Updated: Feb 10
Emotional Intelligence is a phrase that we hear a lot these days. Do you know what it means? More importantly, are you emotionally intelligent?
Do people ask you (or do you sometimes wonder) why you are so impatient? Are other people a nuisance or an obstacle in the way of getting what you want? Getting pissed off a lot? Is your partner super irritating? Or, maybe it's more subtle-perhaps there are a lot of minor annoyances throughout your day-every day!
Let’s talk about how working on a skill like patience (yes, it’s a skill) can increase your emotional intelligence…and make your days and relationships a whole lot smoother…
So let's go ahead and use patience as the vehicle to emotional intelligence. Think about the last time you got impatient. Go ahead, take a minute to think about it, and pick a moment when maybe you weren’t your best self.
You had an expectation that wasn’t met, and because of that, you got annoyed or irritated. This might be the simplest way to describe impatience: it begins as a small seed of frustration or stress when an expectation isn’t met.
I know for me, when I am hungry at a restaurant, and the food is taking forever, I can feel my blood sugar dropping, and my patience pretty much disappears and my ugly side emerges. I have had some of my most ugly moments in recent memory when I’m not fed when I think I should be. This is part of my practice. Similarly, working with traffic and other drivers. We can all relate to this one. These are good opportunities to play with the six practices mentioned above.
One might say: ‘yes, so what if I’m impatient?! Other people are sometimes idiots and impatience is a normal reaction.’ That may be true, but over time, that tension and stress build up in the body and later manifests in unexpected ways, often in outbursts that we later regret. Also, if you’re regularly getting impatient, chances are your relationships are negatively impacted. Finally, and maybe most importantly, if you don’t know how to work with impatience, this way of reacting gets grooved in your brain, making it your go-to way of being any time an unexpected challenge arises. This isn’t good for you, the people you care about, or your community.
Let’s come back to Emotional Intelligence, which is the ability to have an emotion, while knowing that you’re having it, and having response flexibility (Dave Smith). This means being able to choose from your toolbelt of response options in the heat of the moment. Are you able to do that? If so, congratulations, this is a huge skill. If you’re not able to, that’s ok, it’s a practice, and the more you do it, the more it becomes your habit (grooved in your brain, due to our brain’s neuroplasticity).
Remember, happiness is not getting what we want, it’s wanting what we have (again, Dave Smith)
Often, one reason why we seek psychotherapy is to build and polish our emotional intelligence. Here are some different ways to think about (and practice) patience on your own, in order to increase your Emotional Intelligence!
Being patient is:
1) Being fluid in the moment (this is the opposite of trying to be in control of the moment).
2) Having a relationship with the experience in the moment. This means knowing you’re feeling impatient, knowing how impatience feels right now (probably unpleasant), and then choosing a wise and skillful response, which might mean no response.
3) Relaxing into the unknown.
4) A moment to moment adjusting to unpleasant circumstances (the reality of what’s happening right now, not what we want to happen).
5) Equanimity (a shifting of expectations, knowing you often won’t get what you want when you want it, so when something is unpleasant, you have the emotional space to hold it, tolerate it, and be ok with it. Learning how to be at ease with dis-ease).
6) Having compassion for yourself or the other in this moment (recognizing the imperfections of being human and offering some forgiveness, compassion, and understanding for them, and for the impatient part of you).
As you can see, expectations are a huge part of this practice. It often makes tons of sense to take a look at our expectations, and see if it makes sense to tweak some, shift others, or simply dump some. The bottom line is instead of expecting things to go as we think they should, we should expect and be emotionally prepared for the exact opposite.
Feeling better (emotional intelligence) is a skill. Keep practicing. I hope you enjoyed this! Robert is an English speaking psychotherapist in Vietnam, available for online or in-person sessions.