“Our feelings are not there to be cast out or conquered. They’re there to be engaged and expressed with imagination and intelligence.”
In the first blog about Emotional Intelligence (EI), we explored the first tenet of EI, self-awareness. We discussed the importance of recognizing our emotions during stressful times and practicing mindfulness to help us do so. We also began to discuss EI’s second tenet, managing our emotions, by identifying a few practical strategies to release stress in a healthy and productive way. In this blog we will look more closely at three primary contributors to managing our emotions: optimism, resilience, and motivation.
Being aware of our emotions is a critical first step in our pursuit of EI aptitude, but alone it will not get us where we want to go. Ultimately, our goal is to manage those emotions to promote stronger working relationships with others. The gap between what we are feeling and acting on those feelings is where we can fall apart. This gap requires focus and intention.
Let’s first look at what often becomes an obstacle for many of us in managing our emotions appropriately—getting stuck in our own story. In his book Emotional Intelligence: A Practical Guide, Dr. David Walton refers to this as rumination. We stay in the negative space, continuously ruminating on the negative experiences, feelings, and frustrations that prevent us from moving on. Our actions are often ruled by those ruminating emotions, which can manifest themselves as frustration, procrastination, or an overall inability to act.
There are tools and strategies we can use to get us through the ruminating phase. The first tool is a healthy dose of optimism. Positive psychology suggests that optimism is a key indicator of being adept at EI. Those who take an optimistic attitude rather than a pessimistic one deal with hardship more easily, adapt to situations more readily, and face problems more quickly. Optimism increases self-esteem, decreases depression and anxiety, and leads to higher levels of life satisfaction and happiness. It is also at the core of the next tool we can use—resilience.
Resilience is defined as the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; we can think of it as mental toughness. Optimism is a key ingredient of mental toughness. Believing “I will get through” helps us deal more effectively with the hardship we are facing. Being resilient is having the internal fortitude to not let our current situation and the emotions tied to it determine how we will treat ourselves and others.
When we are having an experience, Walton says, we talk to ourselves in two ways: from a rational side and an emotional one. Some of us use our rational side more often, and others, our emotional. When we let the emotional side determine our actions, we can slip into less than healthy behaviors. Walton suggests using the rational part of our brains to cope: How important will this be a month from now? What negative ideas am I assigning to this? Is there a different possible explanation than the one I am assigning? How can this be resolved? By seeking the answers to questions of this type, we allow our brains to exercise their adaptive muscles, thereby strengthening our abilities to move to a positive solution more quickly.
Adopting a more optimistic and resilient intention is all really great stuff, but let’s be real: Doing so can be hard. How do we know we aren’t just going through the motions? How do we know that any of it will actually change our behavior? This leads to the third tool we can use—motivation. But first, we have to understand what motivation really means. It is more than just willpower.
Motivation starts with knowing your values—being very clear about who you are, what you believe, what you stand for—the non-negotiables. Our core values define how we see ourselves, what we take the most pride in, and how we build our confidence. If we align these values with the goals we set for ourselves, then we have true motivation to achieve them.
The main purpose of the second tenet of EI is to manage your emotions in a healthy way so as to not treat others poorly—to not act in ways that may damage relationships. If treating people with respect and dignity are part of our core values, then managing our emotions will be part of that alignment.
Our emotions come from our most primal part of our brain; managing them is no easy task. But, if we truly value people, if we recognize that what we strive to be as good leaders, as good human beings, is reflected in not what we tell ourselves internally but in what we show others, then managing our emotions becomes much more of an act of goodwill than a perceived sacrifice.
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