Emotional Intelligence is first and foremost about awareness. It must start there. As you become aware of what your brain is emoting, awareness is now possible. But how does awareness help me manage my emotions? What difference does it make if I know what my brain is feeling?
Emotions are what drive behavior, particularly impulsive behavior. If I am angry because someone cuts me off in traffic, if I am not aware of what is happening to my brain (feels threatened), then there is a good chance I am going to act recklessly to get even. Most of us have experienced the sudden rush of emotion that motivates us to protect ourselves or to deliver well-deserved justice. And to be clear, occasionally, our life is in actual danger and requires immediate action. But this is rare.
EI allows us to place a gap of time between emotion and action. And the best way to achieve this is to see yourself as separate from the activity of your emotional brain. You are like an observer to the activity of your brain, much like being in the audience of a theatre. There is a distance between you and your mind. This gap allows for something very important to occur.
When your emotional brain is active (and it is always active), it is on automatic. You, the observer, do not control the emotional brain. There are good reasons for this, but in order to manage the response to the emotional brain, the problem-solving part of the brain (Neocortex) must have a chance to weigh in on the best and most appropriate response. This cannot happen if there is no time between the emotion and the response. This is called impulsivity. This is what keeps people alive but also gets them into a lot of needless trouble in life. Think about the process of addiction.
When the brain becomes uncomfortable, it lets you know it. Perhaps it is craving the relief that alcohol can bring so it sends out an emotional message that it needs relief. Impulsively, the addicted brain thinks about how it achieves relief. It needs alcohol. The work order goes out to you, the conscious observer, and in the process, shuts off or significantly weakens the problem-solving part of the brain. Options for relief are limited to one thing. Take a drink!
Every alcoholic in the world knows this process all too well. If the observer to the brain does not separate from what the brain says it wants, delivering alcohol to the system will occur. However, if the observer takes the time to ask the question, “What is my brain feeling right now?” There is time to allow for better problem-solving by a part of the brain that actually can problem-solve the discomfort that the emotional brain is experiencing. Awareness brings options. Most of the time, better options.
Here is something to consider. You are not your emotional brain. You are an observer to that part of your brain. You create better choices by putting a gap of time between your emotions and you. Ask the question, “What is my brain feeling?”