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EI and Self-Talk: What are you Telling Yourself?

June 13, 2018


Imagine this situation for a moment…

You wake up one morning exhausted from being kept up all night by your loud neighbours. You realize there is no more coffee in the house, the kids are frantic because it’s the last week before Christmas and as you drive them to school on your way to work, you notice that the fuel tank is on empty. You make a detour to the gas station and realize that it now costs you $75 to fill up your car and then, as you head back on the highway after dropping off your kids, you get stuck in massive traffic. At last, you arrive at work, 1 hour late. Your car is at the back end of the parking and it’s pouring rain and as you run in to print your report for the staff meeting that started 15 minutes ago, you pour coffee on your shirt. You finally make it to the copy room across the hall to find out that the only printer on the floor is offline and a technician is there trying to fix it…

What’s going on through your mind at that very moment? How do you suppose this internal dialogue affects your mood? Is there any chance all of this may impact your behaviour at work?

Emotional Intelligence is at the centre of this situation…

Emotional Intelligence, aka EI, can be defined as “ … one’s ability, capacity, or skill to perceive, assess, and manage the emotions of one’s self, of others, and of groups…” In other words, being Emotionally Intelligent is to be able to sense, understand and work productively with one’s own and other people’s emotions. Building on the work of several researchers, Daniel Goleman and his collaborators developed a quadrant-shaped framework to further look at EI from a capability's point of view. The statistically validated model describes EI in terms of four competency dimensions: Self-Awareness, Self-Management, Social Awareness and Relationship Management.

Obviously, in our situation above, we’re faced with the “Self-Awareness” and “Self-Management” dimensions of EI, also known as Personal Competence (as opposed to Social Competence). What is happening here exactly?


EI and Self-Talk…

Emotions are sometimes “self-induced.” It starts with our values and beliefs—beliefs about something, someone, or even ourselves. These influence what goes through our mind—our thoughts—which in turn strongly impact our emotions. This can be seen as the “neural conversation” constantly happening between our brain’s prefrontal lobes and the amygdala. Ultimately, it impacts our actions, either in the form of productive or negative behaviour. This feedback mechanism—often referred to as “self-talk”, may act alone or in conjunction with an emotional response to an external situation. Self–talk is the dialogue that goes on inside our head when facing conflict, life challenges or even simple day-to-day concerns.

From time to time, what might happen is that this “internal dialogue” goes rogue. Psychologists call this ‘Cognitive Distortion’—ways that our brain, through inaccurate thoughts, manages to convince us that something isn’t true. These exaggerated or irrational thoughts typically result in reinforcing negative thinking or emotions, which ultimately keep us feeling bad about ourselves. Because Cognitive Distortions are often at the centre of our ‘negative internal dialogue’, they may potentially have a lasting harmful impact on our overall emotional state.

Why does EI matter?

Since EI strongly determines how we handle ourselves and how we interact with others, an emotionally intelligent individual is therefore more likely to live a happy life and be successful in the workplace. EI simply means that we can control ourselves better when faced with adversity; overcome challenges by remaining flexible and motivated, and by focusing on the opportunity rather than on the problem; recognize the onset of a negative self-talk and prevent it from taking over our mood and our emotional response.

When we lack EI, the likelihood of becoming ‘hijacked by our emotions’ is increased substantially. When we can’t control our emotions, our ability to use our ‘rational brain’ becomes dramatically reduced: we can no longer think calmly and clearly. When we are ‘emotionally out of control’, we can’t react flexibly to crisis, can’t perform under stress, and can’t lead others to success. Lack of EI often leads to personal and professional disaster.

What can sometimes be more detrimental to long-term personal performance and well-being is the ‘low-intensity negative self-talk’ that we may subconsciously have with ourselves all the time. A quasi-permanent pessimistic internal dialogue has the same erosion effect on our mood that river flow has on a sandy bank. Hence the need to be acutely aware of this internal dialogue, to be conscious of its potential impact on our emotional competence, and to be able to efficiently shift it to a more positive and optimistic state when pessimism has taken over.

What can we do about it?

The following are some tips and tricks to help with the implementation of an efficient emotional transition from ‘negativity and failure’ towards ‘positivity and success’:

  1. Keep a journal
  2. Slow down and breathe
  3. Detect triggers and patterns, and modify negative statements
  4. Learn to put oneself into someone else’s “emotional shoes”
  5. Reframe, rationalize and/or ignore
  6. Use positive affirmations to reprogram the mind and implement positive attitudes
  7. Take time to celebrate both success and plain, old happy moments
  8. Focus on strengths rather than weaknesses
  9. Avoid toxic surroundings
  10. Maintain a sense of purpose in all actions

For more information on the subject…

  • Working with Emotional Intelligence (2000). Goleman, D., Bantam, 400 pp.
  • The Feeling Good Handbook (1999). Burns, D.D., Penguin Books, 705 pp.
  • Stress Free for Good (2005). Luskin, F., and Pelletier, K., HarperCollins e-books. (on iTunes)

What do you think?


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