“It’s a mess when strange events smack into the windscreen of a resolutely rational mind.” Robin Sloan
I recently finished reading Sourdough by Robin Sloan (a delightfully charming modern allegorical tale) and was struck by the quote above. The rigidity with which I used to approach life, love, emotions, and…well…just about everything failed to prepare me for the strange, messy, unexpected, and volatile emotions that refused to fall in line with my resolute, rigid, and rational rules.
I learned about emotional intelligence and the profound impact it has on…well…just about everything the hard way. My lack of it nearly brought me sobbing and shattered to my knees, literally. I know this is why almost every conversation I have comes back to this topic and why I focus on actually learning to do something and doing it in real time.
As we wrap up the month long focus on emotional intelligence, I’d like to offer a specific, 4-step process you can implement immediately to help increase your emotional intelligence, flexibility, and agility in a real, actionable way.
My favorite, the Whole Brain® Thinking Model, was developed by Dr. Ned Herrmann to help people understand the patterns of how the brain processes and perceives information, and how we develop dominant ways of thinking. Since emotions are largely a brain function (despite popular sentiment that they’re a matter of the heart) and since emotional intelligence requires we think about our thinking, the two are a perfect match for creating an actionable 4-step process for applying emotional intelligence right now.
- Emotional triggers first hit the limbic brain, so emotional intelligence necessarily begins in the Whole Brain® Thinking Model’s red or C quadrant (relational thinking). Here, the focus is on experiencing the emotion, seeing it, saying hello to it, giving it a voice, and listening in without indulging or bottling it up. John Mayer sang, Say What You Need to Say; I sing, “feel what you need to feel.” Now, that doesn’t mean you fall to pieces; that doesn’t mean you snap and go off on your partner; that doesn’t mean you run away with your excitement. It does mean you don’t fight the emotion; you don’t turn your back on it; you don’t berate yourself for experiencing it; you don’t wrestle it into a dark box. Instead, you shine a big, bright stage light on it. As part of this experience, notice your physical responses as well. Do your cheeks flush? Ears get hot? Stomach clench? Lungs suffocate? Pay attention, tune in, and feel what’s happening.
2. The next step to immediately apply emotional intelligence takes place in the Whole Brain® Thinking Model’s blue or A quadrant (analytical thinking). Here the immediate focus in on naming the emotion you’re experiencing as specifically as you can. In my own journey I mentioned above, I became aware that sadness didn’t capture what I felt. So I went on a journey to find the right word: Disappointment. Despair. Disillusionment. As I learned an emotional vocabulary and applied it to what I was experiencing, my experience of my emotions became less overwhelming. This single step alone engages the intellectual, executive functioning brain in a way that helps reduce and loosen the stranglehold of the limbic brain. Once you name the emotion, say something to yourself like, “This is me experiencing anger.” It’s more productive to avoid saying “I am angry” to yourself because words matter and those words link the emotion and your identity in a way that may increase the grip of the limbic brain. Once you name the emotion, you can also get some data from it: What is this emotion telling me? What am I assuming? What story am I telling myself?
3. Once you’ve started to unhook from the emotion by naming it, it’s time to get some distance and perspective on it because although our emotions give us data, sometimes that data isn’t reliable. In the Whole Brain® model, the yellow or D quadrant is where big picture, integrative, holistic thinking happens. Considering an alternative perspective and story creates distance between you and the emotion thereby continuing to loosen its grip. Our D brain is our Why brain, so you can also connect to your personal values, how you want to live your life, and the impact you want to have on people. Getting a big picture, integrated though distanced perspective with these things in mind helps you put the emotion (and ultimately what you do with it) in context and decide if it’s moving you toward or away from how you want to live your life.
4. Now that you’ve successfully interrupted the emotional reaction and unhooked from the limbic brain (remember the power of the pause?), it’s time to respond…or not. For this, travel down to the Whole Brain® model’s green or B quadrant, which represents action-oriented, planning, and safekeeping thinking. If you choose to respond, you can now do so more thoughtfully, productively, and safely. If you choose not to respond, you can now make an emotional data plan. Consider how you will actively engage in this process the next time it happens. What tiny tweaks will you make to your thinking, motivation, and behavior that will help you stay unhooked? How will you challenge yourself to live into emotional experiences in a way that is workable (which is not code word for safe)? Side note: The less emotionally intelligent choice might have started here with a reaction, doing and saying anything immediately and instinctively to avoid feeling something.
This 4-step process may at first seem slow, awkward, and uncomfortable, both to yourself and possibly to anyone you happen to be interacting with at the time (check out my previous blog post for guidance on this). That’s normal and natural. Trust that as you become more aware of your emotions, stories, and values; as you practice the 4 steps; as you increase your emotional vocabulary, your emotional intelligence competence and agility will increase and the time it takes to walk through the 4 steps will decrease.
Check out my feed on Instagram @plenumcoaching for quotes, affirmations, and journal prompts.
Want to learn more about Whole Brain® Thinking, thinking agility, and your thinking dominances? I can help! Check out my Let’s Get Started! page to discover possibilities.
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I look forward to hearing from you!