Using Emotional Intelligence to Overcome Your Dysfunctional Patterns

Prof. Jason M. Satterfield discusses many models of emotional intelligence in his course Boosting Your Emotional Intelligence. One of those models stood out for me, because of its simplicity.

An Emotional Intelligence Model

In this model, there are two essential skills.

  • Being aware of emotions
  • Regulating emotions

These skills are applied to two subjects.

  • Yourself
  • Others

We first become aware of an emotion and then regulate it. We either amplify it, reduce it, or switch to another feeling.

Applying these techniques to your own emotions is already an accomplishment, but it’s a superpower to be able to use them on others.

Application on Distraction

Suppose that you have a distraction problem in your daily routine. You have a difficult time concentrating on your work after the lunch.

You start distracting yourself with social media. Once this starts, you can’t stop it for an hour. This way, you waste an hour every day.

This is a typical scenario. We all have patterns in our lives that we repeat every day or week. Yet, these patterns don’t serve us.

The First Step: Awareness

To overcome this pattern, the first step is to become aware of the craving that starts it. Once the desire for social media starts, take a moment to do nothing and to feel it fully.

Breathe deeply and observe the craving. You’ll feel discomfort when you first start doing that, but the discomfort will subside slowly. If you keep doing it for a few minutes, you’ll be relaxed. The craving will already be reduced.

“Letting go involves being aware of a feeling, letting it come up, staying with it, and letting it run its course without wanting to make it different or do anything about it.

“It means simply to let the feeling be there and to focus on letting out the energy behind it.

“The first step is to allow yourself to have the feeling without resisting it, venting it, fearing it, condemning it, or moralizing about it.

“It means to drop judgment and to see that it is just a feeling.

“The technique is to be with the feeling and surrender all efforts to modify it in any way.

“Let go of wanting to resist the feeling. It is resistance that keeps the feeling going.

“When you give up resisting or trying to modify the feeling, it will shift to the next feeling and be accompanied by a lighter sensation.

“A feeling that is not resisted will disappear as the energy behind it dissipates.”

from the book Letting Go: The Pathway of Surrender by David Hawkins

Go One Step Further: Trigger another Feeling

In the example above, we become aware of a feeling and regulate it with a simple breathing exercise. Eventually, you could go one step further and trigger another feeling in yourself.

Eckhart Tolle explains that our feelings are our body’s reactions to our thoughts in his book The Power of Now. We can trigger a feeling in ourselves by thinking a specific thought.

For example, you can think about a failure that your time wasting habits caused. Use that thought to get into the emotion of anger. Then, use the anger to motivate yourself to ditch the Internet and start working.

Adopt the Growth Mindset

Regulating your emotions might be difficult at the beginning. It’s a skill you can develop with practice over time. Don’t get stuck at the fixed mindset. Adopt the growth mindset.

Prepare an If-Then-List

A tool to develop the skill of regulating your own emotions comes from Mel Robbins, the author of The 5 Second Rule. She suggests creating an if-then-list of your patterns.

We all have our dysfunctional patterns. We repeat those patterns over and over. If you could ditch one habit from that list, you would make huge progress in your life.

First, there would be one less dysfunctional pattern in your life. Second, you would learn a way to overcome a dysfunctional pattern. You would know that it works and apply it to other dysfunctional patterns as well.

Try It!

Pick one dysfunctional pattern in your daily life. Maybe, you buy cookies every time you go to the groceries store. Maybe, you become irritable in the morning and lash out at your children. Maybe, you waste an hour every day on social media.

Write down the dysfunctional pattern and how you’re going to address it. Let’s say, you pick the social media habit.

Every time you feel the craving to waste time on social media, remind yourself that an hour wasted a day adds up to 15 days a year and an entire year in 24 years. That’s a whole year wasted in the most productive years of your life.

I also remind myself my Audible listening list. There are 380 titles on my listening list. Listening to an excellent audiobook is much better than wasting time on social media.

Focus on One Pattern at a Time

Ray Dalio suggests making a list of three habits that you want to let go of and three habits that you want to adopt in his book Principles.

I suggest you make that list, but work on a single pattern at a time. Go through all the four levels of learning on that pattern before moving on to the next one.

  1. Unconscious Incompetence. You aren’t aware that you have the dysfunctional pattern.
  2. Conscious Incompetence. You’re aware of your dysfunctional pattern but can’t help it.
  3. Conscious Competence. You can address your pattern, but you have to make conscious effort.
  4. Unconscious Competence. You operate on autopilot. Craving social media triggers feelings of anger and motivation without even thinking about it. After a while, you don’t feel any cravings at all.


The 2×2 emotional intelligence model is a useful tool in your private and professional life.

It involves becoming aware of and regulating your emotions and the emotions of others.

Becoming aware of an emotion, not acting on it, and staying with it until it subsides is an effective strategy.

Another useful strategy is to remind yourself a thought that triggers a counter-emotion.

Make a list of your dysfunctional patterns, but focus on a single pattern at a time. When you overcome a dysfunctional pattern entirely, you can move on to the next one.

Once you master becoming aware of and regulating your emotions, you can use the same techniques on others.

If you can master that as well, you will have developed one of the most effective leadership skills.