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Emotional Literacy

If you want to focus on expanding your growth potential,  and your well-being, one area to consider, that reaps a high return on investment is emotional intelligence (EI). Armed with hard-core technical skills and know how to support setting your goals and achieving them is great, however what can derail you on your road to success are your emotions. How you react to your own emotions and those of others around you can stop you in your tracks or help to propel you forward.

Emotional literacy relates to your ability to recognize not only how you feel in a given situation but also how other people around you are feeling. How you use those feelings to help guide both your thinking and behaviour to navigate towards a positive appropriate outcome impacts your well-being.

We all have a different comfort level when it comes to recognizing and expressing our emotions. This is even more challenging in a work environment setting, where the focus tends to be on technical capacity and not so much on the touchy feely stuff. Our technical capacity indirectly refers to our intelligence, which can be measured through an intelligence quotient (IQ). Our society tends to put a lot of emphasis around the value and importance of “brain power”. William Stern, a German psychologist, developed this concept and standardized testing to score individual IQ back in 1912.

We all know and understand that the heart is the organ vital for pumping life force through our body. It not only provides us with the necessary oxygen and nutrients to keep our cells alive but also helps our cells to eliminate waste. In the past it was seen as more than that.  In ancient times it was the heart that was considered the centre of wisdom and not the brain. The Egyptians (2500 BC) believed that the heart held the mind and soul of the individual. They believed that the heart was the most important organ in the body. The Book of The Dead, instructs Egyptians to weigh a dead persons heart against the Feather of Truth (an ostrich feather symbolic of Shu, the Egyptian god of air and father of the earth and the sky). This was done to determine the balance of good to evil contained within it and was an indicator if one was worthy of entering the afterlife. The heart was considered the seat of the soul and left inside the body during the embalming process. The stomach, intestines, lungs and liver were placed in jars for safekeeping. The brain, however, was considered unimportant and thrown away.

Throughout history there has been a great deal of focus and debate related to the brain and the heart, and the overall impact they have on our human physiology. Hippocrates (460 BC – 370 BC) was the first physician to assert that thoughts, ideas, and feelings come from the brain and not the heart as others of his time believed. He documented that the brain was involved in sensation and was the center of intelligence.

Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC) identified the heart as our most important organ. According to his research and observations of chick embryos, he determined that the heart was the first organ to form. He believed that the brain was merely a tool that existed to help cool the heart. According to Aristotle, the heart was responsible for the vitality in the body and it was the core of intelligence, motion and feeling.

Brainpower had a much earlier emergence in mainstream studies in terms of its impact on productivity and performance. Through Sterns work in 1912 tests were developed for determining IQ. Since that time data has been compiled that demonstrates a link to IQ and how we fair in relationships, health, income levels, school and work performance.

The focus on emotional literacy and the emergence of it in mainstream studies erupted in 1995 with Daniel Goleman’s publication of his book Emotional Intelligence. Goleman explored the relevance of emotions and their importance in the world of work. His research indicated that emotional intelligence accounted for 67% of the abilities deemed necessary for superior performance in leaders, and mattered twice as much as technical expertise or IQ.

There is still a discrepancy in how our emotions are viewed. However truly competent professionals demonstrate high levels of both. In order to thrive and be effective, not only in work but also in life, it is essential that the development of emotional literacy not ignored.  It has been said, “IQ gets you hired EQ gets you promoted”. There has been a great deal of research supporting the direct correlation to emotional intelligence and career success. In his July 28th, 2016 Forbes, article Travis Bradberry states that “90% of top performers are high in emotional literacy”.

The good news is that although we are not born with emotional literacy we can develop and improve it. Extensive work has been done on understanding the heart-brain connection and creating greater coherence between the two to improve our health and increase productivity. You can use emotional literacy to tune into the wisdom and power of your heart. Your heart is not only a muscle in your body critical to your physical survival but also has can have the biggest positive impact on your career, work life balance and satisfaction, and your emotional and mental wellbeing.

 Improving Emotional Intelligence

1. Get to know yourself, your emotions, and their triggers. If knowledge is power, then the greatest power is self-knowledge. Knowing who you are helps you to understand your reactions and to better deal with people and/or situations. To get to know yourself, take time regularly for self-reflection and self-discovery. There are a multitude of online tools and tests that can help support your self-discovery process. Assessment tools such as 360 reviews, True-Colours, and Myers Brigs (MBTI) help you gain insights about yourself. These types of tools help to provide constructive frameworks that can also be applied to understand others.

Another useful tool in self-discovery is journaling. Keeping a journal of your emotions helps to identify patterns, triggers, and how you handle situations. It will provide you will a log of what worked for you in the past and can be a great way to learn about what makes you, you.

  1. Become an objective observer: When you are with people or in situations take a step back and pay attention to everything you see. Notice the body language, tone of voice, facial expressions; all of these things are clues to emotions and hidden messages. Make sure to be objective about what you are observing and don’t let your reactions be distorted by your own emotions or personal bias. By being objective you learn to handle your emotions and others more effectively. This prevents you from getting drawn into the drama and gives you the space to apply reason to understanding the situation. Stepping out of judgement can help you gain clarity and provide you with a more informed perspective on what is really going on. Learn to see beyond the external surface and past the emotions for a deeper appreciation of what is happening.
  1. Meditate to tune in: Meditation has many benefits. Not only can it induce relaxation and feelings of peacefulness but studies have also shown that it helps to rebuild your brain. MRI scans of individuals who regularly meditate show that they have increased density in the brains hippocampus. This is the area of the brain that is important for learning, memory, self-awareness and introspection. All of these things support your enhanced emotional awareness.  There are different types of mediation – active and passive.  Meditation is not about turning off the mind – but simply watching what the mind is bringing and accepting the thoughts, feelings and sensations. It helps to quiet the mind; calming the brain and helps you get in touch with your emotions. There are many online resources available for guided meditations. Experiment and build a selection of your favourite go-to meditation practices to help you tune it to yourself.
  1. Build Your Communication Skills: Learning to articulate your feelings and communicate clearly is important in order to support having open honest conversations. This helps to avoid misunderstandings, frustration and conflicts, and enables you to build trust and connect with others. To strengthen your communication skills:
  • Become a better listener. Seek to understand not only the message but the emotions that are being communicated
  • Beware of your non-verbal body language. Maintain eye contact; keep an open stance (don’t fold your arms or cross your legs). Pay close attention to facial expressions, which help reveal underlying emotions
  • Tailor your message and how you deliver it based on whom you are communicating with. This helps keep your listeners engaged and ensures that your message is heard.

Invest in building your emotional literacy to enrich your life, relationships, and career.  Check out the new 6 week WriteWell Program – Liberating Language of Emotions debuted at Joshua Creek this month and will be offered again in the Spring.

Susan Ksiezopolski, HeartMath Building Personal Resilience Coach ® 

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