Friday, October 1, 2010

Emotional Intelligence

Harry Mills, Ph.D. & Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

Emotional resilience requires that you work towards greater self-knowledge and self-control. It is important, for example, that you learn to identify how you react in emotional situations.

Becoming aware of how you react when stressed helps you gain better control over those reactions. A good framework to help guide you towards becoming more aware of your emotions is something called Emotional Intelligence.

The term 'Emotional Intelligence' was coined by psychologists John Mayer and Peter Salovey in 1990. It can be defined as your ability to use your emotions intelligently and appropriately in different situations, combined with your ability to use emotions to make yourself more intelligent overall.

Emotionally intelligent people are able to accurately recognize and comprehend emotion, both in themselves and in others, to appropriately express emotion, and to be able to control their own emotion so as to facilitate their own emotional, intellectual and spiritual growth.

In short, emotionally intelligent people intentionally use their thinking and behavior to guide their emotions rather than letting their emotions dictate their thinking and behavior. People who are highly emotionally intelligent tend to also be highly emotionally resilient.

In order to become more emotionally intelligent, it is necessary to develop the following five skill domains:

*Self-awareness. Self-awareness involves your ability to recognize feelings while they are happening.

*Emotional management. Emotional management involves your ability to control the feelings you express so that they remain appropriate to a given situation. Becoming skillful at emotional management requires that you cultivate skills such as maintaining perspective, being able to calm yourself down, and being able to shake off out-of-control grumpiness, anxiety, or sadness.

*Self-motivation. Self-motivation involves your ability to keep your actions goal-directed even when distracted by emotions. Self-motivation necessarily includes being able to delay gratification, and avoid acting in impulsive ways.

*Empathy. Empathy involves your ability to notice and correctly interpret the needs and wants of other people. Empathy is the characteristic that leads to altruism, which is your willingness put the needs of others ahead of your own needs.

*Relationship Management. Relationship management involves your ability to anticipate, understand, and appropriately respond to the emotions of others. It is closely related to empathy.

These various skills work together form the basis of emotionally intelligent behavior.

People come to the challenge of emotional intelligence with different strengths and weaknesses. Where some find it easy to develop self-awareness and empathy, others have a difficult time, or don't easily recognize the need.

Luckily, emotional intelligence (likewise emotional resilience) is something that can be cultivated and developed. You have the ability to learn how to better work with emotions so as to improve your mental, physical, and social health.

In order to develop the five emotional intelligence skill domains, you'll need to become skillful at the following tasks:

Noticing Emotion

By their nature, emotions are consuming. During the moment, it is very easy to simply remain embedded inside them and not quite recognize that they are occurring. In an emotionally embedded state, it is as though you are asleep, or helpless to act differently than the emotion wants you to act. You might find yourself doing things you will later regret doing while in such a state.

As self-awareness grows, you become able to notice emotion as it is occurring. Noticing emotion allows you to step back from it, and witness it as though it were happening to someone else.

Noticing emotion separates you from that emotion, and therefore provides you with the space you need to recognize that the emotion is happening, and to form judgments as to whether your actions in response to the emotion are proper.

A self-aware person is awake and responsible rather than asleep. They are conscious of what they are feeling and can use their understanding of their emotion to change how they act.

In order to notice emotion while it is happening, you must pay attention to the following:

*Your Senses. Emotions get expressed physically and are reflected in one's body and posture. Specific behaviors like clenched fists or gritted teeth are good signals that one is probably angry, for example.
*Your Thoughts and Beliefs. Emotions are also expressed as thoughts. It is fairly common for particular types of thoughts and beliefs to only be present when you are upset.

Your learning to notice that those emotion-linked thoughts are present in your mind becomes a clue that you are upset. For example, many people say thing to themselves like, "Things will never ever get better, ever again!", when upset, but not say this sort of thing to themselves when they are feeling okay. If you do something like this, you can learn to recognize when you are doing it, and use that knowledge to know when you are upset.
*Your Actions. Emotions have behavioral components. Learn to recognize the way you act while upset. Noticing that you are suddenly raising your voice or starting to speak over other people might be clues that you are upset.
*Your Triggers. Triggers are situations, people, places, feelings, thoughts or objects that get you to start thinking or feeling something you would not otherwise have thought or felt. Triggers can often start you down the road towards becoming upset without your conscious awareness. Identify your triggers by watching for the things that set you off, and then writing them down. Knowing what your triggers are helps you to anticipate them so that they don't catch you off guard. Generate a plan for handling each trigger so that it doesn't get the best of you.

*Your Motives. Think about how you believe people should conduct themselves in various different situations. For instance, ask yourself which is better behavior when speaking with one's spouse: calm discussion or screaming? Later, compare your own behavior against your list and see if you meet your own standards.

Learn to notice when you are not meeting your own emotional standard of conduct. Your noticing when you are not meeting your own standards of conduct can become a clue as to when you are upset.

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