Today, two techniques that can boost your “EQ” (emotional intelligence) and help you be a happier, more productive person.
Today I have two techniques for you — a new, research-based “hack” that looks interesting for improving our ability to make positive changes, and an approach I’ve used for a long time to constructively handle emotionally sticky situations.
Also, note that there’s a bonus technique in the transcript below! Look for the header: Bonus Technique all the way at the bottom of the transcript.
In this 25-minute episode, I talk about:
- A super quick technique to improve your motivation for positive habit change
- The first thing to do when your feelings get hurt
- Why you might not want to develop a “thick skin”
- 3 steps to feeling better when you’re feeling like a loser
- My favorite 20-minute cure for the “I suck” blues
The Show Notes
- Dr. Kelly McGonigal, who pointed me to the University of Michigan study about values and habit change
- McGonigal’s popular TED Talk on How to Make Stress Your Friend
- The study mentioned in the podcast: Self-affirmation alters the brain’s response to health messages and subsequent behavior change (Note that “self-affirmation” isn’t the same technique as self help affirmations)
- A list of common human values — this one’s from James Clear
- My creative index card system podcast
- Stanford’s Center for Compassion and Altruism (a resource for the bonus technique — see the transcript below for more details)
- I always love it when you say hi over on Twitter @soniasimone
Sonia Simone: Greetings, superfriends! My name is Sonia Simone and these are the Confessions of a Pink-Haired Marketer. For those who don’t know me, I’m a co-founder and the chief content officer for Rainmaker Digital.
I’m also a champion of running your business and your life according to your own rules. As long as you don’t lie and you don’t hurt people, this podcast is your official pink permission slip to run your business or your career exactly the way you think you should.
Today I have a couple of thoughts on a couple of suggestions to boost your EQ. This is a relatively new term, Emotional Intelligence, it’s about being smart or wise in ways that aren’t the more traditional IQ. One of the things we know from all of the new neuroscience research is that the kinds of cognition we call “emotions” are an essential part of our thinking. We imagine that we are rational creatures, but first and foremost our thinking is emotional.
Getting more skillful with your EQ will help you with everything in your life. Your work, your family, your relationship to yourself, your hopes, your dreams, the whole shebang.
I have two thoughts on this today. One is new to me, it’s a research-based idea I found on driving habit change. The other is a collection of habits that I use to manage a sticky emotional situation that comes up for nearly all of us sometimes.
A research-based hack for making healthy changes
The first point comes to me from Dr. Kelly McGonigal, who wrote a book called The Upside of Stress, she has a super popular TED talk, and who’s also a featured speaker in an online course that I’m attending at the moment.
She cites a recent study from the University of Michigan — I’m working on tracking down a link for you — about personal values and habit change.
I’ll summarize the study in very, very broad strokes:
The study looked at folks who were extremely sedentary. The researchers gave these folks simple advice about starting to move more — the usual things about finding a parking spot further away, taking a flight of stairs once a day, we’ve all heard these. Then they put accelerometers on them, which are fancy pedometers basically. They sent a daily text with a reminder about one of those movement tips, and watched what happened.
There was a control group, who were just given the advice and the daily reminders. And then there was a group who, before they got the advice, were just asked to look at a list of common human values and pick one that was important to them, then think about it for a minute.
These values are things like: Family, Autonomy, Faith, Justice, Service, Stability, Learning, Love. What matters to you the most, when push comes to shove.
So, one group of subjects chose a word that was important to them, and then they just thought about why for a minute. That value was just brought into their awareness.
This group also got a text before the daily tip that said, “Your value was: Respect. Take a moment now to think about why that’s important to you.”
So when they ran the study and looked at the results — and again, I’m paraphrasing wildly from someone else’s description, so I’ll try to find a specific link for you — the folks who had been asked to think briefly about their values before the specific advice about change had very, very significantly better results.
Here’s what I found ultra interesting: The study did not ask them to make the connection. They didn’t say, “Think about how taking the stairs before lunch will help you with your core value of Respect.” They didn’t ask the participants to connect the dots.
They just asked the participants to reflect for a moment about a value that mattered to them — and this seemed to make people more receptive to hearing and acting on all of that wonderful advice out there on making positive change in our lives.
Here’s what I’m going to try: I’m going to get my index cards, like I talked about in my podcast two weeks ago and write one word on a nice pretty pink card. Still thinking about what that word will be, but it will probably be some variant on Love — Closeness or Family Connection or something.
I don’t think we need to get super gummed up in The One Perfect Word with this. I suspect this will work with any phrase or word that has a significant emotional impact on your life and that matters a lot to you.
Then my plan is just to look at it once or twice during the day, and spend maybe a minute or even less remembering why it matters.
I think it’s probably important to figure out how to get this in front of your face occasionally, but not all the time. So you don’t want a post-it that you see every hour of your workday, because you will instantly go blind to it. But a calendar reminder once a day might work nicely. Or a physical thing like a card tucked into something you look at once or twice.
Even better would be a way to send yourself that message maybe once a day but at random times. If anyone has a good suggestion for that, let me know in the comments! I don’t think predictability is your friend here — you want it to pop up at various times so you don’t just get into an “oh yeah, that again” habit of dismissing it before you’ve taken the few seconds to really think about it.
What I’d like to look at in this experiment is, would this practice improve my energy level to do the good stuff that I know I want to do, but sometimes that in the moment doesn’t look as enticing as some tempting distraction.
I’ll let you know if anything super interesting happens, and I hope you’ll let me know if you try it out!
Second thing I want to talk about today is also in the realm of EQ, emotional intelligence, and that’s how we handle our hurt feelings, especially in the online space, as it’s so easy to mis-step here.
All people who aren’t sociopaths get their feelings hurt sometimes, although not everyone shows it. And you’ve probably noticed from your own life that when your feelings get hurt, your IQ drops about 30 points and your ability to make good judgments goes straight into the toilet.
When do we get our feelings hurt? If you’re thin-skinned like I am, it happens all the time.
It can be an offhand remark someone makes that was maybe not phrased perfectly. Of course, it can happen when someone we care about says something difficult to us — maybe we deserve it or maybe we don’t, but either way the hurt feelings come up.
I happen to be a person whose feelings can be hurt by trolls. Some stranger says something evil to me online and I can feel pretty terrible. You can say that’s silly, or “don’t listen to those people,” but that’s not an option for me, and I’m ok with that.
I’m also a person who can come out of a very constructive conversation about a challenging issue, and still have some hurt feelings. It’s just some of my stuff that I need to own, and it’s probably a reason that meditation practice is so important to me — I need a way of working with those emotions in a useful way.
A permission slip
First and foremost, I want to give you permission to have hurt feelings. If it’s how you feel, then it’s how you feel. The worst thing you can do — ask me how I know — is to kick yourself for how you feel. It’s not going to improve matters at all.
If your feelings are hurt, you have to be willing to say,
OK, I feel like crap right now. It’s painful. This sucks. I would really like to crawl under the table with a blankie and two packs of Girl Scout Cookies and come out some time in August.
We have such a “toughen up” culture. Such a culture of “you have to develop a thick skin.”
I’m giving you permission not to, if that’s not who you are. Thin skin has its advantages. If you are thin-skinned and you develop good habits of behavior control, you are going to be kind. You are going to think before you act. You’re going to develop some powerful strengths.
No matter how bad you feel, you can control your reactive behavior. And that’s what we’re going to focus on.
3 quick steps to move through hurt feelings
Almost everyone — you see this in small kids — has an initial desire to hit back when their feelings get hurt.
Being in pain makes us angry, and we want revenge.
Someone calls us an unflattering name, and we start to develop elaborate fantasies about dropping a house on them. Maybe that last one is just me.
So the first habit you want to cultivate is: When your feelings are hurt, STOP. Get offline, get off your email, don’t text, don’t call. That first hour is when we tend to get all Unabomber on whoever hurt us, so take yourself out of the danger zone for that hour or two.
What should we do in this pause? Feel what we’re feeling. If you want to wallow a little, I think that’s fine actually. Nurse your hurt feeling. Pout if you need to.
The point of the pause is: Pouting is private time. If you get on Facebook and let it all hang out there, that’s not going to serve you well.
If you’ve ever had small kids in your life, again, they’re very instructive. They get hurt and they wail. A scrape produces a vocalization like they just broke both arms and both legs.
And then it’s done, and in two minutes they’re back to what they’re doing. Five minutes if it’s a more sensitive kid — but they feel the hurt very fully, and once they have, it loses its power.
There’s a clue there. Try to squish the feeling down and it will seep out and poison everything. Feel it fully, let it be intense, and then stay mindful as it dissipates and leaves.
Remember I mentioned meditation? It’s very useful for this. Meditation is just practice in watching thoughts and feelings come and go.
Another thing to do during the pause is go for a walk. All of those angry brain chemicals are flooding your system and they need something to do. Fight or flight. Doing something physical will give that chemical state a reason for being. If you’re a runner, that’s probably even better.
But don’t do any kind of exercise where you can get hurt if you’re distracted. You’ll feel like it’s time to try for that triple-bodyweight deadlift, or see if you can swing the 108-pound kettlebell, but I don’t recommend it.
#2: Write it down
Now, if we’re just talking about an online troll who made some kind of rude remark, #1 is probably sufficient. Depending on how hurt you are. But some wounds go deeper, so if you still need to work on the ache, here’s what works for me.
After the pause, I find it’s super useful to journal what’s going on.
What happened, who said what, why you think it came up, etc.
You probably won’t come up with amazing insights here. You’re still mad and still somewhat hijacked. But again, it’s a way to acknowledge how you’re feeling and get it expressed.
Sometimes these are valuable to go over later on, when you’ve cooled down.
If you’re a journaling type person, one tip my dad taught me that I adhere to strictly is, Your journal is just for you. It’s where you get to be unfair, unreasonable, mean, petty, embarrassing. This is an extension of, Pouting is private time. Don’t show your journal to other people.
Now before you move to Step 3, make sure you don’t need more pause time. Give the event enough space and fresh air so that you can start to see it objectively.
This can be an hour or a day or sometimes somewhat longer. Make sure you’re pausing long enough that you can bring your rational brain onboard, and you’re not still working right from fight or flight.
#3: Are there adjustments you could make?
Once you feel like you have a cerebral cortex again, that’s the time to decide what, if anything, you’ll do about the situation.
- Could you come up with a better way to handle the household chores with your partner?
- Could you ask your boss for specific behavior changes you could make to be better aligned with her expectations?
- Could you let your friend know that being teased is really hard for you to take?
You get the idea. Now’s the time to come up with a plan for what action you can take to make things better going forward. We don’t get to control other people. The only thing we can ever really change is our own behavior.
20 minutes to beat the “I suck” blues
Another technique that always helps me tremendously is, if I’m having those “I suck, I’m a loser” thoughts, to spend about 20 minutes doing something I’m good at.
For me, it’s often writing, or it might be something like a Q&A call, where I can help someone with an issue and get them “unstuck” from what’s keeping them from moving forward.
It might be work-related, but it doesn’t need to be — just 20 minutes (you can set a timer) of some kind of focused activity that you really are good at. It’s helpful if it’s an activity that brings something positive into the world, but that’s optional. If it’s a killer racquetball game or some perfectly executed kettlebell swings, that can work just fine.
I wonder, too, if our values exercise from the first section wouldn’t come in handy here. Maybe before our action plan. Worth a try.
So that’s it, two EQ “hacks” — I don’t know if it’s accurate to call them hacks, I’m probably being click-baity there. But two techniques for you to build your emotional intelligence, make good changes, have great relationships, and be a happier human who’s doing the things you want to do with your life.
Bonus technique: Compassion practice
I didn’t want to take time in the podcast for this, but I’ve found a formal compassion practice to be extremely valuable when working with any kind of difficult emotional state.
This is a practice rooted in Buddhism, although it is suitable for any spiritual practitioner, as well as for atheists. This is a practice to try during or after “Step 1.”
In a nutshell, the practice is: Once I’ve truly located and allowed that pain to be there, to try to open up to all of the other people on the planet who are feeling this right now. Call them to mind and cultivate a state of empathy for the difficulty we are all feeling.
All the people who are feeling unloveable or unattractive or disrespected or ashamed or whatever it is. The practice is to open your heart to them, open your compassion to them, and try to hold them in your heart.
This can be challenging at first, but like most things, it gets easier and smoother with practice.
There are many resources if you want to look into it more deeply. One is Stanford’s Center for Compassion and Altruism, they offer courses but nothing online at this point. There have also been many books written on compassion training, particularly for meditators.
If you have a terrific online resource for compassion training and practice, let me know!