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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Growth doesn’t always announce itself in ways that feel safe or invited. Often, it can leave us exhausted and confused and with dirt in our pores from the fury of the battle. It is this way for all of us, our children too. 

The truth of it all is that we are all born with a profound and immense capacity to rise through challenges, changes and heartache. There is something else we are born with too, and it is the capacity to add softness, strength, and safety for each other when the movement towards growth feels too big. Not always by finding the answer, but by being it - just by being - safe, warm, vulnerable, real. As it turns out, sometimes, this is the richest source of growth for all of us.
When the world feel sunsettled, the ripple can reach the hearts, minds and spirits of kids and teens whether or not they are directly affected. As the important adult in the life of any child or teen, you have a profound capacity to give them what they need to steady their world again.

When their fears are really big, such as the death of a parent, being alone in the world, being separated from people they love, children might put this into something else. 

This can also happen because they can’t always articulate the fear. Emotional ‘experiences’ don’t lay in the brain as words, they lay down as images and sensory experiences. This is why smells and sounds can trigger anxiety, even if they aren’t connected to a scary experience. The ‘experiences’ also don’t need to be theirs. Hearing ‘about’ is enough.

The content of the fear might seem irrational but the feeling will be valid. Think of it as the feeling being the part that needs you. Their anxiety, sadness, anger (which happens to hold down other more vulnerable emotions) needs to be seen, held, contained and soothed, so they can feel safe again - and you have so much power to make that happen. 

‘I can see how worried you are. There are some big things happening in the world at the moment, but my darling, you are safe. I promise. You are so safe.’ 

If they have been through something big, the truth is that they have been through something frightening AND they are safe, ‘We’re going through some big things and it can be confusing and scary. We’ll get through this. It’s okay to feel scared or sad or angry. Whatever you feel is okay, and I’m here and I love you and we are safe. We can get through anything together.’
I love being a parent. I love it with every part of my being and more than I ever thought I could love anything. Honestly though, nothing has brought out my insecurities or vulnerabilities as much. This is so normal. Confusing, and normal. 

However many children we have, and whatever age they are, each child and each new stage will bring something new for us to learn. It will always be this way. Our children will each do life differently, and along the way we will need to adapt and bend ourselves around their path to light their way as best we can. But we won't do this perfectly, because we can't always know what mountains they'll need to climb, or what dragons they'll need to slay. We won't always know what they’ll need, and we won't always be able to give it. We don't need to. But we'll want to. Sometimes we’ll ache because of this and we’ll blame ourselves for not being ‘enough’. Sometimes we won't. This is the vulnerability that comes with parenting. 

We love them so much, and that never changes, but the way we feel about parenting might change a thousand times before breakfast. Parenting is tough. It's worth every second - every second - but it's tough. Great parents can feel everything, and sometimes it can turn from moment to moment - loving, furious, resentful, compassionate, gentle, tough, joyful, selfish, confused and wise - all of it. Great parents can feel all of it.

Because parenting is pure joy, but not always. We are strong, nurturing, selfless, loving, but not always. Parents aren't perfect. Love isn't perfect. And it was meant to be. We’re raising humans - real ones, with feelings, who don't need to be perfect, and wont  need others to be perfect. Humans who can be kind to others, and to themselves first. But they will learn this from us. Parenting is the role which needs us to be our most human, beautifully imperfect, flawed, vulnerable selves. Let's not judge ourselves for our shortcomings and the imperfections, and the necessary human-ness of us.❤️
The behaviour that comes with separation anxiety is the symptom not the problem. To strengthen children against separation anxiety, we have to respond at the source – the felt sense of separation from you.

Whenever there is separation from an attachment person, there will be always be anxiety unless there is at least one of 2 things: attachment with another trusted, adult; or a felt sense of you holding on to them, even when you aren’t beside them. 

If separation is the problem, connection has to be the solution. The connection can be with any loving adult, but it needs more than an adult being present. Just because there is another adult in the room, doesn’t mean your child will experience a deep sense of safety with that adult. This doesn’t mean the adult isn’t safe - it’s about what the brain perceives, and that brain is looking for a deep, felt sense of safety. This will come from the presence of an adult who, through their strong, loving presence, shows the child their abundant intention to care for them, and their joy in doing so. The joy in caretaking is important. It lets the child rest from seeking the adult’s care because there will be a sense that the adult wants it enough for both.

This can be helped along by showing your young one that you trust the adult to love and care for your child and keep him or her safe in your absence: ‘I know [important adult] loves you and is going to take such good care of you.’ This doesn’t mean children will instantly feel the attachment, but the path towards that will be more illuminated.

To help them feel you holding on even when you aren’t with them, let them know you’ll be thinking of them and can’t wait to be with them again. I used to tell my daughter that every 15 seconds, my mind makes sure it knows where she is. Think of this as ‘taking over’ their worry. ‘You don’t have to worry about you or me because I’m taking care of both of us – every 15 seconds.’ This might also look like giving them something of yours to hold on to while you’re gone – a scarf, a note. You will always be their favourite way to safety, but you can’t be everywhere. Another loving adult or the felt presence of you will help them rest.
Sometimes it can be hard to know what to say or whether to say anything at all. It doesn’t matter if the ‘right’ words aren’t there, because often there no right words. There are also no wrong ones. Often it’s not even about the words. Your presence, your attention, the sound of your voice - they all help to soften the hard edges of the world. Humans have been talking for as long as we’ve had heartbeats and there’s a reason for this. Talking heals. 

It helps to connect the emotional right brain with the logical left. This gives context and shape to feelings and helps them feel contained, which lets those feelings soften. 

You don’t need to fix anything and you don’t need to have all the answers. Even if the words land differently to the way you expected, you can clean it up once it’s out there. What’s important is opening the space for conversation, which opens the way to you. Try, ‘I’m wondering how you’re doing with everything. Would you like to talk?’ 

And let them take the lead. Some days they’ll want to talk about ‘it’ and some days they’ll want to talk about anything but. Whether it’s to distract from the mess of it all or to go deeper into it so they can carve their way through the feeling to the calm on the other side, healing will come. So ask, ‘Do you want to talk about ‘it’ or do you want to talk about something else? Because I’m here for both.’ ♥️
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