Mindfulness and Emotional Intelligence

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Photo by Andrew Lane

Emotional intelligence (EI) is a concept involving awareness of one’s emotions, ability to modulate them appropriately to the situation, and interact with others empathetically. There is a positive correlation between mindfulness/meditation and EI, which in turn is positively correlated with mental health, job performance, and leadership skills.

There are many models of EI, but according to Psychologist Daniel Goleman, there are five main elements: Self-Awareness, Self-Regulation, Motivation, Empathy, and Social Skills. I also like to include a component suggested by some researchers called Responsible Decision Making, which is “the ability to make constructive and respectful choices about personal behavior and social interactions based on consideration of ethical standards, safety concerns, social norms, the realistic evaluation of consequences of various actions, and the well-being of self and others.”

The ability to regulate our emotions is essential to our happiness. Good understanding and skillful modulation of our emotions helps us with stress management, which requires cognitive and behavioral flexibility and a reasonable window of distress tolerance. When our emotions are in the driver’s seat, we tend to make unwise decisions and cause unnecessary suffering for ourselves and others. Understanding how to make emotions our co-pilot, rather than the captain, is a hallmark of EI. 

The development of EI can be hindered by a number of common human tendencies:

  1. ignorance of the existence and/or importance of our internal landscape
  2. disembodiment (disconnection from the physical aspects of inner experience)
  3. avoidance/intolerance of discomfort
  4. devaluation and/or stigmatization of certain emotions
  5. fusion with thoughts
  6. rationalization (making up stories rather than seeing things as they are)

All of these problematic tendencies can be ameliorated through a dedicated mindfulness practice over time, creating more fertile ground for cultivating EI. Through practice, we become aware of our inner experiences, noticing the connection between our thoughts, feelings, body sensations, and urges. We learn how to step back from our thoughts so that we can view them more objectively and gather important information. We begin to see our emotions as useful signals rather than facts. All of this gives us space to make wise decisions about whether and how we might respond in a given situation. Here are some practical suggestions for growing EI:

 

Has my heart gone to sleep? 
Have the beehives of my dreams 
stopped working, the waterwheel 
of the mind run dry, 
scoops turning empty, 
only shadow inside? 

No, my heart is not asleep. 
It is awake, wide awake. 
Not asleep, not dreaming – 
its eyes are opened wide 
watching distant signals, listening 
on the rim of vast silence.

– Antonio Machado

Resources:

Charoensukmongkol, P (2014)Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation on Emotional Intelligence, General Self-Efficacy, and Perceived Stress: Evidence from Thailand. Journal of Spirituality in Mental Health 16:3, 171-192.

Chu, L.-C. (2010). The benefits of meditation vis-à-vis emotional intelligence, perceived stress and negative mental health. Stress and Health: Journal of the International Society for the Investigation of Stress, 26(2), 169-180.

Ciarrochi, J, Blackledge, J, Bilich, L, & Bayliss, V (2007). Improving Emotional Intelligence: A guide to mindfulness-based emotional intelligence training. Psychology Press, pp.89-124.

Lutz, A., & Davidson, R. et al (2008) Regulation of the Neural Circuitry of Emotion by Compassion Meditation: Effects of Meditative Expertise PLoS ONE 3(3): e1897.

Ortner, D., Kilner, S. & Zelazo, P. (2007) Mindfulness meditation and reduced emotional interference on a cognitive task Motivation and Emotion Volume 31, Number 4, 271-283.

Shapiro, S.L. and Schwartz, G.E. (2000). The role of intention in self-regulation: Toward intentional systemic mindfulness. In M. Boekaerts, P.R. Pintrich, & M. Zeidner (Eds.), Handbook of self-regulation (pp. 253 273). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

Williams, V., Ciarrochi , J. & Deane, F. (2010) On being mindful, emotionally aware, and more resilient: Longitudinal pilot study of police recruits Australian Psychologist, December; 45(4): 274–282.

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