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:
- ignorance of the existence and/or importance of our internal landscape
- disembodiment (disconnection from the physical aspects of inner experience)
- avoidance/intolerance of discomfort
- devaluation and/or stigmatization of certain emotions
- fusion with thoughts
- 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:
- Practice meditation: Mindfulness of breath, body, thoughts, and emotions can increase your awareness of your inner landscape. Lovingkindness or giving and taking meditation can build compassion for self and others.
- Mindfully build self-confidence and trust through practicing mindfulness in daily life.
- Make yourself accountable – take responsibility for your actions and practice self-forgiveness and humility when you make mistakes.
- Learn strategies for self-motivation such as connecting your intentions with your deepest values.
- Take the MindTools EI Quiz to help identify skills that need improvement.
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
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