Emotional Intelligence: Sifting Through Grey Emotional Sludge

Sep 13, 2020

Pop quiz. What color is this?

Most people will say grey.

But, what if I told you that this grey paint is actually composed of 4 other colors mixed together. How easy would it be for you to figure out what those 4 colors were?

Pretty tough, right?

This simple paint example actually illustrates a powerful principle of emotional intelligence. Let's dig in a bit further.

 

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand and manage your own emotions and the emotions of people around you. A psychologist named Daniel Goleman pioneered much of this work, and his research shows that emotional intelligence has 5 different facets:

  1. Self-awareness
  2. Self-regulation
  3. Motivation
  4. Empathy
  5. Social Skills

Today, we're going to dive into the most foundational facet: self-awareness. (PS - If you want more info on all of the facets from Goleman himself, you can check out his book.)

 

Grey Paint

Self-awareness in the context of emotional intelligence simply means you're consciously aware of the emotions you're feeling.

Seems pretty simple, doesn't it?

In actuality, it can be very difficult, particularly when we're experiencing multiple emotions at the same time.

Think back to a situation you were in that was difficult. Emotional. Complex. Maybe it was a particularly rough fight with your significant other. Maybe a friend betrayed you, or you had a big struggle at work. Think back to how you felt.

Many times, these particularly challenging and difficult situations can bring with them a mix of unpleasant emotions: fear, anger, jealousy, regret, sadness, annoyance, etc.

Imagine each of these emotions has their own color. When they're pure and un-mixed, you can clearly see each color. But, when you mix them together, you're left with an indiscernible grey that just feels bad.

If you imagine a situation where envy (green), regret (yellow), sadness (blue), and anger (red) all mix together to form a grey, emotional sludge, you can begin to see why self-awareness in the context of emotional intelligence gets difficult. Once the paint colors are mixed together, it can be hard to sift the colors back out.

Unless you sift the colors back out, you can't acknowledge each, individual emotion and begin to unpack what it's trying to tell you (self-awareness).

 

Sifting the Paint

The good news is that you can become a pro at sifting paint, or unpacking complex combinations of emotions. The key is to practice in times when your emotions aren't so mixed. When you're feeling pure anger, pure sadness, pure envy. 

Why do so many psychologists annoyingly tell you to correctly label your emotions? THIS IS WHY!

When you label your emotions in times when they aren't mixed, sure, you'll help yourself 'intelligently' move through that situation. However, by practicing with these relatively more straight-forward situations, you'll be better able to recognize each of the paint colors / emotions when they're all mixed together in more difficult situations.

 

A Note on Guilt

One of the key things that keeps people from clearly labeling emotions and admitting that is what they're feeling is guilt. We feel like certain emotions are off-limits or that we shouldn't feel that way. Envy and anger are two big ones for women; sadness is big one for men (generally speaking).

There are no incorrect emotions. One more time for the people in the back: THERE ARE NO INCORRECT EMOTIONS!!!

You feel the way you feel, and only you get to decide what that is. 

Acknowledging your emotions, admitting you're having them, figuring out what they're telling you, and taking thoughtful actions from them is what emotional intelligence is all about. 

 

Try it!

Give it a try! Next time you experience any kind of emotion (positive or negative), label it. Spend some time with it. Figure out what it's trying to tell you. Do this often. 

These repetitive exercises are exactly what we mean by building psychological strength. You're intentionally practicing skills that will come in handy when life throws you adversity.

 

Want even more?

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"Emotions are messy and hard o figure out."
- Spike Jonze

 


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