An insight into how understanding our instincts can help us better understand ourselves by Tania Kazi.
In the 1990s, Dr Dan Goleman published a book called Emotional Intelligence. He wrote that having a high emotional quotient (EQ) is almost more important than having a high intelligence quotient (IQ). Through this book he introduced us to the concept of understanding our emotions so that we can achieve success in all areas of life.
It’s our emotional intelligence that allows us to understand our instinctive feelings and through that knowledge we can understand those of others. It also allows us to label our emotions as well as express and regulate them, according to Yale University’s Marc Brackett.
Since a large part of this human experience of living has emotions at its very centre, understanding emotions helps us not only understand ourselves, but also helps us achieve better relationships. That helps us make sense of our upheavals and stressful circumstances. Simply put, emotional intelligence means having the ability to develop awareness of our emotions, their sometimes cyclical patterns, and with that knowledge express ourselves more efficiently. It is that clarity that helps us build stronger bridges to others through our communication.
It is a scientific fact that our emotions precede our thoughts. When emotions are activated and run high, they can affect the outcome of any situation. If they are of a profound nature, they can interfere with our cognitive ability and even momentarily impair our logical side. Therefore, emotional intelligence not only helps us in our own lives but also when we communicate or work with others, in a personal or professional capacity.
Awareness of our emotions helps us map our own emotional journey, which in turn helps us manage our own feelings and responses. Once we become aware of the peaks and troughs of what triggers us, we are then able to make the connection between emotions and thoughts.
Empathy is another gift of a refined emotional intellect. Awareness of our own emotions and how to manage them teaches us how to empathise with others. Emotionally intelligent people are very sharp at picking up social cues — by ‘reading the room’, they can make others feel at ease.
One way to develop emotional intelligence is to be cognisant of the emotion you are presently experiencing and trace it back to what caused it. If you feel happy in the present moment, what are the circumstances or events that preceded this emotion? Similarly, if you feel unhappy or agitated, awareness of its roots helps you understand and create a map of your emotions. A simple key to this is indulging in some self reflection. A few moments spent with yourself to identify the cause of an emotion you are experiencing will help you make the connection.
This connection is pivotal, in order to create the space that is useful between action and reaction. When you give yourself room to self-reflect and see the root cause of an emotion, you start to become aware of the fact that you have a choice. And that choice means not responding to a stimulus from a place of emotional impulse, rather taking this time to think things through and respond carefully and not impulsively. If, for example, you receive a triggering text message, being cognisant of its emotional effect on you will ensure you won’t respond to it in the heat of the moment — rather ,you will sleep on it and respond with a clearer mind the following day. Giving yourself this space is integral to sharpening your emotional intellect.
The space that self reflection affords us puts us back in control of a situation. That way, we do not end up taking an emotional decision that may have permanent repercussions. Instead, we create the space and awareness to respond in a way that is in keeping with our desired goals and ambitions. It also allows us to really tune in to the elements in our lives that are uplifting and understand those that are not. If we know how someone or something affects our emotional world, this understanding empowers us to make decisions on who or what we want to be near, and who we should distance ourselves from.
“Some people think of emotional intelligence as a soft skill or the ability or the tendency to be nice,” says Robin Stern, associate director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. “It’s really about understanding what is going on for you in the moment so that you can make conscious choices about how you want to use your emotions and how you want to manage yourself and how you want to be seen in the world.”
Simple ways to start expanding your emotional intelligence would be to make the space, to observe, to give yourself time before responding. And to start becoming cognisant of how you feel and what caused the feeling? It is in exploring our own emotional world that we can begin to read into the emotional world of another.