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“Take 60 seconds to write down how you feel twice a day.” with Farah Harris

Improve emotional awareness by doing a simple exercise of taking 60 seconds to write down how you feel twice a day. This activity can be increased in frequency so that you can become more acutely aware of your emotions in the present moment. This helps to decrease a delayed reaction. As a part of our […]

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Improve emotional awareness by doing a simple exercise of taking 60 seconds to write down how you feel twice a day. This activity can be increased in frequency so that you can become more acutely aware of your emotions in the present moment. This helps to decrease a delayed reaction.

As a part of our series about “Emotional Intelligence, I had the pleasure of interviewingFarah Harris.

Farah Harris is a psychotherapist and a Workplace Wellness Champion dedicated to disrupting toxic work environments. She is the owner of WorkingWell Daily™, a company committed to addressing work-life alignment, equity, and mental wellness. Her personal mission is to help individuals and organizations decrease symptoms of stress and burnout, elevate their emotional intelligence, and improve morale by implementing strategies to create healthier work cultures.

As a mental health practitioner, Farah is aware of the intersectionality between wellness, equity, and inclusion. She is a sought-after expert on topics related to mental wellness, workplace culture, and self-care. Her clients consist of CIBC Bank US, CISCO, Bloomberg GOV, LiveNation, Ferrara, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the California Counseling Association. Her work has been featured in media and podcast platforms such as: Forbes, Huffington Post, Essence, Bustle, Inside Edition, Martha Stewart, Thrive Global, and Therapy for Black Girls.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

My mother and I immigrated from Haiti in 1982. My father had come to the United States a year before our arrival. I was two and a half years old when we moved to Illinois. The next and last time I went to Haiti was when I was ten years old to address some immigration issues. Sadly, I have not been back since. It’s been over 30 years and I hope to return soon with my children so they can learn more about their heritage.

I had the privilege of growing up in the diverse suburb of Evanston, Illinois. I got along with all groups of people and had a very culturally diverse group of friends growing up. Our household was very much a Haitian household with some American influence. Early on I recognized the similarities and differences between myself and my African-American peers. We were Black; similar in ethnicity, but were very culturally different.

I am the eldest of three, and easily fit the stereotype of “eldest sibling”. The age gaps between my siblings are pretty significant, 7 years older than my brother and almost 12 years older than my sister. Because of this, there was a long time where my role was more of a bonus parent than a sibling. My parents worked hard, at times working two to three jobs, and this sometimes required me to be watched by friends of the family. I will forever be grateful for the community of other Haitian families who resided near us that gifted me with friends to play with and a place to stay when my parents weren’t around.

I was an artistic kid who doodled on everything I could get my hands on. I was also a Chatty Cathy and my parents would say that I was like popcorn, always pop-pop-popping. I was an avid reader and enjoyed (even to this day) having long intellectual conversations with my dad. I loved school and made good grades until college. I’m not sure if it was my major or the institution or both that made my college experience challenging, but those four years really left me questioning my intelligence and capabilities. Thank goodness for graduate school where I was able to graduate cum laude.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.

It was my season of unemployment that was the catalyst for pursuing a career in mental health. I had worked for a boutique retail consulting firm that didn’t really have any professional development or career path in the role that I was in. I was bored with the role and I think my employers saw this too. I wanted to quit but didn’t have a backup plan. My husband I were barely married two years and I knew he would have looked at me like I had five heads if I had suggested that I resign. Thankfully, the company pulled the trigger for me and I was allowed to get unemployment. I went on a couple of informational interviews, but nothing seemed right. I decided, as the saying goes, to “let go and let God”. During this same time, I was interested in the idea of helping couples. It may have been because I was somewhat of a newlywed myself and I was understanding how important healthy relationships were. You can say that I felt led to enroll in a graduate program for mental health counseling in hopes to becoming a marriage and family therapist. I quickly realized that I didn’t want to work with couples, but I was certain that I was in the right field. I wanted to help people understand who they are, learn why they do what they do, and help them in their healing journey. Teaching people to use their voice and own their stories has been a joy and privilege.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

Honestly, I would say it was a three-way tie between my parents and my husband. My parents have always and continue to be so supportive in who I am and the work that I do. I wouldn’t be who I am today if it wasn’t for the clear and profound evidence of love and affirmation that both my parents gave me. I can recall having moments of doubts and insecurities in adolescence and how they couldn’t reside in my mind for too long because I would challenge them to the truth, I believed my parents spoke into me; that I was smart, capable, beautiful and loved. And then to marry a man who reaffirms this same sentiment is truly a gift. Sometimes I am motivated to go higher just because of the greatness they see in me. And because of the integrity in each of them, I trust them and believe I can achieve anything.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

Recently, one thing that I have found quite humorous is being called and cited as “Dr. Harris”. It happened seldomly when I first began my practice, however it is becoming a more frequent occurrence. Albeit flattering, I think it’s very important to not be misrepresented. I’ve had to correct journalists, clients, and even family members that I did not earn a doctoral degree. I value integrity and I have been disheartened at the fact that a lot of people have mislead others to believe that they are something or someone that they are no, and in the process, have caused much harm to their clients and followers. It has occurred to me that many people assume that if you are considered an expert, then you must hold a high degree.

The road to success is hard and requires tremendous dedication. This question is obviously a big one, but what advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?

I’d encourage a person aspiring to follow in my footsteps, regardless of age, to cultivate their own work-life alignment plan. Letting their values create their boundaries so that they aren’t recreating someone else’s life but creating their life by design. I’ve learned that we can lose sight on what is important to us when we overly focus on what others are doing. My road to success works for me in how I want to live my life in regard to my faith, marriage, family, social and emotional well-being. Setting boundaries has been extremely important. Also, practicing my own emotional intelligence to help guide me and identify what things, places and people energize or drain me.

With all that said, I would encourage someone to make sure they have the right network for growth. This includes friends and family; everyone needs a support system. Entrepreneurship isn’t easy. Make sure that you have cheerleaders, accountability partners, investors (whether in time or money), and those who are ahead of you in the journey who challenge and inspire you to keep leveling up. This road can get lonely sometimes, so having a few friends in the entrepreneurial space can help with that. It also is great because that can help you with increasing your referral list and opportunities to collaborate. I loved what Issa Rae stated in an interview, we should be more apt to network across and not just network up. Who’s in your circle?

Is there a particular book, film, or podcast that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

The book the 12 Week Year has been such a gift. One chapter that stands out to me is the one about the Execution System. This chapter highlighted what the Emotional Cycle of Change (ECOC) looks like and I found it relevant not only to the work I do with clients, but also to my entrepreneurial journey. Implementing something new can be exciting at first but the way we are neurologically wired, our brains tend to kick in to survival or protective mode, which at times stops us from moving forward. The breakdown of this cycle alone is what I often refer back to when I feel hesitation or the desire to quit, creep up on me. The book is such a great resource and practical guide on how to best be effective with executing our goals.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

I can’t say I have just one. I think if you live long enough, there are new life lessons that show up to teach you in in a particular season. Currently, the life lesson that is resonating with me is, “Rest is productive.” I have been saying this for several months now. Reminding myself and others to move in a spirit of rest. This year has highlighted how much our society doesn’t value rest and wellness although we give much lip service to self-care. As a relatively new entrepreneur, my business counts on me to be able to show up. I cannot show up optimally if I am burned out. And it’s a ripple effect. If I am burned out in one area in my life, more than likely, there are other areas that are suffering. Being intentional about resting is beyond productive, it’s essential to living the life I want to have. So, any time I find myself struggling to produce, I take inventory on how much rest I am getting. Have I been taking my naps? Am I going to bed at a decent time? Am I taking time away from work to spend time with family and enjoying extra-curricular activities?

Without rest, I move in the spirit of hustle and grind, which can increase anxiety and discouragement. Resting means that I trust that things will work itself out. I obviously still work hard, but I do not overwork and over stress myself so that I can best show up for myself, my family, and my clients.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

I’m currently working on a cultural wellness assessment and it is truly exciting! This tool is to help companies and organizations evaluate where they are in regard to their current workplace culture so they can identify where they need to improve so that their work environments are psychologically safe for all their employees.

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. Can you briefly tell our readers a bit about why you are an authority about Emotional Intelligence?

As a clinician, much of my work is helping clients to better process their thoughts and emotions. The Emotional Intelligence skillset works very well with cognitive behavioral therapy and similar theoretical frameworks. Because of this, it is an area I have chosen to specialize/focus in. I am aware that it is a buzzword now, however it is an area I have been able to successfully teach my clientele for years. Also, as a Black woman, I understand how this skillset is used differently by groups who have been marginalized by their ethnicity or gender (specifically Black Americans). I have taught many intro-level trainings for teams wanting to learn more about emotional intelligence, along with discussions on how emotional intelligence is used differently by Black individuals in predominantly white spaces. I break down EQ in easy digestible ways to help individuals elevate their understanding of emotional intelligence and be able to immediately put it into practice.

For the benefit of our readers, can you help to define what Emotional Intelligence is?

The simplest definition is that emotional intelligence is the ability to be aware of, name and understand emotions within yourself and see how they affect those around you. It also is the skill of understanding the emotions of others.

How is Emotional Intelligence different from what we normally refer to as intelligence?

Emotional intelligence is different from general intelligence in that it is less about academic knowledge and how you’d logically solve problems, but more about knowledge of one’s own emotions and of others. It’s like having street smarts versus book smarts.

Can you help explain a few reasons why Emotional Intelligence is such an important characteristic? Can you share a story or give some examples?

Emotional Intelligence is an important characteristic to have because it is a strength skill that can enhance one’s own well-being and improve both professional and personal relationships. It strengthens attributes such as assertiveness, empathy, effective communication, intrinsic motivation, and self-management, which are all wonderful characteristics to have. Our day-to-day living involves other people. Being able to better interact with these people will have a positive effect on your well-being. Along with having improved relationships, the better you are at increasing your self-awareness, which includes your emotional awareness, the better you are able to process your thoughts and feelings to manage stress and strong emotions.

Would you feel comfortable sharing a story or anecdote about how Emotional Intelligence has helped you in your life? We would love to hear about it.

Emotional intelligence has helped me in my marriage. Not just in my practicing this skillset, but also in teaching it. I believe it is such a strength skill that should be taught at an early age. My children are 9, 6, and almost 2. Once my children have a decent command of language to communicate, I then try to help them increase not only their emotional vocabulary but their emotional intelligence. We learn about self-awareness by naming and acknowledging their feelings, self-management so that we are better at handling tantrums and pointing out our individual strengths and growth edges. We also teach them to be mindful of others and pay attention to how people are responding to them. And of course, we are big on empathy in the Harris Household. Teaching EQ to my family is important and keeps me accountable to exercise this skillset when engaging with my husband and our children. It has been quite rewarding to hear my kids talk about self-care, emotional intelligence and wellness with each other.

Can you share some specific examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help a person become more successful in the business world?

Individuals with high emotional intelligence are often very likable because they exude empathy and skillsets such as assertiveness, empathy, and effective communication. These characteristics allows you to be persuasive and trustworthy, which good leadership, business owners, and those who are in sales, require. Having this skillset helps you increase engagement and creativity by actively listening to your team. A person with high emotional intelligence is intrinsically motivated, enabling them to keep pursuing new opportunities and challenges. Another plus of emotional intelligence in business is it helps you to keep your cool.

Can you share a few examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help people have better relationships?

Empathy and effective communication are what is needed for healthy dialogue and managing difficult conversations.

Sometimes we can respond to others based on our trauma. Learning to practice the ‘pause’ and asking reflective questions to assess what has triggered an emotion is a great form of self-management. Doing so allows you the time to process and validate the emotion and gauge how best to respond or if you need to respond at all. This also limits having unnecessary conflict and the need to put out fires later for saying things you might regret.

When you are self-aware and socially aware, you can better recognize how you land on people.

Those with higher emotional intelligence are less passive and passive-aggressive which can erode trust and integrity within a relationship. Being able to be upfront while having tact can help others know exactly where you stand on things.

Can you share a few examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help people have more optimal mental health?

I have helped my Black clients in particular use emotional intelligence as a self-care tool when handling incidents of racial aggressions. Often, when a person has experienced a racial aggression, they aren’t sure how to respond. They can sometimes unintentionally practice emotional-abandonment or disassociate to not feel the sting of the encounter. Being able to name their emotion and use their voice by saying, “what you said was not okay”, whether in the moment or after, is a great form of self-advocacy. Also, taking the time to journal and hold space for their feelings is very validating and extends grace to the individual. This helps also to build healthy counternarratives and not internalize external narratives brought on by racism.

Emotional Intelligence can be used as a self-care tool. For example, self-awareness can help us create boundaries around people, places, and things. Mindfulness and emotional intelligence help to decrease the space between the moment and point of awareness. This will help us become acutely aware of how things make us feel. Do they energize us or drain us? In doing so we can learn how to minimize and limit our interactions with the very things that negatively impact our well-being.

Ok. Wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. Can you recommend five things that anyone can do to develop a greater degree of Emotional Intelligence? Please share a story or example for each.

Practice actively listening by turning off your phone and limiting distractions and multi-tasking when you are in meetings or speaking with someone. Also, ask clarifying questions and summarize what the other person has said to make sure you are understanding them and not inserting your own interpretation of what is being said.

Improve emotional awareness by doing a simple exercise of taking 60 seconds to write down how you feel twice a day. This activity can be increased in frequency so that you can become more acutely aware of your emotions in the present moment. This helps to decrease a delayed reaction.

Increasing Empathy: Before having a difficult conversation try considering what the other person could be thinking or feeling. If there’s a concern that you can actually address, write down your solution to have ready at hand.

By the time you have the conversation you can say something like, “Hi Susan, I know that things have been challenging and you are probably concerned about meeting your deadline for this project. I’m looking for ways to minimize the stress of our team. If you need additional support, we can bring Mark or Keshia on. Would that work for you?”

Acknowledging and anticipating someone’s thoughts emotions can actually decrease their anxiety, defensiveness, anger, etc. Being prepared with solutions also show’s thoughtfulness and consideration.

Ask for feedback. This isn’t always a comfortable thing to do, so ask someone you trust who will give you honest and constructive feedback. This will help you understand more how others are seeing you.

Examine how your actions will affect others. This is a good exercise for leaders, partners and parents. Sometimes we can get caught up in our position of authority that we neglect to consider how our decisions will impact those in our sphere of influence. Context and consideration make a difference. Don’t leave others feeling like an afterthought or insignificant.

Do you think our educational system can do a better job at cultivating Emotional Intelligence? What specific recommendations would you make for schools to help students cultivate Emotional Intelligence?

Emotional Intelligence is something that should be taught in the home and reinforced in our educational system. I’ve been teaching my oldest children (ages 9 and 6) about EQ since they were in pre-school. Ideally, the teachers need to be trained on EQ because you cannot effectively teach something you don’t practice. Having children be able to see emotional intelligence modeled in real time will allow the skillset to stick more. All competencies should be taught at the age appropriate level, with self-awareness, social awareness and empathy being the primary competencies addressed. It should be embedded into the curriculum and fabric of the school culture.

Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

The movement that I would love to inspire is for us to make sure that we are being well not just doing well. My mantra is creating a better world by creating a better you. A focus on individual and corporate wellness will impact our personal and professional lives in a profound way, leading to greater satisfaction in both areas. Having businesses care about their employees as a whole person more than just vehicles for profit can lead us to more humanized workplaces and world as a whole.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂

For some years now I have been wondering how I could collaborate with Brene Brown. Her work aligns so much with the work that I do. However, similar to how Minda Harts speaks to what was missed in Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In book, I would love to discuss how vulnerability shows up differently for Black women, especially in the workplace.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Visit my website: workingwelldaily.com

Linkedin.com/in/farahharrislcpc

Facebook.com/farahharrislcpc

Instagram.com/farahharrislcpc

Instagram.com/workingwelldaily

Twitter.com/farahharrislcpc

Twitter.com/workingwelldai1

Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.

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