Increasing Emotional Intelligence, Decreasing Procrastination

Can you increase your emotional intelligence?

Posted Apr 14, 2009

A study published this month demonstrated that a 4-week program increased emotion identification and management. Our most recent research revealed a strong negative relation between emotional intelligence and procrastination. This may be a new avenue for procrastination intervention.

My blog today brings together two studies. The first was recently published by Belgian colleagues in the journal Personality and Individual Differences. In this study, they demonstrated that emotional intelligence can be enhanced with a short, empirically-derived training program. The second study is one from my own research group conducted by Eric Heward. Eric has been studying the relation between emotional intelligence and procrastination; a study we'll be presenting at the 6th Biennial Conference on Counseling the Procrastinator in Academic Settings this summer. I present a little about each of these studies and conclude with some thoughts about how we might best manage procrastination from an emotional intelligence perspective.

Emotional Intelligence
Emotional intelligence (EI) refers to an individual difference in the perception, processing, regulation and utilization of emotional information. It's a construct that captures emotional competencies. These individual differences have been conceived of as knowledge, abilities and traits. I won't get into these distinctions here except to say that EI includes: what we know about emotions (our own and others'), what we can do with this knowledge (e.g., strategies for managing emotions), and how typical it is for us to act in an emotionally intelligent fashion (a trait perspective).

The most important thing about EI no matter how it's construed is that it is related to a variety of measures of well-being, quality of life, occupational success, health and relationship quality. EI is an essential ingredient of life success and happiness.

Increasing Emotional Intelligence
Four colleagues from Belgium (Delphine Nelis, Jordi Quoidbach, Moira Mikolajczak & Michel Hansenne) collaborated on an interesting intervention study. They enlisted the participation of 37 psychology students (average age 20.5 years), and assigned them randomly to one of two conditions: 1) Training group (15 men, 4 women) who received a 4-week program designed to increase their EI (and they completed a battery of questionnaires), and 2) Control group (15 women, 3 men) who simply completed the questionnaires. The questionnaire package was administered 3 times: 1) prior to the 1st session, 2) at the end of the 4th session for the training group, and 3) 6 months later (post-training follow-up). The questionnaires included measures of emotion regulation, regulation of others' emotions, emotion identification and emotional understanding.

The EI training intervention consisted of 4 sessions of 2.5 hours each over 4 weeks with participants divided into two smaller groups (10 and 9 participants, respectively). The training was based on Mayer and Salovey's model of EI, with an emphasis on: 1) perception, appraisal and expression of emotion; 2) emotional facilitation of thinking; 3) understanding and analyzing emotions; 4) reflective regulation of emotion. During the program, particular emphasis was placed on techniques to enhance emotional regulation and emotional understanding. These sessions were based on short lectures, role plays, discussions and readings. Participants also completed a daily dairy of emotional experience that they analyzed in light of the theory explained in class as part of their learning.

There were no differences between groups prior to Session 1 on any of the measures. In the authors' words: "The major finding of the study is that the training group (but not the control group) scored significantly higher on trait emotional intelligence after the training . . . the training led to a significant improvement in emotion identification and emotion management (self and others' emotions) . . . A major finding of this study is that all positive changes remain significant 6 months after the intervention . . ." (pp. 39-40).

"Taken together, our results suggest that some emotional abilities and habits may be effectively improved, even using a relative short training" (p. 40). The authors also acknowledge a number of significant limitations in their study, however their results are interesting and provocative nonetheless.

Why this interests a procrastination researcher
Eric Heward is completing graduate studies with me at Carleton University. I was very interested in Eric joining our research group as he had done his undergraduate thesis work in the area of emotional intelligence. Eric has just completed the first in a series of studies exploring the relation of EI to procrastination. Not surprisingly, he found a strong negative relation between EI and procrastination. Higher emotional intelligence scores predicted lower procrastination, and this is partially mediated by a number of interesting variables. I will write more about this study soon.

Implications and concluding thoughts
I believe that procrastination, the needless and irrational delay of an intended action, is primarily a result of poor emotional regulation abilities. This relation is reflected in Eric's data. The most recent study summarized above is very promising in terms of a technique that might help to reduce procrastination. To the extent that we can raise an individual's EI, we may also help him or her reduce procrastination. Of course, this all awaits further research, which Eric is well prepared to conduct. In the meantime, I would focus on EI intervention as a good place to start if procrastination is a problem in your own life. A good counseling relationship can enhance our emotional intelligence and our ability to deal effectively with our emotional lives, particularly our ability to regulate emotions so that we don't give in to feel good for short-term gain and long-term pain.

Additional Resources
The image for this blog above was taken from You may find the information that they provide useful.

Nelis, D., Quoidbach, J., Mikolajczak, M., & Hansenne, M. (2009). Increasing emotional intelligence: (How) is it possible? Personality and Individual Differences, 47, 36-41.

Other references of interest:
Gross, J.J. (1998). The emerging field of emotion regulation: An integrative review. Review of General Psychology, 2(3), 271-299.

MacCann, C., & Roberts, R.D. (2008). New paradigms for assessing emotional intelligence: Theory and data. Emotion, 8(4), 540-551.

Matthews, G., Zeidner, M., & Roberts, R.D. (2002). Emotional Intelligence: Science and myth. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Mayer, J.D. & Salovey, P. (1997). What is emotional intelligence? In. P. Salovey & D. J. Sluyter. (Eds.) Emotional development and emotional intelligence: Educational implications. (pp. 3-31). New York: Basic Books.

Bar-On, R., & Parker, J.D. (2000). The handbook of emotional intelligence: Theory, development, assessment, and application at home, school and in the workplace. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.