How do you improve your emotional intelligence? Why would you want to bother trying to improve your emotional intelligence in the first place? Can it really make that much of a difference to living a good life?
Where emotional intelligence is concerned we’ve all got it a bit twisted it seems.
History has always taught us that success is dependent on the level of your IQ. That academic brains and smarts will get you where you want to go in life. So why improve emotional intelligence when we should be trying to improve IQ?!
But now, it seems that what we value has been misplaced.
Have you ever had that friend who nails exams, does extraordinarily well at problem-solving, and is the one and the only person that you pray is on your team at the pub quiz?
But, they have absolutely zero common sense?
Or perhaps you have a cousin who can barely read the a la carte menu in your favorite Portuguese restaurant?
But, they could persuade you to lend them your 18ct solid gold watch for a month while they travel around Asia.
These are fine examples of there being an imbalance between academic intelligence and emotional intelligence.
Your clever friend may be high in IQ but what your cousin is lacking in IQ he makes up for with emotional intelligence.
It would be ideal for us to harness the power of both. But if emotional intelligence is where you are lacking then studies now suggest that this is where you should look to improve.
Since I was a child all the way up until my mid-twenties I had this crippling insecurity that I liked to call my ‘stupidity complex’. I had no self-confidence where intelligence was concerned.
Despite being an A-grade student (and no, that’s not to brag because it really didn’t contribute all that much to my life thus far) I had this overwhelming fear that people viewed me as ‘dumb’.
Even at that time education focused on grades, percentages and academic intelligence as a prerequisite to determining the life success of a student.
Each achievement was measured by a letter stamped on a page indicating the size of your brain and how smart you are with like, numbers and stuff.
But at no point did there ever appear to be any emphasis on those qualities that are emotionally focused.
Qualities like empathy, communication, motivation, listening, introspection and awareness.
At no point do I remember taking a class on the importance of listening to others or understanding the pain and struggles of your fellow man.
Like IQ, we can improve our emotional intelligence; we can improve these qualities. Through learning and education, and yet no emphasis was placed upon them.
Because of this I always viewed academic intelligence to be of the highest importance. It is a determining factor of mental strength and our ability to cope with pain and resistance.
THE most important thing that I should care about if I ever hoped to have a happy, successful life in a career of my choosing.
And with this came the intense pressure to feel smart.
The problem here being that it meant I felt pretty stupid even though all of the facts told me that a was actually a bright cookie.
Enter my ‘stupidity complex’.
Luckily, with time and age I’ve come to a few realizations. I’ve experienced a handful of epiphanies. And, shifted my opinion of what I believe to be important and…IQ is not high on the list, my friend.
THE QUALITIES POSSESSED BY THE EMOTIONALLY INTELLIGENT THAT WILL HELP YOU IMPROVE YOURS
I ask myself, why did I suddenly become completely content with my academic intelligence (or lack thereof) during my mid-twenties?
It was because I was able to acknowledge and appreciate my other strengths which fell very neatly under the emotional intelligence umbrella.
Mind Tools suggest that Emotional Intelligence for Leadership is hugely important for example. I have leadership qualities? Who knew!
Think about this – regardless of whether you are a parent or not, we have all heard the phrase typically passed on to the parents of a socially awkward child from a stereotypical apple fed teacher that, ‘Jimmy doesn’t play well with others’.
Well, Jimmy is only a child and has a lot of development ahead of him.
But even as adults this concept can apply.
Emotional intelligence allows us to play well with others.
And this could be considered far more integral to the success of a career, relationship, friendships or parenting than the academic intelligence counter-part.
Think about it. Will your ability to calculate dy/dx + (6x -16) = 4 improve your chances of longevity in a relationship?
(No, that was not a real mathematics sum so please don’t bother trying to work it out)
Will it allow you to connect with your son or build rapport with the new team at work?
IQ does not hold the same power as emotional intelligence when it comes to ‘playing well with others’ as Jimmy will grow to understand (or not).
Here is a list of 8 things that emotionally intelligent people DO do which are worth striving for:
1. They make calculated decisions
Highly emotional intelligent people do not often react spontaneously or rashly in moments of emotional intensity.
Quite the opposite to the person who burns their partners clothes on a bonfire after overhearing their significant other comment positively about the aesthetics of someone at their gym, before hearing them out, only to be told that the person they were ‘oggling’ was actually 85 years old and they were simply saying that they couldn’t believe what amazing shape they were in for someone that age.
People with low emotional intelligence respond with panic and fear to high stress situations.
A person with high emotional intelligence can calm themselves down.
They can use their emotions alongside reason and logical thinking to respond accordingly.
They will often wait to respond at a time where they feel more mentally stable and emotionally capable of making better decisions from a place of control.
2. They embrace new experiences, ideas and people
Despite the ability for an emotionally intelligent person to hold strong values, beliefs and opinions (indeed it is these values which form a strong foundation for emotional resilience), people of high EQ are incredibly open minded and willing to embrace new things.
They aren’t afraid to be challenged by others.
And, they are intellectually curious about those things in life over which they are willing to admit they have little knowledge.
Someone with high emotional intelligence does not fear being wrong and is open to seeking help from others when they need it.
New experiences, ideas and people do not scare the person of high EQ.
They are welcomed and embraced as avenues to perhaps make them a better person.
3. They give their attention to others
Although the strong emphasis is placed on self-awareness when it comes to developing emotional intelligence, this does not mean that people of high EQ are self-orientated.
People with high EQ are extremely empathetic and able to look at life through the eyes of others and see things from a different perspective.
Their ability to listen means that they can give their time, energy and attention to others with the ability to understand and comprehend their viewpoint or struggles.
They don’t judge, criticize, blame or interrupt others.
They celebrate their loved ones victories with genuine pride and are there for them wholeheartedly in time of despair without seeking anything in return.
4. They take responsibility for their actions and behavior
Unlike someone with low emotional intelligence, the person with high EQ is able to live a blame-free life.
This meaning that they have the emotional awareness and capabilities to acknowledge and admit their faults. They do not play victim to the world and its difficulties.
If there are obstacles to overcome they will work on finding a solution rather than fixating on the pain of hitting a roadblock.
If they make a mistake then they admit wrong doing.
And, if they behave poorly they will make the effort to take responsibility and make sure they move forward with a clear slate.
A lot of people are not able to take accountability for their actions and behaviors. But this is detrimental to their relationships and mental well-being moving forward.
To admit your mistakes takes guts and courage.
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But it will also relieve you of any long-term anxiety. You will suffer from knowing that you didn’t own up and acknowledge your actions.
5. They are transparent about their true motives
A true difficulty for a lot of people is embracing the real reason behind why they feel a certain way toward something or someone.
Why they want this, that or the other and why they feel hurt about what this person said or didn’t say.
When you gain self-awareness you are able to fully understand the root cause behind your emotional reaction and therefore respond accordingly.
However, when we don’t want to acknowledge the real reason we feel the way we do it’s pretty hard to react in a way that is reasonable.
Emotionally intelligent people are transparent with their motives and are honest with themselves and others about how they are feeling.
This enables them to process their feelings in a way that is healthy.
And it generally allows for building strong connections with others based on honesty and truth.
6. They are excellent communicators
With amazing verbal and non-verbal communication skills, emotionally intelligent people are equipped to handle even the most difficult of conversations.
An emotionally intelligent person can control their temper, vocalize their needs and wants and manage conflict in a way that is constructive.
No blaming or shaming will be found coming out the mouths of those with high EQ.
Their ability to empathize with others means that they can communicate with respect. With a willingness to listen and respond appropriately to what the other person has to say.
In turn they build strong relationships, create quick rapport with others and often use non-violent communication as a means of expressing themselves without attacking their counterpart.
7. They live a life of emotional balance
Life is a continuum of highs and lows, ups and downs. The greater your emotional resilience the better your chances are of managing the ebb and flow of life.
For someone with high emotional intelligence, they are able to embrace the complexities that life has to offer.
This is not to say that the struggle of loss, grief, trauma, financial distress or anything else are not present and painful.
Merely to say that someone of high EQ can see the situation for what it is and search for the positives.
At the very least they are able to rationalize that the situation is not permanent and that the time will pass.
With an understanding and greater acceptance of what is and is not in their control, they are able to live with a realistic outlook on life.
And this helps mitigate feelings of anxiety and disappointment.
8. They are motivated by the internal not the external
Emotionally intelligent people are often driven by wants and desires that satisfy the internal and not the external.
For example, someone with low EQ might place value in superficial luxuries such as a flash car, fancy watch and a stunning partner but these are all external factors that are only surface level.
Someone of high EQ might place value on being honest with others, hitting their goals or appreciating the courage it took them to chase a dream even when it was a massive flop.
By being driven by the internal and focusing on achievements that are guided by good values, emotionally intelligent people are more content with life, their purpose, their victories and a lack of superficial luxuries.
When someone lives with a poor value such as ‘I must be liked by everyone’ – this may not be a physical external source of pleasure but it relies on the opinions of others to bring peace and content.
You ultimately have zero control over how someone else might feel about you. No matter how much brown nosing and gifts you buy them.
So your motivation to be the best version of you is misplaced.
However, if you can find a way to be motivated by the desire to like yourself then you not only have a lot more control over this but you’re more likely to be successful in your endeavor.
Improve your emotional intelligence and you will build emotional resilience to the hardships of life.
And this is truly where you will find the skill to manage your anxieties and worries.
By being able to view your emotions as being helpful not destructive and unmanageable.
With all of the qualities mentioned above you can say with certainty that you have a strong awareness surrounding the interpersonal (understanding of yourself) and the intrapersonal (understanding of others).
This is what will make all aspects of life easier to manage. And, it will also determine your ability to play well with others.
WHY IQ IS NOT THE DETERMINING FACTOR OF YOUR LIFE SUCCESS
If IQ is the ability to process information then emotional intelligence is the ability to process and manage your emotions.
And, when all is said and done, our emotions are what truly govern our responses to any given situation.
High IQ might set you on a path to a successful career as a high flying banker in the city. But, emotional intelligence will allow you to gain an honest and valuable connection with your boss and colleagues so that you can work your way up the ladder in good standing.
High IQ might make you perfect for explaining to the customers of a brand new Porsche how the technical functions on their car work. But, emotional intelligence is what will allow you to build rapport and have them e-mailing your manager saying how brilliant your customer service was.
Emotional intelligence is still widely under-rated. But it appears it is more beneficial to your life and well-being than IQ will ever be.
Because human connection is ultimately the goal of all goals and improving emotional intelligence is what is needed to achieve this.
It may appear as though you live your own life and that only the decisions and actions that you make for yourself are what govern your progress but everything we do relies on our ability to build good, strong human connections.
Again, IQ won’t go too far in helping you with this.
So, if you worry, much like I used to, that your lack of academic intelligence is going to hold you back in life then I would always encourage you to continue learning and improving in this area.
However, you might want to look at the other qualities that you possess and you may well find that what you lack in IQ you make up for in EQ.
HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE
According to American Psychologist Daniel Goleman, who was instrumental in popularizing the term ‘emotional intelligence’, there are five key elements that a person can work on to increase their EQ.
1. Raise self-awareness to improve emotional intelligence
Gain a greater understanding of your emotions.
It’s a lot easier said than done but with self-awareness you can finally view those pesky emotions as something that can be of use to you.
Without the ability to understand why we feel the way we feel then you’re likely to find yourself at the mercy of your emotions.
If you cannot understand WHY then you won’t be able to manage HOW you respond. As mentioned before, you will jump straight to panic and alarm, reacting spontaneously and without justification.
It’s tough to be honest with yourself.
But sitting down and listening to your thoughts and feelings is a sure fire way to understanding yourself better.
And when you can understand yourself better, you understand your emotions and begin to have the capability to manage them.
So, gain self-awareness by trying these few things:
Understand why you do the things you do
We’re notoriously rubbish at even attempting to understand ourselves.
In an age where distraction and instant gratification rule, with every social media platform stealing our attention and somehow also making us feel like crap at the same time, it can be difficult to give ourselves space to even try and understand what we’re doing.
But you need to figure out what drives you. What is important? What are your values? What’s your purpose in life?
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These are important questions that need to be answered so you can figure out what the hell motivates you.
Turn off the distractions for a hot minute and sit with yourself and your thoughts.
It’s not always pleasant because it can get pretty twisted up there.
But getting a clear understanding of who you are and what you’re about will take you leaps and bounds to improving your emotional intelligence.
Understand why you feel the way you feel
You know why this is so hard?
It’s because a lot of the time we fight against our feelings. We deny the truth behind their presence and we live in ignorance about what they are truly trying to tell us.
Figuring out why you do the things you do (understanding your motivations and values) will help you when you’re trying to understand why you feel the way you feel.
Without a firm grasp on why we emotionally respond the way we do to any given situation is pretty damn important.
Because without this you aren’t able to rationalize it (more on that in the next step).
Know what you’re feeling so you can understand what makes you feel this way.
Don’t judge yourself, don’t deny the emotion or behavior – sit with full acceptance and embrace it with honesty.
Denying or ignoring how you feel leads to a whole host of issues that you don’t want to involve yourself in. Things like playing the victim, narcissism or intense feelings of anxiety or depression.
This is because you aren’t allowing yourself to feel what you need to feel, accept it and respond accordingly.
Identify your irrational triggers
Some things are going to be irrational, full stop.
But once you can identify those triggers you can take steps to maintain your composure. And get a hold of yourself.
For me and my stupidity complex, I get extremely wound up when someone finishes a sentence with ‘…obviously’.
Why, WHY is that obvious?! Is it because I’m so stupid that I should have known that already? You simply cannot believe that this is new information to me?!
Yeah, I really get irrationally irritated by it.
And sometimes people are condescending. But sometimes it’s just a turn a phrase that’s been slung on the end with no thought behind it.
And sometimes it’s not even in the correct context for me to even warrant getting angry at.
So, understand your irrational triggers and don’t allow them to make you behave like an ass.
2. Self-regulation to improve emotional intelligence
You know when that quirky music teacher gets wound up by the class clown and explodes in front of all of the students, dropping some f-bombs here and some sh*t bombs there before pulling half of her hair out and having a meltdown in the closet?
Yes, that would be an example of someone who does not self-regulate.
Self-regulation involves allowing yourself to feel the emotions. Gather your sense of self-awareness surrounding it. And act in a way that is appropriate.
It means not flipping your lid in an emotional outburst. But instead stepping back, gathering all of the information and responding in a way that is thoughtful and justified.
Remember your emotions are simply your mind giving you feedback to any given situation.
But it is then up to us to filter these through our cognitive brain and respond in a way that is fair and rational.
So, the music teacher may well have erupted with anger and despair on the inside. But, had she been able to self-regulate she would have been able to calmly tell the little shit to take a seat and be quiet or get out of her class.
Without an F-bomb to be heard.
3. Become self-motivated to improve emotional intelligence
You must work on the ability to self-motivate and motivate for the right reasons.
We’ve all had those days when we’re so captivated by what we are doing that nothing can pull us away from it. Hours fly by and you haven’t even stopped to drink or pee (and you’re bladder is feeling the pressure).
But sometimes that motivation just isn’t there and it’s up to you to drive yourself on even when faced with resistance.
Emotionally intelligent people are able to cultivate their own drive without the need for the voice of a manager, partner or coach to keep them going.
An ability to keep the end goal in mind and a focus on the internal driving factors rather than the external allows people of high EQ to keep going.
Even on days when they really can’t be arsed.
When Netflix and a bag of tacos seems all too appealing you must still be able to foster your own motivation.
And you can work on this by simply doing SOMETHING.
On these trickiest of lazy days you must give yourself a task to do. It might be small but the mere act of doing SOMETHING will usually encourage you to keep going.
Similar to breaking bad habits, starting small is better than not starting at all.
And starting small is likely to lead you to keep going because, well, you’ve started now so why not finish?!
When I sit down to write I sometimes have to tell myself, ‘Just do 200 words. Write your 200 words of crap and at least you’ve done something.’
But I have never ever sat and ONLY written 200 hundred words. Because suddenly I’m in the flow and I can’t bring myself to stop once I’ve started.
Learn to motivate yourself using strong values to drive you. Your successes will be more delicious for it.
4. Build empathy to improve emotional intelligence
As mentioned above, a key trait of the emotionally intelligent is the ability to look beyond themselves and understand the people around them.
The truth is, a lot of us suck at this.
And it’s not necessarily our fault (not entirely but perhaps a little bit). There’s a lot of hardship, pain and struggle that accompanies life and so it’s natural for us to seek support and attention.
What this means is finding someone who will listen to us and understand us. It doesn’t offer much in the way of empathizing with others.
The ability to create self-awareness and self-regulate your feelings ultimately is to not only increase your understanding of yourself but to increase your understanding of others.
It allows us to have happy relationships, set healthy boundaries, upset people when it’s necessary and be there for others in times of need.
Empathy is not just understanding someone else’s trials and tribulations. It’s being able to listen to them intently and respond accordingly.
Offering worthwhile guidance and help.
An ability to give your time, focus and energy to another human being is what allows us to be humble and not self-orientated.
Emotional intelligence cannot be strengthened if a person lacks empathy.
Oh, and something worth adding here; empathy is not given with the expectancy of something in return.
This is in-genuine and entirely negates what it means to practice empathy for others. If the support you offer is only ever given to receive something in return then it’s motivation is deceptive, dishonest and quite frankly, a down right lie.
5. Develop strong social skills to improve emotional intelligence
It’s most likely evident now that emotional intelligence relies on an ability to understand yourself and regulate your responses.
But also is heavily focused on using this new found self-knowledge to socialize well with others.
At the heart of it all is the ability to build strong connections with others. And the only true way to do this is be being open, honest and aware.
Aware of who you are and aware of who they are.
Being open to their views and opinions and being willing to express your own with respect and care.
Building strong connections with others is one of the greatest defining traits of an emotionally intelligent individual.
Because, it takes everything previously discussed to form a bond with others that can withstand the test of time.
All of the points previously mentioned need to be put into practice on a daily basis.
This will improve your emotional intelligence and you might find your ability to form relationships with others becomes easier and more enjoyable.
Understanding yourself and understanding others is far stronger in its ability to get you where you want to go in life than academic intelligence ever could.
This is why it is important to improve your emotional intelligence. Because without rapport and that all-important likability factor that comes with being authentic and honest, someone without emotional intelligence can’t utilize their self-awareness and awareness of others to build a life of emotional richness.
MOVE ON TO THE NEXT LESSON IN THIS GUIDE TO LIVING A GOOD LIFE: BREAKING BAD HABITS NOW! (YOU ARE WHAT YOU DO REPEATEDLY)