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Are you Emotionally Intelligent?

As a mother of three, like any parent, I’m always looking out for my children’s wellbeing – both physical and emotional. But I’m acutely aware that when I had my first two, I wasn’t scoring too high on the emotional intelligence barometer (I had developed a thirty-year habit of pushing difficult feelings away – why wouldn’t you? They hurt), But, since then, I’ve discovered that pushing things away rarely, if ever, works. And that, also, judging your emotions (i.e. ‘I shouldn’t be feeling this way’) is detrimental to mental health. It’s only taken me forty years to get here!

Unfortunately, if my children expressed uncomfortable or difficult emotions, I’m pretty sure I used to try to ‘distract’ them or try to divert their attention elsewhere. With my youngest, things are different; I’ve learnt that it’s good to acknowledge difficult feelings. For instance, just this past weekend she was upset as she didn’t want to go to summer camp, so I sat down and listened to her. I discovered she was worried she wouldn’t be in the same group as her cousin. The old me would have rushed her out the door and probably bribed her with ice-cream for dinner! This was the same approach I had with myself. When difficult feeling emerged, I’d automatically rush to distract, distract! Thankfully I’m now allowing myself to feel what I’m feeling with an approach of acceptance, rather than one of judgement (ie. ‘It’s okay to feel this; it’s just how I feel).

What is Emotional Intelligence (EI) Exactly?

Developed in 1990 by professors Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer, EI is known as, “…the ability to monitor one’s own and other people’s emotions, to discriminate between different emotions and label them appropriately, and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behaviour.”

Daniel Goleman, an American psychologist, developed a framework of  elements that define emotional intelligence: self-awareness (knowing what we’re feeling and why we’re feeling it); self-regulation (handling difficult emotions in a way that they don’t cripple you, yet still tuning into them and also aligning our actions with our passions, when it comes to positive emotions); empathy (knowing what someone else is feeling) and social skills (skills in relationships).

In relation to education, research shows that in schools all anti-social behaviour goes down ten per cent and good behaviour and academic performance goes up eleven per cent with improved EI.

Why is Emotional Intelligence so Important?

In order to make good choices about our diet and lifestyle, we need to have emotional intelligence (EI). EI is the keystone to good decisions, which we know are invaluable at work and education and, perhaps most importantly, through our personal lives. But, EI also impacts on our happiness. Research shows that a person’s ability to cope with their emotions has a greater impact on their success and happiness in life than their IQ. If you’re low on EI, or you’ve never taught it to your children, don’t panic – it’s never too late to learn. It’s a skill set that can be learnt.

How Do you Know if you Have Low EI?

It’s all fine and well knowing what we should be moving towards, but what are typical signs of low EI? These are;

–  Getting in lots of arguments with people

– Not understanding how others feel

– Thinking that others are overly sensitive

– Refusing to listen to others’ points of view

– Blaming others for mistakes

– An inability to cope with emotionally-charged situations

– Sudden emotional outbursts

– Difficulty maintaining friendships

– Having a lack of empathy

6 Tips to Boost your EI (and your child’s)

1. Accept your feelings: EI is about asking yourself (or your child): “What’s going on for me/you here: what am I/you feeling and why might I/you be feeling like this?” Try to talk honestly about your feelings from an early age, and your child will likely model this. Instead of pointing the finger of blame, use the ‘I’ word when your feelings are intense; ‘I feel angry’, ‘I’m irritated’ or ‘I feel disappointed’, ‘I feel uncomfortable’ or ‘I’m sad’. The aim is to recognise, accept and articulate your emotions, without judgement or guilt. This not only helps with mental wellbeing, but also keeps us safe as we are rooted in our own feelings, rather than simply trying to please someone else.

2. Avoid personalisation: Personalisation is a distortion where a person believes that everything others do or say is some kind of direct, personal reaction to them. They literally take everything personally, even when something is not meant in that way. Instead, try to widen your perspective and avoid jumping to a negative conclusion right away. Try to come up with other ways of viewing the situation before reacting. For example, I may think that my boss didn’t say hello in the corridor because he/she is annoyed at me, whereas I could consider the possibility that he/she forgot their glasses or may be very distracted or under pressure. Try to remember that people tend to what they do because of them more than because of us.

3. Develop stress management skills: We all face stress to varying degrees, but it’s our ability to cope with it that matters. Deep breathing, yoga and meditation can all help but, equally, going for a walk, being in nature, talking to a trusted friend, indulging in a favourite hobby (such as painting, writing, woodwork or golf) can all help – find out what works for you. Read our blog on 5 ways to beat stress.

4. Establish boundaries and be assertive: Developing EI means knowing our boundaries and being able to express dissatisfaction when they are overstepped, or being able to openly, but calmly, disagree with someone. Having healthy boundaries means we are able to clarify the limits of what is acceptable and tolerable in a relationship. Very often that can be as simple as saying ‘no’, without guilt, setting our own priorities and sometimes saying ‘I disagree with you on that’. Read our blog, ‘6 ways to say no’.

5. Show empathy, even with difficult people: The idea is not to excuse unacceptable behaviour, but rather, the point is to remind yourself that people do what they do because of their own issues. As long as we ourselves are being reasonable and considerate, difficult behaviours from others say a lot more about them than they do about us. A key tip in this regards is to simply count to ten when dealing with difficult behaviour. By the time we get to ten, we can sometimes step into the other person’s shoes and understand why they are being difficult. For instance, “My daughter is being so resistant. But I guess it must not be easy to deal with her school and social pressures at the moment…”

6. Hone the ability to bounce back: We will all fail at things, but we will also succeed (ironically, only if we are willing to fail first). Read my blog, Learn how to fail to succeed at weight loss here.

Life isn’t always easy and we all face challenging times. Ask yourself questions during these times; ‘What can I learn from this?’, and ‘How can I mind myself through this?’.  Resilient people are optimistic and believe in their own strength and ability to overcome their problems. In a crisis, a resilient person will be positive, open and willing to find the solution. Laughter, positivity, hope and knowing the power of choice are important strategies to use when you want to build resilience in your life.

“Today I choose life. Every morning when I wake up I can choose joy, happiness, negativity, pain… To feel the freedom that comes from being able to continue to make mistakes and choices – today I choose to feel life, not to deny my humanity, but embrace it.” Kevyn Aucion

In relation to my own children, although I know discussing difficult emotions isn’t easy for the older two, myself and my husband are much more conscious these days. For instance, my husband had a work presentation recently and he told our thirteen-year-old that he was feeling really nervous. He may not realise this, but by doing that – by acknowledging his difficult feelings – he did so much for his son. It means that, when he feels nervous himself someday soon, he’ll know that’s okay to feel that way and that it’s ‘normal’. It’s a game of catch-up for the older two but, thankfully, as the psychologists say, it’s never too late.

Watch Daniel Goleman’s description of what Emoitional Intelligence is all about and why it’s important here.

If this is a subject you’d likve to read more on then please chack out this website – Positive Psychology.