Everyone's always talking about Emotional Intelligence (EI) but what exactly is it? One important aspect of emotional intelligence is the ability to perceive, control and evaluate emotions - in oneself and others - and to use that information appropriately. For example, recognizing emotional intelligence in oneself can help you regulate and manage your emotions, while recognizing emotions in others can lead to empathy and success in your relationships, both personal and professional.
Given the importance of emotional intelligence, I thought it might be helpful to give a very brief overview of the topic, as well as 10 ways to enhance your emotional intelligence, originally published in my book "The Emotional Revolution."
In 1990, Yale psychologists John D. Mayer and Peter Salovey originally coined the term emotional intelligence, which some researchers claim that is an inborn characteristic, while others suggest that you can improve it with proper guidance and practice. I agree with both schools and obviously with the latter - or I wouldn't be giving you tips as to what you can do to improve your EI.
It may not be possible for everyone to have a psychotherapist. But you can become your own therapist. (After all, Freud analyzed himself.) It all starts with learning how to listen to your feelings. While it may not always be easy, developing the ability to tune in to your own emotions is the first and perhaps most important step.
Here are 10 Ways to Enhance Your Emotional Intelligence:
1. Don't interrupt or change the subject. If feelings are uncomfortable, we may want to avoid them by interrupting or distracting ourselves. Sit down at least twice a day and ask, "How am I feeling?" It may take a little time for the feelings to arise. Allow yourself that small space of time, uninterrupted.
2. Don't judge or edit your feelings too quickly. Try not to dismiss your feelings before you have a chance to think them through. Healthy emotions often rise and fall in a wave, rising, peaking, and fading naturally. Your aim should be not to cut off the wave before it peaks.
3. See if you can find connections between your feelings and other times you have felt the same way. When a difficult feeling arises, ask yourself, "When have I felt this feeling before?" Doing this may help you to realize if your current emotional state is reflective of the current situation, or of another time in your past.
4. Connect your feelings with your thoughts. When you feel something that strikes you as out of the ordinary, it is always useful to ask, "What do I think about that?" Often times, one of our feelings will contradict others. That's normal. Listening to your feelings is like listening to all the witnesses in a court case. Only by admitting all the evidence will you be able to reach the best verdict.
5. Listen to your body. A knot in your stomach while driving to work may be a clue that your job is a source of stress. A flutter of the heart when you pick up a girl you have just started to date may be a clue that this could be "the real thing." Listening to these sensations and the underlying feelings that they signal will allow you to process with your powers of reason.
6. If you don't know how you're feeling, ask someone else. People seldom realize that others are able to judge how they are feeling. Ask someone who knows you (and whom you trust) how you are coming across. You may find the answer both surprising and illuminating.
7. Tune in to your unconscious feelings. How can you become more aware of your unconscious feelings? Try free association. While in a relaxed state, allow your thoughts to roam freely and watch where they go. Analyze your dreams. Keep a notebook and pen at the side of your bed and jot down your dreams as soon as you wake up. Pay special attention to dreams that repeat or are charged with powerful emotion.
8. Ask yourself: How do I feel today? Start by rating your overall sense of well-being on a scale of 0 and 100 and write the scores down in a daily log book. If your feelings seem extreme one day, take a minute or two to think about any ideas or associations that seem to be connected with the feeling.
9. Write thoughts and feelings down. Research has shown that writing down your thoughts and feelings can help profoundly. A simple exercise like this could take only a few hours per week.
10. Know when enough is enough. There comes a time to stop looking inward; learn when its time to shift your focus outward. Studies have shown that encouraging people to dwell upon negative feelings can amplify these feelings. Emotional intelligence involves not only the ability to look within, but also to be present in the world around you.
Chapter 5 in my book, The Emotional Revolution: Harnessing the Power of Your Emotions for a More Positive Life, goes into greater detail on emotional intelligence.
Wishing you Light and Transcendence,
Popular Books by Norman Rosenthal, MD: