Tokyo, Japan. (7 min read)
On emotional intelligence and how to get along with your unpredictable self.
Today was an interesting day.
Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you have completely lost control of your emotions right before realizing how much damage you have caused, how much time you have wasted, and how badly sorry you feel for what just happened? I bet you have, or at least you have been affected by this happening to someone close to you. Allow me to introduce you to our own Mr. Hyde.
Sendai, Japan, 09:45 A.M.
It was raining as it had been for the past two weeks. The atmosphere was gloomy and humid, covered with this now familiar morning haze. One could barely walk outside without getting all drenched in sweat, begging for the light breeze of a fan or an air conditioner. Coming from a country where the sun is one of our most esteemed allies, constant grey skies and stormy weather affect my mood in ways sometimes hard to predict.
We had the usual breakfast before heading out: a bowl of cereal, a smoothie of some sort, and a cup of Chinese red tea, which, given the fact that I do not drink any other caffeinated drink at all, provides just the right amount of stimulant to keep me on my toes throughout the day. We needed to run a few errands on that day. We were going on a trip to Tokyo in two weeks and we still had to book the bus tickets and pick up a couple of museum passes. We had been planning this trip since we moved to Japan almost five months ago and we couldn’t wait to get on that bus. After finishing breakfast, having read the morning news, cleared up our inboxes, and checked each and every social network, we were finally all-systems-go to hit the road. It’s amazing how fast you can catch up with everyone else when you live seven hours ahead of the rest of the world.
We went down street no.2 in the neighborhood no.3 by the Sunmall shopping area (don’t blame me for the Japanese addressing system). Street no.2 is a small but lively alley in which all kind of independent stores, craft shops, and fast-food restaurants piled up on both sides of the street. Even though the smell conveyed the most pleasurable and exotic food of all, I was feeling something was off since we left home. I’d been feeling this way for weeks now. It was as if a volatile mix of frustration and apathy was growing inside of me, patiently waiting to be released. I was constantly living on the edge between anger and defeat. This was not me, nor it matched with the climate of excitement and joy I thought I was living in.
‘What’s wrong with me?’
It might be this never-ending filthy weather I thought. There is actually a rare disease that only seems to happen in Japan during the summer called reiboubyou or ‘air-conditioning disease’, associated to being constantly exposed to extreme changes in the ambient conditions; from the dry and chill environment of your house, public transportation, and stores, to the stifling heat and humidity of the outside. Symptoms associated with this disease range from fatigue and apathy to migraines and even depression. So it matched.
Without reflecting too much on these feelings we finally arrived at our destination. Here is were things started to go astray. A few misunderstandings, things that didn’t turn out as planned, and my whole ecosystem began to fall apart. Depite the level of enthusiasm and excitement caused by the upcoming trip, I couldn’t help but experience a profound sense of discomfort against newly arising aspects that felt completely out my control. Tension was spreading through my jaw, pain was rising in the back of my neck, and my mood was turning dark and irascible as if it was trying to merge with the miserable weather. The day was not coming through as planned and I ended up feeling anxious and vanquished, once again.
The reason for my recent behavior, which by the way had nothing to do with the weather, was clear to me after reading a chapter from Dan Ariely’s NYT bestseller Predictably Irrational titled “The influence of arousal”. By revisiting the state of my emotions and what I had been spending time on for the past few weeks, I realized how interrelated some of the concepts presented in this chapter were to the situation that had been driving my life lately. A situation that you may be quite familiar with too.
It seems that as humans we bear multiple personalities, which in essence can be pruned down to two. On the one side there is our, let’s say, steady-state personality. This personality encompasses our fundamental believes, values, and ethics. This is intimately related to the image we hold of ourselves, how we behave in social environments, and how we consciously respond to external stimulus. We are pretty familiar with this version of ourselves to the point that one could say this is our true selves.
On the other side there is a second personality that seems to be buried deep inside us. This personality is characterized by being the part of us taking over under specific situations, usually those in which high-intensity emotions are involved.
The amazing thing about this concealed personality is that most of us seem to fail in predicting how this pseudo-version of ourselves will behave under specific situations.
Its behavior goes against the foundations of our true selves. Those values we so proudly stand by just fall apart on the presence of a given set of emotions. This is our unpredictable self, our Mr. Hyde.
One could associate the fact that we are so bad in predicting how we will behave when this inner self takes control to the reason why high performers and elite military forces train themselves under distinct high-stress situations. They could not expect their steady-state personality to behave properly during a crisis. Instead, they force themselves to become familiar with this alternative personality – they train their unpredictability.
This second personality can have an even greater impact in our lives. Just as happened to Dr. Henry Jekyll in Stevenson’s novel, its manifestation could not only become temporally unpleasant but permanently destructive. When the unpredictable self takes control of our emotions and actions we set free our deepest self-destructive behaviors. Behaviors that often lead us to make the worst decisions we could ever make.
Today was an interesting day because I realized my unpredictable self can be unleashed as a result of the most mundane of the situations. I also realized that we are not just bad in predicting its behavior but also in reading the feelings that precede the appearance of such an injurious personality in the first place. Too often we will think of the wrong reasons for our feelings, reasons that point out to things that lie out of our control. It turned out that we, as humans, are damn good at this. I blamed the weather when the actual reason for such a pitiful behavior was something I had complete control over. For weeks I’d been spending a great deal of my days in something that wasn’t practical or exciting, something that wasn’t bringing me any value, and the objective of which was not quite clear. I was caught up in this life stream I so hard try to avoid, letting myself carried away by routine, passively expecting my state to change. This situation negatively affected my environment, damaged my relationships, and ultimately diminished my performance to the point of emotional cataclysm.
It’s time to get to know each other
The existence of this shadowed version of ourselves is almost undeniable. In the course of our lives we have all found and we will find ourselves coping with overwhelming situations. Situations that bring the most harmful feelings out of ourselves.
I’ve realized that understanding and being aware of the presence of your own unpredictability is extremely valuable. Some of our inner trouble is just a sign that something has to change on the outside, on the way we live, on the way we treat others and in turn on the way we treat ourselves. We need to learn how to better read our feelings and emotions. Embracing what this alternative personality is telling us can become an incredible asset. It makes us more aware of our shortcomings and helps us to be present in each and every moment. The ability to understand the motives of our personality can help us dispel the cloud of fake reasons and complaints that so often prevent us from changing the state we live in, ultimately getting that detrimental personality and our own lives under control.
“Here then, as I lay down the pen and proceed to seal up my confession, I bring the life of that unhappy Henry Jekyll to an end.” – Robert Louis Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.