Arriving at work we historically have been expected to checkour emotions at the door.  But who iskidding who?  Even if you try to ignore youremotions, your mind and body fight each other as you try to focus on your neverending to do list. Body tension builds when you ignore or are unconscious ofthe sensations the body is sending to the brain.  The mind is aware there is a disconnect between body and mind, and the sensations get louder.  Even if you consciously are not awareof the disconnect.

This doesn’t make sense to you?  One example of how this manifests, is if you find yourself grinding your teeth at night, but never notice (or ignore) all day long, the holding tension in your jaw because you are stressed.  Substitute your own symptoms here…what aren’t you paying attention to?

I’ve seen a lot of articles discussing emotional intelligence (EQ), some promoting, others challenging the value of training.  When EQ is presented from a primarily cognitive emotional basis it may result in highly analytical or ‘traditionally labelled’ left brained people remaining ‘stuck in their heads.’ 

Most employees trained in EQ are highly intelligent, more than capable of understanding the concepts of emotional intelligence.  While they ‘learn’ the book definitions of emotionally intelligent behaviors, these employees can still be derailed because they have not identified what the emotions feel like physically.  Highly analytical personalities can easily get cutoff from sensory awareness below the neck, disregarding the important feedback the body is sending.  This is especially true in the midst of a busy work day. Recognizing and understanding physical sensations and learning to ‘sit with’ uncomfortable feelings allows employees to implement the cognitively learned EQ skills and move into having difficult conversations and cultivating greater self-awareness.

In order to effectively incorporate emotional intelligence, it is important the training moves beyond theoretical understanding into a truly integrated awareness.  That understanding comes from combining the cognitive skills associated with EQ along with developing interoceptive awareness (ie: the ability to identify the physical sensations that occur prior/in conjunction with emotional reactivity). I was thrilled to see this article by Daniel Goleman discussing the neuroscience of interoception as a key for emotional awareness. 

Emotional Intelligence enhanced into True Awareness through Interoceptive Tools.

It is not realistic to expect to dissociate from your emotions at work.  This also doesn’t mean you have an emotional meltdown, instead, it is gaining better awareness of when emotions are arising and learning how to allow them to pass through.  Ultimately this allows us to more quickly return to the item we’re supposed to be working on.

Daniel Goleman increased our awareness of this concept when he published “Emotional Intelligence, Why it Can Matter More Than IQ”. In that work he delineated that self-awareness, self-discipline, and empathy determine our success.   

Goleman’s work discussed becoming aware of emotions.  It is now time to enhance our understanding beyond a conceptual framework and integrate the knowledge that the neuroscientific research is supporting.  Recognizing the physicality of emotions, not just the mental narrative is critical to strengthening our EQ. When we ‘check out’ of the body we may fail to recognize that an emotion has occurred.  The more we can check in to the physiological responses, the more we can access the emotion that is stirring underneath and calm the mental emotional chatter.

The breath is a brilliant place to start, however refining awareness beyond the breath can truly improve emotional intelligence as emotions have physical correlates in the body.  Despite what we’ve historically been taught about leaving our emotions out of our workday, it truly isn’t possible unless you leave your body at home when you start the day.  Sometimes we are aware of surface level emotions but there may be deeper layers that we are not accessing.  To get there and bring up subconscious responses that may be acting in contrast with our conscious beliefs, interoceptive awareness (mindfulness in the body) is needed. 

Think of a time when you reactively snapped at someone or responded more harshly than you normally would.  An instance where after the fact you did a double take because your response seemed to come out of nowhere.  Got it?  Close your eyes and once you can envision the scenario, do a brief body scan and notice if you are holding tension anywhere in your body.   Likely a residual emotion from a past experience may have driven an emotional reaction at an unconscious level.  Had you been fully connected to the present you may have been able to respond based on the full facts of the current situation in real time.

With practice, you can improve your emotional resilience by noticing sensation as they occur in the body. Bringing focused non-judgmental attention to that area is key to finding the depth of what is arising physically and therefore impacting our thought processes.  The more you are able to connect to subtle sensations, the more likely you are to recognize if a thought pattern is based on memories and historical responses, allowing you to pause, breath and respond in an emotionally intelligent manner creating the right response for the situation that is in front of you.    

Start checking in and find out.  Share your thoughts – where are you and how do emotions impact your worklife? 

  • Are you like one of my students, who expressed that he doesn’t even know if he even has emotions? 
  • Are you aware of your emotions at a cognitive level, but not physical?
  • Have you fully integrated the mind body awareness of emotions and learned how to appropriately understand where they are originating from to truly form an emotionally intelligent response to difficult situations in the workplace?

Mindfulness teacher, Connie Cudnohowski, has been practicing mindfulness for many years and has been studying and teaching the neuroscienceof yoga, mindfulness and interoception (mindfulness in the body) for the past nine years.—–

Slide from Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America