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How to Improve Your Emotional Intelligence

How smart are you?

Emotionally, I mean. I’m talking about emotional intelligence (EI). EI is our ability to observe, manage and express our internal experience, our emotions.

If you’re human, then you experience all kinds of emotions. You’re going to feel anger, sadness, anxiety, happiness and a whole bunch of other emotions depending on the situation. There’s no point in trying to stuff your emotions down or try to ignore them. They’ll just leak out at an inopportune time.

Your emotions are your brain's way of planning a strategy for dealing with a situation. Big, intense situations trigger big, intense emotions. Your brain’s goal is to have a quick way of dealing with these situations by triggering your emotions.

Over your lifetime, you’ve developed a pattern of behaviors in response to certain emotions. Maybe you cry when you’re filled with joy. Maybe you run away when you're anxious or scared.

Your brain’s job is to protect the organism that it lives in, you. This means that in every situation, your brain will find the pattern and trigger the appropriate emotions (based on past experiences) to lead to a predictable, safe outcome.

Your emotions are normal

It’s healthy and normal to experience a wide range of emotions. Emotions are an important way for our brains to keep us safe and to keep us connected to other people. However, sometimes, your emotions can feel really intense. The challenge is in knowing what to do with your emotions when they show up.

While it’s normal to experience emotions, even “negative” ones, you want to be in control of your emotions, rather than your emotions controlling you.

Controlling your emotions begin with noticing them when they arise. After noticing that you’re experiencing an emotion, name it (anger, sadness, joy etc.) and acknowledge that it’s there.

Emotions are automatic messages preparing you to respond to a situation. But, you get to decide how to respond to the message.

Try holding that emotion before responding to it. By just allowing your emotions to be present, you give your brain a chance to think about what the emotion means and what you want to do about it.

Your emotions are temporary

Think about the last time that you were really scared. Are you still experiencing that same level of fear right now? Probably not. In fact, I hope that the fear you experienced during that situation has completely disappeared.

Over time, our emotions lessen. This doesn’t make them any less intense when they are present, but the intensity and the emotion itself will fade over time. Understanding and trusting the natural life cycle of an emotion is an important part of managing your emotions.

You can picture your emotions like waves crashing on the shore. They can be quite large and violent for a period, but if you can hold steady, eventually the tide recedes.

Understanding and trusting the natural life cycle of an emotion is an important part of managing your emotions.

Your emotions are not in charge.

Believe it or not, you’re in charge of your emotions. No matter how big they get, you get to decide what to do about them. Often, your emotions will try to take over the wheel and steer you in a certain direction. When intense, negative emotions try to take over, you might be steered to get away from the thing making you feel this way as quickly as possible.

For example, anxiety believes its job is to get you out of situations as quickly as possible. However, this might not always be helpful to you. When you’re standing on a stage about to give a presentation, your anxiety may be screaming, “Hey you, what are you doing? High tale it to the nearest exit as quickly as possible!”

However, if you can notice, name and hold your anxiety, it will eventually quiet down. You can thank your brain for the warning. “Yes, thank you brain. This feels really scary. But running away means that I’ll miss a chance to share something that I’m really excited and knowledgeable about with this group. So, I’ll just stay here.” In the process you will have grown, doing something hard while flexing your emotional management muscles.

The great news is that even though emotions are part of being human, you don’t have to be controlled by your emotions. With some awareness, self-compassion and patience, you can increase you EI as you thank your emotions for their service and then respond to each situation in a way that best serves you and those around you.


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