious.

  7. Anger never exists on it’s own. Understand what’s behind yours.

    Anger always comes from another emotion. Some of the common culprits are shame, insecurity, grief or jealousy. If you’re angry, pay attention what you’re feeling and the thoughts that are going alongside it. There will always be something else there, but it can take time and patience to flesh it out.

  8. Thoughts, feelings and behaviour aren’t a package deal. 

    Thoughts and feelings can drive behaviour automatically. Emotional intelligence means having the capacity to think and feel one way, but act in another way – generally a way that is more socially appropriate and more likely to make you heard, seen and satisfied.

  9. And if you have kids

    .  Build an emotional vocabulary by talking about your own feelings. 

    .  If they are angry, talk to them to try to flesh out the feeling underneath so they can get used to paying attention to their thoughts and emotions. 

    .  Model a healthy way to express your feelings. It’s good for your kids to see that you sometimes get sad, disappointed, jealous or anything else we humans experience from time to time.  Just don’t overwhelm them and don’t look to them for support. They still need to know you’re their rock and that you’re okay. 

Emotional intelligence is a way of relating to the world and the people in it with sensitivity and honesty. The  more we have, the more we’ll thrive. We won’t be able to help it.

3 Comments

Amelie

Thank you for this great article 🙂
I´d love more of this ! It can make you feel so dumb when your partner or friend seems to understand you and the people around you so much better than you do. When I was a teenager my dad told me he was worried about me going out into this world because I was lacking “sensors” for whats actually going on… I feel like I got a lot better already but sometimes people still tell me they think I am easy to manipulate which feels very troubling…
Hoping with articles like this I can teach myself how to be more emotionally clever 🙂

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Anxiety is a sign that the brain has registered threat and is mobilising the body to get to safety. One of the ways it does this is by organising the body for movement - to fight the danger or flee the danger. 

If there is no need or no opportunity for movement, that fight or flight fuel will still be looking for expression. This can come out as wriggly, fidgety, hyperactive behaviour. This is why any of us might pace or struggle to sit still when we’re anxious. 

If kids or teens are bouncing around, wriggling in their chairs, or having trouble sitting still, it could be anxiety. Remember with anxiety, it’s not about what is actually safe but about what the brain perceives. New or challenging work, doing something unfamiliar, too much going on, a tired or hungry body, anything that comes with any chance of judgement, failure, humiliation can all throw the brain into fight or flight.

When this happens, the body might feel busy, activated, restless. This in itself can drive even more anxiety in kids or teens. Any of us can struggle when we don’t feel comfortable in our own bodies. 

Anxiety is energy with nowhere to go. To move through anxiety, give the energy somewhere to go - a fast walk, a run, a whole-body shake, hula hooping, kicking a ball - any movement that spends the energy will help bring the brain and body back to calm.♥️
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#parenting #anxietyinkids #childanxiety #parenting #parent
This is not bad behaviour. It’s big behaviour a from a brain that has registered threat and is working hard to feel safe again. 

‘Threat’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what the brain perceives. The brain can perceive threat when there is any chance missing out on or messing up something important, anything that feels unfamiliar, hard, or challenging, feeling misunderstood, thinking you might be angry or disappointed with them, being separated from you, being hungry or tired, anything that pushes against their sensory needs - so many things. 

During anxiety, the amygdala in the brain is switched to high volume, so other big feelings will be too. This might look like tears, sadness, or anger. 

Big feelings have a good reason for being there. The amygdala has the very important job of keeping us safe, and it does this beautifully, but not always with grace. One of the ways the amygdala keeps us safe is by calling on big feelings to recruit social support. When big feelings happen, people notice. They might not always notice the way we want to be noticed, but we are noticed. This increases our chances of safety. 

Of course, kids and teens still need our guidance and leadership and the conversations that grow them, but not during the emotional storm. They just won’t hear you anyway because their brain is too busy trying to get back to safety. In that moment, they don’t want to be fixed or ‘grown’. They want to feel seen, safe and heard. 

During the storm, preserve your connection with them as much as you can. You might not always be able to do this, and that’s okay. None of this is about perfection. If you have a rupture, repair it as soon as you can. Then, when their brains and bodies come back to calm, this is the time for the conversations that will grow them. 

Rather than, ‘What consequences do they need to do better?’, shift to, ‘What support do they need to do better?’ The greatest support will come from you in a way they can receive: ‘What happened?’ ‘What can you do differently next time?’ ‘You’re the most wonderful kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen. How can you put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
Big behaviour is a sign of a nervous system in distress. Before anything, that vulnerable nervous system needs to be brought back home to felt safety. 

This will happen most powerfully with relationship and connection. Breathe and be with. Let them know you get it. This can happen with words or nonverbals. It’s about feeling what they feel, but staying regulated.

If they want space, give them space but stay in emotional proximity, ‘Ok I’m just going to stay over here. I’m right here if you need.’

If they’re using spicy words to make sure there is no confusion about how they feel about you right now, flag the behaviour, then make your intent clear, ‘I know how upset you are and I want to understand more about what’s happening for you. I’m not going to do this while you’re speaking to me like this. You can still be mad, but you need to be respectful. I’m here for you.’

Think of how you would respond if a friend was telling you about something that upset her. You wouldn’t tell her to calm down, or try to fix her (she’s not broken), or talk to her about her behaviour. You would just be there. You would ‘drop an anchor’ and steady those rough seas around her until she feels okay enough again. Along the way you would be doing things that let her know your intent to support her. You’d do this with you facial expressions, your voice, your body, your posture. You’d feel her feels, and she’d feel you ‘getting her’. It’s about letting her know that you understand what she’s feeling, even if you don’t understand why (or agree with why). 

It’s the same for our children. As their important big people, they also need leadership. The time for this is after the storm has passed, when their brains and bodies feel safe and calm. Because of your relationship, connection and their felt sense of safety, you will have access to their ‘thinking brain’. This is the time for those meaningful conversations: 
- ‘What happened?’
- ‘What did I do that helped/ didn’t help?’
- ‘What can you do differently next time?’
- ‘You’re a great kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen, but here we are. What can you do to put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
As children grow, and especially by adolescence, we have the illusion of control but whether or not we have any real influence will be up to them. The temptation to control our children will always come from a place of love. Fear will likely have a heavy hand in there too. When they fall, we’ll feel it. Sometimes it will feel like an ache in our core. Sometimes it will feel like failure or guilt, or anger. We might wish we could have stopped them, pushed a little harder, warned a little bigger, stood a little closer. We’re parents and we’re human and it’s what this parenting thing does. It makes fear and anxiety billow around us like lost smoke, too easily.

Remember, they want you to be proud of them, and they want to do the right thing. When they feel your curiosity over judgement, and the safety of you over shame, it will be easier for them to open up to you. Nobody will guide them better than you because nobody will care more about where they land. They know this, but the magic happens when they also know that you are safe and that you will hold them, their needs, their opinions and feelings with strong, gentle, loving hands, no matter what.♥️
Anger is the ‘fight’ part of the fight or flight response. It has important work to do. Anger never exists on its own. It exists to hold other more vulnerable emotions in a way that feels safer. It’s sometimes feels easier, safer, more acceptable, stronger to feel the ‘big’ that comes with anger, than the vulnerability that comes with anxiety, sadness, loneliness. This isn’t deliberate. It’s just another way our bodies and brains try to keep us safe. 

The problem isn’t the anger. The problem is the behaviour that can come with the anger. Let there be no limits on thoughts and feelings, only behaviour. When children are angry, as long as they are safe and others are safe, we don’t need to fix their anger. They aren’t broken. Instead, drop the anchor: as much as you can - and this won’t always be easy - be a calm, steadying, loving presence to help bring their nervous systems back home to calm. 

Then, when they are truly calm, and with love and leadership, have the conversations that will grow them - 
- What happened? 
- What can you do differently next time?
- You’re a really great kid. I know you didn’t want this to happen but here we are. How can you make things right. Would you like some ideas? Do you need some help with that?
- What did I do that helped? What did I do that didn’t help? Is there something that might feel more helpful next time?

When their behaviour falls short of ‘adorable’, rather than asking ‘What consequences they need to do better?’ let the question be, ‘What support do they need to do better.’ Often, the biggest support will be a conversation with you, and that will be enough.♥️
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#parenting #positiveparenting #mindfulparenting #anxietyinkids

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