The foundation of emotional intelligence is self-awareness, and a big part of that is knowing who you are and what you want.
Feeling unclear about these things can create a lot of anxiety, and have you questioning the path you’re taking at any given moment.
One of the reasons I love emotional intelligence is because it’s given me a stronger sense of what’s important to me, what motivates me, and what I enjoy.
When you feel clear about who you are, what you want, and what your values are, you’re able to make clear-minded decisions.
You have a reference point to come back to, something to help you navigate life’s big decisions and a strong sense of self.
Here are 3 ways that emotional intelligence can help you to figure out who you are and what you want.
1. Understanding your strengths will help you to figure out what you’ll enjoy
This is one of the biggest questions we face in our work life: what would I enjoy doing?
When we’re trying to figure out what we enjoy from a work point of view, most of us immediately think either of what we’re interested in or what we’re good at.
If we’re interested in people, we think we’d naturally enjoy a career in psychology.
Or if we’re interested in maths, then it seems logical that we’d enjoy something to do with numbers.
But interest alone is not enough to build a life around.
There are plenty of things that I find interesting, that I wouldn’t necessarily want to spend my whole day doing. In fact, in school, I wanted to be an architect. I loved the idea - it really interested me. Luckily, I spent a day job-shadowing an architect and realised that if I was over it in one day, I probably shouldn’t build a career around that...
Being good at something isn’t enough of a guide, either. Just because we’re good at something doesn’t mean that we necessarily enjoy it.
In school, a friend confided in me that she’d only applied to study medicine because people had told her she’d be a good doctor. She wasn’t even sure she’d like it all that much.
A colleague once told me that people were always telling him what a good leader he was - but truthfully, he hated being in a leadership position. He found it exhausting.
So what I love about emotional intelligence, and specifically Positive Psychology, is that it takes a different approach.
Positive psychology helps you to uncover your strengths instead.
Strengths in Positive Psychology are a little different to what you might traditionally know strengths to be. They’re not what you’re good at, but what energises you.
You know how sometimes there are things that you do and you just feel invigorated afterwards?
For example, this strength-based approach helped me to understand that there’s a common thread that runs through so many of the activities that I love. One of my strengths turned out to be "perspective".
When I learned that, I realised that it was at the heart of why I enjoy my work. I most enjoy helping to change perspective. It also helped me to understand the nuance that I found often existed in my work: I seemed to enjoy the workshops where I was helping people to change perspective, and didn't enjoy the ones where I felt I was simply delivering information.
I also see my love of perspective in the fact that I love listening to podcast interviews with inspirational people. I love hearing their perspectives and how it expands my own.
Perspective is also the reason I love reading a novel: because I’m embodying someone else’s perspective.
Being aware of your strengths will mean you’re better able to know what sort of things you’ll enjoy when it comes to your work and when it comes to your hobbies.
This is the foundation of EQ: being aware of what you’ll enjoy, so you can use that information to make choices that you can feel confident will make you happier.
What is the common thread that runs through your different interests?
What is it about those things that leaves you feeling energised and invigorated?
2. Understanding the purpose beneath your goals will help you to stay motivated with your goals
When it comes to our goals, emotional intelligence also goes a little deeper and helps us to uncover what motivates us.
Rather than just pursuing a goal because it’s your goal, you’ll build awareness as to why some goals motivate you and others just… don’t.
This is about discovering what gives you a sense of meaning and purpose.
Once you’re clear on what is the driving force behind your goals, you can use that information to motivate you with other goals where you may not feel as motivated.
A sense of purpose has been found to help us to stay resilient when we face obstacles on our path to achieving our goals. If we aren’t clear on why we’re pursuing the goal or why it’s meaningful to us, it’s so easy to second-guess it when we get rejected or something doesn’t work out.
But getting clear on what motivates you personally, and what gives you a sense of purpose, means that you can hold onto that when the going gets tough.
You can use that sense of purpose to motivate yourself to keep going, and that’s why people with a clear sense of purpose tend to persevere for longer and are more likely to achieve their goals.
Why does this goal mean so much to you?
Is there a bigger purpose behind it?
Does it benefit someone or something bigger than yourself?
3. Understanding your negative emotions will help you to figure out what’s important to you
Finally, emotional intelligence gives us the power to benefit from our negative emotions.
When we develop our emotional intelligence, we learn that difficult feelings can be useful. They can help you to understand what your values are, what’s important to you, what you want going forward.
This helps us to be more resilient.
Personally, it’s also given me the courage to face difficult feelings. I'm now able to trust that those feelings aren't just painful experience, but they can provide me with some valuable insights about who I am.
I spoke about this in more detail in a previous podcast called "How to Unlock the Wisdom in Your Negative Emotions" if you’d like to dive deeper into this.
The next time you’re experiencing a difficult feeling, try to get curious.
Ask yourself: What is this feeling trying to tell me is important to me?
What is it trying to tell me about who I am?
In a way, all of this is about learning to speak the emotional language. Being able to understand what it is about something that we enjoy, and using that to enjoy life more.
Being able to understand what is motivating us, and using that to feel more motivated.
And being able to understand how our negative emotions guide us closer to our true selves.