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EQ: The Swiss Army Knife of Life-Part 2/Self-Awareness

Welcome to Part #2 in in this special six-part series of Bar Talk covering Emotional Intelligence (EQ) and ways you can put the approaches to use in your daily life. In this edition we will look at the first of the Personal Competencies, ‘Self-Awareness’.


This deals with the ability to perceive and assess your feelings in the moment and look at them objectively without reacting to them. It’s worth pointing out that emotions are not bad things; they serve a valuable purpose as an alert system about things around us that we need to be aware of. The problems come when we don’t pause to process the emotions and simply react to them (which it’s worth repeating, is the brain setting we are all born with). For instance, consider if a co-worker interrupts whatever you’re working on to ask for your help for the third time this week in doing the same thing that you already explained twice. Your natural reaction may be to shout, “if you put your phone down and stopped texting while I’m explaining it, you wouldn’t have to keep asking me!”. That’s a natural reaction to the primary emotion of frustration and impatience, but one you may regret later in the day. Our goal is to have our actions match our intentions, which comes from developing the habit of a split-second pause before reacting. In that example, your actual intention would likely be to do a final explanation while communicating the importance of focus, not alienating your scatterbrained co-worker. Another ‘typical Tuesday’ example for you. You’re at a stop light on the way to work, the light turns green, and instantly the car behind you is laying on the horn. A natural emotion is anger at the impatient driver and some sort of reaction to them, the default one possibly being a finger and shouting at them in your rearview mirror. Let’s think about that one for a second. The response is normal: our brain processes the horn as an aggressive act, triggering our ancient fight or flight response. We, in turn, react by fighting back, and in turn, our mood turns dark, and we carry that irritation into work with us and maybe snap at some co-worker or customer, a ripple effect that impacts that person.

Here’s an alternative scenario, the driver honks, and you feel the anger at them (emotional circuit board functioning normally). Still, you take a split second to think about it and diffuse the emotion by realizing you cannot control what the driver does, and it really has nothing to do with you anyway. Maybe they just found out their spouse lost their job, or their kid is sick, or they have a crippling hangover and are having the worst morning of their life and just felt like blasting the horn at somebody. Changing your perspective on others’ actions gives you control over your emotions instead of allowing complete strangers access to the control panel of your feelings.

Plenty of people think about self-defense in the context of being able to fend off someone on the street who demands your wallet. Practicing mental self-defense is a more critical skill to develop as the need for it occurs more frequently if we consider all of the interactions we have with people that can negatively impact our mood if we leave ourselves open to it.

Being objective observers of our emotions enables us to be in control of them, and we are essentially reprogramming our default system of reaction first. We can think of our mind as the blue sky, and moods/stress/anxiety are clouds. Some days it’s a beautiful clear sky, other days, there are some clouds scattered around; and some days it’s full cloud cover and pouring rain. Recognize that no matter what the cloud cover looks like, the blue sky (our clear mind) is always present behind the clouds.

Here are some takeaways and practices to build your self-awareness skills:

  • Recognition, not reaction: We will always have an emotional response to everything occurring around us; that’s our amazing brain at work processing the tremendous amount of input during all waking moments. We have the ability to develop the habit of managing and sorting emotions without responding to them. Emotions do not need to dictate our words and actions but often will if we allow it to happen.

  • Get comfortable being uncomfortable: We tend to avoid thinking about the things we like least about ourselves. A necessary component of self-awareness is identifying the areas we would like to see changed and improve. Developing the habit of self-reflection instead of avoidance allows you to spot the tendencies that are taking you away from reaching your peak potential. Choosing to ignore or rationalize negative patterns is easier but getting comfortable with the initial discomfort of facing your ‘sub-optimal’ habits (and we all have them) allows us to make the necessary course corrections.

  • Catch yourself doing something right: As vital as it is to recognize weak areas in ourselves, it’s equally important to identify and take note of our accomplishments and ‘wins’. In the BAR40 journal, there’s a spot on each page for ‘Daily Successes,” and this inclusion serves multiple purposes. First, we do a lot of things to be proud of each day and having a record of these achievements to look back on at the end of the week or month serves as a perpetual reservoir of reminders we can tap into any time we need a boost of motivation. Another benefit of developing the habit of recording highlights of your day is that in doing so, you are creating a subconscious habit of looking for opportunities to go the extra mile and secure an accomplishment for your list. Achievement is addictive in that it releases the same feel-good brain chemicals that other less positive habits deliver. The bottom line is the more success we experience and recognize, the more we want. That self-perpetuating cycle compounds over time and elevates our daily trajectory to higher levels.

  • ·Know yourself…and your triggers! We are all irritated by certain things, no major revelation there. We have pet peeves and annoyances that get us every time. It’s unrealistic to expect to disable those emotional reactions in ourselves but what we can do is have an awareness of them. Often what’s predictable is preventable and knowing what sets you off is half the battle to avoid an unwanted response.

Next week: Personal Competency #2: Self-Management


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