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Episode 203: Emotional Intelligence


And hello to you and welcome to the Richard Nicholls podcast. The personal development podcast series that's here to help inspire, educate and motivate you to be the best you can be. I’m psychotherapist Richard Nicholls and this is episode 203 it’s titled Emotional Intelligence and if you're ready we'll start the show.

Hello people welcome to a new month! If you're a listener to my premium content though Patreon or a subscriber on Apple Podcasts then you'd have heard me talking about developing empathy the other week as a way of helping us to control our emotions.

Empathy is quite useful if you want to help change things like anger and resentment into understanding and acceptance. Like finding better responses to someone who cuts into your lane when driving. But sometimes, for whatever reason people can feel too much emotion, even too much empathy so that if someone tells you about a problem they've got you feel pain and discomfort instead of tenderness and concern. Or for a lot of folk everything's just turned up a bit or a lot, and if you could put a number on a scale of 1 to 10 then something that really only deserves a 3 out of 10 pokes you up to 8 and is overwhelming. It would be good to know how to handle that. So first off lets get into the basics of emotions themselves.

There's a common idea that's often spoken about by Psychologists and Neurologists, and that's that emotions themselves don't really exist, and I know that seems a bit strange but it's not impossible that an emotional response is created simply by our brain making best guesses based on past experiences.

It makes predictions, like the fact that you know that the reason I make these episodes is to help inspire, educate and motivate you to be… that's right, the best you can be.

You knew that was coming next and your brain filled in the gap before I actually said it. Because it's predictable, the brain knows what's coming next not based on present thought but on past experience.

That's why someone with anxiety about exams will turn nervousness into panic, not because of what's happening right now, but because of what has happened before.

Maybe because the very first time they experienced it they didn't have the emotional intelligence to know what it was and just felt sick and scared. And then the next time the volume was turned up on it because it's the fear itself that is being feared. But your brain is trying to make sense of the the sensations in your body and only has one place to go.

Fear rather than determination, because how would I know I was feeling determined to do my best in an exam, to really turn up that determined feeling to the max, how would that feel?

Well, it would be in my gut, it would be in my muscles, it would be in my heart rate. But if the only place my brain has got to go to is panic, then that's what it feels like.

If I called you a snottor person, I doubt you'd be very pleased with me. Imagine that If I sent you a text message that said:

"I think you are a snottor human and I hope you get everything you deserve!"

I think you'd be quite miffed. Unless of course you already knew that Snottor is an old English word that means clever. In which case I do think you are a snottor human and I do hope you get everything that you deserve.

One thing I was reminded of when I was reading though the studies into this was something a theatre director said to me once. He'd brought in a speaker to a rehearsal and asked all the cast to sit in silence and see what sort of reactions the music was able to bring. He played a few and after each track he'd ask us if it meant something to any of us.

And the music was pretty random you know, it was things like the theme to Jurassic Park and then Dancing Queen by Abba.

I can't remember any of the others but I remember those 2 because a friend of mine said the theme to Jurassic Park was quite an emotional piece to him. It sparked off memories that had emotions attached to them and it was me that put my hand in the air for Dancing Queen

Because 2 weeks previously I'd seen an obituary in the local paper for a 17 year old girl that had been killed in a car accident and her parents put those lyrics into the obituary.

"You are the dancing queen, Young and sweet Only seventeen."

And blimey I don't even know who this girl is and reading it in the Nuneaton times didn't really poke my tear ducts at the time but hearing the lyrics 2 weeks later and actually talking about it now all these years later does, yet it's just a cheesy 70's song that you'll hear at every wedding reception.

Yet I was able to use it in a play to help me act out the part of a grieving man at a graveside. My son was only about 3 at the time which probably helped because my brain was able to make the connections from Dancing Queen to the loss of a child quite easily.

Yet I don't have an overactive empathy process, fortunately. Things clients say to me do create a reaction in me of course, tears do spring to my eyes in the consulting room sometimes, that I have to blink away. Because we might be therapists but we're not robots.

So, lets say that emotions in and of themselves don't actually exist. If that's the case it can give you permission to challenge the feelings you might experience sometimes so as to bring things down a notch or 2.

So there are a couple of approaches to this and like I always say there are no rules as such to psychology, you do what works for you.

But the approaches are either to accept the feelings without judgement so as to acknowledge how you feel at the time to make it easier to let it go.

Or to distract from the feeling so as to ignore it and dilute it down with alternative feelings. But usually it's both, starting with accepting how you feel, give it a label, understand it and you've got your foot in the door to try and control it.

There's a big difference between feeling angry and feeling disappointed, but anger can mask vulnerability and guilt. But you cant do anything with anger if the reason for the emotion is something else so acknowledge what it actually is you're experiencing. Even if you're feeling someone else's pain then what you're feeling is compassion there, not grief for example.

It helps you to reframe your emotion and even reframe the situation. Because if we put a different frame around an experience it can completely change how you feel.

If your thoughts are often negative then a missed call from someone is likely to remind you about the possibility of bad news, your brain jumps onto the worst case scenario you know

"Why did they call, what's just happened?"
When nothings happened they just wanted to tell you that they've finished the book they borrowed from you and will pop it back round later.

If an email from your boss saying "Please can you come in and see me when you' re next in the office" by default means something interesting and exciting might be going on rather than
"Oh my god I'm gonna be sacked aren't I?"
Then you can change fear into excitement.

I've said this before and it bares repeating, fear and excitement are the same thing. They feel the same its just the frame we put around it is different.

2 people queuing up next to each other for a rollercoaster ride could feel exactly the same as each other.
Yet one's excited because they feel that something good is going to happen and the other feels terrified because they feel that something bad is going to happen.

Well you can't feel anything "about to happen" that's not how feelings work, feelings don't predict the future.

We can get a feeling that something's wrong and we might not consciously know what it is but our instincts, because of repetition do.

Before we were hunter gatherers we were just gatherers, before we learned to make tools all we did was hide from other animals, tigers and things

and we just ate berries all day. We were the hunted and were scavengers that at a push ate seafood that we caught but any meat was mostly carrion left by bigger animals.

So its in our nature to be quite vulnerable and on edge and if something in our environment is different, even if we haven't consciously spotted it yet, our instincts often will try to make us anxious, just incase what's different is a tiger in the grass.

The modern equivalent might be that ive took an ornament off a shelf to dust it and put it back in the wrong place and it annoys my wife or driving to work and finding that there's a road closure that day and you've got to take a detour

and although there are diversion signs showing you where to go so as to get you back on track, the roads are unfamiliar, you're lost you don't know where you are but you consciously trust the fact that the council have put the signs up properly and even though it feels like a different direction you're still going the right way.

or the eery feeling yo get during a partial solar eclipse because even though it's 11am the amount of light reminds you of 7 o clock at night but the angle of the shadows is wrong. Thats a weird one I know, but I do remember experiencing that a couple of years ago. And the frame I put around it would have been interest and curiosity rather than spookiness, fear and anxiety.

But if you can look at things differently then you will feel differently about those things, and then you can distract yourself.

Do something different with your thoughts and with your body, much as smartphones can be a problem with mental health we can also use them to our advantage too.

11:13You can have a thousand photos on them to flick through, specific photos that you've put on there for those times you feel anxious possibly.

Parties, friends, family, experiences, they can be a great distraction. And if you put them on there in advance, rather than using social media as a distraction. Change the channel in your brain with them. Maybe you need to stand up and go and get a drink of water, go for a wee, stretch do some deep breathing exercises whatever you need to do you might just need a slight distraction and changing your situation slightly can make it easier to change your thinking,

which makes it easier to change your emotional state. Especially with those deep diaphragmatic breathing exercises that I speak about all the time, at least I think I do, I certainly do in the consulting room so I'm sure I do on here too.

If you've ignored me saying that in the past then watch the video on the freebies page on my website or on my YouTube channel where I go into it.

Listen to some music that reminds you of happy things, think about people that remind you of happy things. And don't underestimate mental relaxation exercises. Theres a reason my very first training course was a hypnotherapy one but even though I became a psychotherapist eventually I still work with guided imagery

because it really does help. By practising slowing down your thoughts you strengthen the ability to control them and to regulate emotions, so please do, there are some free one's on my website if you sign up for my weekly newsletter the auto reply sends you a link to them and if you want any extra then consider supporting the podcast on where there are loads more to listen to.

I'm not naive enough to think that that's ALL you need to do, of course managing your emotions is not that easy. And there is going to be some emotions, like anger, that sometimes gets the better of you.

But the more time and attention you spend on regulating your emotions, the mentally stronger you're going to get. You'll gain confidence in your ability to handle them whilst at the same time knowing that you can make better choices that shift your mood to a more appropriate one. It just takes practise.

Like I say if you want more episodes or you just want to help support the show you can become a patron on Not only does that help to keep the podcast series going, because I really dont like the idea of sponsorship but also some of your pledge goes to various charitable things as well.

It finds therapy for people who are struggling financially, food banks, hospices, all sorts of things. I mean I'm no Marcus Rashford but we can all do our bit can't we.

And if only a tenth of the listeners also became 5 pound a month patrons I'd never need to charge any of my clients for therapy we could help so many people. Anyway I'm not a salesman. If you like what I do and you'd like to contribute you can do you don't have to your life is your own.

So go and enjoy it. I'll be back soon enough have a super couple of weeks pod fans. See you!