Do you want to better understand yourself so you can make good decisions? Would you like to be more in control of your reactions? Do you want to be more focused, productive, and effective?
These are the core issues we all strive for. They are the reasons we seek out coaching, to learn more about our blindspots so we can bypass the familiar road when it is self-limiting and approach new territory that leads to success and happiness.
What if there was a secret sauce that encapsulated all of these focal points?
There is. It is called Personal Competency and it is half the equation of Emotional Intelligence.
Let’s dive in to learn about how this powerful tool can help us become better, more balanced versions of ourselves.
What is Emotional Intelligence?
Emotional Intelligence is talked and written about a lot in the workplace. There is a very good reason for this. When someone has a high emotional quotient (EQ), it is an indication that they are living in a state of balance. Much of what you’re about to read is the culmination of many people’s life goals including to be productive, self-motivated, and influential: In a word, effective.
Often, our biggest obstacles include not really trusting ourselves or others, being overcome with fear, feeling overwhelmed by stress or anxiety, lacking motivation, and believing we are inadequate. Each of these can be addressed through increasing our EQ.
Emotional Intelligence is comprised of four ingredients:
Self-awareness and self-management comprise Personal Competency. When you understand yourself, you can better manage your reactions.
So what is self-awareness? How can we learn more about ourselves? What do we focus on?
Being self-aware is the cornerstone of Emotional Intelligence. It is vital to decision-making, to satisfying your needs and desires, to feeling safe and in control, and to living with purpose.
Think about the last time you were at a job interview or on a first date. The question that we typically struggle with the most is, “tell me about yourself.” Sure, that’s a vague and very general question. We may not know where to start, but it is also the case that due to our blindspots, it is also a very difficult question to adequately answer.
To increase your EQ in this area, you want to master the following:
The 7 Sides to Self-Awareness
1. Know Your Strengths and Weaknesses
I recently worked with a client who was feeling burned out at work. She wasn’t even aware she was burned out, but when she reflected on her work history, she noticed a pattern. She would push herself to work hard, but there was a misalignment between what she wanted to focus on and the work she was assigned. After a while, she would quit and look for a new job.
I had her take an assessment so we can gain insight into her strengths and weaknesses. Armored with this information, it was easy to see where she could really thrive at work and what she needs to leave behind. This conversation inspired her to talk to her manager and feel enthusiastic about changing the course of her work.
If you want to be effective, you need to play to your strengths. You also need to know your weaknesses so that you minimize the amount of time and energy you spend on those areas and focus on improving them over time. By knowing and accepting your limitations, you avoid overestimating your abilities and can strategically delegate certain tasks to others whose strengths lie in those areas.
2. Know Your Personality
According to researchers and authors of the Myers-Briggs Personality Assessment, Isabel Briggs Myers and her mother Katherine Briggs, one of the dimensions of personality is whether you are introverted or extraverted. Depending on where on the spectrum you land, you need to set realistic expectations for yourself. For introverts, this means that you build in recovery time from social exchanges because being around others takes its toll on you. For extraverts, this means seeking out social opportunities when you’re low on energy because being with others gives you the boost you need.
One of the traps people fall into is they compare themselves to others. If you see Judy accepting more social invitations after work, going to one networking event after another, or discussing her weekend plans at lunch with the entire team, rather than consider yourself inadequate, recognize that you are introverted and have different strengths. Similarly, if you see how well Justin is in creating intimate interactions with coworkers, how he is able to work by himself and focus without the need for socializing, and how introspective his ideas seem, rather than feel inferior, note that your extraverted tendencies just mean that you are different.
3. Be Aware of Your Emotions
It is easy to know when your car needs gas because the gas gauge serves as a visual reminder. Unfortunately, you don’t have a visual gauge for your emotions, but that doesn’t mean you can’t become more attuned to your feelings.
One of the easiest ways to get in touch with your emotional state is to tune into your body. Think of emotions as energy. That energy manifests differently in the body depending on the emotion you feel. Close your eyes and scan your body. Where do you feel tension or discomfort? Ask yourself to associate a feeling with that bodily sensation and see what comes up.
Remember that emotions are contagious. Just because you feel something, doesn’t mean it belongs to you. Ask yourself, “who does this stress belong to?” You might realize you’ve absorbed your mate’s or your colleague’s stress just by being around them. In that case, focus on letting it go. You don’t have to hold onto it.
You can also go back in your mind to past experiences. If, for instance, it’s hard for you to link your physiology to anger, bring to mind an experience that made you angry in the past. With your eyes closed and your mind focused, notice what sensations arise. This is how anger is manifested in your body. Make a note of that and next time you feel this way in your body, it is an indication that you are angry. You can do this for each of the emotions.
The more you are aware of what you’re feeling, the more authentically you will come across in conversations. Your body language gives away your true feelings, so being aware of your emotions allows you to be in sync mentally, express your thoughts and feelings accurately, and get your needs met, thereby addressing the issue at hand.
As mentioned earlier, we all have blindspots. Getting feedback from others such as in coaching, or through 360 assessments where those who know you well provide input about you helps you understand others’ perceptions of you as well as shines a light on your behavioral patterns.
Journaling provides you with an opportunity for self-expression and is something on which you can look back to identify patterns. Meditation is another useful tool. It helps to increase mindfulness. It’s an opportunity to delve into yourself, to notice and release thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations. By increasing your awareness of yourself, you can make more intuitive decisions.
4. Know What You Need and Want
Imagine you are driving a vehicle. You need to have a destination in mind. Your goal will determine the destination. If you need to buy milk, you will drive to the grocery store. If you want to visit a friend, you will drive to their house. By focusing on our needs and desires, we can direct our actions to be purposeful rather than being reactive and wasting our resources.
When we are clear on our needs, we can clearly communicate those to others and ensure that we get our needs met. But how can we identify our needs?
Abraham Maslow talked about needs in terms of a hierarchy. It makes sense that before we can focus on anything else, we have to ensure we meet all of our physiological needs such as food, water, clothing, and shelter. Once we take care of the basics, we can focus on safety and security such as employment, family, and health. Next we can focus on the need we are all wired for, connection. As human beings, we have a need for love and belonging and this includes friendship, family, and sexual intimacy. The next level of the pyramid focuses on esteem. This is where we seek ways to feel confident, get the respect of others, and gain a sense of achievement. Lastly, we reach the highest-level need of self-actualization. According to Maslow, we are self-actualized when we behave morally, use our creativity, are able to be spontaneous, can problem-solve, and accept the facts. When it comes right down to it, this need is when the right and left sides of our brain are working together to bring logic in touch with our feelings so we can flourish.
You can tune into your emotions to give you a clue about your needs. If, for instance, you are feeling angry, that is an indication that one or more of your needs is not being met. Ask yourself what you need in order to turn down the dial on your anger. Because anger is a secondary emotion, when you go deeper inside you may be able to identify the primary emotion that is affected. Are you lonely, sad, or afraid? The patterns you experience may go back to childhood, so if it feels familiar, it may be a long-stemming way of interacting in the world.
Each emotion is connected to a thought. While we have tens of thousands of thoughts per day, you will need to do some detective work to find the thought that relates most closely to your emotion. Then notice whether the thought is about something or someone else. If so, you’ll need to dig deeper to find out what your belief is about yourself.
Let’s say you were confronted by someone at work about the way you handled a procedure. When you think back on the incident now, you recognize that you were upset about the confrontation and were defensive in your response. You might be aware that you have a tendency to try to one-up others in situations like these.
That’s where you’ll need to get curious to figure out the unmet need. When you reflect on your life, what is the motivation that leads you to trying to prove yourself right during conflicts? Maybe it’s because you worry that others won’t take you seriously. If that’s the thought, what does it mean about you if others don’t take you seriously? You might believe that you are not important. The need might therefore be to feel significant, to be heard. Once you recognize the need, you might consider more effective ways of getting your need met.
5. Know Your Triggers
Triggers are emotional overreactions you have to events happening now that have roots to one or more event in your past. You might notice that every time you drive by a place you used to work at, you feel nauseous. Perhaps when your friend arrives late to your dinner date, you find yourself panicking about her safety. If you are hyper-vigilant even when walking down a very safe street, that is an overreaction.
Saying that you are overreacting is not a judgment. It is an observation. If you consider the situation objectively and your reaction to it and realize they aren’t congruent, chances are, you are feeling triggered.
You may have a very good reason to react the way you do. The old work place may have left a scar making it difficult to be around without reliving old memories. If at one time someone you waited for no-showed because something bad happened to them, you likely conjure up that story in your mind which will bring up worry the next time you're waiting on someone. And if you’ve ever been accosted on the street or heard of a physical attack happening to someone else, you might think of it and try to keep yourself safe whenever you’re walking alone in public.
Neurobiologist R. Douglas Fields identified that our triggers usually fall into one of nine dimensions. He came up with the acronym LIFEMORTS to capture these trigger types:
LIFE OR DEATH: These are survival-based triggers, like the example of being hyper-vigilant while walking alone outside. You are trying to protect yourself from harm.
INSULTS: When someone hurls a hurtful phrase at you that degrades your integrity, you might feel triggered. This is often when we feel angry and try to defend ourselves. It may lead to rumination and to internalizing the insult, which can result in other feelings like depression.
FAMILY: This refers to protecting family members from danger.
ENVIRONMENT: Protecting your home is an example of an environmental trigger. It is also important to your survival.
MATE: You might be triggered when there is a threat against your mate because you want to keep them safe.
ORDER IN SOCIETY: You may feel triggered when you perceive a social injustice being done to you or others.
RESOURCES: This refers to obtaining and protecting resources such as money.
TRIBE: When the group you identify with, such as your country or religion, is negatively affected, you might also feel negatively affected.
STOPPED: You may feel triggered as a result of being stopped from pursuing what you want. Examples include imprisonment or being physically cornered.
The more you know your triggers, the more you will be able to avoid triggering situations which put you at risk for an extreme emotional reaction, or at least prepare yourself in advance for those situations. Conversely, by identifying what you are avoiding, you will be able to familiarize yourself with your triggers and use that information to prepare yourself for facing challenges.
6. Get In Touch With Your Values
We all seek meaning in our lives. When we are clear about what we value, we can direct our decisions and behaviors to be more purposeful. It’s important not to let ego get in the way of your decisions. Rather, be true to yourself and others.
When you really know your values, you can optimize your environment. This is key to avoiding burnout. Do you prefer a fast-past work environment that allows you to expend energy throughout the day (i.e., an emergency room setting) or do you prefer a more slow paced environment that focuses on relationship building (i.e., a health clinic)? Your values can shape your preferences and inform your decisions.
7. Know Your Beliefs
We all have a story that we identify with. What is your story? What beliefs do you hold as a result of early life experiences? The more in touch you are with your beliefs, the more you will see how they affect your interpretation of events, your feelings, and your decisions.
Therapy is one of the avenues that helps you identify and overcome limiting beliefs. This work cannot be overstated. It allows you to get beyond your stuck points which start in your mind. It is an opportunity to break old patterns whether in behaviors or in relationships with others.
Self-awareness is a work in progress. It requires you to continually check in with yourself and notice what is happening within you. Assessing your strengths and weaknesses, personality, needs, triggers, values, and beliefs is a start as these are typically stable over time. From there you can focus regularly on your emotions which will be affected daily and throughout each day.
Once you are equipped with this knowledge of yourself, you can begin to manage your reactions and obtain the results you want.