Improve Your Emotional Intelligence – Go to a Movie!

You know those tear-jerker movies that have that swelling music in the background that’s designed to leave no dry eye in the house?

I hate those movies.

They feel manipulative to me, as if producers know that there’s a correlation between tears and ticket sales.

Same with scary movies. Why would I want to intentionally scare myself? I don’t like to feel sad or afraid, what’s the point of all that? If I want sadness, I’ll turn on the news.

It finally dawned on me. Movies, books, music, and the arts in general help us to practice our emotional range in a safe place.

Those of you who know me well know that I tend to be a fairly even-keeled person (at least I think I am). I’ve spent most of my adulthood keeping my emotional range fairly narrow. I don’t want to be a drama queen or the kind of person that cries at the drop of a hat.

The trouble with that approach is by narrowing the range on one end (negative), I also narrow the range on the other (positive) since we have to have a yin/yang balance emotionally.

For example, if you lack fear, it’s hard to have courage. If you lack sadness, it’s hard to have joy. If you lack loneliness, it’s hard to feel deep connection. If you lack vulnerability, it’s hard to feel safe. Same with light/dark, good/evil, etc. The yin does not exist without the yang. Allowing and even cultivating the range of negative emotions therefore allows extension of the range of positive emotion. Having the self-awareness and ability to use emotions constructively is one important facet of emotional intelligence.

I still don’t want to be a drama queen, per se, but extending my emotional range can help me feel more intensely alive and connected with others. By intentionally experiencing my sadness, my fear, my resentment, I can intensify my inspiration, my love, my awe. My tears are often expressions of happiness, gratitude, or just the joy of being alive. And yes, just as often they are an expression of sadness.

So grab a loved one and go have a Sadness Night at the movies. Have fun!

This is Silver Lining’s 400th blog!  We’ve reached 60 countries and over 2000 visitors.  Thanks to all of you who have traveled on this journey with me for the last 3+ years!

Are We Responsible For Others?

This ambiguous and loaded question may have elicited a gut response from you. I would guess the answer is probably yes since anyone who is caring for or supervising another will feel appropriately responsible for the health and wellbeing of that person. Without you, someone may go unfed, unclothed, or unemployed. If you don’t do your job, whether or not a salary is involved, someone else may have trouble meeting their basic needs. When it comes to children, those basic needs go beyond food and shelter and include intellectual, psychological, social, spiritual and physical development. Not only are parents responsible, but it’s one of the most important roles we’ll ever play.

However, where do the lines of responsibility fall beyond the above circumstances? Are we responsible for making sure our adult family members, friends or co-workers make the right choices for their health, safety or wellbeing?

What about our neighbors and those in the community? Does it matter if people in the community are living in poverty or are suffering if we don’t have to witness their pain each day?

I’ve surprised myself to realize that my opinion on these matters have done a 180 over the years. The old me would’ve spent a lot of time trying to control and influence those around me to do the ‘right thing’ while feeling fairly sheltered from the issues in the community or even nation. My little bubble was pretty small and I was going to make sure it and everyone in it was just right.

I’ve since learned that I unequivocally do not know what is right for other people, no matter how wrong I may think they are. (This pertains to matters that affect only them – I reserve the right to have an opinion when others may be adversely affected). These days, I try to be more curious about their perspective, explore their assumptions and beliefs with them, and start a dialog rather than telling them what they should or should not be doing. Instead of getting them to conform to my definition of happiness, I now try to support them as they pursue their own. As a result, I am a better listener and support for the other, rather than a judgmental antagonist.

I also feel very differently these days about the strangers around me. I’ve blogged before about how we’re all connected in an unseen, unknowable way. Though I still have a tendency to be a bit in my head (constantly amusing myself with the interesting swirl of thoughts), it’s harder for me now to treat the occasional stranger or the person on the news as someone who does not affect me.

This notion is difficult for some people to understand – I still struggle with it. Just imagine, for instance, how it feels when you walk into a room full of angry or upset family members. Then imagine if that anger or fear continues below the surface for months or years, even if that family lives far away. Now imagine that the emotion is joy or peace. What impact does that sustained emotion have on you? It’s not something you can see or touch, but it has an impact on others whether they’re in the same room, same neighborhood or different state. It’s stronger the closer the bond, but make no mistake, it exists even if you’ve never met the person.

My current reaction to the question above, are we responsible for others, is a bit of confusion. It’s a complicated question and the answer is not what I once thought. I suppose 20 years from now it may be 180 degrees different in yet another direction. Stay tuned!

Your Inner Light

This may not come as a surprise to you right-brain types but we left-brain types are pretty clueless. Things you take for granted that are as tangible as this keyboard are a mystery to us.   So please forgive me as I once again write about something I’m clueless about.

Honestly, I thought that inner light stuff was just a saying or a euphemism, but it’s a real thing. You know: “let your inner light shine”.   Your inner light has to do with your energy (I know. More metaphysical BS) and what you do with it. Your energy comes from your emotions and intentions. For example, if you are feeling inspired and loving to mankind, your energy and light will be obvious to others. If you are feeling resentful and vengeful, that too will be sensed. It’s not something that is seen necessarily, but rather something that is sensed.

Sensitive and empathic folk pick up on this energy in a heartbeat. You do not have to say or do a thing for them to just know. While having a conversation with two empathic people who were facing away from me, my emotions changed in response to the conversation. I did not move even a bit.  Yet they literally both stopped, turned and looked at me when that happened. My energy and emotions changed and they could just sense it.

You see, we emotional luddites are fairly clueless to this except for maybe at the ends of the spectrum. For some, this is a fine radar picking up emotional microparticulates; for me it pretty much has to smack me in the face. Thus my doddering and nerdy charm.

Emotionally-disabled though I am, I can still cultivate and share my light with others by actively feeling, expressing, and acting on positive emotions and intentions.   In other words, I may foster my light, but I can also guard it so that only the most perceptive can detect it. Or I can cultivate it, nurture it, share it with others in an active way. Actively feeling that emotion and intention and allowing it to broadcast to others permits your light to shine.

When I shine my light, I have a much more pleasant expression and body language. I am more approachable. People smile at me. Children stare. Dogs come visit. Conversation with others is easy and natural.

If I’m carrying around emotional garbage, then that light is dimmer and harder to find. Things tend to not go as smoothly and interactions tend to be stiffer.  Emotional Neanderthal that I am, I’m not always aware of that garbage lurking beneath the surface, but I’m getting better at it.

I’m really just a rookie at this, so I’d love to hear from the light-whisperers and light-seekers out there to shed more light (pardon the pun) on the subject. After all, growing light is one small way to make your corner of the world just a bit brighter.

Them Old Walls

The crack in my walls

The crack in my walls

I liked having my walls up. It was a safe, predictable and comfortable place to be.   Very little bothered me, including my own and others’ behavior. I didn’t tend to feel too much at either end of the emotional spectrum. At the time I thought I had above average self-awareness, but in retrospect, my blind spots would swamp the side of a barn (thus, the nature of blind spots). In fairness, I imagine there’s probably always room for improvement in the self-awareness department.

I’m in a different space now, thankfully. I’ve been breaking down the walls that separated my consciousness from the emotions from both self and others. As a result, I believe this Neanderthal is much more sensitive to the emotional nuances emanating from others and from within. I’m picking up on feelings and nuances that I never noticed in the past. As a result, my desire to spend time with people has shifted in interesting and not so comfortable ways.

The good news is I can now tell that there is much more kindness, generosity, and love than I’ve ever noticed before. It’s not unusual for me to cry these days, not because of sadness, but because I’ve been touched or inspired by an almost commonplace act of love or kindness. And to think that I used to pride myself on never being one of ‘those crying women’. Not only do I love those crying women, I’m proud to join the ranks.

The bad news is that I’m also much more aware of pettiness, ego, put-downs, and self-delusion than I ever used to. I am seeing those around me in a new light, and I’m sort of amazed by how oblivious I was in the past.   Though I notice these all-too-human shortcomings more easily, I don’t react to them the way I used to. Perhaps in the past for them to rise above my wall and into my awareness, they had to have been pretty egregious.  I’m more reluctant now to spend time with those that are on the constant emotional offense, since I feel my walls going back up and defensive a la the old Susanna.

I believe my growth (growing up?) has given me a new and broader vantage point that includes a higher self-awareness, and thus, awareness of those around me. I am grateful to feel more alive to all of my feelings. Though I am more aware of my negative emotions, I more acutely feel the positive as well. Joy and gratitude on steroids. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

Taming the Inner Demon

Your heart is pounding. There is a white noise in your ears. You feel like screaming or pounding something. Or perhaps you want to run and hide, cry. Or maybe your mind goes blank.

We all have some version of that feeling when our buttons get pushed, and this welling of emotion starts to consume us.   Observers wonder why we’re so freaked out over what is nothing, or maybe something relatively trivial. On some level, we know they’re right, or we try very hard to convince them that they should be as freaked out as we are.

At these moments, I feel like such a freak for being out of control.   But I’ve gotten much better about managing those feelings, both on the front end and in the midst of a freak out. It’s not perfect though, so sometimes I cave to those feelings and off I go…

However, this is what works for me in the moment.   First, I have to get away from the situation and find a place/environment that’s soothing and comforting. A walk. The gym. A hot bath. A quite and beautiful spot. Somewhere that I can get away and find a new perspective and some emotional distance from my feelings.   Usually I just try to clear my mind and then try to take another look at the situation, this time with the volume knobs turned down as much as possible.

Next, I reappraise. I have already realized that I have tendencies to view the world through a distorted lens and that lens does not always provide the most accurate or healthy interpretation of the world. Therefore, that distortion can send me off on a wild emotional goose chase where no good will come from it. I find that little thread of reason and doubt and pull to unravel the core of negative emotion.

The reappraisal looks something like this: “I’m freaked out but I tend to overreact on this subject. Even if I have been honestly mistreated, I don’t need to react to this degree. What are the other more forgiving interpretations of this situation? How am I mistreating myself? How am I mistreating this other person? Why might a reasonable person do or say that to me? What is the most loving thing I can do for them?

Turning the focus 180 degrees in another direction is a great exercise for taking me outside my bubble of indignation and self-justification. Once I infuse doubt into that process, the light that shines in on my self-righteousness tends to illuminate my foolishness.

If I can notice and reverse my foolishness before it becomes so blatantly obvious others, I may mitigate the damage before it occurs. If not, I go down that same pathway where they’re wondering what demon has possessed me yet again.

The more I practice this emotional distance then reappraisal, the better I get at it. If I can catch it as it’s starting to occur, then I avoid the need to leave in the middle of a meeting to look for a hot bathtub, often not readily accessible. I also can avoid spending hours or days roiling from what is likely an innocent comment from an unsuspecting colleague or family member.

In other words, I retain my personal power. My faculties and emotions intact, I can continue to engage with my day as I would prefer rather than taking an emotional detour that sets me back for hours. Keeping my cool also helps me be more effective managing the situation at hand. After all, if I’m having trouble keeping my cool, my problem-solving and listening abilities go down the drain.

What do you do to keep your cool and personal power? Share with me.

Personal Leadership

Leadership is an oft discussed topic, but mainly in the context of work.  What does leadership mean in terms of one’s personal life?  Is it even relevant for our personal lives?

Let’s think about this for a minute.  If leadership at work means acting congruent with your values and morals, serving others and the larger mission, and enabling positive change, it seems like the same criteria can apply to one’s personal life.

I know I don’t typically think of leadership in my personal life, that is, how I conduct myself outside of work.   I also think many of us compartmentalize the two, with our personal life containing the majority of our emotional life.  Does leadership apply to our emotional life?

You bet it does.

It may not feel that way, since most of the time, when we feel an emotion, we treat that emotion as a sacred, immutable, incontrovertible thing.  Sacred and incontrovertible it is.  Immutable, maybe not so much.  In other words, we do need to respect that “we can’t help how we feel” but we can influence how long and how intensely we feel that way.   The ability to manage those emotions is important because our emotions are, well, irrational by definition.  And when I’m being irrational, no matter how well founded the reason, the less likely I am to exhibit leadership, personal or otherwise.

How can our emotions be scared and incontrovertible but changeable?  Our emotions are sacred and incontrovertible because we are essentially driven by our emotions and shadow beliefs, whether we choose to acknowledge them roiling within or not.    This comprises our emotional make-up, and that deserves respect and recognition.  But if I have a shadow belief that I’m not good enough or not lovable, these beliefs will drive my actions (I may not risk conflict with a loved one or apply for that top notch job) but also my emotions (if someone is disrespectful, dismissive or complimentary of someone else I may freak out).  Those actions will tend to produce the reaction I most fear (failure or disengagement) thereby validating my shadow belief.  Note that I created that reality.  It did not necessarily exist before I acted on my shadow belief.

So while our emotions deserve our respect and recognition, it doesn’t mean we have to give them the keys to the city.  Like an unruly two year old, we can soothe that wild beast by acknowledgement and recognition, without rolling over for them.  This is where change can occur.  We can bring those beliefs to light and to question them.  For instance, “that behavior toward me was not loving, but that does not mean that I’m not lovable.”  We can also provide an antidote to that belief, “…and since I’m inherently lovable like everyone else on the planet, I’m going to love myself first and foremost rather than depend on others to feel validated.”

You are your own change agent and in doing so, you retain your personal power both within and outside your inner world.  In doing so, you can then make a choice as to how to react that is consistent with your values, morals and best self, and that is of service to others.

In my book, that is personal leadership.  What is your definition?

Grouchy Day. OK!

Sometimes I just don’t want to find positivity and the silver lining in my day.  No.  And I’m not sure we should have positive, upbeat days every single day.  I do think we should try most days to do so.  If we’re spending more time being negative than positive, we run the risk of being the subject of the eliminating-negative-people-from-our-lives goal that we hear from others around us.

No, we don’t want to be that toxic person, but we also don’t want to be Pollyanna-ish.  Basically, we want a good balance.

What comprises a good balance?  A good balance:

  • allows us to be genuine and authentic with our feelings and emotions, both positive and negative
  • gives us time to process the negative emotions and savor the positive
  • allows us to use negative emotions to create positive change
  • encourages us to find that silver lining without ignoring the real risks and downsides to a situation
  • helps to inform us when something is going wrong, or right
  • doesn’t dwell on the negative more than is necessary to detect, learn and grow
  • respects that we’re human and that we will have a wide range of emotions.  Experiencing all the emotions allows us to experience the whole range, since we can’t just select the positive emotions and eliminate the negative.
  • acknowledges that we can’t necessarily help how we feel but we can also understand that we may have conditioned ourselves to over- or under-react to a situation.  Considering a situation from different perspectives might help us to determine whether we’re responding proportional to the situation.
  • accepts and forgives those emotions in ourselves and others.  Acceptance allows us to constructively channel and manage those feelings.

So today I’m feeling tired, a little annoyed and overwhelmed.  That’s OK.  I need a grouchy day today and some time to decompress, process and intentionally and proactively relax.  By giving myself what I need today, I will be ready to re-engage in a positive manner tomorrow.

Pardon Me While I Cry

Lately I have felt the urge to cry.  All the time.  On the airplane.  In class.  Watching TV.  Talking to friends.  In a meeting.

I’m not depressed.

Quite the opposite.  I’m filled with joy.

It’s the weirdest feeling.  I mean, after spending my whole life not wanting to show my feelings (too scary), and priding myself on not being that type of woman that cries during movies or birthday parties, I find myself constantly on the verge of tears.

I was on the airplane the other day, and literally I got weepy just thinking about how great my life is, and how much gratitude I have for the richness and joy I get to feel every day.

I wanted to cry looking at the river as I was driving to work, as the colors and reflection of the sky on the water was just too beautiful for words.

I cried in class watching one of those manipulative journalism pieces about the seemingly boundless nature of a man’s love for his child.

I got teary thinking about how a classmate is struggling with health or professional issues.

I get misty when someone tells me about making progress with an issue they have been battling with.   They’ve found a little courage, took a risk, and found out they were OK and even learned something

But it’s not all about tears.  I also feel a profound sense of awe when I think of the mysteries of our world, and the idea that I’m a tiny, miniscule part of that world.  I feel inspired when I get a glimpse of understanding that world – or realize that maybe it’s just another figment of my cognition.  I feel uplifted when I see kindness or wisdom in another.  I dance (just a little) in the hallway when I think about how a project ended better than I thought.  I delight in the conversation with a colleague who is passionate and creative and inspired me.  I feel complete and utter bliss when cuddling with my sweetie and my puppy on the couch.

The old Susanna that didn’t feel sadness also didn’t feel most of these good emotions either.   That old Susanna didn’t often give a hug, nor did she get them very often either.  Yes, I’ll cry with you now when you’re feeling pain, but I will cry with joy with you too.   You may get a hug that you didn’t expect and maybe that you’re not terribly comfortable with.   Some may complain that I’m wearing my heart on my sleeve now but that’s OK too.  You’ll know that heart is right there, with you, every time.

The Value of Our Emotions

Do you sometimes feel that you shouldn’t feel a certain way? “I shouldn’t be mad,” “I should be more patient,” “I should be enjoying this” and so on.  When we treat emotions as “shoulds” or “shouldn’ts,” then we run the risk of losing our authenticity and even, to some degree, what makes us human.

First of all, I want to point out that many of us talk to ourselves (not in a crazy way) in a manner that is completely unacceptable.  For example, if I said to you, “you shouldn’t feel that way,” how are you going to feel?  Or if I said, “you’re such a fraud, what are you doing here?” You’re going to think I’m not much of a friend.  I might sound more like your enemy in fact, right?  My point is that many of us talk to ourselves as if we are someone we hate and want to hurt.  Unacceptable!  NOW you’re talking in a crazy way.

This idea brings us to a second point, and that is that the only person that can make you feel accepted, loved, gratified and happy is you.  In several previous blogs about perception (My View on Perception, Emotions Gone Viral, Imposter Syndrome and Not Measuring Up, ) we talked about how our interpretation of the world is subject to our own biases, what we attend to, and how we feel about what we observe.   If all you notice is your shortcomings and then you tell yourself what a bad person you are, then you are creating your own reality of being a bad person.  If you don’t think you have the right to feel how you feel, then those negative emotions will get hidden away, along with your positive ones.  Pretty soon you won’t be able to feel hardly anything at all except a sense of dysphoria and confusion.   Thus, if the only person that can make yourself happy is you, then start being the friend, no the lover, to yourself that you deserve.  Yes you do deserve it.  Everyone does.  E-v-e-r-y-o-n-e.

In addition, humans are emotional beings.  We just are.  Even if we are paid to be objective and analytical all day long, and are good at it, we are still emotional.  If you bury your emotions so you don’t recognize them, it simply means that they will influence you without your knowledge, sort of like an invisible puppet master.  This will happen and you may not even know it.   On the other hand, those who are emotionally intelligent and are aware of their and others’ emotions also tend to be able to use that information to get a more clear view of the world. For example, if I’m seething with resentment at my boss, I may blame those emotions on my boss and then treat him in a hands-off manner.   This , of course, is likely to result in my boss distancing himself from me, which I then interpret as resentful and angry behavior, and so on.  The origin of those feelings is me.  I’m creating the situation and I’m not able to see it clearly since I am not attuned to my feelings (Self-(Un)fulfilling Reality).

I know, it can be scary or confusing to finally confront those buried feelings.  Been there.  Done that.  We suppress our feelings for good reasons; often they are painful.  Chronic pain patients, however, know that to fight the pain is to intensify it.  Paradoxically, mindful acceptance and “rolling with it” tends to lead to less pain and better outcomes.   We can also challenge the beliefs that cause us the pain (Making the Change You Know You Should Make), and even use that pain to create change and growth (Making Good Use of Negative Emotions).

In the end, we all are on our unique journeys to discover who we are and why we are here.  Maybe some can discover that without being in touch with their feelings.  For me, when I was able to accept and embrace all of my parts, including those I was afraid of or didn’t like, was when I was able to really find my authentic path.  How about you?

Your Daily Legacy

Genetic ripples

Genetic ripples

When considering our life’s legacy, it would seem that most people think about their kids, their job, their community service and the corresponding long-term impact.  As life’s ripples go, these are indeed the ones that will have the largest and most noticeable effect on others.

But what about the smaller ripples?  You’ve heard of the butterfly effect:  how an apparently insignificant event in one part of the world can cause ripples across the globe.  We see this effect play out in the human drama all the time:  a tourist or reporter, in the wrong place at the wrong time getting arrested and creating an international incident (Louisa Lim), or a single person’s act of defiance (such as the man blocking the tanks at Tienanmen Square in 1989) or courage (Rosa Parks) inspiring the world.  In this era of instant and global communication, a single blog, tweet or posting can also cause baby ripples that eventually magnify into a tsunami.

Our lives are made up of an infinite number of baby ripples, that together, can cumulatively create the equivalent of a tsunami.  Often these baby ripples are created without our notice.   As a parent, I’m acutely aware of how what seems like an innocuous statement can have lasting impact on a child.  That impact can be either positive or negative.   Either way, it’s all too easy to have a profound influence on someone’s world view or self-perception, and not even realize it.

We also can unwittingly impact others outside our family, ranging from friends, colleagues, acquaintances, or even mere strangers.  This impact may also be positive or negative.  Sometimes a kind word, look, or gesture can have a tremendously positive impact on someone who is struggling, while a cruel, careless or unkind word, look, or gesture can also have a tremendously negative impact on someone who, up until that time, has been doing well.  In Anatomy of Peace, the Arbinger Institute contends that war (manifest as dehumanization) begins within the heart of a single person.  That person’s hate recruits others to hate as well, until you have the tsunami of war.

Even if we do nothing against our fellow man, our mood and emotions affect others. Ever notice how moods are contagious?   We may not notice the impact of our anger, depression, aggression or hostility on others, but that does not mean those emotions are not contagious.  Similarly, our joy, gratitude and acceptance can positively influence how others feel.  I have heard some people say that if they’re unhappy, then they want everyone else to feel it.  I have to ask the question:  Why?  Isn’t life hard enough without you contributing to that?  How does that really help you?  Is that really the legacy you wish to create?

So, what kind of wake are you leaving, as you create baby ripples in your life?  What is your legacy… in this moment?  Is it something you’re proud of?