Emotional Intelligence: A Mental/Emotional Muscle Worth Strengthening

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emotional-intelligenceAccording to Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence and more, emotional intelligence is a trait not measured by IQ tests – it’s instead a set of skills, including control of one’s impulses, self-motivation, empathy and social competence in interpersonal relationships. He suggests that emotional intelligence is a better predictor of success in life than family, socioeconomic status and IQ.

So what does this mean and how can we use this information to help us personally and professionally?

Without awareness, you may not notice that seeing your coworker instantly upsets you because you feel unappreciated and taken for granted. Without conscious awareness, you may not notice that your angry response to an event isn’t really about the current event but really has to do with something that happened years ago that was never handled appropriately. Without awareness, someone cutting you off in traffic ignites an old wound of not being respected.

When we understand how we respond when emotions arise, and where these emotions are coming from, we can better manage and work with ourselves.

So how do we do that?

Studies show that mindfulness and self-compassion practices are the most effective ways to activate the centers of the brain which promote peace and calm. Through these practices, we release oxytocin, the “cuddle hormone,” which slows the release of cortisol (the stress hormone) and calms the stress response. These practices allow the brain to quiet down, get out of survival mode, and encourage the nervous system to relax.

Mindfulness is the practice of cultivating nonjudgmental awareness in day-to-day life and it’s a powerful tool to combat stress, anxiety, apathy and burnout – to name a few. We want to cultivate nonjudgmental awareness because it’s in that space that we don’t automatically respond with our old programming in our old familiar ways, while we allow the opportunity for something so much healthier and healing to emerge. Mindfulness practices like loving kindness meditations, mindfully breathing, walking, and even mindfully eating, create new neural circuitry in the brain. This “wiring” then becomes available to us and enables us to change when we’re moving towards becoming more resilient, healing from trauma, or in our efforts to become happier and more positive.

Think of it as being similar to starting a fitness program. When you first start, it may feel challenging and uncomfortable. You’re not sure your effort is paying off but you’re hanging in there because you know it’s good for you. It begins to get easier to fit that workout in and you start noticing the benefits. It becomes natural to move more often and you grow to enjoy it. Same thing with mindfulness – once it’s a regular part of your daily routine, the more benefits you’ll notice.

Self-compassion practices may be a little trickier for some because many of us find it easy to give compassion to others yet struggle with giving compassion to ourselves. If that’s the case for you, this may help. Cultivating compassion and other positive emotions like joy and gratitude shift the brain out of survival mode and the tendency towards “negativity bias” (which I covered in the last post) and create new positive states of mind. Better health, a longer life and happier relationships are just a few of the benefits.

How do you start a self-compassion practice?

I find that one of the simplest yet most powerful practices that can shift your mood is a gratitude practice, and it can be incredibly simple. Noticing three things you’re grateful for each day is a great place to start. Even if life has recently thrown you some curve-balls, you can still be grateful for that hot cup of coffee, the roof over your head, and your dog who thinks you’re the ultimate rock star. Give it a daily, consistent effort long enough for it to become a habit and watch your mood, perspective and a greater sense of well-being slowly emerge.

Have you started a mindfulness or self-compassion practice and has it helped? We’d love to know, comment and share!

Photo from here, with thanks.

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January 2023