Emotional intelligence is by far the most beneficial soft-skill I’ve ever learned, practiced, coached, and witnessed. The rewards (some subtle, some profound) I’ve experienced are personal, interpersonal, professional, and social: improved mental health, confidence, work performance, decision making, resilience, stress management, listening, understanding, and relationships.
I grew up in an action-oriented environment that didn’t often focus on my emotional reaction or how I felt about something that happened but rather on what I was going to do about what had happened. I did not develop the skill of managing my emotions, let alone naming them, because I never much engaged with them. They didn’t have a place in solving problems, accomplishing goals, or doing what needed to be done. And this worked for me right up until the moment it didn’t. Code word: emotional breakdown.
There came a point in my life when I had to face my emotions, actually see them, name them, deal with them, and consider them before I could move to action that was healthy, helpful, and productive because my inability to do so left me in turns emotionally paralyzed or eruptive.
The first intellectual leap I had to make was learning, accepting, and understanding that emotions are not separate from our thinking. They are vital to and inform thinking and discernment, enhance decision making, establish boundaries, and guide behavior.
Although there are many models of emotional intelligence, broadly speaking they all consist of two focal areas (self/other) with two core competencies (awareness/management):
- Personal competence: Emotional self-awareness and self-management
- Social competence: Social awareness and relationship management
This week, let’s focus on the personal competence of emotional self-awareness. In particular, naming your emotional experiences throughout the week.
So why is naming an emotion so important? Our limbic brain (where emotion is first processed) is built to react, not to respond. The simple (though not easy) act of naming an emotion engages your upper cognitive brain, bringing a sense of control over the limbic brain and the emotional impulse rather than it controlling us. Any time you mindfully bring your intellect to a situation you shift from automatic, reactionary thinking (default mode) to intentional, responsive thinking.
My first step towards emotional intelligence was to become aware of my emotions when they were happening, to name them, and to identify the trigger. I did this type of journaling daily (sometimes hourly) for weeks until I began to understand what anger, sadness, frustration, disappointment, fear, looked and felt like for me, as well as the thoughts, situations, and people that triggered them. Each day I did this I experienced myself differently. I felt both softer and more vulnerable, but also stronger and more in control. I felt trapped by my own emotional reactions and thinking, but also liberated in the realization that I had a say in both.
The key is to learn to engage your emotions thoughtfully, to listen and believe them as well as see the traps they can lay, to use them to inform decision making and action planning, and yeah, to recognize when it’s time to have a good cry.
Ready to try for yourself? Below are five questions to guide you in a similar activity.:
1. What percent of my day am I aware of my emotions?
2. What emotions do I experience most often throughout an average day or week? Use Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions in the graphic below to build up your emotional vocabulary.
Photo credit to Machine Elf 1735: Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions
3. What things, situations, or people cause those emotions?
4. When faced with those things, situations, or people, what thought hooks me? In
other words, what stories am I telling myself?
5. Do I more often a) indulge, b) deny, or c) recognize and accept these emotions?
Check out my feed on Instagram @plenumcoaching for quotes, affirmations, and journal prompts.
Want to discover how you can cultivate yourself self and your relationships by getting clear on your thinking, values, beliefs, and goals so that you can commit to meaningful actions that move you toward where and who you want to be? Well, you’re in the right place because as a coach, that’s what I do!
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I look forward to hearing from you!