5 steps to increase your emotional intelligence


High emotional intelligence is being hailed as equally, if not more, important than a high IQ. In this article, we explore why emotional intelligence is so important and what you can do to increase yours.

Why is emotional intelligence important?

Research into the importance of emotional intelligence (also known as ‘EQ’) has highlighted the positive effects a high EQ can have on physical and mental health, job performance, and relationships. Emotional intelligence skills influence the decisions we make and the actions we take most often for the better, with some studies even suggesting that those with a higher EQ are more likely to achieve greater success in life than those with a low EQ.

Ultimately, emotional intelligence has such a great influence on our happiness and well-being because it dictates how we navigate the multiple challenges of the modern world both at work and in our personal lives.

Goleman’s model of emotional intelligence

So how does one achieve a high level of emotional intelligence? David Goleman, a psychologist and an advocate for the use of emotional intelligence as an indicator of an individual’s aptitude to success both professionally and personally, defines emotional intelligence as being made up of 5 key areas.

These are self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills. These important characteristics all relate to the ability to be in tune with both one’s own feelings and emotions and those of others. This knowledge can help someone to negotiate the multiple challenges life throws at them and pave the way for a happy and contented life.

How to improve emotional intelligence with everyday practice?

Fortunately, unlike its relatively static counterpart, the intelligence quotient (IQ),  emotional intelligence is something that can be developed. Increasing your EQ is certainly achievable if you give yourself the time and space to do so. Using Goleman’s model of emotional intelligence, let’s take a look at 5 practices you can follow to get you started on this road of discovery:

1. What can you do to improve your self-awareness?

With the stresses of the modern world, you may find that you go from one deadline or commitment to the next without taking a breath. With such busy lifestyles, it can be difficult to even recognise the emotions you are feeling day to day let alone pay any attention to them. This is why taking a break is a great way of beginning your journey towards increasing your self-awareness.

Take some time to reflect on different areas in your life including how you feel at work, with your family, friends, at home, etc. Identifying your emotions is the first step in learning to manage and take control of them. It can be helpful to write down these feelings as having them ‘out in the open’ is a great way to cultivate a growing awareness of your emotions. Make sure you also focus on what makes you feel good as this is equally important.

2. What can you do to regulate your emotions better?

As you begin to pay more attention to your emotions it is also helpful to begin to observe your reactions to situations that present themselves throughout your day to help you to regulate your emotions better. For instance, you have an important meeting at work which you have been anticipating for weeks. When you take the time to observe your reaction to this you realise that your anxiety has been dictating your thought pattern and having a detrimental effect on your well-being, as well as your relationships with others.

Through observing this reaction, and recognising the negative effect of this emotion, you can do something about it. People with a high level of emotional intelligence still experience moments of anxiety but have mechanisms in place to manage these emotions. Consider practising mindfulness and try to rationalise your feelings to make such experiences more manageable. In doing so, you will build your emotional resilience and stop letting negative emotions take over.

3. Learn how to motivate yourself

Someone with a high level of emotional intelligence is usually highly motivated. This comes from a focus on long-term goals and seeing the bigger picture rather than solely striving for immediate results. It also means learning to control negative emotions so that they do not prevent you from achieving what you are capable of.

It can be tricky to motivate yourself, but a good place to start is to ask what your values are – what’s deeply important to you, then set yourself some long-term goals using your values as a guide. Think about what has been stopping you from achieving this goal before and why it is important for you to achieve this. In vocalising our fears when it comes to things we aspire to it can help to rationalise them and motivate us to stop procrastinating and start doing.

On the journey to increasing your emotional intelligence a helpful (and courageous) step is to seek feedback from those around you. While hearing the honest opinions of others can be difficult, it can be a key step in identifying areas for self-development. Those with a high EQ are able to view criticism not as an attack on their character but as a tool to improve their performance in certain areas. This can help to motivate you to make some important decisions in your life and perhaps consider facing areas of anxiety that you have previously considered to be a no-go area.

4. Focus your attention on the emotions of others

Emotional intelligence is not just about the ability to recognise and manage our own emotions, it is also about understanding the emotions of those around us. As Goleman states, empathy is a key aspect of emotional intelligence. So, as you begin to pay greater attention to your own emotions also observe the behaviour and reactions of those around you.

If empathy is something you need to work on a good place to start is to think about a person that has upset or irritated you in the past. Think about whether your personal biases are influencing your response to that person and also reflect on what issues that person may have been experiencing. Empathy isn’t about excusing bad behaviour, rather about understanding another person’s experiences, emotions, and viewpoints.

5. Practice active listening and develop your social skills

Emotionally intelligent people have good social skills and are great communicators. A large part of developing such desirable social skills is through the ability to effectively listen to what others are saying. When having a conversation, it can be so easy to lose track as we are so desperate to get our point across. However, such behaviour means that, often, we don’t actually process what that person is saying and fail to adequately recognise their thoughts and emotions during that moment.

Through practising active listening, a process that requires paying full attention to a person as they speak and not being distracted by your own thoughts or activities around us, one can take a key step in developing social skills. It will help you to develop your emotional awareness as you become more in tune with the experiences and feelings of others. And, in doing so, it will pave the way for more fruitful and fulfilling relationships both in your personal life and at work.

Following these 5 steps can help you to develop a greater awareness of your own emotions, restrictions and what it takes to motivate you for positive change. They can also help you to develop an understanding of the emotions of others and have a more emphatic perspective. Such an approach will not only help you to build positive relationships, it is also likely to help you to better understand yourself.

Final word

It is important to remember that developing emotional intelligence is a lifelong process and not something that appears overnight. Even those with a high EQ still have areas to develop and learn from. In fact, a key part of emotional intelligence is acknowledging that there are always learning opportunities and areas of self-development to work on.

It can be helpful to invest in some reading material as you seek to increase your emotional intelligence. The literature can take you through previous research on emotional intelligence, and gain insights from those who are also taking this journey of self-discovery. Being honest with ourselves about our emotions and strengths and weaknesses is certainly not easy, so listening to others’ stories and experiences can be a guiding light throughout the process.

Developing your emotional intelligence can have multiple benefits. As you gain greater control of your emotions and reactions it can serve to have a positive effect on many aspects of your life. This includes your physical and mental health, work performance, relationships and ability to navigate through the many challenges life may throw at you.

For many, developing their emotional intelligence is a process they have previously not had the time or space to consider as modern life can be all-consuming. However, taking the time to invest in this aspect of your character can have life-changing effects. It is never too late to start developing your emotional intelligence and there is no time like the present to get started.

Filipe Bastos

About the author

Through my personal experiences, I have always held a strong interest in human suffering and satisfaction; this greatly influenced my career path. I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy before completing a master’s degree in psychology at Regent’s University London. I then completed a postgraduate diploma in philosophical counselling before being trained in ACT(Acceptance and commitment therapy). I've spent the last seven years studying the encounter of meditative practices with modern psychology. I've found that besides the known benefits meditation can bring to our lives, such as reduced stress and anxiety, improved quality of sleep, decreased blood pressure; the greatest benefit of meditation is the possibility to feel at peace, despite the external circumstances of our lives.

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