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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‘Brave’ doesn’t always feel like certain, or strong, or ready. In fact, it rarely does. That what makes it brave.♥️
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#parenting #mindfulparenting #parentingtips
We teach our kids to respect adults and other children, and they should – respect is an important part of growing up to be a pretty great human. There’s something else though that’s even more important – teaching them to respect themselves first. 

We can’t stop difficult people coming into their lives. They might be teachers, coaches, peers, and eventually, colleagues, or perhaps people connected to the people who love them. What we can do though is give our kids independence of mind and permission to recognise that person and their behaviour as unacceptable to them. We can teach our kids that being kind and respectful doesn’t necessarily mean accepting someone’s behaviour, beliefs or influence. 

The kindness and respect we teach our children to show to others should never be used against them by those broken others who might do harm. We have to recognise as adults that the words and attitudes directed to our children can be just as damaging as anything physical. 

If the behaviour is from an adult, it’s up to us to guard our child’s safe space in the world even harder. That might be by withdrawing support for the adult, using our own voice with the adult to elevate our child’s, asking our child what they need and how we can help, helping them find their voice, withdrawing them from the environment. 

Of course there will be times our children do or say things that aren’t okay, but this never makes it okay for any adult in your child’s life to treat them in a way that leads them to feeling ‘less than’.

Sometimes the difficult person will be a peer. There is no ‘one certain way’ to deal with this. Sometimes it will involve mediation, role playing responses, clarifying the other child’s behaviour, asking for support from other adults in the environment, or letting go of the friendship.

Learning that it’s okay to let go of relationships is such an important part of full living. Too often we hold on to people who don’t deserve us. Not everyone who comes into our lives is meant to stay and if we can help our children start to think about this when they’re young, they’ll be so much more empowered and deliberate in their relationships when they’re older.♥️
When we are angry, there will always be another emotion underneath it. It is this way for all of us. 

Anger itself is a valid emotion so it’s important not to dismiss it. Emotion is e-motion - energy in motion. It has to find a way out, which is why telling an angry child to calm down or to keep their bodies still will only make things worse for them. They might comply, but their bodies will still be in a state of distress. 

Often, beneath an angry child is an anxious one needing our help. It’s the ‘fight’ part of the fight or flight response. As with all emotions, anger has a job to do - to help us to safety through movement, or to recruit support, or to give us the physical resources to meet a need or to change something that needs changing. It doesn’t mean it does the job well, because an angry brain means the feeling brain has the baton, while the thinking brain sits out for a while. What it means is that there is a valid need there and this young person is doing their very best to meet it, given their available resources in the moment or their developmental stage. 

Children need the same thing we all need when we’re feeling fierce - to be seen,  heard, and supported; to find a way to get the energy out, either with words or movement. Not to be shut down or ‘fixed’. 

Our job isn’t to stop their anger, but to help them find ways to feel it and express it in ways that don’t do damage. This will take lots of experience, and lots of time - and that’s okay.♥️
The SCCR Online Conference 2021 is a wonderful initiative by @sccrcentre (Scottish Centre for Conflict Resolution) which will explore ’The Power of Reconnection’. I’ve been working with SCCR for many years. They do incredible work to build relationships between young people and the important adults around them, and I’m excited to be working with them again as part of this conference.

More than ever, relationships matter. They heal, provide a buffer against stress, and make the world feel a little softer and safer for our young people. Building meaningful connections can take time, and even the strongest relationships can feel the effects of disconnection from time to time. As part of this free webinar, I’ll be talking about the power of attachment relationships, and ways to build relationships with the children and teens in your life that protect, strengthen, and heal. 

The workshop will be on Monday 11 October at 7pm Brisbane, Australia time (10am Scotland time). The link to register is in my story.
There are many things that can send a nervous system into distress. These can include physiological (tired, hungry, unwell), sensory overload/ underload, real or perceived threat (anxiety), stressed resources (having to share, pay attention, learn new things, putting a lid on what they really think or want - the things that can send any of us to the end of ourselves).

Most of the time it’s developmental - the grown up brain is being built and still has a way to go. Like all beautiful, strong, important things, brains take time to build. The part of the brain that has a heavy hand in regulation launches into its big developmental window when kids are about 6 years old. It won’t be fully done developing until mid-late 20s. This is a great thing - it means we have a wide window of influence, and there is no hurry.

Like any building work, on the way to completion things will get messy sometimes - and that’s okay. It’s not a reflection of your young one and it’s not a reflection of your parenting. It’s a reflection of a brain in the midst of a build. It’s wondrous and fascinating and frustrating and maddening - it’s all the things.

The messy times are part of their development, not glitches in it. They are how it’s meant to be. They are important opportunities for us to influence their growth. It’s just how it happens. We have to be careful not to judge our children or ourselves because of these messy times, or let the judgement of others fill the space where love, curiosity, and gentle guidance should be. For sure, some days this will be easy, and some days it will feel harder - like splitting an atom with an axe kind of hard.

Their growth will always be best nurtured in the calm, loving space beside us. It won’t happen through punishment, ever. Consequences have a place if they make sense and are delivered in a way that doesn’t shame or separate them from us, either physically or emotionally. The best ‘consequence’ is the conversation with you in a space that is held by your warm loving strong presence, in a way that makes it safe for both of you to be curious, explore options, and understand what happened.♥️
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#mindfulparenting #positiveparenting #parenting

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