Developing Self-Awareness & Emotional Intelligence
Understand yourself to be able to understand others
On Coaching Yourself & Others — Part 2:
This is the second part of the series “On Coaching Yourself & Others”.
In the first part, we established the key foundations of dealing with others, be it through coaching or in other kinds of relationship or setting that involves communication.
This second part will focus on Self-Awareness & Emotional Intelligence.
First, we will try to understand ourselves better.
What am I? What defines me? Who do I set out to be?
This self-awareness will serve as a foundation for building authenticity.
With this authenticity, we will then start to develop emotional intelligence.
What am I feeling? What does the other person feel? How can I be more empathetic?
Only then are we able to really understand others as well as communicate and serve effectively.
The Aspects of the “Self”
The term “Self “ is a very abstract term. It has been debated for millennia and remains difficult to define.
There are four concepts, which can be used to come closer to finding out what the term means and what it entails.
In Part 1 we talked about the importance of being aware of whether you are fully present in a conversation or mind-wandering. The same goes for the one you are talking to. It is also the key foundation in building trust in any type of conversation or relationship.
But the concept of self-awareness can be applied to life as a whole:
Where am I in life? Am I aware of my life situation? How do I feel about it?
This awareness is the first step to making any change.
While Self-awareness encompasses the understanding of our role in the external world, for example when interacting with others, it also entails the understanding of what’s happening inside of us.
How do I feel? What emotions result from this event? Can I choose a better reaction to what happened?
This will inevitably lead to the awareness of your Circle of Control, which was already used by the Stoics to develop an inner resilience, the freedom to choose your reaction to external events.
The idea is that your problems are not caused by external events, but by your internal reaction to them.
If you are not master of your emotions, they will master you.
To understand who you really are, you need to be aware of your self-concept.
This is how and by what we define ourselves. Often times this takes place through external and materialistic things.
“I am a best-selling author”, “I am a financial advisor”, “I’m a waitress”.
They key is to realize that there are a doing side and a being side of us. While our profession pertains to our doing side, it is our being side that really defines us.
So who you are is rather defined by how you conduct yourself and the qualities of your personality, rather than what you do.
What are my traits? What are my likes and dislikes? How is my personality like?
From that point, we can start to realize who it is we are working towards being? Do we have a vision of the best version of ourselves?
Your self-concept is also defined by the self-image you have of yourself, which sets the boundaries for your potential.
This self-image is again shaped by your levels of self-esteem.
In order to assess your self-esteem, ask your self:
How do I feel about myself? Do I feel good enough? How do you see yourself in relation to others and to your ideals?
This self-esteem is influenced by your self-worth.
Your self-worth is based on the value we place on ourselves. This worth often stems from childhood experiences and on whether we received the essential recognition, attention and love.
If this was not the case, we often base our self-worth on the reaction of others, try to please others and don’t feel that we are good enough.
Your level of self-worth directly influences your self-esteem and self-concept through the self-image.
This is why adequate levels of self-worth and thus self-esteem are the foundation for embarking on the journey of personal growth.
Once you have become completely aware and secure in who you are, you reach a level of authenticity that allows you to become grounded and unshakable by external influences.
This will also be the first step before you can start to help others.
Thus, the goal and purpose of life coaching for yourself and for others will be figuring these points:
- Becoming completely aware of where I am in life
- How am I around others and when I am by myself? What defines me and what are my core values?
- Who am I willing to become?
Relatability Through Storytelling
A key point of human communication is that we learn better through stories, not only sheer information.
This method of transferring lessons from the past through storytelling has been around since the dawn of time.
In order to make storytelling effective, however, the story, as well as the storyteller, have to be relatable.
This is where the concept of congruence comes in, which was shaped by Carl Rogers’ conversational therapy.
Congruence means living with authenticity, according to your values.
As Gandhi said:
“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”
In the realm of communication and storytelling this means to be able to become transparent and share ones expertise and own story. This story connects the dots between you and the one you are communicating and want to connect with.
The Story of the Hole
A great example for this relatability through storytelling is the story of the hole.
A man walks down a street and suddenly falls into a big hole. He is stuck and sees no way to get out.
At some point people, start passing by.
First, there’s a counselor, asking the man in the hole: “How does it feel to be in the hole? Tell me about your feelings?” After some conversation, he tells the man: “I can come back in some days and we will have another session.”
As the man in the hole starts to become frustrated, a doctor walks past. After seeing the situation and the problem the man is facing, the doctor writes a prescription according to the man’s symptoms, throws it down to the guy and says he will come later to see if they got any better.
As the man is close to losing all his remaining hope, there is a third person passing by. After explaining the man’s situation to him, the third person jumps down into the hole.
The man says: “Are you crazy? Now we are both stuck down here!”
The guy replies: “I’ve been here before and I know how to get out.”
This story shows that by sharing your own story people will be able to relate, it shows that you have been there as well, understand their story and know how to change.
Finally, this summarizes the essence of congruence:
Know what you do and do what you preach.
Emotions — The Mother of all Problems
Most of the time if you want to help someone, you need to assist them in getting out of their hole in life.
Often the hole itself is not the problem, but their emotions and reactions to events and how they feel about circumstances.
It is crucial to realize that we never react to reality but to our perception of reality.
How Thoughts Produce Feelings
What others say to you and what you experience from the outside world cause associations in your brain. These associations trigger an emotional response.
But realize that nobody can make you feel anything.
The biggest sign of maturity is to adopt responsibility for your emotions.
Taking charge of your emotions and thus choosing your response to anything that happens to you.
There is a small exercise that shows how to take charge of your emotions by shifting your focus.
Focus on a hurtful event in the past. What did you experience and feel? Give that event a name.
How does that make you feel right now?
Now, focus on a happy and positive experience from the past. What did you experience and feel? Again, give that event a name.
How do you feel now?
This little exercise shows that you can step out of emotional problems by changing your focus. Your thoughts and mental associations/pictures create your feelings.
This is how you can change the self-image of yourself and let go of negative conditioning and insecurities from the past.
An Exploration of Emotional Time-travel
As we have seen with this small exercise, it is possible to time travel inside our minds, through memories and the shifting of our attention.
It is interesting to realize that most people live most of the time in either past or future.
Dwelling on the past and in the future can be invigorating but also be the cause for a lot of suffering.
- Thinking about the past: bad, sad, regret, good, happy
- Thinking about the future: anxious, fearful, excited, optimistic
Negative emotions of past and future can have some lessons, but only if you can consciously choose whether to use them or not. If you continuously dwell on negative events from the past or are anxious about the future, you cannot do your best in the present.
Realizing that your emotions stem from thoughts, from memories and perceptions of past event or anticipations about the future, is the first step to shifting your attention to the now.
As Eckhart Tolle says in his bestseller “The Power of Now”:
The Now is all there ever is. Negativity about the past and anxiety about the future cannot survive in the now.
Train your presence to control the thoughts you give attention to and remain present instead of unwillingly start emotional time-travel.
Dealing with Emotional Stress
Being exposed to negative emotions on a regular basis can lead to high levels of emotional stress. This stress is a response of your body to re-establish balance.
Small levels of stress can be beneficial, as they give a feeling of urgency, focus and being “fired up”. This can help us to get in the “flow” or in the “zone”.
There is, however, a certain threshold after which stress can lead to being feeling burnt out. As is is not always possible to channel or remove the stress, we sometimes need to find a way to cope with it.
The Drop Down Through Model
In NLP, there is a quick fix model called the “Drop Down Through Model” that can be used to deal with such stress.
It can be used during, before and after a stressful event. This technique is likely to work well for managing stress related to anxiety and anger, however, will of course not work for everybody.
Here are the seven steps to follow to take yourself or another person through the process:
1. Evoke the stressful emotion that you want to get rid of and tune in on how it makes you feel. Recall a situation where you felt this emotion and how it made you feel back then. Identify where in your body this emotion resides and place your hand on that area.
Now imagine yourself dropping down through the emotion.
2. As fast as possible drop down through this emotion and as quickly as you can name the emotion you find underneath.
Now drop down through again.
3. Now, as quickly as you can drop through that emotion. What’s underneath that?
4. Continue this process until you feel a ‘void’ or ‘nothingness’. Take a few moments to experience that ‘void’ or ‘nothingness’.
5. Now imagine yourself dropping through this ‘nothingness’. What are you feeling when you come out the other side of the nothingness? What do you see?
6. End the chain whenever you reach the second positive emotion. There should be a noticeable physiological shift as the chain tends to be collapsed at this point.
7. Verify that the negative emotions have disappeared.
This technique requires some practice but can help you to remove the stress of negative emotions.
The Choices of Maturity and Character
Many desirable traits of character such as decisiveness, consistency and strength, can be summarized in the trait of maturity.
What defines maturity in life?
Maturity as a trait can be taken on through a conscious decision to behave in a certain way and take on responsibility for this behavior.
The following list consists of seven choices of maturity.
After each paragraph, take a step back and see if you make actually make these choices of maturity by answering the questions provided.
1. Teaching Other People vs. Being Taught
Teaching shows that you understand things and makes it really stick for you, while you provide value to others.
You can still be mature while being taught, especially while being in the humble position of a student that never wants to stop learning.
But many people wait passively to be taught and consume information without applying anything of it. And most importantly, they remain in the role of a “value-leech”, which describes someone who only wants to receive without intending to give.
The choice of maturity is to take on the role of a value-giver, someone that provides value to others. In return, value will then flow back automatically.
What are you currently learning that you could begin sharing with others today?What steps can you take today towards becoming a better teacher for others?
2. Evaluation vs. Criticism
This choice can be made both in relation to yourself and in relation to others.
Criticism provides some dangers to look out for.
Criticizing when not having done any better is hypocritical. And a badly-crafted critique in the form of destructive criticism does not provide any value, be it towards yourself or others, and therefore, is immature.
Evaluating takes a step back and provides feedback in a more reasonable manner.
For yourself, you take on the responsibility for your own thoughts and emotions, direct your attention inward and look for better ways to respond, without seeking the fault at others.
Before any reaction, you stop for a second and evaluate yourself by asking:
Why is this a problem? Why that reaction?
This leads to an understanding of your own impulses and allows to decide consciously how to proceed.
Do you opt for self-criticism or self-evaluation? Are you your own best friend or worst enemy? What changes can you make today towards becoming a better evaluator of yourself?
3. Seeking Unity vs. Promoting Dis-Unity
This choice of maturity describes the understanding that working with others will multiply your results by taking synergy effects into consideration and creating a win-win situation.
This applies to business, economics, politics, but also to relationships on a personal level.
The characteristics of disunity — arrogance, pride, insisting in the own way as the only right one and thus promoting disunity — is a sign of immaturity.
Are you committed to working with and understanding other people or are you more interested in just doing things your own way? What changes can you begin making today to better understand others and begin working towards unity with other people?
4. Living by Faith vs Living in Fear
This choice of maturity is not meant in a religious way.
Ask yourself, what is it that prevents us from doing the things we want to do?
It is mostly fear, the fear of a potentially bad outcome.
Living by faith means to pursue your goals with the hope and firm belief that the best possible outcome will manifest itself.
This faith will allow you to act in spite of any uncertainty and discomfort because you have developed a deep trust in your abilities and the process.
Do you take risks ‘in faith’ that things will work out for the best, or do you tend to ‘play it safe’ in fear of making mistakes? How much more could you achieve with your life if you were to STOP exercising fear, and START exercising more faith?
5. Governed by Truth vs Governed by Feelings
We don’t respond to reality but to our perception of reality. In the context of any kind of relationship, it is therefore key to establish a relevant truth.
Ask yourself the question: “How do you know that is true?”
By using reason to establish what is true, you will no longer be tossed around by emotions and feelings.
Mature relationships rely on truth, to know where you at and how to move forward.
Are you completely honest with yourself and others in all areas of life? Do you hold yourself back just to keep the peace with others? Who could you be more honest with today if you weren’t worried about how others would react?
6. Desiring Growth-Challenges vs Desiring Pleasure & Happiness
It is important to realize that there is a big difference between the concepts of fulfillment on the one hand and happiness on the other hand.
While happiness is mostly achieved through short-term pleasures, instant gratification and is therefore short-lived, fulfillment is a more sustainable form and focuses on the long-term.
Fulfillment comes through giving (Viktor Frankl’s idea of self-transcendence), while happiness is often sought through getting something for yourself.
By focusing on long-term challenges to grow as a person and be of more value to others we can transcend ourselves and as a side effect achieve fulfillment.
Do you embrace challenges and look for ways to grow and develop yourself, or, are you more inclined to shy away from change? What areas of your life could you start improving yourself in today to become of greater value to others?
7. Developing Self-Awareness vs. Emotional Reactiveness
Being aware of the factors of the “self” as described above and how thoughts and impulses try to take control over that “self”, is the first steps towards developing self-awareness and thus avoiding emotionally tossed around by your emotions.
This awareness will then allow you to choose your reaction consciously, in spite of being triggered or offended by others, events or circumstances.
By understanding that our perspective and perception are only one of many and by trying to tune out and develop some objectivism, you will better understand yourself and therefore others.
Do you evaluate life and circumstances from an objective viewpoint or are you more inclined to react emotionally to other people and the circumstances that you face? What changes can you begin making today to help you develop a greater degree of self-awareness?
The Facts, Feelings, Faith Framework
In order to be emotionally stable and not be tossed around like a leaf in the wind by external events in life, it is important to establish a strong foundation to live by.
There are three possible views which life can be based on:
- Feelings: Living according to your feelings will result in an emotional roller coaster. Being consumed by your feelings and not being to detach from them will result in inconsistency, being emotionally unbalanced, lack of self-control and therefore trust.
- Faith: In a non-religious way it can be an important tool to tackle challenges that lie ahead and to not be held back by fear. However, it is important to remain resilient in the face of failure and rejection in spite of having exercised faith. Otherwise, living life according to faith can result in extreme emotional highs but also extreme lows.
- Facts: Living by facts means living a life based on the truths you established for yourself about who you are. This serves as a foundation, makes you grounded and secure in who you are. You will still have emotional ups and downs but are not controlled by these emotions. This self-awareness and security in who you are allow you to inspire others and live by example.
From which perspective do you live life most of the time?
What changes can you make today to help you live a life that’s more consistently based on the truth of who you actually are?
An Introduction to Thought Management
As we have seen above, emotions and feelings are always the result of a thought you have in your head.
It is essential to realize that life is not lived from the outside in, but from the inside out and the quality of life is determined by how well we learn to play that inner game.
No matter how someone treats you or which thoughts pop into your head, it is your choice to choose the reaction, your response and the action you take. You are responsible.
Even if you do something unintentionally, if you are lead by impulses, it is your choice to stop doing it once you become aware of it.
Don’t stay on the path of unconscious reaction patterns, develop mindfulness and discernment to be able to take “right action”.
Already the Stoics knew this practice of controlling the impressions you let in, validating your thoughts and being conscious about how you act.
Since thoughts cause emotions you can use emotions as a guide to backtrack the thought that you’ve had.
Then, use reason to decide if this thought corresponds to the truth you’ve established for yourself and therefore respond to this thought consciously with right action.
The Emotional IQ Model
This model describes the order of how our emotions play out.
Imagine you are working at a job you don’t really like, but you need it to pay your bills.
One day you are disrespected by your boss. This will most likely result in anger and frustration.
Now imagine that at some point you blow up and say something back. This can lead to anxiety and fear, because you might get fired for it and regret saying something. Even though you might be right, it is still possible that you now start to feel guilt and shame.
This sequence of emotions can be summarized as a pre-neurotic state.
Now, when you by into these emotions and develop a feeling of being useless, worthless and that you are helpless and hopeless, you manifest beliefs of low self-worth and follow a downward spiral, which is the neurotic state.
In a coaching setting, the coach would not offer any help with depression. She would not make people feel better but offer tools that help them to become better themselves.
Exercise for emotional self-awareness:
Over the next two weeks, at least once each day, keep a journal where you write down any emotions you felt throughout that day.
Don’t worry about WHY you have the feelings — at least initially. The first step is just to notice what you are feeling and put a word to it — name it.
And especially don’t worry about how to ‘make them go away’ or ‘fix them!’ Just notice them for now.
In order to develop empathy for other people’s feelings, we must first understand our own. By being conscious of your emotions you can then start to identify the causes for them and eventually better manage them.
This concludes the second part of this guide “On Coaching Yourself & Others”.
Check out the third part, which features the topic of Core Beliefs in more detail.
Until next time,
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