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Is it time for a 13th EQ competency? - Is emotional self-regulation really enough?

Updated: Jun 28, 2023

Man thinking

In the first post of this 3-part series "What no one told me about Emotional Self-Regulation", we talked about the differences between emotional management and emotional development.

So before we move onto what emotional development entails, let's take a look at how we do benefit from our healthy coping or management skills - specifically the second competency under the ever-popular second domain of Goleman's Emotional 'Intelligence' (EQ) model: Emotional Self-Regulation

Goleman's original Emotional Intelligence model
Daniel Goleman's original Emotional Intelligence model

The benefits of emotional self-regulation

If you read the first post in this series, I want to clarify that I'm still a big fan of learning to regulate or manage our current emotional state. Coping-style regulation or in-the-moment emotional management is effective. Part of my own personal-growth progression included first learning healthier ways to 'calm' and moderate the emotional state that I had at the time. I used healthy strategies to 'regulate' or manage my over-responsive emotional system whenever I felt 'triggered' - or an excessive activation coming on. I used (and sometimes still use) coping strategies like flexible thinking, diversification, deep breathing, mindfulness practice and many other techniques. And I still strongly advocate for using them. I'm not suggesting you give them up.

Those in-the-moment ‘coping-style’ management techniques can provide relief for a very long time. And they serve as a great tool when/if you decide to take it to a deeper, longer-lasting, systemic level. Meaning, ‘coping-style’ regulation or management strategies are also a great ‘handrail’ for deeper, developmental work – effective tools that you can rely on for some short-term, immediate relief, while you’re working on longer-term, foundational development.

But now, in 2023, I'm starting to sense it may be time to consider adding a competency to our repertoire: emotional development. I actually believe this addition would support and accelerate the attainment of the remaining competencies under Goleman's Social and Relational domains. And, if I could revise the language of any of those original competencies to more realistically reflect what we're learning now about our brains and bodies, I'd also change 'Positivity' to 'Flexible Thinking' and the expanded model would look more like the one below.

A suggested revision to Goleman's original EQ model
A 13th EQ competency - a suggested expansion

Said differently, I'd keep all the original competencies and just take it a step further by adding emotional development as an intentional competency to work towards, instead of a hopeful outcome. And since mental contrasting is quickly outpacing the exclusive use of 'positivity' as a mindset, a rewording of that competency's title to 'Flexible Thinking' would perhaps more comprehensively reflect our updating knowledge base.

Friends talking

So is one approach ‘better’ than the other?

Not necessarily. Whether you stick to managing / regulating your emotions or choose to develop them, it's really an individual choice. We humans are notorious for doing just enough personal work to get some traction and relief….and then coasting. That is, until we need more relief. Know what I mean? And it's totally understandable. I’ve done that. And learning healthy coping skills and emotional management strategies were the tools that got me the repeated moments of relief I needed, for a long time. And I still use them from time to time.

It's really only when those self-regulation or management strategies stop working, or don’t work consistently across different situations...or we just get tired of feeling the way we do and ‘managing it' all the time….that it may be worth digging in and doing the deeper work of actually refining and developing the underlying emotional nervous system state itself.

And sometimes the signs that tell us when it may be worth considering aren't as obvious. It's easy to 'get used to' feeling a certain way, especially if it's all we've ever known. So sometimes it's only when we keep having health issues, our relationships keep falling apart or we keep finding them hard to establish...or when we have some areas of life going well (maybe we have a good job and are highly skilled and intelligent)... but still can't figure out that 'missing piece' that's stopping us from having equal success in our marriage or relationships. Those are some of the other signs or 'symptoms' that can tell us that it may be worth working at a deeper level. If any of those descriptions sound familiar, it surely can't hurt.

working on a project

Getting the job done

I see self-regulation or management strategies (even ones that are helpful and unifying)…sort of like a really good band-aid for a wound, or like a sturdy brace for a weak ankle - something that allows me to hike with less discomfort when I encounter rocky terrain. Self-regulation or emotional management, no matter how you do it, gets the immediate ‘job’ done by addressing the symptoms in the moment, right then. And when they worked, they gave me immediate relief in situations where I became emotionally over-activated (triggered). And at one time in my life, there were many of those situations.

Yet, despite their temporary effectiveness and frequent use, my underlying default state…. remained the same. I still felt a restless sort of 'urgency' inside. I just mislabeled it at the time as 'passion', 'high-energy' or being a 'go-getter'. And I continued to over-activate in response to 'triggers' in certain situations. And although many of my resultant behaviors made me successful at my job, they weren’t having the effect I was looking for in my relationships. But.. I kept using self-regulation techniques to manage it, while redirecting my attention back to work. That is, until all that over-activation + ‘managing it'.. stopped working consistently across different scenarios, started seriously impacting my marriage and finally…. just became exhaustive. This is one form of ‘burnout’ in a nutshell: when we finally fatigue from constantly managing ( or avoiding) an over-active or inconsistently-active adrenal system.

The Human Infusion Project - a resilient zone of emotional activation
When the 'green zone' is our default, this is where we THRIVE. And we can get there by developing our emotional state, while we're managing it with coping skills.

The big question

“But Jen”…I've been asked….”if we use healthy self-regulation or management strategies combined with healthy habits for long enough…don’t they sort of just change or shift your baseline emotional state on their own over time?”

My answer is yes, but it's conditional. I believe it’s possible for repeated, temporary, in-the-moment shifts in emotional state to lead to longer-term, more systemic shifts IF

  • The strategies you use to do it and the habits you choose to support it are helpful and unifying…..

  • They don’t bypass, ignore or unknowingly reinforce your current state….

  • And you do them consistently, across a diverse set of situations, over a long period of time….

That last part’s the killer for a lot of people. Getting any kind of neurophysical or neurophysiological pattern change to stick requires a willingness to do consistent, repetitive work. Especially in the first 4-6 months (from my honest experience, despite what research or others say about timeline). Our brains and bodies will only adopt a new emotional state if we spend more time in it, than we spend out of it. And although we understandably may begin that development in more sheltered, comfortable and 'safe' environments, it eventually needs to be honed in variety of real-life situations if we want to become emotionally resilient. And both of those requirements take a lot of continuous, conscious effort if you're an adult who's working full-time or raising kids.

So yes…if you can use them consistently and congruently (across a variety of different situations), without falling back into old patterns for too long…. behavioral habits coupled with emotional management strategies can slowly begin to influence your default nervous system state by way of…. ‘reverse engineering’, so to speak.

But it can be a long, exhaustive process if we exclusively rely on post-activation emotional self-management. In other words, if we’re only regulating our emotions when the shit hits the fan, or when we really get triggered, or when emotional over-activation is already in progress...that can become a lot of ‘heavy-lifting’ to get through our day.

Of course, the repetitive inclusion of healthier behavioral habits can improve your chances of success - If you're consistent with those habits. And I'm talking daily. And across many different scenarios. However, unless we're also doing the deeper developmental work, it can be easy to skip days or fall off those habits. So that’s when (and why) adding another layer of personal/ emotional development work may be worth considering. If emotional self-regulation stops working, or doesn’t work consistently across different situations...if you can't seem to stick with new habits, you're doing well in some areas but have others that are just not 'adding up', or you get tired of ‘managing’ anxiety or ‘keeping a lid on it’ all the time…… the additional option is to do the deeper work of actually refining, differentiating and developing your emotional state you don't have to just manage it so much. You may be surprised at how much a new default state changes your behavior, which in turn will start getting you the outcomes you really want. But you do have to be willing to dig in a bit up front to do it. A 'front-load' of effort with longer-term 'relief' as a payoff.

So what does it take if we do want to pursue emotional development? Read my thoughts on this subject in Part 3: Moving beyond Emotional Regulation - What does it take?


The Human Infusion Project is a grassroots, philanthropic personal development platform that draws from the combined fields of modern brain science, applied psychology and spiritual philosophy. Our mission aims to augment and supplement the work of professional practitioners in simplified, practical and affordable ways. 100% of all online class profit funds the Wellness Assistance Grant. If financial constraints limit your participation, please contact me.

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