6 ways to boost your emotional intelligence

Posted on August 16th, by Dr Rob Yeung .

A lot has been written about emotional intelligence and its importance. By now I’m sure you don’t need convincing that it’s a good thing to be more emotionally intelligent. But in practical terms, how do you get better at it?

I define emotional intelligence as “the ability to understand and change emotions both in yourself and others.” So yes, some of this is to do with influencing other people. But a good starting point is being able to identify and alter your own emotional states.

Here are 6 pointers:

  1. Begin by expanding your emotional vocabulary. At multiple times throughout the day, stop to think for a moment about the specific emotion that you are feeling. Rather than using broad terms such as “happy” or “sad” or “angry”, try to be much more granular in your approach. Think about when you are “amused” or “curious” or “affectionate” or “grateful” and so on. Being more self-aware of your emotions – and the very many different emotions you can feel – is a strong foundation for emotional intelligence.
  2. Detach yourself from your emotions. Sometimes, we feel so emotional that we can feel it’s the only thing driving us forward. However, it can be useful to remind ourselves that we are not our emotions. So tell yourself “I am currently experiencing a feeling of anger” rather than simply saying “I am so angry”. By helping to distance yourself from your emotions, you will become better at managing their impact on you.
  3. Write about your values occasionally. One key component of emotional intelligence is being able to motivate ourselves when we’ve feeling rejected, bored or let down. Many studies have demonstrated that spending 5 minutes writing about a value that you personally find important in life can help to restore your willpower and ability to persist. Remember that you need to write about a value that you find important though. So what might that be?
  4. Meditate. There’s a wealth of research showing that people who take up meditation tend to report a wide range of benefits. Typically, they are more attuned to their own emotions and more able to control them. Best of all, studies have shown that people who take up meditation have sometimes reported benefits in as little as three days – not long, is it? There are lots of different kinds of meditation. Two of the most researched types are mindfulness meditation and loving kindness meditation. But others practise different forms such as traditional Zen meditation or mantra meditation. Try different ones to see what might work for you.
  5. Spend time working out other people’s emotional states. While monitoring your own emotional states will allow you to be more intelligent about your own emotions, watching other people will eventually allow you to influence others more effectively too. As with identifying your own emotional states too, the more time you spend working out what others are feeling, the more effective you will ultimately become at using this skill naturally.
  6. Practise the art of empathy. When listening to friends or colleagues speaking, don’t just identify from a rational point of view what they are feeling. Try to actually experience the same emotion. Try to feel what they are feeling. Being able to put ourselves in sync with others is what true empathy is all about. It comes more naturally to some people than others, but research tells us that all of us can develop our ability to empathise with others.

I’ve also written extensively on the related skill of what I call Centredness, which may help you to control your emotions more effectively too. So please do take a look at some of my thoughts on that skill too.

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