Have your emotions ever gotten the best of you? Chances are that the answer is yes. Emotions play a vital role in our lives, as they are a natural survival instinct that lets you know something might be wrong, but can impact your ability to communicate effectively, to build relationships, and to respond in a productive manner.
Experiencing emotions are inevitable, we all have them as humans, but the key to allowing your emotions to help you is by first learning to control them. However, controlling your emotions is easier said than done. In order to control your emotions, you must first learn to understand them.
Your brain is hardwired to give emotions the other hand. When you experience an event, whether something happens to you, you do something, you see something, or you hear something, your brain sends electrical signals from the brain stem, located at the base of your head, to the cerebral cortex, which is in charge of logic and reasoning. Along the way, those signals pass through your limbic system, which is where emotions are produced. So if you experience a situation that produces an intense emotion, those emotions impact your ability to critically think about the situation itself.
We also know from research that your thoughts trigger an emotional and physiological response, which is going to impact your behaviors. For example, let’s say you were giving a presentation and your computer dies. Electrical signals are now being sent through your brain, and once they get to the emotion-center part of your brain, if you are like me, you may experience a heightened level of fear or anxiety. The thoughts you might have in that moment may include “Oh shit, what just happened?” or “Oh no, my presentation is going to fail”. These thoughts are going to further the anxiety you are experiencing, in which your body may experience elevated heart rate and an inability to focus, which may lead you to freeze in the moment.
You cannot stop emotions from happening in a situation like this, but learning why you experienced the emotions you did could help you become better prepared the next time you experience similar emotions.
Building Emotional Intelligence
Emotional Intelligence is broken down into two components: Personal and Social competence. Building personal competence focuses more on you individually rather than your interactions with other people. Learning how to build personal competence allows you to stay aware of your emotions and the ability to manage your behaviors and tendencies. The two components to build personal competence are self-awareness and self-management skills.
The first way to build personal competence is by developing self-awareness, which we will define as the ability to accurately perceive your own emotions in the moment and to understand your tendencies across situations. Building self-awareness is not easy, as it consists of a willingness to tolerate the discomfort of focusing on negative emotions and prolonged periods of self-reflection, but the more self-aware you are the more satisfied with life you will be and your productivity will skyrocket. To build self-awareness, stop labeling your feelings as good or bad. Labels make life simpler, but keeps you from truly understanding your emotions. Being able to suspend judgment allows the emotions to run their course so you can truly understand the impact they have on you and others, while passing judgment may lead to more intense emotions. Instead of labeling, try naming. For example, instead of saying “I should not be experiencing these bad emotions”, try saying “I am experiencing the emotion of”. This leads to acknowledgment of your experience rather than judging yourself for experiencing those emotions.
The second way to build personal competence is through self-management, which we will define as the ability to use your awareness of your emotions to stay flexible and direct your behavior productively. Once you are able to understand your feelings and work through the potential discomfort, you will be better able to see things through without cracking by managing your emotions. There are two ways to build self-management: counting to 10. Being able to count to 10 and focus on your breathing will keep you from acting irrationally long enough to where your anxiety can lower to a point where you can a more rational perspective. Breathing helps lower the physiological impact that intense emotions have, and focusing on your breathing guides your attention away from your counterproductive thoughts and emotions. Having a clear mind and a calmer physiological state will allow you to control your self-talk and you interpret the situation.
Emotions are inevitable. The last thing you want to do is suppress your emotions because not only does that not help you understand your experience, but those emotions will also present themselves at some point, and you do not want that to be at the wrong time. Start by keeping a journal where you note and reflect on the emotions you experience. Writing down your emotions allow you to process your experiences from a more objective lens, which can help you learn and understand why you experienced the emotions you did, but also allows you to see the potential ripple effects of your emotions. Emotions are a natural part of life, and the ability to understand them can help you live a more fulfilling life.