Even though we’re living longer and better than generations before us and our lives are considerably safer, less threatening and physically less demanding, stress is absolutely on the increase.
We’re trying to squeeze a lot more into our lives – raising children, working across different time-zones, caring for older family members, going to the gym, team meetings, play-dates for kids, keeping up with friends, foreign holidays, answering phone-calls, texts, emails, tweets and posts – you name it and we’re trying to do it. We have an ever-growing list of competing priorities.
We’re living in the Age of Distraction, where everything seems important and the challenge is to be present and engaged, and to retain focus and attention. Famous psychologist William James once said, ‘the art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook’. Unlike other animals, we, as humans, have wandering minds and spend a lot of time thinking about what is not going on around us – things that happened in the past, that might happen in the future, or that never happen at all! Although this ability is an evolutionary and a cognitive achievement that helps us to learn, reason, and plan – there are consequences for our emotions and overall well-being.
This is where emotional intelligence really comes into play. It can help with understanding ourselves and how we react to situations, with prioritising, making decisions, managing stress and developing resilience. When used effectively, we can leverage our emotional intelligence to keep things in perspective, to prioritise our responsibilities, to set boundaries, and to ensure we’re spending time doing what we value and what makes us happy.
When trying to get through our ever-growing list of priorities, it’s important to set goals that are SMART – specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic and timely. Unrealistic goals or expectations are potentially damaging because they can set us up for failure – If we fall short, we draw false conclusions, feel negative feelings and act in negative ways. A helpful tip, when writing down goals, is saying ‘I am’ rather than ‘I will’ or ‘I want to’. For example, ‘I am running 5k’, ‘I am spending more time with my partner’.
That way, we’re already present and engaged with our goals and on the path to achieving them!