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Emotional Intelligence 101

Updated: May 15, 2023

We live in a world where book smarts are praised above all other traits and even other forms of intelligence. When someone is described as intelligent, our brains default to the IQ meaning of the word. We do not stop to consider that the guy might actually be a great musician or might have practical intelligence (or street smarts, as we often call it)or even better, in tune with their emotions. IQ has been placed on a pedestal by our African parents and relatives who have completely disregarded any other form of intelligence. This has in return cost us opportunities that are well within our scope in terms of choices and growth. One of the less conspicuous types of intelligence that is rarely valued particularly in the African setting is Emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence (denoted as EQ) is the ability to understand, use, and manage our own emotions in positive ways to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathize with others, overcome challenges and defuse conflict. From its very definition, EQ is extremely useful with advantages that are far-reaching beyond the academic, professional and even social realms. If developed well, it can be tapped into to help us navigate the different challenges that life presents us.

How exactly would one go about improving their emotional intelligence? What do the different elements of EQ actually mean? According to Daniel Goleman, an American psychologist who helped popularize emotional intelligence, there are five key elements to it: Self-awareness, Self-regulation, Motivation, Empathy and Social skills.

  • Self-awareness: This is the knowledge of self. How well do you know yourself? Have you found yourself unable to describe how you are feeling or why you acted the way you did? Well, that’s more common than you may think. Our emotions act as triggers for underlying issues in our psyche. They, sometimes, help pass messages between the conscious and the subconscious. Self-awareness involves trying to learn yourself as if you are a completely different person. You should observe and record your actions, feelings, reactions and all other mannerisms and then try to interpret them logically. Journaling and speaking to professionals or close friends could help here. If you’re struggling to describe how you are feeling even to yourself, first try naming it. It doesn’t have to be a single name, feelings rarely manifests alone. After naming them, try and pinpoint what triggered them. After that try and understand what is within your circles of influence and concern as pertains to your current state of mind. Try and repeat this process every time you think you need to, especially if you feel or think that your emotions may cloud your judgment.

  • Self-regulation: This encompasses the activities we engage in to better manage our emotions and those of others around us. It comes after self-awareness in terms of the self and after empathy in terms of others. Think of all the triggers that lead you to feel emotionally unwell and consider what actions you can take to avoid or remove them. I understand that some things are outside your control but if you focus and exert on the things that are actually under your control then your circle of influence grows. Try and practice calmness in situations where you are not normally calm.

  • Motivation: Intrinsic motivation is what makes people successful. For those of us who must watch cat videos, motivational talks or have a sunny day to get work done, we are giving the universe too much control over our lives. Let's not get this twisted, I enjoy a sunny day, I like to watch cat videos or even motivational videos. However, it can't be the only motivating factor to work. To change this, try re-examining your why. Try to make difficult decisions and choices early in the day so that you feel motivated.

  • Empathy: This is about putting yourself in someone else’s 'shoes'. It is about understanding life from their point of view. We need to be dynamic so as to take other people’s feelings into consideration even as we make social, economic and even political decisions. People may forget a lot about a person but they always remember how that person made them feel. Try and pay attention to people’s body language as well as other non-verbal cues so as to decipher their current mental state.

  • Social skills: These are a combination of soft skills that allow us to be relatable. To improve on these, we need to learn conflict resolution, improve our communication skills and learn to appreciate others. These three will equip us with the necessary skillset that will make us relatable and fun to be around. Though this might sound cliche, the best way to learn how to be social is by going out and trying to be social. There is no Bible for networking. No, not even How to make friends and influence people.

Think about it in your own context: When was the last time that you made an emotional decision that you regretted? Was it more of an action or a reaction to something else? Why did you act so irrationally? Faced with the same predicament as then, are you confident that you will behave differently? Learning to master your emotions leads you to better self-awareness, which allows you to communicate and empathize with others better leading to a richer and more fulfilled existence.

Below are some of the areas where we can all benefit from a higher EQ:

  • Personal Finance: Most of us lie in the extreme of either saving too much or spending too much. Sometimes we even spend before we earn and often our income is over long before the month is. Now, we may delude ourselves into thinking that it's because we do not earn enough or that we are spendthrifts but in reality, our attachment to money might just be a little too emotional. Don’t get me wrong…money is a necessity. Yet it is just a tool. Having a lot of money is only useful when you have the potential to do something with it. If you were stranded on an isolated island, would you rather have hunter-gatherer skills or would you rather have a million dollars? Understanding money as a resource, and from a point of utility will allow us to enjoy all it has to offer in a healthy and non-urgent way.

You might think that you have a healthy non-emotional relationship with money if you have a lot of it but this might not be necessarily true. For those of us who grew up with almost none of it, we dread the thought of going back to zero. We guard our money pouches will our lives and might. Yet money isn’t supposed to be kept safe, it’s supposed to be utilized. It’s meant to pay for expenses, upkeep, to be invested, saved but also used for enjoyment and fun. For those who never seem to have enough of it, think about how you relate. How large is your timescale? Do you seek to feel better in the moment so as to escape a certain feeling you keep buried? How do you feel after spending loads on things you do not need? Such questions might give you a kickstart but the answers are unique to everyone. Being truthful to yourself is key.

  • Lovelife & Parenthood: Now, before I am stoned for even suggesting that you can have a blooming love life without emotions, let me ask one simple question: Is love enough for one to get married? Regardless of your response, I bet you know Romeo and Juliet scenarios that ended up in tears. There is much more to relationships than love. We may shy away from it but finance should be a key part of the considerations made. Afterall, kids do not feed on love. Emotional Intelligence allows us to consider more factors before making the leap. You need more than love and attraction to have a flourishing relationship. With a basis in friendship, a culture of compromise and a general feeling of wanting each other to succeed, that’s the right foot to start the journey on. Yet conventional wisdom advises us to remain as individuals. Don’t sell all your assets and move countries, burning bridges in the process, just because you have found Mr. or Ms. Right. Things change. It is better to have an individual footing that you can use to remain standing even if the relationship crumbles.

In parenthood, we often fantasize about how we will bring our children up; giving them everything we never had. We must be careful not to let our childhood 'scarcity' affect our decisions here. An obvious example would be a parent who rose from nothing giving his/her children everything they ask for, they might grow up to be lazy, entitled brats. A less obvious example would be a parent who did not have as much attention from their parents. They might end up micro-managing their own children thereby effectively keeping them from growing into independent adults. Try and notice which ones of your parenting choices, decisions or fantasies are emotionally-driven without a basis in logic. Fight your own demons before armouring your children. Emotional intelligence is most important here where you can empathize with their needs enough to provide but also understand that you may not be around all their lives so you teach them how to fish instead of simply giving them the fish.

  • Goals and plans: It goes without saying that plans that will probably succeed are the ones we invest most in. The investment may be emotional and nothing is wrong with that. However, we must ask ourselves if our achievements and goals define us or we define them. How bad would we feel if we failed? This is particularly useful in academic systems in different countries where the national exams are cut throat (suicides are reported annually among those who performed poorly). Another important question we should ask is why we chose those goals in the first place. This plays into our value system and the principles we hold dear as well as our vision for the future. Emotional intelligence allows us to better model our goals and planning process so that they fit our vision and the impact we are looking to making.

We can not exhaust benefits associated with EQ, It's thus up to each and every one of us to decide whether to make our emotions our friends or our foe. There is no middle ground as they will affect our everyday lives, consciously or subconsciously. As Carl Jung said, “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.

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