If you want to be successful, you need to focus on Emotional Intelligence (EQ). It’s essential for job performance, and people with high EQ outperform their lower EQ counterparts (Ref). Not just for work, EQ is beneficial in every area of your life. And those with a higher EQ experience higher life fulfillment and less stress.
Emotional intelligence is considered the #1 determinate of success in both personal and professional life.
By this point you’re probably wondering how to learn this valuable skill. You likely don’t know where to begin. Which is completely understandable since building EQ is not something that’s commonly taught.
With the word emotion being in the name, it’s logical to assume you should start by focusing on your emotions. And while you can focus on your emotions, there’s a much easier and effective way to build EQ fast: focusing on your thoughts.
Improving EQ With Thinking
It’s a common belief that external events determine how we feel. And we assume people or situations determine our feelings. For example, if we see a sad movie, we likely think the movie made us sad.
Or if we get rejected by a love interest or turned down for a job, we may think the rejection made us frustrated or upset. Similarly, people blame others for their emotions and we’ve likely blamed someone else for our emotions: “you made me feel this way!?”
Not even close! Because…
No one and nothing can make you feel any emotion without your consent.
We’ve all heard the Eleanor Roosevelt quote “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” She was on to something there! But we need to look at it at a much larger scale.
Literally no one can make you feel anything without your consent. So while your gut instinct may be to focus on your emotions to build EQ, we should actually start by focusing on our thoughts.
The Thinking-Feeling Connection
Our mind is like a processor wired with code, and our senses are the means of data entry. When we gather data from our environment, we process it through the code and determine the output. The output being our thoughts, which lead to our emotions. Think of it like a domino effect.
Thoughts are always going on in our minds like a running dialogue. We have anywhere from 30k-70k of them a day. And they usually happen so fast we’re not aware of them. We are led to believe external factors lead to emotional disturbances and stress. But we actually assign meaning to situations, and what we assign to a situation causes our emotional responses.
Since our thoughts lead to emotions, when we are more aware of our thoughts, we will stop powerful emotions. This will lead to an awareness and management of emotions a.k.a. a higher EQ.
Examples of Thought Leading to Emotion
Imagine being on a team with a new colleague who isn’t pulling their weight. If you automatically believe people have good intentions, you probably assume they’re overloaded. Or maybe you think they are stressed or are still just getting their footing.
You might ask if they are OK or if they need help. You likely feel concerned and empathetic. You find out it’s their first week and they are having continual IT and computer issues but plan to get back on track tomorrow.
If you automatically assume people have negative intentions, you might assume the new colleague is being lazy. Or you could think they are incompetent or deliberately doing it to bothering you.
Forwarding this perception is the fact you see them off-line for extended periods of time because of their IT issues. This may lead to feelings of anger, frustration and resentment.
The beliefs we bring to a situation determine how we think and feel. In this example, it would cause how we feel about our colleague. This will probably affect our relationship with that colleague, and our stress level at work. Worse yet, is how work stress has a way of coming home with us.
I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”Thomas Edison
Another example is our personal perception of failure. If we believe we must succeed at all costs and then fail when we try something new, we may feel hopeless and give up. However, if we believe that failure is a necessary step towards success we are going to repeatedly try until we achieve our goals (this is grit!)
Unhelpful Thought Habits
Thoughts have a tremendous impact on our lives, but we aren’t taught how to manage them. Unfortunately, we pick up unhelpful thinking habits from our environment including from our parents, friends and relatives. This is what they mean when they say you are the culmination of the 5 people you hang out with most.
When we have these powerful unhelpful thinking styles, no one benefits, especially not us! We perceive the world incorrectly and therefore live off false perceptions and beliefs. And we could hate a new person at work for having an IT issue out of their control or we could be stressed out over a mix-up.
Worse yet is that these unhelpful thoughts lead to unhelpful emotions. And strong thoughts can lead to intense emotions that feel extreme or unbearable. Emotions have a way of picking up steam, so if you stop the emotion at uncertainty or annoyance you can keep it from getting to fear or anger. And I think we can all agree it’s easier to manage a minor annoyance better than it is to manage anger.
Start Building EQ with Thought Awareness
A great way to build EQ is by noticing unhelpful thinking habits. For example, assuming everyone is bad (generalizing) or assuming that one failure means you’re a failure (labeling). Thoughts are habitual, so it may be difficult to realize them at first. But with effort and reflection, you will be on your way in no time!
You can start by remembering a time you had intense negative thoughts or thoughts that were opposite of the actual situation. Think about the situation and how you were feeling (guided questions with example below). Then determine how the thought was unhelpful and how to change it for a better outcome in the future.
- What was the situation?
- What were your thoughts and perceptions?
- What emotions came up? What were your physical responses to the emotions?
- How did you find out your thought was untrue or skewed?
- How could you think differently next time to get a better result?
Eg: The new guy wasn’t pulling his weight. I thought he was a slacker, and it seemed that way because he was off line a lot. I felt agitated and I could feel my blood pressure go up. In the team meeting we all found out the new guy is having computer issues and will be back on track tomorrow. Next time I can ask people what’s going on before assuming they are being lazy.
I’m sure you’ve heard someone say they should teach us about taxes in school. And while I agree, there is something more important we need to learn: EQ. Many of us are now learning about the benefits of EQ, and we are setting off to learn this valuable skill on our own. And our thoughts are where we need to start.
Thoughts have a domino effect. They not only lead to emotions but they also set off a chain response which leads to our decisions, behaviors and ultimately results. This is where the feeling of fulfillment and lack of stress comes in. We feel more fulfilled and less stressed when we achieve our goal, i.e. get the results we want.
It’s much easier to notice and manage our emotions (build EQ) when we are first aware of and control our thoughts. So if you want to build EQ the best place to start is with your thoughts. Practice the thought reflection above. And through practice and reputation, you’ll shorten the time to realize you’re thinking in an unhelpful way. From there you’ll be aware of the unhelpful thinking in the moment. When you are aware of it in the moment, you can then change how you feel and respond. You’ve managed your emotions. You increased your EQ.
Photo credit: Photo by Daniele Franchi