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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Big feelings, and the big behaviour that comes from big feelings, are a sign of a distressed nervous system. Think of this like a burning building. The behaviour is the smoke. The fire is a distressed nervous system. It’s so tempting to respond directly to the behaviour (the smoke), but by doing this, we ignore the fire. Their behaviour and feelings in that moment are a call for support - for us to help that distressed brain and body find the way home. 

The most powerful language for any nervous system is another nervous system. They will catch our distress (as we will catch theirs) but they will also catch our calm. It can be tempting to move them to independence on this too quickly, but it just doesn’t work this way. Children can only learn to self-regulate with lots (and lots and lots) of experience co-regulating. 

This isn’t something that can be taught. It’s something that has to be experienced over and over. It’s like so many things - driving a car, playing the piano - we can talk all we want about ‘how’ but it’s not until we ‘do’ over and over that we get better at it. 

Self-regulation works the same way. It’s not until children have repeated experiences with an adult bringing them back to calm, that they develop the neural pathways to come back to calm on their own. 

An important part of this is making sure we are guiding that nervous system with tender, gentle hands and a steady heart. This is where our own self-regulation becomes important. Our nervous systems speak to each other every moment of every day. When our children or teens are distressed, we will start to feel that distress. It becomes a loop. We feel what they feel, they feel what we feel. Our own capacity to self-regulate is the circuit breaker. 

This can be so tough, but it can happen in microbreaks. A few strong steady breaths can calm our own nervous system, which we can then use to calm theirs. Breathe, and be with. It’s that simple, but so tough to do some days. When they come back to calm, then have those transformational chats - What happened? What can make it easier next time?

Who you are in the moment will always be more important than what you do.
How we are with them, when they are their everyday selves and when they aren’t so adorable, will build their view of three things: the world, its people, and themselves. This will then inform how they respond to the world and how they build their very important space in it. 

Will it be a loving, warm, open-hearted space with lots of doors for them to throw open to the people and experiences that are right for them? Or will it be a space with solid, too high walls that close out too many of the people and experiences that would nourish them.

They will learn from what we do with them and to them, for better or worse. We don’t teach them that the world is safe for them to reach into - we show them. We don’t teach them to be kind, respectful, and compassionate. We show them. We don’t teach them that they matter, and that other people matter, and that their voices and their opinions matter. We show them. We don’t teach them that they are little joy mongers who light up the world. We show them. 

But we have to be radically kind with ourselves too. None of this is about perfection. Parenting is hard, and days will be hard, and on too many of those days we’ll be hard too. That’s okay. We’ll say things we shouldn’t say and do things we shouldn’t do. We’re human too. Let’s not put pressure on our kiddos to be perfect by pretending that we are. As long as we repair the ruptures as soon as we can, and bathe them in love and the warmth of us as much as we can, they will be okay.

This also isn’t about not having boundaries. We need to be the guardians of their world and show them where the edges are. But in the guarding of those boundaries we can be strong and loving, strong and gentle. We can love them, and redirect their behaviour.

It’s when we own our stuff(ups) and when we let them see us fall and rise with strength, integrity, and compassion, and when we hold them gently through the mess of it all, that they learn about humility, and vulnerability, and the importance of holding bruised hearts with tender hands. It’s not about perfection, it’s about consistency, and honesty, and the way we respond to them the most.♥️

#parenting #mindfulparenting
Anxiety and courage always exist together. It can be no other way. Anxiety is a call to courage. It means you're about to do something brave, so when there is one the other will be there too. Their courage might feel so small and be whisper quiet, but it will always be there and always ready to show up when they need it to.
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But courage doesn’t always feel like courage, and it won't always show itself as a readiness. Instead, it might show as a rising - from fear, from uncertainty, from anger. None of these mean an absence of courage. They are the making of space, and the opportunity for courage to rise.
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When the noise from anxiety is loud and obtuse, we’ll have to gently add our voices to usher their courage into the light. We can do this speaking of it and to it, and by shifting the focus from their anxiety to their brave. The one we focus on is ultimately what will become powerful. It will be the one we energise. Anxiety will already have their focus, so we’ll need to make sure their courage has ours.
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But we have to speak to their fear as well, in a way that makes space for it to be held and soothed, with strength. Their fear has an important job to do - to recruit the support of someone who can help them feel safe. Only when their fear has been heard will it rest and make way for their brave.
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What does this look like? Tell them their stories of brave, but acknowledge the fear that made it tough. Stories help them process their emotional experiences in a safe way. It brings word to the feelings and helps those big feelings make sense and find containment. ‘You were really worried about that exam weren’t you. You couldn’t get to sleep the night before. It was tough going to school but you got up, you got dressed, you ... and you did it. Then you ...’
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In the moment, speak to their brave by first acknowledging their need to flee (or fight), then tell them what you know to be true - ‘This feels scary for you doesn’t it. I know you want to run. It makes so much sense that you would want to do that. I also know you can do hard things. My darling, I know it with everything in me.’
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#positiveparenting #parenting #childanxiety #anxietyinchildren #mindfulpare
Separation anxiety has an important job to do - it’s designed to keep children safe by driving them to stay close to their important adults. Gosh it can feel brutal sometimes though.

Whenever there is separation from an attachment person there will be anxiety unless there are two things: attachment with another trusted, loving adult; and a felt sense of you holding on, even when you aren't beside them. Putting these in place will help soften anxiety.

As long as children are are in the loving care of a trusted adult, there's no need to avoid separation. We'll need to remind ourselves of this so we can hold on to ourselves when our own anxiety is rising in response to theirs. 

If separation is the problem, connection has to be the solution. The connection can be with any loving adult, but it's more than an adult being present. It needs an adult who, through their strong, warm, loving presence, shows the child their abundant intention to care for that child, and their joy in doing so. This can be helped along by showing that you trust the adult to love that child big in our absence. 'I know [important adult] loves you and is going to take such good care of you.'

To help your young one feel held on to by you, even in absence, let them know you'll be thinking of them and can't wait to see them. Bolster this by giving them something of yours to hold while you're gone - a scarf, a note - anything that will be felt as 'you'.

They know you are the one who makes sure their world is safe, so they’ll be looking to you for signs of safety: 'Do you think we'll be okay if we aren't together?' First, validate: 'You really want to stay with me, don't you. I wish I could stay with you too! It's hard being away from your special people isn't it.' Then, be their brave. Let it be big enough to wrap around them so they can rest in the safety and strength of it: 'I know you can do this, love. We can do hard things can't we.'

Part of growing up brave is learning that the presence of anxiety doesn't always mean something is wrong. Sometimes it means they are on the edge of brave - and being away from you for a while counts as brave.
Even the most loving, emotionally available adult might feel frustration, anger, helplessness or distress in response to a child’s big feelings. This is how it’s meant to work. 

Their distress (fight/flight) will raise distress in us. The purpose is to move us to protect or support or them, but of course it doesn’t always work this way. When their big feelings recruit ours it can drive us more to fight (anger, blame), or to flee (avoid, ignore, separate them from us) which can steal our capacity to support them. It will happen to all of us from time to time. 

Kids and teens can’t learn to manage big feelings on their own until they’ve done it plenty of times with a calm, loving adult. This is where co-regulation comes in. It helps build the vital neural pathways between big feelings and calm. They can’t build those pathways on their own. 

It’s like driving a car. We can tell them how to drive as much as we like, but ‘talking about’ won’t mean they’re ready to hit the road by themselves. Instead we sit with them in the front seat for hours, driving ‘with’ until they can do it on their own. Feelings are the same. We feel ‘with’, over and over, until they can do it on their own. 

What can help is pausing for a moment to see the behaviour for what it is - a call for support. It’s NOT bad behaviour or bad parenting. It’s not that.

Our own feelings can give us a clue to what our children are feeling. It’s a normal, healthy, adaptive way for them to share an emotional load they weren’t meant to carry on their own. Self-regulation makes space for us to hold those feelings with them until those big feelings ease. 

Self-regulation can happen in micro moments. First, see the feelings or behaviour for what it is - a call for support. Then breathe. This will calm your nervous system, so you can calm theirs. In the same way we will catch their distress, they will also catch ours - but they can also catch our calm. Breathe, validate, and be ‘with’. And you don’t need to do more than that.

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