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Advice To Improve Your Emotional Intelligence

By Andy Smith

Here are my top five tips for developing emotional intelligence...

    Get used to thinking of your emotions as carrying a message - either about something that's happening now, or something that happened in the past that you have not yet fully resolved. Whenever you feel an emotion you're not comfortable with, you can ask yourself "what is this feeling trying to tell me?"

    One of the best ways to develop your awareness of your own emotions is to meditate. Take some time out to relax, being aware of your breathing as it flows in and out. Observe your thoughts and feelings as they come and go, without judging them. This will give you a degree of detachment, as you realize you are more than whatever thoughts and emotions you are experiencing at the time.

    Another good way to become more aware and accepting of your emotions is to keep an emotional journal. Just take five minutes each morning to write down how you're feeling. Writing things down in this way gives you a degree of detachment and allows you to express your feelings in a way which is safe. It also allows you to recognize recurring patterns in your emotional responses and gives you a record of how far you have come as you develop your emotional intelligence.

    It's important that you accept the emotions you're feeling as yours. Often we can regard certain feelings as unacceptable and refuse to acknowledge them. This will lead to trouble as we still continue to act from our emotions even if we deny them to ourselves. Sometimes we even project them on to other people, so that someone who is in denial about their own anger may encounter a lot of 'angry' people.

    Often we talk about emotions as if they just 'happen', or that other people create them in us, as in 'she made me angry' or 'he upset me'. Some people even seem to have inanimate objects controlling their emotions, as in 'that squeaky gate is really pissing me off!' So, can other people or even lumps of metal really control your emotions, causing your brain to release exactly the right combination of neuropeptides to experience irritation, fear or guilt? I would suggest not.

    All the information we receive from our five senses about what's happening around us is already filtered by the time we become aware of it - first by the limbic system, our primitive emotional brain, and then by our beliefs and the meanings which we put on these events.

    For example, if someone shouts at you and you get upset, it may be that the look they give you, or the tone of voice they use, reminds you at an unconscious level of a much earlier time you were shouted at by a parent or other authority figure. What you feel in response are the same feelings you had at that earlier time. In fact they are the same feelings, trapped in your brain since that earlier event and restimulated by a current event that matches the same pattern.

    Or it might be your beliefs that are really crucial to bringing about your emotional response. If you believe that people "shouldn't" shout at other people, naturally you feel upset when someone does. In fact if you have that belief, it means that other people are capable of making you upset any time they want, simply by shouting at you. They may even evoke that response without meaning to - after all, since they can't read your mind, how are they to know what you believe?

    The emotional response to the meaning which we place on any given event can happen so quickly that we aren't aware of our filtering process and assigning of meaning which happens in the gap between the triggering event and the response. It feels like the 'trigger' really does cause the emotional response.

    However, if that were really the case, then everyone would react in exactly the same way in similar situations - which clearly they don't. One person might get angry, another might get frightened, another find it funny, and another might not even notice.

    Here's the thing: in principle, you can change any of your mental filters and emotional responses. This means that you can take "response - ability" - the ability to be able to choose how you want to feel about anything that happens. How? NLP and other technologies for rapid change have a wealth of techniques for helping you to change even the deepest-rooted habitual responses.

    There are no "bad" emotions. Whatever you feel is giving you valuable information: either about the situation that you're in, or about some event that's happened in the past that you need to learn from and move on.

    A trap that people often fall into is feeling that they 'ought' to feel a certain way - that they are a 'bad person' for feeling emotions they have been brought up to believe are wrong to express or even to feel. If they are on a spiritual path, it can be even worse, as they may feel they 'ought' to be above feeling that way.

    Remember, it's how you respond to those feelings that matters. Whatever emotion you're feeling, you still have a choice about how you act on it - and that's what counts. Judging yourself does not make you a better person.

    Any time that you're dealing with another person - on a date, in a job interview, in a dispute, selling to them, working with them, or just hanging out - things will go more smoothly if from time to time you put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself, "What's going on for this person right now? What's important to them? What do they want from this interchange? What might they be feeling?"

    Everyone sees the world in different ways, and everything that person does and says makes sense from their viewpoint, even if it makes no sense to you. People make the best choices they can given their unique 'map' of the world - if you assume they have the same map as you, then some of those 'actions' might even seem stupid or malicious. If you get a sense of what's going on for them, you will find them much easier to communicate with.

    I once had a client who came to me for help with anxiety about speaking in public. Every time this person had to give a presentation at work, he found himself experiencing panic symptoms which got stronger as the day approached. He had always got through to the end of the presentation without major disasters, but he hated the experience while it was happening.

    When we investigated how he was creating these feelings for himself, it turned out that for days before the presentation he was imagining as many ways that things could go wrong as he could think of. When I tell you that he was imagining these disasters vividly and as if he was really there experiencing it, you'll understand how he managed to get more and more nervous as the presentation got closer.

    While the impulse behind imagining things in this scary and demoralizing way was a positive one - to allow him to prepare for any eventuality - the result was that he was doing the exact opposite of the positive mental rehearsal that every successful athlete does. He was mentally rehearsing failure, reinforcing his fear and making it more and more likely that he would mess up in reality as well. Even if the presentation had turned out well in reality, he wouldn't have had to miss out on the bad feelings - he'd already lived them in his imagination many times over.

    With some coaching, he was able to check for things that might go wrong in a less damaging way. By viewing each scenario as a detached observer, in black and white and as a smaller-than-lifesize picture, he was able to see his future self coping with various possible glitches, without having to become emotionally involved in what he was seeing. I also suggested that he finish off by seeing himself in a life-size, colorful picture, giving a perfect presentation, so that he ended his reverie feeling good. He was then able to approach his presentations in a much more resourceful emotional state, and consequently perform much better.

Often the way we feel is a response to 'movies' that our minds run, or to an internal critical voice. While the mind's intention in creating these thoughts and images is positive, the effect is often unhelpful.

The qualities of the pictures, and the volume and tone of internal dialogue, are what give these thoughts their power. A big, bright, moving, 3-D mental picture, especially if we see it as if through our own eyes, will be more affecting than a small, dim, monochrome, 2-D snapshot, whatever the actual content of the picture. Similarly, a loud inner voice with an edge to it will have more of an impact than a softly-spoken voice, whatever it's saying.

You can use your mental 'remote control' to alter the qualities of your mental pictures. Make your good memories and fantasies big, bright, moving and 'real' so you can enjoy the most intense positive feelings from them. If you have to look at bad memories or imagine an unpleasant experience, make the picture small, dim, monochrome and two-dimensional, and look at it as if you were a detached observer. That way you can still get whatever information you need, while minimizing uncomfortable emotional responses.

NLP takes this a stage further with a growing body of patterns for learning what we need to learn from emotions at the unconscious level, allowing us to make life-changing shifts rapidly and gracefully. This is close to Danah Zohar's concept of "Spiritual Intelligence".

Andy Smith is an Emotional Intelligence consultant, NLP trainer and Appreciative Inquiry facilitator based in the UK. He has been assisting individuals and groups with accelerated change for 20 years. His experience includes IT consultancy, stress management and corporate branding. He is the author of Leadership EQ: How To Lead With Emotional Intelligence (Coaching Leaders 2014), Achieve Your Goals: Strategies To Transform Your Life (Dorling Kindersley 2006), and The Trainer’s Pack of NLP Exercises (Coaching Leaders 2010). Andy runs the site Coaching Leaders UK.
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