We tend to think that we need to be logical with our brain. It is the seat of our intellect and should be filled with knowledge, scraps of algebra, the odd capital city and perhaps even some quantum mechanics. Our heart, the Mills and Boon of our soul, is often neglected. It is drawn upon when we tie it to morals and ethics, that twang of guilt when we know we have done something wrong, or euphoria when we do good works. But that’s really as far as we go in training our heart. We are left to figure the whole emotions thing out ourselves. That’s probably why therapy is a growth industry…
So what is emotional intelligence? Emotional intelligence is the ability to perceive, assess and manage the emotions of ourselves or others. How we deal with emotions interpersonally, or the ability to build rapport, to motivate others and have a positive influence on them, tells us a lot about how we can handle other people’s emotive states. Just to be clear here, one definition of both psychopaths and sociopaths is a person who is devoid of emotional intelligence and has no concept of how others feel. It is a fundamental part of childhood development to understand the emotion of others in relationship to ourselves. This then affects our behaviour towards others.
We also need to have a keen understanding of ourselves, or our intrapersonal emotional intelliigence. We should have a good understanding of our emotions and how to motivate ourselves. Our self-awareness is a compass for how we understand others, so emotional intelligence stems from knowledge of our own emotions.
How self aware can we be? Well we are limited in our self awareness because our self-esteem, our subconscious image of self, can skew how we perceive how we are feeling. When we should feel confident, through experience and skills, we feel prone to failure. When we should be happy about a promotion, we worry about the additional workload and failure. We are self depricating creatures and we need to understand where this comes from and how to be more in tune with our emotions.
Here are the top 10 ways of improving your emotional intelligence. Change won’t come overnight, but just being aware of these 10 things can significantly change your understanding of yourself and improve how we react to others.
1. Root yourself in the present. Step away from the sometimes overwhelming rush of your life. Take time to sense the things around you. I have a gadget that tells me to stand once an hour and I use this to also take stock of the things around me. I go outside and take a walk along the canal, or enjoy the smell of freshly made coffee or just watch the clouds roam across the sky. This is just 5 minutes of each hour, but time well spent on grounding me in the here and now.
2. Watch out for infectious moods. Ever notice that when you smile, sometimes a random stranger will smile with you? Or that when you are upset it causes empathy in others? Moods are infeectious and can snowball onto the people around us. If you find yourself in a particularly bad mood, check how that is affecting those around you. It might not immeditately stop how you feel, but it will help you to spot when you are feeling low enough to cause this affect in others.
3. Interrogate your anxiety. This is not the easiest thing to do. When you’re worried it affects how you think and perceive. How can you detach from it? Whenever I need to look at a problem I interrogate it. Image a dingy interrogation room with a very bright light. Shine that light on what’s worrying you (good cop/bad cop may be useful here!!) and ask it real questions. Like a great detective, search for the evidence. What is the evidence for the way you are feeling? Think of all the possible scenarios; what is the worst or best thing that could happen?
4. Recognise stress. We are so used to working and living in stressful situations that we don’t recognise when we are stressed. We just think the way we feel is normal. But if we can recognise the signs of stress we can start to do something about reducing it. Headaches, muscle pain, insomnia and regular colds and infections are examples of the physical signs of stress. It manifests itself in different ways for different people, but once you can spot stress you have something to measure against relaxation. Think of ways of moving away from stress into being calm and relaxed. Once you can do this consciously you’ll begin to see how much more productive and happy you are.
5. There is a time for logic. Emotions can seriously impact on our decisions. Even when we are happy we can make the wrong decision because we are not focused. When we understand our feelings we can judge how much they are influencing, good or bad, what we do. So it is very important to sense how you are feeling before you make decisions. You own each of the decisions you make, so it is important to make them with a clear head.
6. Pick your battles. Arguing can consume a lot off time and energy, especially if you want to resolve conflict in a positive way. We must think about what is worth arguing about and what is worth letting go. And then really let it go and not dwell on it after, because recreating an imagined argument in your head can sometimes be just as damaging.
7. Own your feelings. To be happy we must take ownership of our emotions. No one can make you feel inferior without your permission, so it’s important to separate other people’s feelings from your own. Also, remember point 2 and check that you have not been infected by someone else’s mood.
8. Check in with others. It’s sometimes hard to ask what others feel about you, but we need another gauge for how we are doing. How can you adapt and change if you don’t how others perceive you? Don’t wait for an appraisal at work, find out from your partner, friends and family what they believe are your strengths and limitations. This is a good place to fine tune who you are, especially in terms of personal growth.
9. Dedication to meditation. I don’t expect you to sit in the office in the lotus position chanting, but taking 5 minutes out of your day to just find somewhere quite to clear your mind and just breathe will give you greater focus and relaxation. If you can’t find somewhere quiet pop on some headphones and listen to soothing sounds or music. Just 5 minutes at lunchtime tuning out can really lift you up in the middle of the day. And don’t be afraid to tell people not to disturb you.
10. Write it down to let it out. We tend to bottle things up until they become a rant and a moan and unintelligible to others. By this stage it’s too late to do anything about how you feel, because you’ve allowed it to fester and become distorted within you. When we write these things down it can be quite cathartic and often just writing them down can make you see how small they really are. It is far healthier for you and those around you to vent in this way, rather than explode unexpectedly.
If you make these ten things a habit you will be making significant changes in how you feel about yourself and form better rapport with others. It is very important to be good to yourself at least once a day and in that way you are taking a step towards having a positive impact on the lives of those around you.