Who’s wagging your tail? Are you in charge of your emotions, or do your emotions run your life? Would you like to feel better, more in control of the things you can control, and more at peace with the things you can’t control? The first truth of emotional health is that you feel better by becoming better at feeling. As you learn to balance your emotions, you learn the fine balance of life. The defining characteristic of your life and potential is never resources (how much money, technology or opportunities you feel you have). Your life is defined by resourcefulness- the ability to turn your inner character into outer achievement. Framing your emotions is part of building this inner character.
Is it different for men and women? I’ve heard it said that men have two emotions- forward and reverse. That’s maybe a little harsh, but it reminds me of the story about a couple coming home from a date. Let’s call them Bill and Jane. As they drive home in silence, Jane says, “It’s been 6 months.” A long deathly silence fills the car. Jane is uncomfortable with the silence and thinks to herself ‘maybe I’m putting too much pressure on him. Maybe he’s not ready for the commitment.
At the same time Bill is thinking, ‘6 months??? 6 months ago the car came back from the mechanic which means… wow I am way overdue for an oil change.’ He grimaces.
Jane sees his face and thinks, ‘he is upset – he’s definitely not ready for the commitment. In fact, maybe I’m not ready for the commitment either. Do I want to be married and have children so soon?’
Bill is thinking ‘I need to get them to look at the transmission again. It’s still not working right.
Jane’s thinking ‘maybe I’m just being idealistic. Am I waiting for some white knight to come riding in on a horse and I’ve got this perfectly good man sitting next to me.’ She breaks the silence.
“Bill”, Jane says. “What?” says Bill.
“I know there is no white horse.”
Bill says “okay?”
Jane says, “I just think I need more time.”
Bill thinks long and hard about this statement, suspects he has walked into a trap and after a long pause, says “I understand.” (Side note- when men say “I understand, it’s usually code for ‘I don’t understand!”)
Jane reaches over and touches him and says “Thank you. You are a wonderful and sensitive man.”
Bill is as relieved as a man could be and drives Jane back to her place. She lies on her bed and sobs all night. Bill in the meantime goes back to his apartment and opens a bag of Doritos and watches television. Somewhere in the back of his mind he knows that something monumental happened in the car. But he suspects that he will never make any sense of it so he decides not to try. The next day Jane calls her best girlfriend and they spend hours together going over every detail, every word, every silence, every gesture of the conversation.
Meanwhile, Bill plays racquetball with a mutual friend of his and Jane’s. As he is about to serve, he pauses, and says to the friend – “Norm, did Jane ever own a horse?”
There are some stereotypes in the story for sure, but whether its gender differences or personality differences, so much of our relationship conflict arises because of miscommunication and lack of emotional awareness.
The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle said, “Anybody can become angry – that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.”
It’s a brilliant distinction. Follow through with the thought. Anybody can be inspired, that is easy, but to be inspired by the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, that is true mastery. Anybody can think positively, maybe just fake it, that is easy, but to be positive at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way, that is true mastery. Anybody can be passionate- that is easy, but to be passionate at the right time and for the right purpose, in a skillful way, that is true mastery. Anybody can get their 15 minutes of fame, that is easy, but to find fame for a true and beautiful purpose and do it with humility and grace, that is true mastery.
All emotion is energy in motion. It’s moving somewhere and having some effect. If you act without mindful emotional mastery you won’t even realize the trail of cause and effect in your life. Accepting that your emotions are an important, valid, empowering part of your life is the first step. There is a world of difference between managing your emotions and suppressing or controlling your emotions. The second step is to remember that they are moving and not permanent. Emotional intelligence is the engine of a happy and productive life. More on that later.
How Intelligent Are You?
How smart are you? It turns out it’s not a smart question. We all have many different lines of intelligence. Howard Gardner is a psychologist who has identified 8 lines of intelligence; linguistic (word smart), logical/ mathematical (number smart), musical (music smart), kinesthetic (body smart), spatial (picture smart), interpersonal (people smart), intrapersonal (self smart) and naturalist (nature smart). Others have added different ones such as moral intelligence and spiritual intelligence.
The point is that your success in life is dependent on developing various lines of intelligence and playing to your strength. They can all be developed, at different times and in different ways. Emotional intelligence is a combination of the interpersonal, how well we tune in to other people’s feelings, and intrapersonal, how well we manage our own emotions.
There are some extreme examples of people who have incredible cognitive or technical intelligence, but lack the emotional intelligence to know how to use their genius. Hitler is the classic example with his brilliant Nazi doctors. They lacked empathy and personal connection to those who suffered from their brilliance. In short their cognitive intelligence had run way ahead of their emotional intelligence. The truly great people in the world aren’t the technical geniuses. It is those who know how to use their genius for genuine generosity. The truly great business leaders aren’t the ones who make the most money but those who know how to use money to create positive change in the world.
Nazism is extreme. Another television show makes a more down to earth point about emotional intelligence is the reality show “Undercover Boss.” The concept is that a CEO goes undercover and works in the trenches for a week. They usually grow to appreciate their workers, empathize with their situation and make positive changes to their management and work conditions. One example was Mike White, CEO of DirecTV. After spending a week on roofs installing satellite dishes, he gained a new appreciation for the delicate and dangerous operation that is the lifeblood of his business. He said this, “In this economy, empathy is very important to motivate a team, and you can’t have empathy if you haven’t walked in their shoes for a bit.”
You remember the saying- before you criticize someone you need to walk a mile in their shoes. That way when they get angry at you, you’re a mile away and you have their shoes.
“Undercover Boss” is a great example of emotional intelligence. Empathy is one of the tools in tuning in to the feelings of others. There are others, such as the ability to recognize and manage your own emotions, the ability to connect with others using non verbal communication, the ability to manage stress, the ability to reframe thoughts and situations and the ability to resolve conflict.
Lets take the journey into emotions a little deeper.
You Have Emotions. Your Emotions Don’t Have You
This is a great daily mantra- I have emotions. My emotions don’t have me. I have emotions, but I am so much more than my emotions. I manage my emotions. My emotions don’t manage me.
I learnt this lesson with my iPod a while back. It’s a pocket sized miracle, where I get to literally wear my emotions on my sleeve. I strap it on my arm. It carries a bunch of music, and it also carries a bunch of me in it. I made some playlists, but when you hear what happened to me you will wonder if the playlists are playing me. I have a workout play list with some heavy rock and good beat. The first time I worked out with my iPod, I was lifting heavier weights, doing more repetitions and feeling stronger after the workout than ever before. The difference was amazing. I call this play list “Testosterian.” Then there’s my meditation play list. It has Sheila Chandra, some Gregorian Chants, and various other sounds on it. It takes me into a deep peace and I like to listen to this at the end of the day. I call this play list “Euphorian.” I’ve also got a compassion play list. It has the blues, and other tear jerking music on it. I listen to it when I feel weary or overwhelmed. I call this play list “Melancholian.”
Me, myself and iPod. It was certainly kind of Apple to include the “I” in iPod for Ian. It was an unnecessary gesture, but much appreciated. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, I discovered the shuffle command. Merging all my different play lists creates a smorgasbord of musical surprises and as I discovered a little identity confusion.
One day my various play lists had their own battle of emotions. I was on an airplane and hit the shuffle key. First, one of my testosterian songs played. I didn’t know what to do with all the energy. I started edging my arm across the armrest. No one messes with testosterian. Then just as suddenly, that song ended and James Blunt began. My arms melted to my sides and I began quietly weeping in my seat. “Goodbye my lover!” Melancholian took over. Before I could wipe the tears from my face, Sheila Chandra started crooning in my ear and I could have sworn I had died and gone to bliss heaven. Euphorian took over.
This little game of musical emotions went on for a while before I even realized how insane I had become.
I had so locked into each emotion that I had forgotten how brief and changing they are. There is nothing wrong with emotions, any of them, nor with their crazy play lists. Emotions are important and it’s healthy to let them play their respective songs. Just remember who’s in charge Remember who has their finger on the shuffle, pause and play buttons. Luckily no one was hurt on my little flight with Air Ian. But the truth is that people do get hurt when you let your emotions mindlessly rule your life. The need to defend and accommodate, justify and perpetuate certain emotions, especially the stubborn, disempowering emotions becomes a life and death struggle, and is behind so much relationship conflict, and personal despair. I’ve had enough turbulence from this little flight of mindless passion. When my emotions slip into auto pilot, I’m not reaching the heights I could as a human being. Now I always try to fly United.
United! That’s one of the ways to manage your emotions. They all have something to tell you, but none of them tell you everything. They all bring messages of growth to you, but you decide which ones get prominence at a given time, why and to what end.
I Have Emotions. My Emotions Don’t Define Me. I Am Master of My Emotions
You have emotions, and they ARE important. Your emotions need to be acknowledged, or else they will be like a two year old tantrum that is always just beneath the surface. Maybe no one will see it, but it will mess with you and prevent you from being all you can be. There is a scene in the movie “Anger Management”. Jack Nicholson is the oddball psychologist (Dr Rydell) working with the passive aggressive Adam Sandler (Dave Buznik). He’s trying to help Sandler manage his emotions and explains that there are two kinds of angry people- explosive and implosive.
Dr. Buddy Rydell: Explosive is the type of individual you see screaming at the cashier for not taking his coupon. Implosive is the cashier who remains quiet day after day and then finally shoots everyone in the store. You’re the cashier.
Dave Buznik: No, no, no. I’m the guy in the frozen food section diallin’ 911. I swear.
Emotional intelligence is the growing ability to manage your emotions, and express them in effective ways. With more and more mindfulness, you become the master of your own domain. Who is this master? What part of you is really running the show? Is it your IQ (Intelligence Quotient), your EQ (Emotional Intelligence) or your SQ (Spiritual Intelligence)?
IQ is knowing facts. EQ is understanding the feelings behind facts. IQ is head smart. EQ is heart smart. SQ is street smart. It is the wisdom that comes from years of experience in the school of life. It has its own way of knowing that combines all the other intelligences and brings together the most powerful and appropriate team of feelings and skills for each occasion.
What do you do with those stubborn and disempowering emotions? If you have lingering feelings of depression, try to reframe your thoughts into experiences of growth and strength. If you have lingering feelings of fear, try to challenge your imagination. If you feel stuck, reclaim your responsibility, your ability to respond. You have so many more options than you realize.
High Functioning Life
Let’s bring all of this together. We all want to be better people and achieve our full potential in the world. But what does it look like to truly function at the highest level? As a species, we have mastered outer space but for every new planet we discover, we need to master the inner space of self awareness. This will tell us why it’s important to discover outer space and what we want to achieve. We have found new and exciting ways to manipulate markets, expand technology and leverage growth. Now we need to master the equally exciting world of inner growth; managing emotions, expanding resourcefulness and leveraging character for the good of the whole planet.
Today I will be the master of my emotions and the commander of my life and allow others the freedom to do the same. Emotional intelligence puts me and others in a position to realize our full potential.