“Is your mind a beautiful servant, or a dangerous master?”
If you want to be your best but you find your emotions leading you astray, if you want to understand yourself but don’t know where to start, if you want to develop your self-awareness and emotional intelligence, get control of your emotional states and your thinking, this is where to begin.
1. Whenever You Are Struggling, Stop Looking Outside Of You For The Answers And Start Looking Within.
It’s very tempting and easy when experiencing a struggle to look outside of yourself and assign blame. Know right now, as tempting as it is, blame is simply a defense mechanism and a disempowering one at that. Why? Because blame is the displacement of responsibility. Blame, in a nutshell, is saying “I am not responsible for this problem; you are.” When we blame, we get to psychologically displace the responsibility of the problem (and all of the displeasing emotions that with it) on to someone or something else.
It looks like this ; “I am really annoyed because Bob is being unreasonable” or “I want to get ahead but management just doesn’t show appreciation or walk their talk.”
Why is that disempowering? Because you have no control over things, you aren’t responsible for. Which means if you are giving away your responsibility you are also simultaneously giving away your power to deal with the situation.
This would be handy if reality, other people, and the world readily solved your problems for you. But if that were the case you wouldn’t have the problem in the first place. Which seems neat, except that you also wouldn’t be the decider and the one in control of your life, the rest of the world would be. Can you see the disempowerment in that?
2. Bring Your Awareness To The Massive Part You Play In Your Emotional Reality
It may be factual that someone or something has done something that has impacted you in a way that you weren’t expecting, potentially even in a way that has cost you. That will probably happen to you in life, and you will likely need to take appropriate action. No getting away from that. However, any emotional misgivings on top of those situations (frustration, anger, anxiety, etc.) – that part is extra, and a product of you – not the environment.
How is it a product of you? Notice that every emotion comes with very particular thinking. To do anxiety, you must think of a future where everything turns out in a dreadful way. To do frustration, you must compare what happened with how you much better you imagine and expected it could have happened. These are just two examples, and note the common thread in both – they require your imagination and very particular use of it. Nobody feels anxiety when considering what the best outcome would be and how to get their hands on it.
So a key question to ask in any struggle you are experiencing is this “How am I facilitating this outcome/struggle that I am experiencing?”. If you are feeling an emotion that is unresourceful for you “how am I doing this? What thoughts, what movie on the inside am I playing right now to produce this emotion?”.
Think of this as eliciting your strategy for producing the emotions you are feeling. And when you have this strategy check out step 3.
3. Discover The WHY Behind Your Existing Paradigms. What Is The Purpose Behind The Way You Are Currently Thinking?
If you find yourself thinking thoughts that are creating an unresourceful emotional reality for you in a given situation, ask yourself this. What is the positive intention (purpose) behind these thoughts/beliefs? What is this thinking trying to do for me?
For example, many people who feel anxiety before an event (public speaking, presenting, performing, etc.) have a very particular strategy they run inside their minds. Often they think of everything that could go wrong (anxious thoughts = anxious feelings) so that they can plan for all contingencies and do a good job. So note here, that the positive intention of the anxious thoughts (everything that could go wrong) is ultimately to “prepare and do a good job.”
And this is critical information – with step two you know how you are producing the anxiety (i.e. imagining everything that could go wrong), and with step three you know why you are running this strategy (i.e. it’s your strategy for preparing to do well).
This leads us to step 4.
4. Your Thinking Is Only As Useful As It Allows You To Get Where You Want To Go – Where Is Yours Leading You? Is This Where You Want To Go?
If you know how you are producing your emotions, and why you are thinking in the way that is producing them (e.g. prepare and do a good job), you get to ask fundamental question. Is the strategy that I am running (the thoughts that I am thinking) getting me the result (the positive intention) that I wanted?
For example – If I am thinking about everything that could go wrong so I can prepare and do a good job – and the positive intention is to do a good job. I get to ask is the way I am thinking actually allowing me to do a good job? Chances are if my thinking is producing anxiety, I am probably not being my best. I may, in fact, be at my worst.
This is a crucial step. It’s here that you can get objective to your thinking and quality control whether or not it’s leading you to where it was intended to lead you. And if it’s not leading you there, but instead leading you to anxiety, you get to see that the problem isn’t with you. You aren’t an “anxious” person, you are only thinking “anxious” thoughts, and thinking can be changed. See step 5.
5. Realize That What You Think Isn’t Real, It’s Conceptual, And There Are Infinite Ways To Interpret Reality
If you arrive at the point where you realize that your thinking is not getting you where you want to be, and instead might even be producing some unresourceful emotional reality, relax. Thinking is as changeable as your clothes. If your current paradigms don’t fit you can always change them, as long as you realize this essential distinction. What you think isn’t real in the first place, it never was.
Your minds sole function is to conceptualize i.e. to create concepts and conceive your experience, and there are infinite ways to do that. Don’t believe me? Watch a movie in a crowded cinema, and at the end, one hundred people will leave with one hundred different opinions about that movie.
Our unique capacity as human beings is to use our imagination in inventive ways – we can do this to our great benefit, and to our unfortunate detriment. You can envision a future that contains all of the things you most want in the world and a pathway to get there – we call that motivation. You can also envision a future that contains all of the things you most want to avoid in the world and imagine all paths as leading there – we call that despair.
The good news is that how you use your imagination and what thoughts you choose to run with is up to you. So now you get to ask…
6. If Your Existing Paradigm Is Not Leading You To Where It Was Supposed To, What New Way Of Looking At This Situation Would?
This is your opportunity to get creative, get inventive. If you realize that you have been thinking in a way that is not getting you what you want, how else can you look at this situation?
For example, I know that if I want to be confident about a presentation the best kind of thinking for me is to consider how I want to present. What would I look like, sound like, feel like, if this was the best presentation I ever did? Can you see what kind of internal movie would play in my mind with a question like that? Certainly not an anxious one. And as I consider how I would be if this were the best presentation I ever did, I can further ask, what can I do to make it as good as I can imagine or even better? Can you hear the motivated and solution oriented nature of this thinking?
Note with this example that the positive intention with my thinking is to “prepare and do a good job” just like it was earlier in the example of anxious thinking. The purpose of both paradigms is to deliver an excellent performance, but one produces anxiety and the other motivation and confidence. All the while, nothing, in reality, has changed, except my thinking.
7. Journal, And Journal On Your Journaling
If you would like to develop your emotional intelligence, an effective practice to adopt is journaling. Take an area of your life that you would like to “improve” or bring more self-awareness too and journal on how you are showing up right now in that context. How are you showing up in your thinking, your emotions and your behavior? What is this way of being in the world gaining you? And what is it costing you? How is it enabling or disabling you from being your best?
At the end of each week read through your journal entries and write down any insights or realizations you have from this perspective. The point of this exercise is to build your self-awareness by becoming objective to your patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving.
This will allow you first of all to see your biases, habits, and patterns in action and will also enable you much greater objectivity and awareness about them. In the words of Fritz Perls “Awareness is curative.” The more objective you are to your habits, the less subject you will be to them.
8. Feedback Is The Breakfast Of Champions
There are some things you simply can’t see on your own. There are some things about you that you are uniquely positioned to see in a much clearer light than others, because well, you ARE you, yes that’s true. Likewise, however, there are some facets about you that you are not well positioned to see because you ARE you. That’s why we have mirrors when we are grooming because they allow us to see ourselves in ways that we can’t on our own. And note that mirrors act as self-correction tools – you get to see if your hair is out of place, your makeup smudged, your tie crooked, etc.
With enough feedback and practice, there is no skill or facet of your emotional intelligence that can’t be mastered. Without feedback, however, what you are left with is trial and error, and having to figure everything out on your own. Sure with enough time you will eventually get there, probably. But with feedback you have the opportunity to leverage the experience, knowledge, and wisdom of others, giving you the chance to move exponentially faster toward what matters to you. So get yourself a coach, attend trainings, or in the very least have people around you who know more than you about the particular areas you want to grow and develop.
9. Take Action – Knowing About Something Is Worlds Apart From Embodying It.
Probably the only thing as important or even more important than getting feedback is taking action. If you want to develop your emotional intelligence and you learn things, read things (these tips maybe) but take no action… what will happen is you will “know” a lot of things without actually knowing anything.
Hearing something or reading something and understanding the words is not knowing. You may be able to repeat those words, remember them, intellectually understand the concept of them, but if you don’t embody them, you don’t know them. It’s like the difference between me telling you what a strawberry tastes like, compared with you actually tasting the strawberry. The two “knowing’s” are worlds apart.
The only way to truly know something is to embody it. When you can do what you know, that’s embodiment. The only way to embody what you know is to take action. To practice, to implement, to test out and refine until it’s yours. That is the difference between knowing about emotional intelligence, and being emotionally intelligent.
10. Have Compassion, Development Is A Process And Nothing Arrests Development Like Judgment.
It can be tempting for many to make comparisons about where they are right now and where they think they “ought” to be. Where they “ought” to be might be some imagination of how they should be showing up but aren’t, or it may be some comparison to someone else. In either case, what typically follows is self-judgment.
Self-judgment is a great strategy for ruining confidence and taking away permission to explore and experiment. The very building blocks of learning. Imagine when you were learning to walk that you were able to judge yourself. Consider how many times you had to fall over, over balance, under balance, trip, overstep, under step, and inevitably topple over again and again before you learned to walk. If you were able to judge yourself at that age you probably never would have learned to walk.
The truth is, you can view those individual incidents as “failures” and “mistakes” but that’s only negating the inevitability of those incidents being a vital and necessary part of the process of you learning to walk. Your development is a process, give yourself permission to relax and have compassion. Every mistake you could possibly make is only feedback, learning and a stepping stone to what you are moving towards.