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Published on February 8, 2021

8 Daily Habits To Develop Emotional Intelligence

8 Daily Habits To Develop Emotional Intelligence

Why do you want to develop emotional intelligence? Perhaps it’s because you want to be in true control of your life. After all, we control only three things in life: our thoughts, behaviors, and feelings.

The most important of these three is our feelings because they drive our thoughts and behaviors. In fact, about 80% or more of our decisions and actions come from our feelings and emotions.[1] However, our feelings are also the most difficult part for us to control since we have the least direct influence on our emotions.

Gaining control of your emotions requires that you develop and harness your emotional intelligence, which is the ability to be aware of your emotions and then manage those emotions.[2]

By following the daily habits described in this article, which are all informed by research in neuroscience and psychology, you will develop emotional intelligence skills and gain much better control over yourself and your life.

1. Delay Displaying Emotions

Have you ever reacted rashly during a tense situation and later on wished you could turn back time? How about regretting something you said in the heat of a moment? Whether these impulsive reactions are a rare occurrence or something that happens to you all the time, there’s a lot of advantages to being able to delay showing your emotions.

But first, let’s talk about how our minds work and our two thinking systems. The autopilot system corresponds to our emotions and intuitions, while the intentional system reflects our rational thinking.[3]

Since our intentional system is slow, it takes time to activate it and reflect on the kind of errors that the autopilot system can make. To address this, you need to develop a daily habit of counting to 10 before following emotion-driven behaviors and decisions. This will allow your intentional system to turn on and address your feelings before you show your emotions.

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Simply understanding how these two systems work and taking some time before reacting will allow you to be more in control of your emotions.

2. Journaling

Writing down your thoughts and feelings regularly is beneficial for developing emotional intelligence. Journaling is also an act of self-care that promotes creativity and self-awareness.[4] Research has also shown that journal prompts or simple guide questions to get you started are useful for stimulating reflection.[5]

While there are no exact rules for journaling, make it a habit to do so daily and establish a process. Develop a morning or evening journaling activity that involves three habits relevant to emotional intelligence:

  • Journaling about yourself and your feelings at the moment
  • Journaling about what you learned about your feelings over the last day
  • Journaling about where you would like to focus on in developing your emotional intelligence, including both the ability to know and manage your feelings, over time

Remember, the key is to get started and to be consistent. Keep it simple by picking a journaling method— you can write in longhand, type, use a voice recorder, or pick a journaling app—and just keep at it.

As you start to practice the habits listed here, you’ll want to review your journal entries from time to time. It will also be a good way to check your previous stumbling blocks and how far you’ve come.

3. Meditation

Meditation is another way of improving emotional intelligence.[6] While most people tend to associate meditation with spirituality, meditating can build new neural pathways, which may aid in managing stress and emotions.[7]

In particular, meditation can also help men who struggle with traditional norms around emotions and difficulty expressing their feelings. Studies have shown that meditation has helped men engage with their emotions constructively.[8]

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I recommend developing these two daily meditation habits:

  • At least 10 minutes of Zazen (empty mind) meditation – This type of meditation aims to clear and calm the mind. To do this, get into a cross-legged sitting position. Next, breathe, empty your mind, and try not to think of anything. Zazen will help you build attention and focus, which can then be used to have more attention to your emotions.[9]
  • At least 5 minutes of loving-kindness meditation – This type of meditation will help manage your feelings toward other people and make these feelings richer and more positive. By practicing this, you can strengthen your connection and feelings of kindness towards your loved ones and even acquaintances.[10] This can be done by visualizing the people in your life, focusing on these people, and thinking of these people sending and receiving love and kindness to and from you.

4. Yoga

You may have heard of its many health benefits, but let me highlight how it also has a significant impact on emotional intelligence. Practicing yoga teaches you to be in the present and prompts you to become self-aware, thereby allowing you to more easily recognize your emotions. This also translates to body awareness and the ability to manage your body.[11]

Emotions often manifest physically, so body awareness will help you be more aware of your emotions, be able to discriminate between these emotions, and manage them better.[12] Get into a daily yoga habit for at least 15 minutes.

5. Regularly Identify Cognitive Biases

Our emotions often lead us in the wrong direction due to mental blindspots called cognitive biases. These are dangerous judgment errors that can cause you to make poor decisions in your personal and professional lives.

You need to get ahead of these troublesome blindspots by assessing and learning which ones are relevant to you. Then, figure out a daily ritual to address the cognitive biases most impactful for you.

The first four habits I described will also best position you to identify and deal with these biases. For example, you can use journaling to write down how you plan to address them.

6. Relating to Others

While the first five habits on this list will allow you to reflect, assess, and deliberate internally, you should also equally consider how you relate to people. After practicing the fifth habit, I’m sure you will realize just how full we are of cognitive biases when it comes to our emotions concerning other people.

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To manage your emotions better, have a daily habit of evaluating your emotions when you interact with other people. Pause, reflect, and identify what you can learn about yourself during these interactions. You can even use this as one of your journal prompts.

Equipped with the information you’ve learned about yourself, plan how you will interact with others moving forward. Remember to continue delaying showing your emotions to others, especially at first, to learn to manage yourself well.

7. Develop Active Listening Skills

Many people listen without actually hearing what is being said. This is especially true for many arguments when people adopt a combative stance and spend their time formulating a response in their mind instead of really listening to the other person.

Without the right listening skills, no emotional intelligence can form or be employed, and most conflicts would remain unresolved.

When conversing with others, listen actively instead of just as an afterthought or as a way to pass the time until it’s your turn to speak. Rather, listen to ensure that you have a good understanding of what is being discussed.

When resolving conflict, active listening helps you determine how you can contribute to solving the problem. This is because it gives you time to clarify any confusing points as well as employ your emotional intelligence to help you come up with an appropriate response.

8. Use an Assertive and Collaborative Communication Style

While each habit can be practiced individually with good results, I’m rounding out this list by highlighting the importance of an assertive and collaborative way of communicating. That’s because the first 7 habits all work harmoniously to allow you to be more assertive and direct.

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Keep in mind everything you’ve learned about yourself, your biases, and how you react to others. Then, develop the habit of being assertive—not aggressive—and being more direct when communicating. This allows you to express your opinions more clearly, thereby encouraging others to communicate with you clearly as well.

Conclusion

No matter what your reasons are for wanting to hone your emotional intelligence, you only stand to benefit from the attempt.

Adopting these daily habits is the key to developing emotional intelligence, which is your gateway to having true control over your life. While the learning curve can vary per person, anyone can take a shot at—and master—these habits.

Practice just a few to see how it enriches certain aspects of your life, or utilize all 8 to reap the compounded benefits of an emotionally intelligent mind.

More Tips on How to Develop Emotional Intelligence

Featured photo credit: Katerina Jerabkova via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Dr. Gleb Tsipursky

Cognitive neuroscientist and behavioral economist; CEO of Disaster Avoidance Experts; multiple best-selling author

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Last Updated on February 17, 2021

15 Meditation Benefits That Will Make You Successful

15 Meditation Benefits That Will Make You Successful

What could be better than reaching your big goals? Well, it turns out that meditation—something you could be doing daily, at no cost and with little effort—offers benefits that success can’t bring. Meditation benefits can seep into every area of your life and improve your overall wellbeing in the long-term.

Meditation as Mindfulness

The studies on meditation generally focus on a broad type of meditation that could be called mindfulness. Mindfulness simply means keeping one’s thoughts focused on awareness of a single thing or moment. It could be your breath (a typical point of focus in meditation), or it could be a single image, word, or emotion.

It sounds simple, but when you try it, you realize how much your mind wants to jump around. That’s okay: “When a ‘stray’ thought arises, the practitioner must be quick to recognize it, and then turn back to the focus of their attention,” says George Dvorsky, writing about meditation[1]. “And it doesn’t just have to be the breath; any single thought, like a mantra, will do.”

Here are 15 ways meditation benefits can improve your life, whether or not you ever reach those big goals.

1. Handle Stress Better

According to one source, “When you meditate, you clear away the information overload that builds up every day and contributes to your stress.”[2]

Much of our stress comes from too much input and a lack of time or tools in handling the input. We take in information and build emotions, and we get overloaded. Our brains don’t know what to handle first, so they just keep cycling through all the information.

Meditation helps your brain to let things slide away by simply giving it time to rest and meander through the information, bit by bit, letting go of what is unimportant.

2. Improve How Your Brain Functions

A 2012 study showed a brain process called gyrification happening more in people who meditate[3].

Gyrification is “the ‘folding’ of the cerebral cortex as a result of growth, which in turn may allow the brain to process information faster. Though the research did not prove this directly, scientists suspect that gyrification is responsible for making the brain better at processing information, making decisions, forming memories, and improving attention.”

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If that’s not enough, there is also evidence from MRI scans that meditation can reinforce connections between brain cells. One study showed that meditation “may be associated with structural changes in areas of the brain that are important for sensory, cognitive and emotional processing. The data further suggest that meditation may impact age related declines in cortical structure.”[4]

In other words, meditation may not only make your brain work better, but it might also slow down the aging process within the brain.

3. Get in Touch With Yourself

The busyness of modern life, along with the perpetual onslaught of media that tells us how we ought to look, feel, and behave, can leave us feeling detached from ourselves. It can be difficult to connect with our own values and emotions. We see standards put into place, and we want to meet those standards, so we pretend to be a certain way even when, perhaps, we are not.

Meditation benefits can help us with that. According to researcher Erika Carlson,[5]

“Mindfulness helps us to see our authentic selves in two ways: nonjudgmental observation, and attention. Nonjudgmental observation enables people to really get to know themselves without feeling any negative feelings.”

4. Improve Your Grades

Whether you’re a part-time student, a full-time student, or someone who just likes to take tests for fun, meditation can help you learn and retain what you learn.

One study[6] showed that mindfulness training resulted in “improved accuracy on the GRE and higher working memory capacity.” The researchers concluded that “the improvement could be explained, at least in part, by reduced mind wandering during the task.”

The researchers estimated that mindfulness training resulted in the equivalent of a 16 percentile-point boost on the GRE, on average.

5. Increase Productivity in High-Performance Situations

A study done in 2012 set participants up in a real-world multitasking situation. They had to do several activities that required various forms of input in a typical office setting, and they had to complete them all within 20 minutes.

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Some of the participants received mindfulness training, and some didn’t. Then, they tested them all again. “The only participants to show improvement,” reported the researchers, “were those who had received the mindfulness training.”[7]

Another study showed that “daily meditation-like thought could shift frontal brain activity toward a pattern that is associated with what cognitive scientists call positive, approach-oriented emotional states — states that make us more likely to engage the world rather than to withdraw from it.”

Handling high-stress, high-performance situations like a pro could certainly be a handy skill to have, and it’s one that meditation benefits can help you cultivate. If you need more motivation to increase productivity, check out Lifehack’s free guide: Ultimate Worksheet for Instant Motivation Boost.

6. Appreciate Music More

Do you love but find yourself drifting off and missing out in the middle of a concert or show? Meditation can help you to stay tuned in and aware, one study showed[8].

The majority of the people in the “mindfulness groups” in the study said that the mindfulness task had “modified their listening experience by increasing their ability to focus on the music without distraction.”

7. Positive Effects Even When Not Meditating

Researchers have found that the way meditation helps your brain to work better is consistent, staying with you not just when you’re sitting on a cushion with your eyes closed, but all the time. According to the research, “the effects of meditation training on emotional processing might transfer to non-meditative states.”[9]

The researchers point out that this may mean that the benefits of meditation are not specific to a task or certain stimulus (such as that cushion or a mantra) but are process-specific, meaning that they “may result in enduring changes in mental function.”

8. Reduce Isolation and Feel Connected

It’s strange that in the age of constant connectivity, isolation and loneliness can feel even more poignant. But it happens, and when that sense of isolation descends, it can be overwhelming.

However, meditation was shown to reduce feelings of loneliness in a study on older adults[10], and those who have been practicing transcendental meditation, even for a very short time, say that the practice of meditation provides a feeling of being connected and whole, a “fundamental level of unity”[11].

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9. Reduce Symptoms of Anxiety and Depression

Meditation can help you feel connected and handle stress, but what about an ongoing anxiety disorder? What about overwhelming negative feelings or that debilitating sense of depression?

Well, a study done on high school students showed that a mindfulness and meditation benefits could help a lot with both: students who stuck with a mindfulness program “exhibited decreased symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression both immediately after and six months after the program”[12].

10. Fight Disease and Stay Healthier

Meditation benefits can be useful for both the brain and body. Being able to handle stress better can reduce its impact on your body, which can decrease symptoms and physical aggravation of various health issues, including chronic pain.

A researcher at one of Harvard Medical School’s teaching hospitals[13] notes that “The kinds of things that happen when you meditate do have effects throughout the body, not just in the brain.” Health benefits abound when you devote yourself to meditation.

11. Sleep Better

Let’s do a quick review: meditation can help you cope with stress better, help you know (and like) yourself more, and help you lessen anxiety and depression.

With those meditation benefits alone, it seems pretty likely that you’d be able to get a better night’s sleep. After all, if you can stop your brain from racing and your emotions from raging, you’ll be much more likely to drift off into sweet dreams. Research concurs[14]:

“Meditation practices influence brain functions, induce various intrinsic neural plasticity events, modulate autonomic, metabolic, endocrine, and immune functions and thus mediate global regulatory changes in various behavioral states including sleep.”

Guided meditations, especially, can help lull you into sleep, so give it a try today.

12. Help With Weight Loss

When a group of psychologists were asked to recommend a few strategies for reaching weight-loss goals, 7 out of 10 said meditation, or mindfulness training, would be beneficial[15].

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The popular meditation app, Headspace, notes that meditation can help you focus on mindful eating, which encourages you to eat when you’re hungry, not when you are stressed or upset[16]. When you develop this skill, it can help you lose weight the natural way, which is one of the most useful meditation benefits for many.

13. Make You a Better Friend

It makes sense that being able to know and accept yourself better might help you to know and accept others, as well. Other studies have also shown that meditation increases the “mental expertise to cultivate positive emotion”[17].

In other words, people who meditate tend to respond with more positive emotions rather than negative ones. They have a stronger sense of empathy and compassion for others, making them an overall better friend to others.

14. Increase Your Attention Span

Studies show that mindfulness training helps the brain to connect better. What that means for you is that your brain, after meditating, finds it easier to access and process information. Along with that, mindfulness trains your brain to release the information that’s not important, and quickly[18].

Therefore, meditation benefits help you get better at collecting information, processing it quickly, and discarding the stuff you don’t need. Doing that well is what allows you to keep your attention focused on the information and tasks in front of you.

15. Generate More Ideas

If you wish you could access the creative, idea-making part of your brain more easily, it’s time to quit stalling and start meditating. The “catch-and-release” nature of mindfulness, that ability to let a thought in and let it go, turns out to be very helpful for what one study calls “divergent thinking”[19].

The meditative practice helps your brain to be less judgmental and more accepting, while exercising less “top-down control and local competition.” Your brain opens up to new ideas and inputs, which, say the researchers, “facilitates jumping from one thought to another – as required in divergent thinking.”

The Bottom Line

Meditation benefits are wide-ranging and can have a positive impact on many areas of your life. Whether you’re looking to increase your focus, develop more compassion, or get healthier, meditation can help with it all, especially if you become a long-term meditator. To get started with meditation, find a local or online meditation program, check out this simple 5-minute guide.

More on Meditation Benefits

Featured photo credit: Darius Bashar via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Gizmodo: The science behind meditation, and why it makes you feel better
[2] Mayo Clinic: Meditation: A simple, fast way to reduce stress
[3] Science Daily: Evidence builds that meditation strengthens the brain
[4] Neuroreport.: Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness
[5] HuffPost: Mindfulness Helps Us Understand Our True Personalities, Study Says
[6] APS: Brief Mindfulness Training May Boost Test Scores, Working Memory
[7] The New York Times: The Power of Concentration
[8] Psychology of Music: Mindfulness, attention, and flow during music listening: An empirical investigation
[9] Frontiers in Human Neuroscience: Effects of mindful-attention and compassion meditation training on amygdala response to emotional stimuli in an ordinary, non-meditative state
[10] Brain, Behavior, and Immunity: Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction training reduces loneliness and pro-inflammatory gene expression in older adults: A small randomized controlled trial
[11] Medical News Today: Does meditation have benefits for mind and body?
[12] HuffPost: Mindfulness Programs In Schools Reduce Symptoms Of Depression Among Adolescents: Study
[13] Bloomberg: Harvard Yoga Scientists Find Proof of Meditation Benefit
[14] Frontiers in Neurology: Meditation and its regulatory role on sleep
[15] Consumer Reports: Lose weight your way
[16] Headspace: Meditation for weight loss
[17] PLOS One: Regulation of the Neural Circuitry of Emotion by Compassion Meditation: Effects of Meditative Expertise
[18] The New York Times: Study Suggests Meditation Can Help Train Attention
[19] Frontiers in Psychology: Meditate to create: the impact of focused-attention and open-monitoring training on convergent and divergent thinking

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