Are You a Grown Up?

I’m the son of a teacher. Two teachers actually. Well, three really if you include my dad remarrying a teacher. And don’t tell any teachers out there, but one of them became an Ofsted inspector.

My childhood was filled with teachers. And so began my first counselling session.

Not really. But from a very young age I felt surrounded by grown-ups. Teachers were, in my world, the grown-ups. They were in charge. For me they were in charge all day, every day. And they seemed to know everything, even the things I did when no-one was looking.

When I left home of course I realised that being a grown-up was a little more complicated than that. I realised that some grown-ups didn’t always behave like…well… grown-ups.

I met adults in roles as diverse as politicians, medicine and retail, who seemed unable to say simple phrases like “I’m sorry” or “I was wrong”.

I remember waiting in a petrol queue when the woman behind me pushed in. I asked her what had happened and was greeted with “I didn’t see you (or my car!), I’m busy, f*** off.” And she was a church warden. Not really.

So what is a grown up then? It certainly isn’t defined by age or job role. At Real Clear we think emotional intelligence plays a key part in what it is to be an adult.

A grown up is aware of their emotions but can control their behaviour. They might think “I’m feeling stressed because I’m running late and now I need petrol.” But instead of bringing the church into disrepute they might think; “oh well, These things happen, I’m still going to drive safely, wait in the queue, and I definitely won’t tell that chap in the Focus to f*** off".

Emotional and behavioural control resulting in an ability to manage relationships with others; now that’s grown up.

So What is Emotional Intelligence?

Despite being popularly known for 20 years, since the release of Daniel Goleman’s best seller; Emotional Intelligence, most of us would still struggle to define it.

So above is a handy diagram we prepared earlier...

The arrow on the right points to the oldest bit of the brain – in evolutionary terms - the limbic region, at the top of the spinal column. It’s closely linked with our flight or fight responses.

Those responses aren’t as necessary today as they were when we faced wild animals and other threats to life, but they’re still there.

Nowadays we prepare to fly or fight when our integrity, status, self-worth or identity are challenged, like when we’re pressed for time and there’s a queue at the petrol pump. Or someone tells us that we are wrong.

The left arrow points at the prefrontal lobes, the newest part of the brain. They are linked to planning, forward thinking and working memory. Our prefrontal lobes are far more logical than our limbic region. They say “Let’s wait 2 minutes for the next petrol pump, it’ll be fine.”

Emotional intelligence is about the balance between the two, between emotion and logic. But it's the balance that counts, it's not about logic beating emotion. Emotions are important. Where would we be without love?How awful would it be to have no emotion when a child is crying or someone is hurt? Emotional Intelligence is about getting the balance right between emotion and logic.

Like a see saw.

Sadly many people slip off the see-saw at the emotion end, resulting in an emotional hijacking that can have lasting results.The good news is that we can learn emotional intelligence, it is a set of skills including empathy, self-belief and optimism.

And readers of the Real Clear blog can read all about them in the coming weeks and months.

That's if I ever get to the front of this f@*#/g petrol queue.