5 Ways to Develop Your Emotional Intelligence

Around 350 B.C.E, a towering figure in ancient Greek philosophy, Aristotle, said that anybody can become angry. "That's easy," he said, "But to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not within everybody's power and is not easy."

The ability Aristotle described is today usually placed under the umbrella of emotional intelligence. The term gained popularity in the 1995 best-selling book Emotional Intelligence, written by psychologist Daniel Goleman.

Emotional intelligence (EI), also referred to as EQ (emotional intelligence quotient), refers to the ability to identify and manage your emotions, as well as the emotions of others. If you have a high degree of emotional intelligence, you know what you're feeling, what those emotions mean, and how those emotions can affect other people.

Improving your emotional intelligence may just be a gateway to living a more fulfilled and happy life, and here’s why:

  1. Effective communication: Having high emotional intelligence allows you to express yourself clearly while staying calm in difficult situations.

  2. Adaptability: Emotional intelligence helps you adapt and adjust to new situations quickly, even if they are complex or unfamiliar, without feeling frustrated.

  3. Motivation: It allows you to understand and manage your emotions to self-motivate and create positive social interactions.

  4. Decision-making: It can prevent you from making decisions solely based on emotional biases.

In Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, Daniel Goleman suggests that there are five components of emotional intelligence: self-awareness, self-regulation, empathy, motivation, and social skills.

Let’s break each of these components down and learn how to develop them.

1. Developing Self-Awareness: Knowing Yourself

Recognizing an emotion as it takes place is the keystone of emotional intelligence.

People with greater certainty about their feelings are better pilots of their lives. For example, they have a surer sense of how they really feel about personal decisions, from whom to marry to what job to take.

You can work on your self-awareness skills by following these tips:

  • Keep a journal: Try spending a few minutes writing down your thoughts each day. Write down what was happening, what you're feeling, and how you reacted.

  • Slow down: When you experience anger or other strong emotions, slow down to examine why. Remember, no matter the situation, you can always choose how you react to it.

  • Make a list of your roles and write down the feeling connected to each role: You might be a brother, sister, employee, husband, wife, mother, father, or manager – think of as many as you can. Also, try to name your feelings for each role. For example, happy, frustrated, anxious, etc.

  • Predict how you will feel: Think about a situation you're going into and predict how you will feel. Practice naming and accepting those feelings. For example, you might say, "I may feel frustrated," or "I may feel excited." Naming the feeling puts you in control.

Becoming self-aware is not a step-by-step process; it's a lifelong journey. But as you improve self-awareness, you may also improve your experience of life, create opportunities for better work-life balance, become aware of your emotions, and improve your ability to respond to change.

2. Developing Self-Regulation: Managing Emotions

Self-regulation is about being able to control your emotions and responses to situations and other people.

People who lack self-regulation skills are frequently battling feelings of distress, while those who excel in it can bounce back more quickly from life's setbacks and upsets.

Here are some ways you can improve your self-regulation skills:

  • Examine your values: Try spending some time examining your "code of ethics." If you know what's most important to you, then you probably won't have to think twice when you face a moral or ethical decision.

  • Hold yourself accountable: Make a commitment to admit to your mistakes and to face the consequences.

  • Practice being calm: The next time you're in a challenging situation, be aware of how you act by following these tips:

  1. Practice deep breathing exercises to calm yourself.

  2. List the things that cause an impulsive, emotional reaction for you, the things that sometimes make you “lose it”. For example, “I get furious when I’m ignored…”

  3. Write down a strategy for each of these that you can use to prevent losing your self-control in the future. For example, “When I realize I'm angry, I can stop, breathe deeply, take a short walk, and then return.”

  4. Try to write down all of the negative things you want to say on a piece of paper, then rip it up and throw it away. Expressing these emotions on paper might be better than speaking them aloud. What's more, this helps you challenge your reactions to ensure that they're fair!

3. Developing Intrinsic Motivation

According to Goleman, guiding your emotions in the service of a goal is essential for self-motivation.

People who have the skill to self-motivate tend to be highly productive and effective in whatever they undertake.

They can recognize the emotions that may harm their motivation and then address and manage them effectively. More importantly, their motivation isn't driven by external rewards, but stems from a genuine passion to fulfill inner goals.

Here are some ways to improve motivation:

  • Focus on setting small, measurable goals.

  • Set goals to help build motivation which is driven by internal rewards

  • Avoid overusing tangible rewards, such as money or grades.

  • Celebrate your results.

4. Developing Empathy: Recognizing Emotions in Others

Empathetic people are more attuned to the subtle social signals that indicate what others need or want. They can understand how others are feeling and respond based on that information.

You can develop empathy by:

  • Cultivating curiosity: Develop an insatiable curiosity about the particulars of those you meet. For example, be present with people when you talk to them. Recognize the subjects that make them passionate, happy, or sad.

  • Stepping out of your comfort zone: Learn something new, try a new activity, or travel (if possible), and see how it feels to step outside of your comfort zone.

  • Receiving feedback: Ask for feedback from friends, family, and colleagues regarding your active listening skills.