You have probably seen the TV commercial for Snickers Bars that has the tagline ‘You are not yourself when you are hungry’.
If you have ever suffered from being ‘hangry’ (hungry that makes angry) you can likely relate. There is a well-established connection between our physiological state, and our resulting emotional state and subsequent behaviour.
Whether it’s not having eaten recently or being tired from not having gotten a good night’s sleep, we know that our mental performance is dependent on a broad range of factors.
Of course, at The EQ Development Group, the mental performance we are most interested in is emotional intelligence.
Understanding and developing emotional intelligence is a good start, but to be emotionally effective – that is to be able to use your emotional intelligence to create outcomes you are looking for, you need to take good care of your body and, most importantly, your brain.
Here are 5 things we encourage people to do in order to become more emotionally effective.
1. Get the right amount of GOOD sleep
I am sure you have read or been told at some point that everyone needs about 8 hours of sleep a night. In general, this is true, though it does vary +/- 1 hour for lots of people. And, yes, there are those rare people that are happy with 4 hours (I am not one of them!).
What gets talked about considerably less is the quality of that sleep. To properly recharge our brains, we need to fall into REM sleep. It doesn’t matter how much time you are asleep, if you are not dropping into REM, then you are not fully recharging your brain. There are lots of resources and information for getting better sleep – known as Sleep Hygiene. For a quick overview of sleep hygiene, check out this infographic.
Getting the right amount of good sleep is perhaps the single most important element in reaching peak emotional effectiveness. Unfortunately, there are many things we do each day that not only have their own impacts, they affect that precious sleep as well!
2. Watch the Caffeine Consumption
I am going to be honest, I love coffee and tea. Having grown up in the UK, my morning ritual includes a cup of tea when I first wake up, followed by a couple of cups of coffee throughout the morning. I love the way it tastes, and I love the way it makes me feel.
Caffeine feels good because it activates the brain. This activation makes us feel more productive – mostly because it fends off any feeling of tiredness we might have. However, caffeine does have some downsides.
Caffeine essentially puts your brain into a mild ‘fight or flight’ state that makes you more susceptible to negative stimuli. Also, in order to keep the buzz going, you need to keep consuming it. And, caffeine is one of the main disruptors of great sleep. So, use it with care.
For me, that means no caffeine after noon’ish. Caffeine affects different people in different ways, and you may be one of those people that enjoy an espresso after dinner and can still fall straight to sleep.
For the rest of us, it’s worth understanding more about the effects of caffeine, and even doing some experiments to see if we should tune our caffeine intake. You can read more about the effects of caffeine here.
3. Watch the Alcohol Consumption
Again, to be upfront, I enjoy alcohol almost as much as caffeine. I live in an area surrounded by hundreds of wineries, and dozens of micro-breweries, and I enjoy the products of both.
But I am very aware of the effects alcohol has on both my mental well-being, my productivity, and my emotional effectiveness.
In addition to the immediate effects of alcohol such as diminished decision-making capacity, loss of inhibition, and lowered impulse control, alcohol can have a very negative effect on your sleep as it prevents you from falling into that critical REM sleep that I mentioned above. So, while a few glasses of wine might help you fall asleep faster, your sleep won’t be as good.
And if you have ever woken up with even a mild hangover, you’ll know that you are FAR from being at your peak emotional effectiveness.
As with caffeine, yes, it would be great if you didn’t consume any alcohol. But if you enjoy it as I do, it’s more about understanding and recognizing its impact. Learn more about the impacts of alcohol on the body and brain here with this short video. While the video talks about excess consumption, the impacts are the same, but just less so with lower quantities, and you might be surprised about what a ‘lower quantity’ actually is.
If you are going to drink, drink less. Stop drinking a few hours before you go to bed, and ensure you drink water to help your body process the alcohol (or else you could wake up with the hangover headache).
If you have a big day tomorrow at home or work, consider avoiding alcohol completely. That’s been my rule of thumb for many years and it works great for me. Experiment with what works for you.
4. Get Some Exercise
Exercise has so many benefits to healthy mental functioning. Many people get literally no exercise every day, and cumulatively over time, especially combined with other lifestyle choices, this can lead to obesity, and physical and mental health issues.
But even in the immediate time frame, exercise has some amazing positive effects that contribute to mental performance, and so emotional effectiveness.
When you exercise, there is a short-term increase in a range of neurochemicals including the most popularly discussed endorphins. These neurochemicals increase your ability to handle stress, make you feel good, and increase your feeling of alertness. Read more about the psychological benefits of exercise here.
This positivity increases your Self-Regard, a cornerstone of emotional intelligence. Exercise also makes you tired. And, being tired is a big contributor to better sleep.
If you have not done any significant physical activity, when you go to bed your body won’t need to recharge itself as much as if you had. Tired muscles love to relax, and a good deep sleep allows them to do just that.
One caution – research suggests that you shouldn’t exercise too close in time to going to bed – the ‘awake’ feeling from all those endorphins can stop you falling asleep. Experts suggest finishing your exercise a good few hours before bed time.
5. Drink More Water
This is perhaps the easiest one of all! Making sure you are well hydrated can have a big impact on your mental functioning. Best of all this is free, easy, and really doesn’t require much effort at all.
Even very slight dehydration can affect negatively impact mood, short and long-term memory, and mental processing. Slight dehydration can be as little as 1% less than your optimal amount, so the gap between full hydration and a lack of water starting to affect your mental functioning is very small.
There is an old saying that by the time you are thirsty, it’s already too late. Instead, try and drink water as a habit.
A small glass of water every hour or so (general guidelines are around 2 liters of water per day) during the day will do the trick.
You also need to be careful about caffeine and alcohol, both of which are diuretics, and actually prevent your body from absorbing water.
For more information, check out this article which explains in more detail the impacts of diuretics on hydration.
One final caution, back to the sleep thing again, which is to be careful about how much liquid you consume before bedtime. While the body does have a process to concentrate urine during sleep so that you are not constantly up and down to the toilet during the night, there is only so much it can do.
A liter of water in the hours leading up to bed time will most likely result in a nighttime bathroom visit, which of course interrupts that precious sleep we have been talking about.
Thinking back to the Snickers ads I mentioned at the beginning, we could create a similar ad that says, ‘You are not at your best when you are tired, over-caffeinated, affected by alcohol, lacking exercise or dehydrated’.
We encourage you to consider just how much your underlying physiological state can affect your emotional intelligence.
Sure, it would be great if you got the right amount of great sleep every night, didn’t use caffeine or alcohol, exercised every day, and ate the right food. But for most people that’s not going to be the reality.
Instead, simply become more aware of these things and how they are affecting your mental performance, and so your emotional effectiveness.
Got a big presentation tomorrow, or need to have a difficult conversation? Need to get a lot done? Try reducing your alcohol intake, watching the caffeine consumption, drinking more water, getting some exercise, and the right amount of good sleep.
Trust me – you’ll notice a difference.