How Do We Learn to Understand Our Emotions? - davidji

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How Do We Learn to Understand Our Emotions?

Welcome to this week’s edition of The Source!

We live each moment of our life through the ebb and flow of emotions. It’s almost as if each beat of our heart, and every breath we take, move us in one direction or another. The phone rings – a feeling sparks, and a thought pours in; someone says something to us – suddenly our mood shifts and our face; we feel the sun on our cheek and the wind in our hair – and as memories awaken, a sensation ripples through us. We are a bundle of conditioned emotions that are primed to respond to the momentary assessment of whether our needs have been met or not.

As we better understand our needs and begin fulfilling them on a more consistent basis, moving through the world on a daily basis becomes more satisfying as many of the blockages and constrictions from our previously stressful life fall away. In the process, we become more in touch with our emotions, learning to differentiate knee-jerk and conditioned reactions from more desirable and effective responses. This doesn’t make you softer or less effective; it actually allows you to rule your emotions rather than them ruling you. By mastering our emotions, we start to live each day, each thought, each conversation, each interaction, and each decision from a calmer, grounded, more centered perspective with less reactivity and greater intuition. Very quickly, our thinking becomes crystalline, our problem solving skills start to expand, our decision-making becomes purposeful, and the fruits of our enhanced emotional awareness elevate us beyond being ruled by our amygdala.

Michael Beldoch first referenced the term Emotional Intelligence in his 1964 study Sensitivity to Emotional Expression in Three Modes of Communication, in which he cited the work of Joel R. Davitz author of The Communication of Emotional Meaning. Twenty years later, Howard Gardner introduced the concept that traditional types of intelligence, such as IQ, fail to fully explain our thought process – but that interpersonal intelligence (the capacity to understand the intentions, motivations and desires of other people) and intrapersonal intelligence (the capacity to understand our self, and to appreciate our feelings, fears and motivations) rest more deeply at the core of our life choices.

In the 50 years since then, many have used the term EI, expanded upon it, and refined its meaning. And it was the author, psychologist, and science journalist Daniel Jay Goleman who took the concept to the next level and truly integrated emotional intelligence into our social and business fabric through his many articles, interviews, and books. The Harvard Business Review reinforced Goleman’s findings by reviewing emotional intelligence as “a ground-breaking, paradigm-shattering idea,” one of the most influential business ideas of the decade. Goleman is a two-time Pulitzer Prize nominee and the author of more than 14 books including the 1996 Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ; Healing Emotions: Conversations with the Dalai Lama on Mindfulness; Emotions, and Health; Primal Leadership: The Hidden Driver of Great Performance, with co-authors: Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee; The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New Insights, and his 2013 masterpiece Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence.

You can probably tell that I am a big fan of Goleman. I have been reading his writings and immersing myself in his lessons for decades. He’s brilliant, self-actualized, destressified, and generous with his teachings. I encourage you to seek out his writings (start with Primal Leadership – it’s quickly relatable to your life, success, and destressifying), his audio interviews, and his YouTube videos.

Mastering your emotional intelligence is not simply an important key to destressifying; it can be a key to success in every aspect of your life – especially in your career. If you have ever felt as if you were being controlled by sadness, anxiety, or anger; that out of nowhere you were acting impulsively; that you sensed a disconnection from your emotions, an unfamiliarity with your sentiments, or a numbness regarding your feelings; or that you were riding an emotional rollercoaster with highs and lows being more frequent than usual – then most likely you were experiencing a breakdown in your EI. Developing and using your emotional intelligence can be a good way to show others the leader inside of you – at work, at home, and in all your relationships.

After teaching people the secrets of emotional awareness, I began developing a methodology to awaken EI in anyone willing to play along. Over the last decade, my SWEEP Process for Emotional Awakening has been integrated into the management, leadership training, and employee development manuals of many Fortune 500 companies in the United States and Canada. Let me share it with you. SWEEP stands for:

  • Self assess
  • Witness
  • Examine
  • Empathize
  • Practice Humility

Here are the steps to mastering your emotional awareness through the SWEEP Process:

 Self-assess – Ask yourself some deep questions and answer honestly. Be willing to accept that you’re not perfect and that you could work on some areas to make yourself a better person. So what are your top ten weaknesses? Don’t be afraid. Remember third graders in Illinois are learning this technique!!!

Witness Observe how you interact with- and react to- people. Do you rush to judgment before you know all of the facts? Are you a good listener? Do you begin speaking before someone finishes telling you the problem? Do you stereotype? Do you blame others or become angry with them, even when the solution is out of their control? Do you examine how your decisions and actions will affect others – before or after you take those actions? Do you ask yourself how will they feel? Do you explore the consequences of your words and actions before they become a reality? If we can cultivate our ability to listen and observe… then look at potential consequences before we speak or act, at least we’re moving forward with eyes wide open rather than blind to the outcome.

ExamineHow do you react to stressful situations? What do you do when your daily needs are not met? Do you become upset when there’s a delay, hiccup, speedbump, or roadblock? When something doesn’t happen the way you want, what’s your first reaction? The ability to stay calm and in control in difficult situations is an amazing gift you can give yourself by mastering your emotional awareness.

EmpathizePut yourself in the shoes of others. Ask them what their needs are. Try this powerful practice with your spouse, partner, workmates, boss, and employees. Starting today – yes, right now- approach people in your life and ask them, “What do you need? And how can I help?” Remember that they will need to take some time to explore and understand their own needs also. But, I can assure you – the dynamic between you and them will transform and elevate. If there was once discord or stress, it will be replaced with appreciation and gratitude.

Practice HumilityLet go of the need to defend your actions or sing your own praises. This concept is so often misunderstood. When you practice humility, you are essentially saying, “I know what I have done. I have confidence in my work or actions. I am comfortable with my level of self-esteem.” Right now, are you seeking attention for your accomplishments? Get over it! It’s so draining and disempowering – shifting the solution onto someone else’s plate to validate your magnificence. Instead, dedicate yourself to singing the praises of others – shine the light on them. Be one of the people in their front row! But also take full responsibility for your actions. Own you impact. And if you’ve hurt someone, apologize. Close the loop.

By practicing SWEEP on a daily basis – at least making a commitment to practice one component each day, we can shift our stress response in under a week, elevate our emotional awareness to a new level of brilliance, and effortlessly start to destressify.

Peace. -davidji

5 thoughts on “How Do We Learn to Understand Our Emotions?”

  1. I am going to use your information in class today with a group of very stressed pre-nursing students. I know they will be delighted to have your SWEEP to use as strategies to cope with stress.

  2. Thank you for all the enlightening advice. I’m currently a nursing student and find it difficult to make time to read anything other than my school books; but I always take at least 30 minutes to meditate with you.

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