“Anyone can become angry – that is easy, but to be angry with the right person at the right time, and for the right purpose and in the right way – that is not within everyone’s power and that is not easy.”
This quotation by Aristotle, all the way back in 350 BC, touches on the discernment needed for emotional intelligence. Emotions are a part of the human nature, though for many people emotions can be difficult to manage. They come on quick and can be intense. Think of time when your temper got you in trouble? Or a time when you were overwhelmed with stress and anxiety? We’ve all been at the place where our emotions get the best of us, and when this happens we often end up paying for it through physical health problems, relationship conflict, or overall poor decision making. Emotions aren’t something we can eliminate, and ultimately we wouldn’t want to. Productive emotional states are essential to our life success. Some literature estimates that emotional intelligence is responsible for up to 85% of our success in the workplace. The trick is not eliminating emotions but learning to harness them most productively. For instance, a moderate amount of stress and anxiety is crucial for motivating us to make change and achieve goals. Though, when we lose our self-control, these emotions can be disabling, overwhelming, and ultimately lead us to break down. This is where emotional intelligence comes into the picture. Instead of emotions getting in the way they can be quite adaptive and helpful for achieving what we desire. We can become a more effective communicator, deal with social relationships, such as family, friends, and coworkers, and become a better leader, solve problems, and behave in a way we are proud of. According to Daniel Goleman, Emotional intelligence is, “The capacity for recognizing our own feelings and those of others, for motivating ourselves, and for managing emotions well in ourselves and in our relationships.” For this post, we’re going to explore the first two components. Recognizing and identifying our own feelings and regulating these feelings to get optimal results.
How to gain greater self-awareness
Feel your emotions physically – What changes in your body do you recognize? Maybe you notice your heart rate increasing, tension in your muscles, or a queasy stomach. Being aware of these cues is a great starting point to identify emotions. Know your triggers – Start paying attention to what pushes your buttons. What people, places, or events tend to trigger distressing emotions? Keep a daily emotion journal – In order to notice your cues and triggers keep a journal of your emotions throughout the day. Note when you feel certain emotions, what you were doing, who you were with, and how intense the feeling was. Pay close attention when you’re under stress – A good place to get feedback on our cues, triggers, and symptoms of emotional distress is during highly emotional times. When your under stress begin paying close attention to how your emotions manifest. Get feedback from other – Often we don’t notice when emotions begin to take over our behavior. Having a buddy or partner point out when you’re talking negatively or when you’re starting to fall back into destructive patterns can be very helpful to gaining greater self-awareness.
How to regulate your feelings
Set goals for your emotions – After you have developed awareness of your feelings and behavior you can start to make changes in those areas causing problems. This is where feedback from others is crucial. It allows us to work on our weaknesses and develop in areas of life where we tend to struggle emotionally. Use peaceful imagery – If we’re not careful, strong emotions can send our mind racing out of control. We start to imagine and picture all the negative outcomes. Instead, go to a happy place. When tensions are high consider a scene in your mind that helps you relax, calm your nerves, and regain composure. You may imagine standing on a peaceful mountain range, floating in a clear blue ocean, or laughing with friends and family. Deep breathing – Using deep breathing is a wonderful way to calm the body and recenter ourselves when getting worked up. When difficult feelings emerge simply stop, close your eyes and picture a calming image, slowly breathe in the calming feelings, and breathe out the distressing feelings. Breathe in and out at least 10 times until you feel relax, refreshed, and centered. Take control of your self-talk – To change the way you feel change what you tell yourself. Most of our emotions come from internal triggers or how we interpret the situation or event. Make efforts to focus on the internal dialogue going on in your head. If it’s negative and upsetting, work to reframe your thoughts in a more positive way. Take care of you – Our physical health has a major impact on how we feel emotionally. Watch your hygiene and get ample sleep. To keep balance of your emotions watch your consumption of caffeine, drugs, and alcohol, and eat a well balanced diet. Make time to solve problems – We may not have control over everything in life, but for the things we can do something about using problem solving can eliminate much of the worry and stress in our life. Consider the problem, what solutions or options you have, and then weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each option before choosing. Put more leisure and fun into your daily routine – Sometimes we are so stressed or bummed about the way things are going we forget that laughter is a wonderful medicine. Finding more amusement and getting lost in entertainment and fun can really help us let go of emotional struggles. Find time to do things you enjoy and be less serious.
Cultivate more positive emotions
From the moment we awake every morning, we have a choice to enjoy the day, be motivated, and engage fully in life. One way to help break the cycle of dysfunctional negative emotions is to begin fostering greater positivity. Actively seeking ways to use positive emotions to cope with negative moods helps repair our mood and improve overall thinking and responses. In a previous post I discuss a few strategies to trigger positivity that may be useful for this endeavor. Emotions are the foundation of who we are, they are an innate faculty meant for our survival. We all have the capability to experience positive and negative emotions, and learning to regulate these feelings in order to produce the best response is the key to emotional intelligence. When have your emotions got the best of you? How did you handle it and what did you learn? How do you manage your emotions? What strategies work best for you? Photo credit: Arwen Abendstern