Emotional intelligence (EI or EQ) is defined as “the ability to recognize one’s own and other people’s emotions, to discriminate between different feelings and label them appropriately, and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior” .
When you are emotionally intelligent, not only can you understand people better, but you can relate to them on a deeper level. They also inherently like you because they feel like you understand them. Good EI leads to better relationships, promotions, and more customers in business because you communicate on the primary level of emotions – where all human actions begin.
Cultivating EI takes practice, but by adopting the proper beliefs and mindsets, you can reap the benefits. Here are several that you should start practicing, if you don’t already:
1. Connection is why we are all here, and what everyone desires. Everyone is a bit lonely.
This was stated by Brené Brown in her amazing book, Daring Greatly. One of the worst things for your health is isolation. Social isolation can have worse effects on your health than alcoholism and drug abuse.
Everyone wants to be heard, nobody wants to feel misunderstood or alone.
But just hanging out with a bunch of people doesn’t mean you feel heard. In fact, having a deep discussion for an hour with one person for the entire week might make more of a difference than just having beers and talking about the weather for days on end.
The problem in society today is that we have been conditioned to hide our deeper desires, feelings, fears, and thoughts. So, we cover them up with lighter topics. But if these deeper feelings never get heard or addressed, not only can they lead to very negative behaviors that attempt to cover them up, but also anxiety, depression, and sadness.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with light conversation! But, if something is troubling you, you should talk to a trusted person (good friend, family, therapist, religious advisor) about it. Self-worth, abandonment, feelings of loss, isolation, destiny, and the reason why you were put on the Earth are common themes worth discussing.
In that sense, as someone who wants to be emotionally intelligent, you should always attempt to go “one level deeper”, Inception style, with whomever you talk to.
Why are they working at this job? Why are they with this person? What are their hopes, dreams, and desires?
You should try and connect with everyone you interact with. Not only will you feel better because you are feeding your connection desire as a human, but the other person will feel better too and appreciate you!
2. Empathy trumps everything.
If connection is so important and leads to so many amazing things, then empathy is essential for every single person in the world to get better at it. It’s the tool and guiding light the leads to connection and EI.
The reason why empathy is so powerful is because it is defined as “the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within the other person’s frame of reference, i.e., the capacity to place oneself in another’s shoes” .
How do you connect with someone? Make them feel heard.
How do you make them feel heard? By showing that you understand some of what they are going through.
Sure, sometimes you might not have lost a loved one and can’t fathom what your friend is going through… But, is there a time when you felt immense sorrow and sadness? Can you live in that emotion with them?
You might never have been SUPER nervous for a date, but what about those times when you got anxious for all the tests you took? Can you feel that anxiety with them?
What about the highs of life too? Can you be happy with them as well, and not jealous?
In becoming emotionally intelligent, make sure not to mistake SYMPATHY (“Oh poor you for feeling that, I hope you feel better”) with EMPATHY (“I feel what you feel, we’ll do this together”). Most people hate sympathy, as it feels shallow. Watch this video to learn more about the difference (narrated by Brené Brown).
3. People, by default, are friendly and sociable.
Not to make people sound like robots with switches (*in robot voice* SET DEFAULT STATE TO FRIENDLY), but most people are fundamentally good. You should hold this belief because it will allow you to connect with people. You won’t be as afraid compared to if you assumed that people don’t want to be bothered or will chomp your head off if you talk to them.
Of course, a minority of people ARE defensive and mean by default. These are the people you want to stay away from.
4. Logic dictates nothing. Emotions drive all decisions and we use logic to justify the decisions.
Dan Ariely discusses this in Predictably Irrational. You and I believe we are logical creatures.
I decide to be with X because she has certain traits I like.
You turn down a job offer because the pay is less and you like the money you have right now.
We don’t move to a new city because it doesn’t feel right, it’s far away, we have our friends here, and we already know the best place to get pizza.
Actually, we’re just BS’ing ourselves.
I decide to be with X because she makes me feel good, important, and loved. It hits on my abandonment trigger of not feeling loved enough as a kid, as she makes me feel supported and wanted. She supports my emotional needs and I enjoy supporting her too. I feel stronger.
You turn down the job offer because you are scared of not being able to afford new stuff/you might lose a sense of your identity that’s engrained in that stuff. You don’t want to start at a new position not knowing anyone (feelings of isolation) and not being that great at the position (feelings of self-worth and importance).
We don’t want to move to a new city because we’re scared of not being able to find good friends again (isolation), we’ve already established a routine of where the best food and gym are (security), and we’re just plain nervous about moving to a new place where we might not know anything, especially if it’s in a new culture! We prefer the comfort of the familiar.
By understanding the fact that people make emotionally-based decisions, you can begin to understand the deeper motivations of why they do certain things. And hopefully, you will discover why you might also be carrying out certain patterns or choices in life.
5. Life is 20% the events that occur to me, and 80% my interpretation of those events.
The funny thing about life is that you can draw whatever conclusion you want from events.
So the time you lost your job was actually the best thing that happened to you because it pushed you to pursue your dreams of starting your own business.
The time you broke up with a past girlfriend or boyfriend led you to the person you want to marry, and taught you what you did wrong/what you could do to improve in relationships.
You can choose to be optimistic given any situation, after an initial emotional impulse that might be negative. Of course, suppressing negative emotions doesn’t work and can kill you (storing negativity leads to anxiety, depression, disease, and premature death), but that doesn’t mean you have to live in them forever.
6. Meditation and mindfulness will save my life.
Some form of thought observation is necessary so that you don’t get pulled into a negative thought or emotional spiral.
In the Vipassana tradition of meditation, the theory is taught that all of our emotional impulses begin as sensations in the body. For example, anxiety begins as the tightness in our chest, clenching in our jaw, and so on. This leads to thoughts saying “I don’t like this”, “I feel nervous”, and then subsequently, the emotion of anxiety.
But by training yourself to use some form of meditation or mindfulness, you can see thoughts for what they are…
Transient brain farts.
See, learning how to meditate shows us that if thoughts come and go, then we can’t be everything we think. And, we don’t have to identify or believe all of our thoughts. We can also input more positive thoughts into our heads on purpose, always seeing the glass half full, so to speak.
For example, in a situation where you don’t get as much work done as you want to, if you are a workaholic that expects A LOT of yourself and is also very hard on yourself (like me), you could have a thought that says “You suck. You should have worked harder and faster. You don’t deserve to relax, what’s wrong with you?”
If you do that, you miss the other side of the story: “Hey, awesome job getting that much done. That was some heavy hitting and important stuff. We can always do the rest tomorrow, no big deal.”
The difference in how you feel and how you treat yourself can literally add years to your life. You can save others’ lives. too — if you see them getting caught in negative habit patterns.
Meditation and mindfulness make you aware of your possibly unconscious thought patterns so you can begin unravelling them.
Get on it.
7. All things arise just to pass away, including emotions.
In Buddhism there is something called The Law Of Nature, which states that:
All things arise just to pass away.
Thoughts, emotions, events, people… Everything arises just to leave this world.
So negative thoughts aren’t a huge deal because they go away, eventually. Sadness eventually passes. You should know that an awesome event won’t last forever, and expect it. And the same with the emotion of happiness.
Using this, though, you should become aware if there is a pattern that happens over and over. Do you have any consistent, negative thoughts? Do you always feel sad? Are you always hard on yourself?
This is one mistake people make when they think mindfulness will save them no matter what (there are actually two really common mistakes).
Look into it.
8. Reflection is important, and making emotional decisions is a very poor idea. I need time to reflect if possible, and those feelings probably won’t seem like a big deal in the long run.
If you had one fight over something silly and because of the impulse of anger you decided to throw an entire relationship away, that’d be terrible. While all decisions are based on emotions, making decision based on impulsive feelings in the moment is ONE OF THE WORST THINGS YOU CAN DO.
It’s how a lot of slimy sales are done. Afterwards, when you feel a bit bad but can’t return the product or change your decision, you use logic justify it somehow via anything creative you can cling on to in order to convince yourself that it WAS actually a good decision!
But let’s say you don’t make a decision based on an impulse. Let’s say you broke up with someone because of consistent unhappiness, they treated you badly, and so on. Totally justified.
The break up really hurts in the moment and may hurt for months or years. You still loved that person.
But eventually, you will heal and be able to reflect on what went right or wrong. You will learn from it. Perhaps you can become friends with the person.
We draw meaning from the events in our life over time.
You can’t connect the dots looking forward you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something: your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. Because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well worn path. – Steve Jobs
Realize that reflection of your life allows you to become stronger and see where you have been led. It teaches you how to be better. It builds up your emotional resilience. It makes you smarter.
And it makes you a stronger person.
. Coleman, Andrew (2008). A Dictionary of Psychology (3 ed.). Oxford University Press.
. Bellet, Paul S., and Michael J. Maloney (1991). “The importance of empathy as an interviewing skill in medicine“. JAMA 226 (13): 1831–1832.