Homework, Frustration, and Emotional Intelligence


While having lunch the other day with a friend, the conversation moved from simply catching up on the details of our lives to deeper places. We started to talk about emotional intelligence and the role it plays in our success.

To provide an example, I shared a story.

A few years ago, while trying to help one of our daughters with her homework, I got upset. The helping, the explanations, and the examples were not gaining traction. In fact, it seemed to make things worse. My emotional glass got cloudy.

I have already admitted to having Emotional Rickets when it comes to emotional intelligence. Of the five hierarchical steps by Daniel Goleman, the first two always help me unpack issues that I may be having.

Step 1, Self-Awareness

Step 2, Self-Regulation

If I am having a problem with Self-Regulation (getting upset), I go back down a Step to Self Awareness and try to figure out what is happening.

What is the negative emotional trigger? What else may be going on inside?

“Why is helping with her homework causing you to get upset?”

“I don’t know, maybe because I want her to succeed.”

“Ok, that is one possibility, but helping her succeed shouldn’t cause you to be angry. What else is happening, what are you afraid of?”

“I am afraid that she won’t do well, that she won’t get into college, that this time was somehow wasted.”

“Keep going.”

“I am afraid that this means that I have not helped or prepared her enough. That her failing is a reflection of me. That I am not a good Dad.”

There it was: the real issue. Fear of failing as a Dad.

I was trying to Self-Regulate an emotional state around homework that was really about something else. By going back a step, by finding greater Self-Awareness, the Self-Regulation becomes easier.

It was never about the homework. In fact, the inability to Self-Regulate was actually contributing to that fear becoming a reality.

Thankfully, she still lets me help with homework. (After some serious apologizing and a few tears.) Those feelings or fears still exist, but the ability to regulate the emotions in the moment have become much easier.

The next time you find yourself getting upset about homework or having trouble with Self-Regulation when [insert your specific story here] try this simple process.

Take a step back, ask yourself the hard questions.

What is really happening? What are you afraid of?

Emotional Rickets

I think I have Emotional Rickets.  (Bear with me on this one.)

During a recent conversation, I was explaining how certain situations cause an emotional response that is hard for me to regulate. Anger moves pretty fast, and there are times it catches me off guard.

According to Daniel Goleman, there are five hierarchical levels of emotional intelligence:

1. Self-Awareness

2. Self-Regulation

3. Motivation

4. Empathy

5. Social Skills

I like to picture these five areas as going up steps, one at a time to reach the top. Mastering a prior step helps bring you to the next. Whenever I have an issue with one of these steps, I back up a step to see if there was something in a previous step area that would provide a clue the issue at hand. In this case, I was having an issue with Self-Regulation (step 2).   That left only one step to return to: Self Awareness (step 1).

Rickets is a disorder caused by a lack of vitamin D, calcium, or phosphate. It leads to softening and weakening of the bones. Bones are not only are weaker, but have additional pain and tenderness.

So, Emotional Rickets is when you have a lack of some positive emotional events (and perhaps some negative ones) that leave you in a weakened state.  In additional to weakness, you can add additional pain and tenderness from an emotional perspective.

I repeat, I think I have Emotional Rickets.

This revelation seemed to help, suddenly I could picture the issue.

If my legs were injured, I would not run as hard.

If my arms were injured, I would not lift as often.

If my back was injured, I would not move around as much.

For some reason, I was expecting my brain and emotions to respond to events as if there were no prior injury, no prior events, no limitations. As if it were strong.


(Image Courtesy of blogs.hawkeyecollege.edu)

But my Emotional Rickets require me to be much more aware of my limits. I may need to work harder than others to achieve the same results. I will be sore, and will not want to go again. I may need more rest and recovery time after each event.

In time, I hope to strengthen this area. I do not kid myself about the amount of work and time it may take to do make even small gains. Progress will require some discipline and work.

Where have you had Emotional Rickets? Where have you been left in a tender and weakened state? Where has this hindered relationships or caused issues? Maybe a little progress in this area for all of us could really change the world. 



How Cloudy is Your Glass?

Understanding your own emotional state is essential to your development and progress as a leader, a co-worker, or a person.  More and more the importance of emotional intelligence is identified as the difference between good/marginal leaders and great leaders.  Daniel Goleman who wrote Emotional Intelligence in 1995 (and many other books) is the leading voice on these matters.  He states that “90% of the difference between star performers and average performers in senior leadership is Emotional Intelligence.”

Emotional Intelligence is the ability to identify, assess, and control the emotions of oneself, of others, and of groups.  The first step is to identify or become more aware of your own emotional state.  To help identify your own emotional state, I like to use the glass example.  A clear glass represents you in your emotional state where you are healthy, in control, and emotionally neutral.

However, life happens.  When negative events occur, they begin to cloud your glass.  The person who cut you off in traffic.  The missed appointment.  The argument with a significant other.  A tragic life event…and the list goes on.  Any of these can cloud your glass.  Becoming aware of your glass and its current state is a great way to both identify what clouds your glass, and how cloudy you may be on a given day.

Your ability to move from the cloudy glass back to clear is one of the most important skills. For some, this process may take hours or even days until the impact of the negative experience clears and they return to neutral.  Identifying your glass in the first place is a great way to separate yourself a little from the circumstances at hand.  Once you recognize that your glass is getting a little cloudy, it becomes easier over time to recognize what triggers you.  Knowing your triggers can help you clear your emotional state more rapidly over time with practice.

I posted this picture on the door to my office and regularly ask those who come in the status of their glass.  I also let them know on certain days that my glass is a little cloudy and I may need a little space.

The great news with Emotional Intelligence is the fact that we can all become better with practice and experience.  I posted about an online game called SuperBetter that has some ways to help with managing your emotional state, feel free to check it out.  Another interesting thing about emotions is that they are contagious (for good or bad).  This means we can play a role in helping each other when our glasses are cloudy.

My glass is a little cloudy today, but knowing that helps me manage my interaction with anyone who I encounter today.  Knowing the state of my glass requires me to slow the world down a little (especially with my kids today) and not react when something does not go as planned.  As I watch them, they key off my emotional state.  The better I manage my own glass, the better they manage theirs as well.  The last thing they need is for me to pour my glass all over them.

Right Now: how cloudy is your glass?  What causes your glass to become cloudy? Are there things that are making your interactions with others more challenging because of what you are carrying with you.  Take a few moments each day to think about your emotional state.  The very act of taking an emotional inventory helps you become more aware that awareness can lead to better management of your emotional state.

A Few Book Ideas

Here are a few suggestions of some potential books that come to mind.  These books have either been on my nightstand for a while and need a good reading, or have been recommended to me by others:

1.  The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubinhttp://www.happiness-project.com/, seems like an interesting concept and may be an interesting journey together.

2.  The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwellhttp://www.gladwell.com/, I have read Outliers, What the Dog Saw, and Blink and this in next on my list.  He is one of the greatest writers of our time, and tells amazing stories.

3.  The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New InsightsDaniel Goleman http://danielgoleman.info/, or Magnificent Mind at Any Age Dr. Daniel Amen.  Both are looking at how our minds work and the role of our emotional state and how we react to others.

4.  Tribes: We Need You to Lead UsSeth Godin http://www.sethgodin.com/sg/ about leading small groups.

Those are my top picks, again I am open to  your suggestions.  In order for this to work, once we find a book, I think we need at least 10 people to commit to doing this together.  If you are in, let us know, if you want to wait until we pick a book, that is okay too.  But for you adventurous types, go ahead and jump in now!  Take the leap, it will be worth it.