A simple way to practice Emotional Intelligence

The F.U.C. practice

For a long swath of time, I venerated the prickly side of life, and wasn’t really aware of the importance of the gooey side. Richard Feynman was my hero. Oprah Wintfrey? Not so much.

That’s changing: these days I’m realizing that quite simply, the feels are all over the place. We can’t avoid them. And a lot of the time, they run the show.

Yesterday I was going for a run. One of my practices while running, is to spread good vibes by waving indiscriminately to people. This usually goes over well and I get smiles and waves back. Sometimes, ear-budded people ignore me. But yesterday, I waved to a guy in his car and was met with a blank stare and then an aggressive gesture of “What the f*ck are you doing.”


I felt a full-body unpleasantness.

Then my mind swooped in to try to save the day. It unleashed a torrent of thoughts: What’s wrong with him? Why’s he such a Grumpy McGrumperson? Let’s send him some loving-kindness…

Then I realized: I was feeling shame. Wait a second…Maybe I’m in the wrong here?

I turned around and saw that he had been stopped at a STOP sign. I had the right of way. He had gotten upset at me for delaying his trip by 10 seconds.

I once heard someone say that “guilt is a useless emotion.” That seemed wise back then, but my thinking has changed. I no longer believe that there are “useless” emotions, in an absolute sense. Every emotion is helpful in certain contexts, and unhelpful in others (credit to Albert Ellis for this insight). All emotions likely evolved for a reason.

Each emotion could have a book written on it. This emotional intelligence business will be a life-long path, so anything I say about it today is in no way definitive, but let me say something, regardless.

I’ll call it, the F.U.C. practice of emotional intelligence. I have a hard time remembering acronyms, which is why I kept this one short and profane, so it’s easy to remember 🙂

Here it is:

Feel (F) — Often, this is the hardest step. In my story above, I didn’t want to feel the shame, and my mind went immediately to blaming the driver and then, a split-second later to sending him loving kindness. The motivation was avoidance. As my mediation teacher told me, “You really have to slow things down.”

Emotions in themselves are not dangerous, and are impermanent. If we let the body experience their energy, they will pass. If we don’t, they will get stuck and we won’t be able to move past them.

So feeling feelings is important to allowing them to flow and to continue to feel alive in life. The alternative is to be stuck in paralyzing loops of emotions that keep coming up, and keep getting repressed. Repressing emotions is a huge energy suck. Been there and done that.

Also, naming the emotion is often helpful, because when you name it, you have a better handle on what you are dealing with. For instance, when I named my unpleasant full-body feeling as shame, and admitted to myself that that’s what I was feeling, it became less scary. I had read a book about shame, and understood that it is a common human experience. Thus, it went in my mind from being this big scary vague shadow that I had to avoid, to being a clearly-defined unpleasant thing that happens to everyone.

Understand the Context (U.C.) — This is what I did when I turned around and saw the STOP sign. This helped me see that my feeling of shame wasn’t appropriate in this context. Now let’s say that there had been no STOP sign, and I did run in front of that car like a suicidal deer. Then my shame would have been appropriate.

Here’s to continuing to give a F.U.C. about being on the path of growing our emotional intelligence, for the rest of our lives!

P.S. If you don’t like my acronym, there are plenty of G-rated ones out there (e.g. RAIN, RULER).

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