Feelings are facts our thoughts find fickle: the necessity of emotional intelligence.
My 30 year old self would not recognise much of this 56 year old. In the last 20 years I have been on a significant journey of change and personal development. Many of my thoughts and beliefs have turned 180 degrees and this is one of those...
As a young man I aspired to the alpha male personality type. “All alpha males are aggressive, competitive, and driven to achieve. They think big, aim high, and attack their goals with courage, confidence, and tenacity.” (Aaron Johnson). These days I find the alpha types pretty irritating, especially the white straight males who abuse privileges for their own gain with little or no concern for their fellow humans and the planet. Many of these are all too prevalent in 21st century politics!
Emotions and feelings are real! Often these terms are used synonymously but I understand that there is a difference in that feelings are all experienced consciously, whereas emotions can be conscious and subconscious in experience. Some emotions being much harder to get to the bottom of!
What we feel is real and the information we get from feelings and emotions is best NOT ignored or rationalised away by our thoughts. Culturally, the British “stiff upper lip” mentality of remaining resolute and unemotional in the face of adversity, where the sign of weakness was the trembling of the lips (hence the phrase) I now consider a load of bollocks. And yet this was me as a kid and young man journeying into adulthood. To this day I do not recall ever seeing my dad cry. I now cry on average at least once a day, and often at the most soppy things!
What I now understand and embrace is that our amazing bodies are wired for emotions, and that apparently our emotions were around way before our cognition. At the most basic level we have all experienced the “fight or flight” situation where we instantly feel our bodies flooded with neurotransmitters that cause us to fight, run or freeze. This reaction is an instantaneous response to an event and happens way before we have any ability to think! And thank god it does, otherwise I know our thought process would have left us dead, literally.
We are emotional beings that think, not thinking beings with emotions!
Another key learning for me recently is that our neocortex, which is the newest part of our brain, is where our cognition comes from and includes the language centre. Whereas the emotional control centre of the brain is much older and does not have language. Aha! This is why we find it so hard to put language to our emotions.
Coming back to my title and subtitle for this blog. I used to be the person that when I experienced emotions that I had decided were fickle - inappropriate, wussy, weak etc, I’d think it through and convince myself that those emotions were “not how I was supposed to feel” and then rationalise them away in favour of some other brilliant thing. Now when I experience emotions my response is totally different. First I allow myself to actually experience the emotion. I sit with it and let it land in me. Then I reflect on it and consider what the emotion is telling me, embrace it and apply it to the relevant situation. Of course I don’t always do this with such clarity and order. It’s the goal.
The phrases “gut feeling” or “go with your gut” now have so much more meaning for me. This is intuition or emotional intelligence. Whether it’s our gut, our heart, a sense, a god moment, the universe etc, tune in to these feelings, sit with them, reflect on them and let them land. Ask yourself what they might be telling you, because they are providing important and real information in that moment, that along with other information can help you make better decisions, understand situations better, have more empathy for someone, deal with stress, overcome a challenging situation or diffuse conflict.
In the 2020’s, more than ever, I believe emotional intelligence will be a key differentiator for us to cope with and thrive in life. If you’re not tapping in to this already (which I address especially to the men reading this) do reach out, learn, embrace and apply it in your life. I promise you it will make a difference.