Mindset Training Week 13: Emotional Intelligence
I sat in my parked car fuming. Apparently, my youngest brother and his family weren’t coming for Thanksgiving, the only time our entire family would get together all year.
“But it’s our family holiday!” I’d spat to my mother, unnecessarily, when she informed me.
Anger started to form into sharp projectiles. What a selfish person. He thinks he’s so much better than us. He’s replaced us with his wife’s family and now wants nothing to do with us.
I needed a target for my mental knives. As I brought tense fingers to my phone to inform my brother what a little shit he was, I paused.
I recalled a lesson from my weekly meditation class. Anger is a delusion of the mind, the brain reminded me. I saw the peaceful face of the monk saying, “Cherish all living beings.” Ugh, that was not what I wanted to do.
I closed my eyes.
I cherish my brother, even though he’s being a shithead.
I cherish my brother, even though I’m feeling angry with him.
I cherish my brother, even though he’s not coming for Thanksgiving.
Mercifully, the higher mind was kicking in. I delved into self-inquiry. Why did that piece of information trigger me to such an extent? What is here? What do I feel when I let myself feel angry?
I repeated in the mind, “anger for my brother.” I took in a few deep breaths and allowed myself to feel the emotion, and slowly, a bubble hidden deep beneath rage slipped out and began to surface.
Sadness. I felt sadness. Grief.
Now that my guard was down, I asked what story I was telling myself. I was telling myself that my brother not coming for Thanksgiving meant that he didn’t care about me. Second, I asked if that story was true. No. It was not true. I knew my brother cared about me. Third, I asked myself what I wanted. I wanted a close relationship with my brother. My selfish reactive wants were preventing me from considering that my brother’s inability to travel might have nothing to do with me. Then, I asked myself, “Will calling my brother and spewing anger at him improve our relationship?” Easy answer: No. Our relationship was already distant.
Finally, I asked myself, “How can I support my brother?” His wife was pregnant with their second child, and he was working a full-time job in addition to being CEO of a startup. I could support him by not putting more demands on him.
My brother had always been there for family holidays. In self-reflection, I had to acknowledge that, actually, I was the one who hadn’t always been there. My anger shifted to guilt, remembering how I hadn’t cultivated a close relationship with him before he grew up, got married, and took on adult responsibilities. My brother was five years younger than me. When I left for college, I left home and abandoned him. For years, I put my family second to everything else in my life and expected them to always put me first. Until now, I’d failed to realize my part in the disconnection not only with my brother but with all five of my family members.
In my humble awakening, I called my brother. My words were much different than originally planned. “I hear you’re not traveling for Thanksgiving. What is going on in your life and how can I support you?” Instead of railing at him, I spoke words of love, acknowledging him for all he did for our family and how he was always there.
It was a good call. But over the next few months, I started to feel dismissed when I’d ask to come visit him. The holidays came and went. My niece was born. Every attempt I was making to reach out and improve our relationship was met with a wall. In January, I called for clarification. I felt like he didn’t want a relationship with me, and if that was the case I needed to stop trying.
His answers to my ultimatum revealed how badly I had hurt him.
When he was 18, he went on a two-year mission to Argentina for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. When he returned, I was angry at the LDS religion and didn’t hold back on telling him about it. There he was, a 20-year-old deep in his faith wanting to share it with the world, and I was defiant, insisting on proving to him that what he believed was wrong. My brother looked up to me, and I broke his heart by making every conversation into an argument. Ten years after his mission, at his wedding, his mission president approached me, excited to meet me because he still remembered how my brother spoke about me with such love and admiration.
The recognition of the pain I’d caused him humbled me. I’d gotten absorbed in my own feelings of rejection again, clueless that the chasm between us was carved by my actions. I’d been in a dark place, self-medicating my depression and anxiety with alcohol. I was swimming in a pool of my own suffering, unable to see the pain I was causing my family. They weren’t there for me because I had pushed them away.
All I could do was ask my brother for forgiveness.
Since then, our relationship has improved and is slowly healing. We talk regularly, and while we don’t agree on every topic, there is a mutual love and respect that underlies each conversation. I don’t have to prove my rightness or defend perceived wrongness to live my truth. My only job is to love.
I’ve learned to approach my relationships with no expectations. To love others and support them in their life journey, set aside self-serving desires, have compassion, and forgive. Loved ones won’t always tell us when we’ve hurt them. Sometimes, like my brother, they stay silent and distance themselves. The simple question, “How can I support you?” started to form a safe space where he could tell me how he felt. Through this compassionate approach to a tense relationship, we both found healing.
HEART HEALING STEP 2: IDENTIFY LIMITING STORIES AND THEIR ORIGIN
In the last chapter, you focused on investigating emotions. Developing emotional intelligence continues with using your investigative data to reveal the underlying story and memory associated with the initial, limiting emotion. In a moment of emotional reaction, past stress and trauma can cloud a reasoned response. This is because the subconscious mind recalls and relates emotional familiarity of past and present without notation of time. An emotional trigger in the present moment brings up past moments when you also felt that emotion, intensifying the stress and sending you into unnecessarily into fight-or-flight mode. When you feel out of control emotionally, you may be reliving an emotional event from the past. By following the heart healing steps, you clear out the past emotional stress by identifying the story you are telling yourself, revealing the story’s origin, verifying its truth or untruth, then rewriting your inner narrative. This process differentiates the past from the present and relays this information to the subconscious mind. When the mind releases stress triggers from a past memory, you increase your emotional intelligence with the ability to respond to present circumstances without the compounding effect of past trauma.
Our emotions are layered in a tightly packed suitcase. The false narrative and memory origin lies toward the bottom of your suitcase with your socks, and you’ve got to dig. Use the steps taught in Chapter 11 to “breathe into” the initial emotion. Then ask yourself, What am I telling myself in the situation that triggered the limiting emotion? In the situation with my brother, the story was “My brother does not love me.” Once you have identified the story, notice if a memory from the past has surfaced. This memory is the likely origin of the story. Let go of trying to search the memory bank for the memory. It will surface as you relax and breathe into the emotion you are investigating.
Once the story and its origin are identified, verify its truth. Is the narrative you are repeating to yourself true? When I unpacked the emotion and revealed to myself the story, I could tell my rational brain it was not true, my brother loved me. This rewrote the story, and I could then use the mind training steps to decide on a rational response in line with the truth. This dissolved my anger.
Had I responded in anger to my brother, I would’ve severed even further the desired closeness with my family, reinforcing my story of them not loving me. By pausing and sending love instead, I was able to get to the festering root of betrayal and pluck it out with forgiveness, drenching the fire of anger by the cool water of unconditional love. You are not responsible for the anger of another, but you can ask for forgiveness whether you hurt them intentionally or unintentionally. Forgiveness not only frees you, it also offers the other person the gift of healing. Everyone benefits.
And I went further, taking the same heart healing steps with my guilt as I did with anger. Only this time, instead of asking him for forgiveness, I forgave myself, humbly admitting that I had an error in thinking and accepting accountability for my actions. For each reactive experience, there may be multiple emotions that arise. Repeat the investigative process for complete absolution of any false narratives that are impeding your emotional intelligence.
My family and I are reweaving our closeness by utilizing the mind training and heart healing steps. Family can stir up the most intense emotions for us—and become our best teachers.
To master the mind, practice emotional discipline. Emotional discipline is not jamming the contents of your suitcase so tight you need to sit on it to zip it up. It’s unpacking and putting things back where they belong. Emotional discipline is the ability to govern the mind to the extent that emotional surges don’t dictate behavior—the self-control to pause when triggered. When you pause prior to reaction, you can deconstruct the feeling arising. Sitting with, feeling into, and giving space to it. As you clear your suitcase, the effect of old stories on your thoughts, feelings and actions will weaken. The logical mind that knows the old story is untrue can then surface its wisdom and be the decider of action. Practicing emotional discipline and deconstructing your emotions strengthens the will of your higher mind. It clears out mental resistance and reveals your true power and full potential.
EMOTIONS AND THE BRAIN
Why do we make the decisions we do from a physiological standpoint? It has to do with how the brain has evolved in humans as a species, as well as how it develops after conception. There are three levels to the brain: the animal brain, the limbic system, and the frontal cortex. These three areas of the brain interpret outside stimulus perceived through the senses, then act or react to keep us alive. How we respond is determined by which part of the brain is in charge.
Animal or Reptilian Brain
The animal brain is developed in the womb. It’s located at the brain stem where the skull meets the spine. This part of the brain is responsible for our primitive functions our body needs to survive: eat, sleep, breathe, excrete waste. You rarely think about these functions, but if something is off in one of them, your entire body is thrown out of whack. When you experience stress or hold onto trauma, you may experience imbalance in sleep, digestion, and even breathing.
Limbic System or Mammalian Brain
Second to evolve in humans and sitting above the animal brain is the limbic system or mammalian brain. Developed after you’re born, the limbic brain interprets outside stimuli relayed from your sense organs, and determines emotions of pleasure, pain, fear, and safety based on past experience. Then it sends signals to the nervous system that drives your reactions as well as to the cognitive brain. When facing an emotional trigger, the limbic brain is at the wheel.
The prefrontal cortex is the last to develop and the youngest, most highly evolved part of the brain. This hub of reasoned decision making is located in the front of the brain, part of the frontal cortex. It’s responsible for willpower and the ability to delay gratification, accomplish goals, manage time, regulate emotions, and understand how things work. Your reactions to experiences are based on the partnership between the emotional and logical brains, which both receive signals from the limbic brain. When you remain calm and aware during times of stress, the will of discernment can take the reins and overpower the wild horses of your emotions.
Response vs Reaction
When we’re hit with an emotional intensity to stimuli, the limbic system bypasses the frontal cortex and triggers an automatic “fight, flight, or freeze” response. Emotions like anger, fear, and anxiety, and reactions of impulse or risky behavior, are all a result of the limbic emotional brain overpowering the cognitive frontal cortex. When the frontal cortex can levy its willpower, a more reasoned response to information occurs.
Emotional deconstruction is a way to analyze your emotions through the cognitive brain, making decisions based on what serves your highest good. Instead of reacting based on anger or fear, pausing to feel into an emotion and asking yourself a few questions will result in the best possible outcome. The better you understand your emotions and know why you react the way you do, the more likely you can stop yourself and reroute to a higher conscious response.
TRAIN THE MIND & HEAL THE HEART STEPS
In the last three chapters, you’ve been learning how to investigate emotions by feeling into them and reprogramming the brain’s automatic reactions into a more logical response. Now, you’ll combine that with what you’ve learned from Part One to get to the root of what is causing unrest in the mind. Through the mind training and heart healing steps, you can stop projecting your emotions onto others and begin to see them as a reflection of yourself.
In this chapter and thereafter, complete a Train the Mind, Heal the Heart worksheet located after chapter 28 in your TMHH Workbook. This will train you to decode emotions, giving you cognitive control over decision making.
*Additional TMHH worksheets available at trainthemindhealtheheart.com
STEP 1: DECONSTRUCT EMOTIONS
A. Identify the emotion.
What limiting emotions are arising for you? List details around the event and what triggered the emotion. Note the intensity of the emotion on a 1 – 10 scale with 10 being the most intense. Refer to TMHH Workbook chapter 13 for a list emotions.
Example: You come home late from work and the house is a mess and dinner isn’t cooked. You feel angry. Anger is an 8.
B. Investigate the emotion.
Give space to the emotion by taking a few deep breaths while repeating the emotion a few times. Feel it. Let it be there. Use the tapping technique described at the end of this chapter while repeating the intense emotion. Remember, the emotion is not bad. You’re not bad for feeling what you feel. What is there when you allow yourself to process without judgment? What other emotions surface? Repeat this step several times to get at the root emotion.
Example: When I pause and feel the emotion, I feel tired, overwhelmed, and disregarded.
STEP 2: IDENTIFY THE STORY AND ITS ORIGIN
A. What is the memory behind the emotion?
Is there a past memory that arises when you felt any of the presenting emotions?
With the gaze focused on the third eye point, continue naming the emotions. Does a memory pop into your head? You don’t need to search for it. If there is a moment from your past that’s connected, it will come into your mind.
Example: When I think about feeling angry, overwhelmed, and disregarded, a memory arises from when I was a teenager. My parents weren’t able to care for me properly and I had to do everything myself. I felt angry, disregarded, and overwhelmed trying to take care of myself and my siblings.
B. What is the story that was written from the memory?
What is the story you’re telling yourself? What is the fear? Find the source of the limiting thought, feeling, or belief. Your present-time emotion is a reaction to this story.
Example: The story could be that I don’t feel supported, helped, or loved. The fears could be around survival and abandonment.
C. Is the story true?
Are the stories or fears you’re telling yourself true?
No:Tell yourself, The story of being unloved is not true. My fears of abandonment are not true.
Yes: Note the truth, then move on to the acceptance phase of the mind training steps, finding what you can do to move forward.
D. Rewrite any untrue stories and fears that arose for you during the heart healing steps.
Rewrite a true statement for yourself. Use the phrase or the feeling associated with the phrase in your meditation as your mantra. Then, repeat the rewritten story any time the associated emotion and old story creeps up. Post your true statement where you can see it every day.
Example: My family loves me. I am loved. I am supported. My family wants to help me.
STEP 3: ACKNOWLEDGE LOSS AND SET A JOYFUL RESOLVE.
In this part of the investigative process, you get to the feelings underneath all of the feelings: the acknowledgment that all things outside of you are temporary. There is a grief, loss or unfulfilled want associated with every limiting emotion. The easiest way to identify this is to ask yourself “What do I want that I am not getting?” Then, “What do I lose by not getting what I want?” That’s where the grief is. Once you acknowledge the loss, make a joyful resolve around it to move through grief and loss with positive thoughts and action.
Example: I want the house to be cleaned and dinner to be prepared when I get home. The unfulfilled want is that things aren’t done the way I want them to be. I acknowledge that dinner may not be prepared when I get home and joyful resolve to be more understanding, communicate with love, ask what I can do to help, and have a better plan in place.
STEP 4: CLEAR LIMITING EMOTIONS WITH THE FORCE OF UNCONDITIONAL LOVE.
Awaken unconditional love by focusing on the third eye point. Sit in meditation posture with the gaze focused at the third eye point. Take three deep breaths, allowing the area around your heart to expand. Repeat “The power of unconditional love awakens within me and clears limiting emotion on all levels of my being.” Run index and middle finger from the third eye point to the base of the skull three times. After you clear each emotion, repeat the positive story you rewrote.
Example: With the gaze focused to the wisdom point at the third eye, I sit and breathe expansive breaths around my heart, awakening unconditional love from within. Then, I use these higher vibrations to replace the emotional vibrations that arose: anger, disregard, feeling unloved, abandonment, and grief, by physically tracing the energy line from the third eye point to the top of the spine.
STEP 5: MIND TRAINING STEPS.
Next, follow the steps detailed in Part One of this book: acceptance, intention, gratitude, and action. Responding with your highest consciousness requires intentional effort. Identify what you want, strategize, then proceed forward with kindness and compassion in finding what you can do. If the decided action can’t be accomplished in one or two steps, use a goal worksheet from Chapter 8 of your TMHH Workbook to create an action plan.
Acceptance: What is the current situation? I accept my family completely even though the house is a mess and dinner is not prepared.
Statement of intention: What do you want? I want my partner to do the tasks they’ve committed to. I want a happy loving family. Speak to yourself as if you have what you want. I have a happy loving family. My partner is reliable.
Statement of liberation: How do you feel when you imagine having what you want? When I imagine having what I want, I feel loved and supported. Speak to yourself as if you already have the qualities you want. I am loved. I am supported.
Gratitude: What are you grateful for? What is going right? What is not going wrong? I am grateful for my family and the love they give me. I see that my partner got sidetracked with helping the kids with homework. I am grateful he/she is so patient with the kids.
Action: What can you do that affirms the rewritten story? I can grab leftovers out of the fridge or make a quick call for takeout. I can go for a walk around the block and cool off from my stressful day. I can tell my family that I love them.
Other action steps:
Hold a family meeting. Detail and distribute weekly tasks. Post the tasks where they can be seen with motivational sayings like “I do my daily tasks with joy because I love my family.” Follow up in a non-punitive way by offering recognitions. Hold individuals accountable with clear rule and boundaries.
After the emotional deconstruction process, check in with your anger. Where are you on a scale of 1 – 10?
Example: After I finished the heart healing steps, my anger was a 2.
Further work may be needed to free the mind of old stories that caused stress and trauma to your nervous system. You can do this by identifying where an untrue story comes from, often from your developmental years. The more traumatic the event, the stronger impact the story has on your emotional brain and stress response. But it could even be something small, like getting bullied or scolded at the tender age of 5, writing itself as “I am not loved” or “I am not enough” or “I deserve to be punished.” It doesn’t matter how insignificant it seems now. Your 5-year-old brain responded by signaling the sympathetic nervous system’s “fight or flight’ mechanism, intaking the event as traumatic. In the present when the story is triggered, your nervous system causes you to react as if you were 5 and being bullied or yelled at again. To clear trauma from the past memory, you arise the moment in your mind as if you’re experiencing it again, then experience the moment without the emotional trauma.
CLEARING PAST TRAUMA WITH EMOTIONAL FREEDOM TECHNIQUE
Emotional freedom technique or EFT is a healing modality that initiates the parasympathetic nervous system while a stress trigger is recalled, downregulating the nervous system, clearing trauma and trapped emotions from the memory.
- Sit in meditation posture with the memory and arise the feeling associated with the memory. Close your eyes and imagine yourself in that moment again. Picture yourself and all the details you can recall.
- Rate the stress level associated with the trauma on a 1 to 10 scale.
- With your right hand placed over your heart, repeat an acceptance phrase to cultivate self-love and acceptance.
I accept myself completely even though I don’t feel loved.
I accept myself completely even though I was bullied.
I accept myself completely even though I was yelled at.
- Initiate the parasympathetic nervous system by taking three deep belly breaths. Fully inhale, expanding the abdomen and chest. Exhale and deflate. Continue to breathe in this manner while using the fingertips of your right hand to tap over the heart and repeating the feeling from the story.
Example: While tapping over the heart repeat “Not feeling loved.”
- Continue tapping and rewrite the story by telling your 5-year-old self what they needed to hear for comfort. Repeat for 10 breaths or one minute.
Example: You are loved. You are cared for. You matter.
- Release the memory from the mind’s eye and the hand from the heart. Take three rounds of humming. Inhale deeply and hum on your exhale. Humming sends vibrations throughout the body, initiating the parasympathetic nervous system and clearing the trauma from the memory.
- Recall the memory again and rate the level of stress you feel when you remember the moment from 1-10. Notice if it’s different from the start.
The more traumatic the memory, the longer it may take to fully clear. Be persistent. Work with moments of lower trauma and work up to any life experiences that cause severe trauma to recall. It may be helpful to have a facilitator, like a therapist, when facing moments of intense trauma.
Tapping, deep breathing, and humming can be used at any time you feel stress during your day to reset.
By concentrating on the third eye point during meditation, you’re bringing your attention to the frontal cortex. Think of this as exercising cognition. Meditation trains the brain to pause for a moment to process incoming information instead of instantaneously signaling an automatic stress response.
ON-CUSHION: 13-MINUTE MEDITATION
We really stirred the pot today. Old wounds are painful to recall. These memories that you would like to forget are remembered for healing and growth, not self-punishment. Sit with the intention of observation and nonjudgment. You are not the emotion. You are the feeler of the temporary emotion. The emotions themselves are not good nor bad but something you’re feeling in the moment. They serve as clues in resolving self-limiting beliefs that cause actions no longer serving you. These clues and the process of emotional deconstruction are useful only when met with kindness toward yourself. Process and heal what arises by practicing the mind-heart meditation.
Meditate first thing in the morning and just before bed. Begin your meditation practice by repeating a statement of intention and liberation. Filter the truth of the words through your heart and mind. I sit in the heart of healing. My body and mind heal in this space. I am safe. I am loved. I am cared for. I matter.
10-MINUTE EMOM + THREE MINUTES OF STILLNESS
- Set timer for 13 minutes with 10 one-minute increment bells.
- Sit with your spine in neutral, shoulders over hips, ears over shoulders.
- Close the eyes and focus gently at the third eye point between the eyebrows.
- As you breathe in, imagine a golden light entering your chest and exiting through the back of your heart.
- As you breathe out, imagine the light entering the back of your head at the point where the skull meets the spine, then exiting through the third eye point.
Minute 0:00 to 10:00 (five rounds)
- Circulate energy from the heart to the mind as you inhale and exhale.
- Keep count of the ten bells by extending your thumb for minute 1, then placing your thumb to each finger pad for minutes 2-5. Repeat for minutes 6-10.
- Inhale: Silently repeat “Heart.”
- Exhale: Silently repeat “Mind.”
- Retain breath.
- Concentrate at the third eye point between the eyebrows.
- Silently repeat “Love.”
Minute 10:00 to 13:00
- Sit in silence for three minutes.
- Concentrate at the third eye point of intuition.
- Circulate breath.
- Silently repeat “Om.”
Notice the feeling of self-love awakened from meditation. Affirm I am worthy of love.
OFF-CUSHION: RESPOND WITH COGNITIVE ACTION ALIGNED WITH WANTS
Throughout your day, practice emotional deconstruction in real time. When you get triggered by an emotion, do a quick investigation before responding. Pause to identify the emotion presenting. Breathe and silently repeat “heart” (inhale), “mind” (exhale). Then ask yourself what you want in the situation. Respond with what will bring you closer to what you want. Notice how involvement of cognition with intention changes the charge of the triggering emotion. At the end of your day, introspect deeper by filling out an emotional deconstruction worksheet. Begin with situations that have a low emotional charge and work from there. Is there a relationship you’d like to improve or feelings of resentment you want to resolve? Investigate the feelings arising. The emotions are reflective of you, not the other person. Experience will be your teacher, and you can adapt the steps in a way that work best for your healing process.
Complete introspection questions and Chapter 13 exercise from your TMHH Workbook.