13 ideas to increase your emotional intelligence and to benefit from it
While there are still disputes among professionals about whether emotional intelligence is any kind of true intelligence, and whether it is a set of skills or traits, there seems to be more agreement about the positive benefits of emotional intelligence upon one´s life, in relation to mental wellbeing, performance, and leadership potential.
If you would like to cultivate your own emotional intelligence, here are a few ideas on how to do it in everyday situations.
1. Learn more about human emotions: their purpose, nature, how they work.
Embracing your emotionality is a matter of attitude, and you can develop this attitude by learning about the topic.
Reach for some sources and discover the fascinating world of human emotions: the ambiguity of emotions, the interconnection between physiology, thinking and feeling, the importance of being vulnerable, and much more.
Some of my favourite sources include:
Daniel Goleman Introduces Emotional Intelligence (video, 2012)
Daniel Goleman: Emotional Intelligence: Why it Can Matter More Than IQ (1996). Bloomsbury Publishing PLC; New edition edition (12 Sept. 1996). ISBN-13: 978-0747528302, 368p.
Guy Winch: The case for emotional hygiene (video)
Erich Fromm: The Art of Loving (Classics of Personal Development). Thorsons; New Ed edition (9 April 2010). ISBN-13: 978-1855385054, 112p.
Brene Brown: Power of vulnerability (video, 2011)
2. Give yourself permission to feel whatever you feel.
There is no such thing as the ‘right’ way to feel in a particular situation. Different people would feel differently in your situation, perhaps because they would interpret the situation differently, based on their unique personal experience, beliefs and so on. A similar situation would mean different things to different people.
If you persuade yourself that you should or should not feel something, you will likely not achieve it anyway, but simply generate additional emotions such as anger at yourself, self-pity, shame or regret.
Read more about why and how to give yourself permission, here.
However, if you suffer from negative emotions for too long, and this has a negative impact on your life, you might want to consider professional support.
3. Recognize what you feel.
Are you sometimes unsure about what you actually feel?
Your self-awareness can increase when you try to observe and name your emotions.
How would you name what you are feeling (towards a given person or situation, or options that you have to choose between)? It is likely to be a mixture of emotions, rather than a single one. What is in the mixture? Which one seems to be dominant?
How have your emotions towards this person, situation, or set of options evolved over time?
Do you often tend to feel like this, or is it specific to this situation, person, option?
4. Understand your emotions.
Learn what determines your emotions and those of people around you.
You can (but do not have to) aim at a scientific understanding of the complexity of human emotions.
Yet it might bring you very practical benefits if you just keep in mind that what you feel is not purely about that person, or situation, or set of options.
Your emotions may be influenced by your physical state, your state of mind, your personality and your previous personal experience. That means that you might view the same situation differently when you are in a different mood, when you are fresh or lacking sleep, right after a quarrel (even when the quarrel is unrelated), shortly after a physical activity that pumps your body full of endorphins, in good health or suffering from a disease, having a busy day or on holiday, or in different phases of your life.
If you decide purely on what you feel at that moment, you might for example decide not to do something due to feeling fear. But if you understand your emotions, you might realize that the fear is not necessarily indicating a specific danger (though sometimes it might), but just your general tendency (e.g. fear of changes, fear of rejection in social situations and so on). The understanding may help you to see a bigger picture of your dilemma. Sometimes it may help you decide simply that this is not an optimal moment to take a major decision. At other times, you might want to try to explore the emotion further and try to change the undesired reaction pattern that does not seem to serve you well.
If you would like to explore some emotion of yours, ask yourself: If the emotion offers a message to me, what could that message be? Why might it be telling me this? What kind of role might my previous experiences play? How is it influenced by my current mood?
Now that I have the information, what do I choose to do with it?
5. Know your mood tendencies.
Moods are basic psychological states, generally less specific than feelings. Moods can occur as a reaction to an event or other external influences (e.g. medication) or they may lack external cause and reflect rather on our temperament and personal traits.
Have you ever named what is your most common mood? If you are not sure, try taking notes on your mood for a couple of weeks. See how your mood changes over time.
If you discover that you are not happy about your prevalent mood tendency, check the other tips in this article to possibly change it.
6. Learn how to actively increase your motivation.
You need to do something, job related or not, but you lack the drive and keep postponing it?
Your motivation for doing it will be stronger and more persistent if it is not only external (e.g. payment or external request), but also internal (e.g. your attitude).
Internal motivation is about you. For example, the fact that you want to accomplish the task today, because you want to check your ability to do it. Or because you recognize it as important and useful to someone. Or because, once you get it done, you can go and do something you’re looking forward to. Such motivation is much more effective than being told to do it or having it in the job description.
So, the next time you want to increase your motivation to do something, refocus your attention: instead of the reasons why not (e.g. it’s stressful and boring), focus on the reasons why you want to do it (e.g. it helps towards your personal goal). Actively try to come up with at least one honest internal reason. It will boost your drive.
7. Influence your emotions through altering your thoughts.
Your emotions depend also on how you interpret a situation based, for example, on your beliefs. Therapists or coaches often help clients explore and alter some of their deep beliefs. But even without going into such deep exploration, you can influence your thoughts, and through your thoughts you can also progressively influence your emotions.
If you generally tend to make a quick interpretation or judgement of what other people (do not) say or (do not) do, followed by your strong emotional response to the thoughts, you can soften your emotional reaction simply by changing the habit: learn to always think of multiple possible interpretations of the situation. Try to list several different reasons why the person said or did something. However, you need to think of credible interpretations. Difficult? Try to assess whether your primary interpretation might have been overgeneralizing or exaggerating in some way, and if so, list also some less generalizing options.
While in the beginning this might feel like a technical exercise, if you keep on, it will become your habit to suspend judgement and think in more colours than just black or white. Observe the progressive impact on your emotions.
8. Influence your emotions through your body.
Use the interconnection between your body and mind to your own benefit. You can change how you feel at a given moment also by body change: for example, you can calm yourself down by slow deep breathing, or you can boost your self-confidence instantly by a ‘championing’ body position, as suggested in the empowering video by Amy Cuddy here. You can learn relaxation techniques or meditation, not just for instant impact, but also for long-term well-being.
9. Influence your emotions through the people and things you surround yourself with.
Things and people around you have an impact on your emotions too, and you have some influence on what and who is around you, so use it. Observe what makes you feel better, and what worse. Increase the amount of the former in your life, and lower the amount of the latter.
Build your own arsenal of small tricks that you always have at your disposal: a playlist of songs that cheer you up, boost your hope, or calm you down after a busy day, things you hang on your walls and like looking at, putting fresh sheets on your bed, a feel-good blog or a book, your favourite inspirational quotations that can always empower you, or a silly photo of you that still makes you laugh every time you see it, and so on. Collect those things and remember to use them when you need to.
Surround yourself with a sufficient number of people who can often make you feel better, and try to bring changes into relationships that sap your energy: by improving or reducing them.
10. Stretch your empathy.
Empathy is the ability to understand other people´s emotions and to treat people according to their emotional response. You can improve or maintain your empathy actively.
For example, try this in public places: observe people and try to guess what they’re feeling. Whether you can hear what they say or not, go beyond that and learn to read from their non-verbal communication: body posture, walk, gesticulation, facial expressions. It can be fun to practise it through a café window or while waiting at a station.
Try it also in your personal relationships, where you know more about the person. First try to imagine how you would feel in the other person´s shoes. Then recognize that your personal history and state of mind are different from theirs. How might the other person feel, given what you know about their previous experiences, personality and current mood?
How can you take this into account when deciding how to act towards the person?
11. Strengthen your bonds with other people.
Learn to seek common ground with people around you.
For example, make a list of the people you spend most of your time with: maybe your family, some of your colleagues, some friends. For each of them individually, write down what you have in common.
Try to do so particularly in the case of people with whom you would like to improve your relationship: e.g. your least favourite colleague with whom you need to spend quite some time. It is always possible to find something in common: an interest, people you both like, a similar taste in something, favourite pastimes, or a similar experience. Aim at broadening the list of common items over time. Bringing up what you have in common, instead of what separates you, can be a good way to resolve the relationship – or at least, to begin to.
12. Use your emotional intelligence to impact on other people.
If you typically use logical reasoning when you need to persuade people, try doing it differently: focus primarily on their emotional response. Making people feel good about your suggestion may be more effective than a long list of rational arguments that do not take into consideration their emotions, such as hopes and, especially, fears. Address (also) those, and your chances of persuading them will increase.
13. Choose what impact you want to make.
If you could have a strong impact on other people, what kind of impact would you like to have? Both thinking and feeling can be used as tools or as weapons. Cultivate them and use them for what matters to you in life, and they will help you feel satisfied and happy when you think about the life you live.