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Find out how emotional intelligence – EQ – helps you understand your feelings, both good and bad, and manage them better in every situation.
Do you know this person: they say family comes first… and yet are rarely home in time for their children’s bedtime? Or they say they want to lose weight, but regularly eat late-night takeaways and don’t get up for their promised 7am run? If you can relate to this, and can easily identify some big gaps between your intentions and your actions, you may be baffled about how to change.
‘You’re running a pattern of behaviour counter to the goal you’re trying to achieve,’ says business and personal development coach Jim Rees (theeiguru.com). But there is a solution, he says – growing your emotional intelligence, also known as your ‘EQ’. Needing an EQ boost doesn’t mean you’re stupid. But studies show that for success in life, EQ can matter more than academic intelligence or IQ. A 19-year study in the American Journal of Public Health showed that children with higher EQs were more likely to go to university and be working full-time at age 25. EQ isn’t a new idea.
It was popularised in the 1990s by US psychologist Daniel Goleman’s book Emotional Intelligence (Bloomsbury, £10.99). At its core is the ability to identify and regulate emotions and understand how they shape your behaviour. EQ also includes having good social skills and understanding the emotions of others. The arrival of EQ into our self-help armoury was a revolution, says Dr Anne Lane, clinical psychologist and author of Nurture Your Child’s Emotional Intelligence (Welbeck Balance, £12.99). ‘Before that, people focused on behaviour,’ she says. ‘Emotions were seen as awkward and not to be spoken of. But EQ recognised that if we can’t make sense of our emotions, our behaviours will never make sense.’
‘A lot of people are unaware of their emotions,’ says Tamu Thomas, life coach and founder of Live Three Sixty (livethreesixty.com). ‘They don’t want to feel, and especially don’t want to be seen to be upset, angry or disappointed. Feeling feels uncomfortable so they do things to numb it. For example, they cope with sadness by “keeping busy”.’ ‘Our EQ gets shaped early in life,’ says Jim. ‘The behaviour patterns link back to our inner child. This is not about blaming our parents, it’s about understanding how life has shaped us as individuals.’ ‘We learn about our feelings from our mum or dad or a trusted adult,’ says Zoë Aston, author of Your Mental Health Workout: A 5-Week Programme to a Healthier, Happier Mind (Yellow Kite, £16.99).
‘As a parent, if you see your child kicking the sofa, you might say: “You look angry, is that what you’re feeling?” When they cry, we might say: “You look sad.” We help them develop their EQ by asking questions and being curious, so they can make sense of their behaviour.’ But perhaps that didn’t happen to you. Maybe you were told to stop crying, or not to be angry. ‘We learn it’s not okay to feel a certain way, and so we stop being able to read our emotions. But our emotions, such as anxiety, fear and stress, are telling us that something isn’t right,’ says Anne. ‘Emotions guide us to making good decisions. It’s important to be connected to them.’
EQ is about how you think about yourself – and others, too, says Jim. Having self-regard – how comfortable you are in your own skin – is vital. But this is closely followed in importance by your regard for other people and how you are with others, even though you might not agree with them. Can you acknowledge that other people have a different perspective? Or are you critical and unable to see other points of view? Perhaps you take others for granted, or don’t consider their thoughts or feelings, or listen to them.
One study showed that improving EQ led to people having better physical and emotional health but also better relationships, too. And that’s what makes working on your EQ so worthwhile (see our tips below). Because with a better EQ, you’ll be able to defuse a family argument, deal with the demands of a tricky boss or employee, keep calm when things don’t go according to plan – and, most importantly, keep promises you make to yourself.
1. THE ‘WHAT AM I FEELING?’ EXERCISE
Don’t assume you know what you’re feeling, says Zoë. Try locating emotions by describing any signals and sensations in your body – for example, tension in your shoulders, cold feet, a heavy or light feeling in your stomach. Name the feeling and find three words to describe it.
2. LEARN TO DEAL WITH DIFFICULT EMOTIONS
We are often told to ‘sit’ with difficult emotions. ‘But this isn’t easy,’ says Anne. ‘In the heat of the moment, you will feel overwhelmed. At this point, you simply need to get through this. I often take myself for a walk, or distract myself until I can think.’ When we’re calmer, she says, we are more emotionally intelligent and can think more clearly.
3. KNOW YOUR FEELINGS AREN’T ALWAYS YOUR FRIEND
Passing feelings don’t always fit with long-term goals; if that were the case, we’d have left our jobs and walked out on our partner long ago! Prepare for the fact your in-the-moment feelings might go against you by using coach Mel Robbins’ trick: when feelings and thoughts collide, count down 5-4-3-2-1 in your head, then do whatever you know is the right thing.
4. ASK FOR FEEDBACK
Watch out for blind spots. ‘Be conscious of the fingerprint we’re leaving on our kids and partners,’ says Jim. How? Ask people for feedback. This isn’t a particularly British thing to do, but it’s a brave one. Be specific to the situation: How am I being there for my partner after work? Or at the weekends?
5. COPY PEOPLE WITH HIGH EQ
Just as we learnt about emotions as children by copying, we can learn as adults too. If there’s someone who behaves in a way you admire, notice how they handle things – then put it into practice. ‘Like a physical workout, it takes practice and time to strengthen your emotional muscles,’ says Jim.