Have patience with yourself.
“How can I improve my emotional intelligence?”
I’ve had three clients ask me this question over the last week, and whenever something pops up that frequently, I usually take it as a sign that it needs it’s own article.
What is emotional intelligence? How does having it improve your life? Is it something that you’re just born with? Can you cultivate it?
Simply put, emotional intelligence is your individual ability to identify, manage, and express your emotions, and to identify and empathize with the emotions of others.
Emotional intelligence can be broken down into four primary skill sets: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management.
- Self-awareness: being aware of your own emotions, moment to moment, and understanding how your emotions influence your thoughts and behavioral choices.
- Self-management: being able to shift, manage, and consciously suppress your emotions when necessary.
- Social awareness: being aware of the emotional realities of others.
- Relationship management: knowing how to develop and maintain healthy personal relationships with others.
The benefits of heightened emotional intelligence are plentiful. Emotional intelligence, sometimes referred to as your EQ, positively impacts your self-esteem, your physical health, your mental health, your job performance, and the quality of your relationships.
While heightened emotional intelligence isn’t a requirement to thrive in life, it certainly helps with a lot of important areas. And, I would argue, that emotional intelligence is becoming increasingly valuable as our world turns more and more towards systems, automation, and robotics, and human beings are starting to crave authentic emotional connection now more than ever.
Regardless of whether you were born with a naturally lower EQ set point, or you were more emotionally attuned earlier on in your life and it was conditioned/discouraged out of you, everyone can improve their emotional intelligence if they’re willing to put in a little bit of work.
Here are five things that you can do to raise your emotional intelligence.
1. Slow down and feel your feelings.
When challenging, difficult, or overwhelming emotions come up for us, the default response is to either get busy doing more stuff or to temporarily deaden our emotions using some maladaptive numbing behavior. Instead of distracting yourself, slow down and feel your feelings fully.
If you feel anxious, accept that you feel anxious. If you feel the heaviness of grief in your chest, allow it to be there. If you need to cry, then cry.
Ask yourself, “What is coming up for me right now?” Sit with it patiently and allow the emotion to speak to you. Don’t judge, rationalize, or bypass your emotions — allow them to come up as they are. Remember, you’re working to get out of your head and into your heart. Let it take its time to build the bridge to connect the two.
Slowing down and simply allowing your feelings is the first and most effective tool in order to gain emotional self-awareness.
2. Learn to reduce accumulated negative emotions.
Have you ever felt stress? Of course you have. But what is stress? For something that so commonly permeates our lives, it never ceases to amaze me how little we understand about it. Put simply, stress is the accumulation of unfelt feelings. That’s it.
Have a whole bunch of sadness that you haven’t felt? A lot of anger, frustration, or resentment that you haven’t dealt with? As it piles up in your body, you begin to feel the cumulative effects of stress.
It’s harder to differentiate what you’re feeling if there’s too much internal stimuli flooding you. It becomes imperative that you learn to eliminate stress via emotional processing. Not sure how to do that? This article on releasing difficult emotions gives you the step by step process.
3. Communicate your challenging emotions to key, trusted people.
There will be times when you’re so flooded by your feelings that it will be nearly impossible to understand what’s happening inside of you. Or there might be times where, when you’re first cultivating new emotional self-awareness, a seemingly "new" feeling comes up for you that you don’t necessarily understand.
In these moments, it is perfectly acceptable to confide in a safe, loving, trusted person who you can talk your feelings out with. Explain to them as much as you can, and have them reflect back to you what they are seeing and hearing about your emotional experience.
4. Observe your internal and external reactions to others.
One rapid way to increase your emotional intelligence is to start becoming aware of the reactions that you have to others. Then, allow those reactions to inform you of your own emotional defaulting patterns.
For example, if you find yourself becoming upset/frustrated/triggered by people who (fill in the blank — are always late, are rude to people, cut you off in traffic, etc.), allow yourself to witness those emotions as they come up. Notice what your default emotional state is when it comes to reacting to others.
Once you notice your small handful of most frequently utilized emotional responses, it will become that much easier to identify and manage those same emotions later on.
5. Learn to trust yourself over time.
Improving your emotional intelligence will take time. You’re learning to trust yourself and your assessments of your emotional reality, and the realities of others.
And while it is absolutely beneficial to be open to others feedback of you, don’t take their word as truer than your internal perception of yourself. Ultimately, you are learning to trust yourself more and what you feel yourself feeling is the truth.
Don’t make your feelings wrong for existing. Simply accept them as they are, even if they don’t make sense.
In essence, this all comes down to mindfulness. Raising your emotional intelligence is predicated on you slowing down, and gradually becoming more aware of yourself and others.
Have patience with yourself. We’re never taught this stuff in school, and cultivating higher emotional intelligence is a lifelong process.
This article was originally published at Jordan Gray Counseling. Reprinted with permission from the author.