Educators often say that students need to “learn how to learn” to be successful in school. I would say that this is also true about happiness: one must learn how to be happy to be happy.
Unfortunately, however, this kind of learning is not usually a priority in modern education, and thus we have a lot of people suffering mentally with depression and lack of confidence and self-esteem, including many highly educated and accomplished people. We stress things like math and science in school because we want students to be successful, but learning to work with on one’s own emotions might be the most important kind of learning of all.
In his book Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goldman posits that emotional intelligence (EQ) is actually more important than IQ for success. In the decades since that book was published, scientists and psychologists have continued to conduct studies that support his idea. While being “book smart” is certainly a great attribute to have, understanding your own emotions and the emotions of others may be the true key to lifelong success and happiness.
What Emotional Intelligence Really Means
But what does it really mean to have a high EQ? Sometimes, I find that people think that it means controlling emotions and pushing them down so they won’t show, but that is not healthy at all. Usually, that results in growing inner turmoil that might lead to hurtful, explosive displays of emotion. The real definition of emotional intelligence, I believe, should be emotional equilibrium
—a balanced way of experiencing and working with one’s own emotions—and the ability to understand and empathize with the emotions of others.
Emotions, in and of themselves, are not bad or wrong in any way; they are simply the way our brains react to the world around us. They are not who we are; they are just a tool the brain uses to help us make our way through our journey of life. To maintain balanced emotions, a high EQ person observes and uses his or her emotions without being carried away by them. Fortunately, you don’t have to be born with a high EQ since there are many practices that can help you maintain your emotional equilibrium.
In my Brain Education program, one of the first concepts I teach people about their emotions is summed up in this mantra I have them repeat: “My emotions are not me but mine.” This concept is important because if your ego identifies with your emotions, you will be hopelessly attached to them, never able to let them go. For example, if someone has a lot of anger because they cannot let go of some incidents in their past, their ego is holding on to that emotion. Essentially, this emotion has become part of their identity, making it hard for positive emotions to enter, and the anger just grows and grows.
This is not to say that the emotions themselves are wrong; there are certainly reasons to feel what we feel in response to given situations, including those that bring up negative emotions. The problem arises when we cannot let go of an emotion, and we become like a boat that has taken on too much cargo while sailing during a storm—the boat becomes unstable, and it might even capsize.
Emotional Equilibrium Meditations
Fortunately, there are many practices that can help us learn to let go of emotions and to regain mental equilibrium. First, we need to quiet the chattering mind that tends to feed our emotions, especially the ones like anger and sadness that can really bring us down. Most of us have had experiences in our life that feel hurtful, perhaps even betrayals that make us feel traumatized. The mind tends to focus intently on negative experiences, almost to the point where the mind can focus on nothing else. That’s why quieting the mind in some way is very important. Meditation is highly effective for this since it helps people to slow down or even stop the chatter of the mind.
In my Brain Education training, I usually have people try energy meditation
, since this helps to build energy awareness at the same time as building focus and mental calm, although any kind of meditation will work. In fact, you can even turn any everyday chore into a kind of meditation
if you focus only on that task, blocking out any other stray thought that does not relate to that task. For example, while washing the dishes, you could focus intently and mindfully on every detail of that process—feeling the contours of every dish, experiencing the sensations of the soapsuds, and gently and mindfully placing them in the dish strainer. This can be done with just about anything you do—driving a car, mopping the floor, taking a walk, cooking a meal, and so on.
To Stop Being Triggered, Step Back
But what about ongoing negative experiences that turn up all sorts of emotions that throw us out of balance? Well, part of the answer lies in one’s perspective. If you want to maintain equanimity, you must be able to back up from any situation, no matter how difficult, to see the bigger picture. This is part of the lesson of “my emotions are not me but mine.” First, back up enough to realize that nothing should be taken too personally and that everything can contribute to our personal growth.
If you feel offended about anything that other people say or do, that is always about your ego being offended. Your soul, your true self, can never be offended by the hurtful behaviors of other people; all it can ever do is love and recognize that other soul in its perfection. That realization does not make the hurtful behaviors right, but it does help to minimize the amount of damage that can be done, and it can help bring us to a place where we can respond with love rather than retaliating.
Remember to Empathize
Another important skill for maintaining emotional equilibrium, and an essential part of EQ, is the ability and empathize with other people’s emotions, not just your own. In the process of taking a more distanced view of any emotional experience, be sure to consider the perspectives of anyone else involved, as well. If someone’s behavior is unjust or cruel, what do you think is motivating those behaviors in them?
Anytime anyone is behaving in a way that is not in alignment with their true self, it is because they are hurting or frustrated and need healing. If you simply react to their negativity with more negativity, neither of you can heal; the injury for both of you just gets worse. So, do your best to understand their perspective. Then, you can begin to relieve and de-escalate the situation toward forgiveness and healing.
With practice, this sort of response will become second nature, and you will find that you waste less time and energy on emotional upset. You will be able to focus more clearly, and your soul will be free to heal and grow as you become the person you really want to be. Yes, it will free you to focus on and accomplish more in your life, and, better yet, it will help you to live in better alignment with your own soul.