We all have experienced anxiety on one level or another. It can last for minutes, hours, days or even months. It usually happens when we try to figure out life after personal crisis, or when we pursue a challenging goal in transitional times. But people with high emotional intelligence have a way to navigate through anxiety more easily.
Recently, a friend shared with me her experience of dealing with anxiety. Every night when lying in bed, she thought about all of her unaccomplished tasks. When she woke the next morning, her very first thoughts were about how difficult it is to achieve her goals, leading to more destructive thoughts. When I asked her what she did when she experienced that, she replied: “I started to feel bad about myself and couldn’t help but cry. But if I take a walk and get some fresh air, I feel better.”
Aha! There it is, the tipping point! A lot of times we are mad that we get mad, or feel more frustrated that we’re frustrated. Here is a two-step process that might be helpful to improve your emotional intelligence.
Step 1: Improve self-awareness with a self check-in
Being highly aware of our emotions is the foundation of having good self-management skills. In other words, we need to understand our emotions first to effectively regulate them. Otherwise, how can we take actions accordingly or even predict them?
Those who have high self-awareness are very active reflecting on what they are experiencing. They understand why they feel a certain way and know how that impacts them. They become very aware of what’s going on internally.
The good news is, we can all improve self-awareness by having self check-ins regularly. Just like taking any nutritional supplement, there is no quick fix. We have to practice daily and regularly for a period of time to improve self-awareness. We can all benefit from asking these questions a couple times each day: 1. What am I experiencing now? 2. Why am I experiencing this? 3. How does this impact my life or performance?
Step 2: Build a sense of power by shifting focus
Perhaps you’ve heard this before: “It’s not what happens that impacts us, it’s how we define what happens to us.” In order to build a sense of power to eliminate our anxiety, we can shift destructive thoughts to more constructive ones by focusing on what’s possible.
When I was a teenager, I was easily upset over small things. Things such as not doing well on an exam, losing a competition or failing in any area of self-expectation. Every time I was upset, my mom would ask me what I could do differently next time to create a better outcome in a similar situation. She encouraged me to think ahead.
This “shifting focus” practice trained me to avoid the “self-blaming” trap from my failures. Whenever I caught myself saying things like “I’m not good enough,” “It’s my fault,” or “I can’t do it,” I would ask a follow-up question. These questions might sound like:
- “What worked this time?”
- “Is there anything I could do now to make things better?”
- “What will I try differently if I do it again?”
By asking those questions, I identify that I am human and not perfect, while focusing on what can be changed to empower myself.
Another main benefit of shifting focus to future actions is to guide yourself into taking more action. When dealing with anxiety that is caused by challenging goals or deadlines, taking action can reduce anxiety because we start to see the results. You cannot succeed if you’re too afraid to fail, so taking action is the perfect first step. It also helps us gain best practices that accelerate our learning process.
Summing it up:
The overall purpose of improving emotional intelligence is to be able to take action sooner instead of letting negative emotions like anxiety take full control.
When self-awareness is improved, we become more alert with subtle changes in our body, mind and emotions. Eventually, we can identify negative emotions as soon as they occur, or even predict when they’re on the way.
Finally, shifting the focus is another key aspect of improving intelligence. Our feelings will amplify, good or bad, so the sooner we can bring our thoughts to a happier, more productive place, the more equipped we will be to deal with any anxiety that comes our way. The choice is yours whether to worry or to take action, and taking action to manage your anxiety for good is a great first step to improving your overall well-being.
Check out this video about how to reduce emotional hijacking with emotional intelligence.