Emotions have a huge impact on our everyday lives. They influence our attention, relationships, health, decisions, and creativity and performance.
In the English language alone, there are over 3,000 words used to describe an emotion, and these words vary across different languages with some words having no translation due to culture differences.
With emotions having such a strong influence on how we interact with the world, it’s hard to believe that psychologists didn’t start looking at emotions as more than just noise until the 1980s.
The term “emotional intelligence” was introduced in the 1990s by psychologists Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer, and they defined it as the ability to:
- Perceive accurately, appraise, and express emotion
- Access and generate feelings when they facilitate thought
- Understand emotion and emotional knowledge
- Regulate emotions to promote emotional and intellectual growth
As you can see, that is not a simple definition. Emotional intelligence (EQ) is a complex concept, and there is still so much left to be discovered. Up until recently, we have been building a culture without any direction or guidance on how to label, manage, and express human emotions.
An education in emotional intelligence
Though we’ve made progress in emotional intelligence education, the lack of education on the science behind emotion impacts all of us. Without knowing how to identify and manage our emotions, we fail to learn valuable social skills, make decisions based on values, and overcome challenges that face us — from our first heartbreak to dealing with death.
However, EQ is not something you can simply take a test on and be certified in; it must be continuously practiced every day for it to make a real impact on your behavior, social skills, and decision making.
Whether you believe you have a stoic relationship with emotions or consider yourself a highly sensitive person (HSP) (i.e., someone who feels and thinks deeply), knowing the skills to understand and manage emotions is key to personal growth. In fact, sensitivity has been misunderstood simply because of the lack of emotional education.
In reality, embracing sensitivity has a lot of benefits that relate to having emotional intelligence. People who identify as being HSP are known to be very intuitive, creative, and empathetic — three traits that are highly beneficial for personal growth, relationship building, and career.
“When you have emotion skills, you are perceived by peers to be more sensitive; you have better relationships with colleagues and romantic partners; and you are seen as more confident and secure.”
Marc Brackett, Ph.D
If you tend to feel deeply, EQ can help you embrace your sensitivity by acknowledging your strengths (such as empathy, compassion, self-awareness) and work on your limitations (such as self-management and dealing with change).
On the other hand, if you tend to lean on your rational brain, EQ can help you learn how to identify and label your emotions more accurately, so you can become more in tuned with who you are, which can have a direct and positive influence on your rationality and thought process. EQ can also help you connect with others through greater empathy and compassion.
Based on thorough research, emotional intelligence has been proven to be just as big of an indicator of a person’s success and effectiveness as IQ or level of grit.
Speaking of grit, it’s worth noting that grit and EQ oftentimes go hand in hand when it comes to measuring a person’s effectiveness.
For instance, gritty people who have the skills to navigate complex and difficult emotions are more likely to overcome obstacles and challenges in order to achieve long-term goals.
As far as IQ, no matter how smart we are, our emotions heavily influence our rational thought process. That’s because emotions provide us with important information. If we learn how to pay close attention to our emotions, we can collect data about who we are at the core; and learn what makes us and others tick (i.e., our emotional triggers), so we can respond effectively.
The ability to effectively identify, label, and manage our emotions is like being a scientist of emotion. Once we know how to test and theoarize, we’re able to understand our emotions more, as well as the emotions of others — which can lead to greater self-awareness, as well as empathy and compassion for others.
How to become an emotion scientist
Emotional intelligence starts with a strong sense of ourselves, which includes the ability to recognize, label, and manage our emotions.
Marc Brackett, Ph.D is the director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and the author of “Permission to Feel.” Brackett and his team at Yale identified five important emotion skills that can easily be remembered by the acronym — R.U.L.E.R. that helps people become a scientist of their emotions. These skills are usually taught in order, and then put on a loop to practice continuously:
Recognizing our emotions and the emotions of others by reading body language, vocal tones, and other nonverbal signals
Understanding our emotions to determine how thye make us feel, what caused it, and how it influences our behavior
Labeling our emotions by learning a rich vocabulary of emotion-based words that go beyond “sad,” “angry,” or “happy”
Expressing our emotions and learning how to share them with others in a way that is socially acceptable
Regulating our emotions by learning strategies how to manage emotions and become more practice, rather than reactive when emotionally triggered
How do I become more emotionally intelligent?
If you’re looking to build your emotional intelligence, the first step is to pay close attention to your emotions throughout the day, during certain activities (such as your morning routine, a work project, your evening commute), and start to keep track of how different events, habits, and activities make you feel.
A journal helps. I know not everyone likes to write. I once suggested to a friend that she could use the voice recorder on her phone, so she can vocally record when she is emotionally triggered with context as to how she was triggered. The key here is to find a way to make recognizing your emotions a daily habit.
What we’re closely looking for are “triggers.” Our feelings drive our behavior. Without knowing how we feel, it’s hard to make the right decision or respond effectively.
Identifying emotional triggers will help you be better prepared to activate the wise mind in the moment. This way, we can be less reactive, and be more proactive on how we manage our deepest, ugliest emotions when we’re triggered from something or someone.
For instance, my personal trigger is when someone says to me, “no offense.” It reminds me of what some of the mean girls I went to high school with would say to me, and it was always followed by an insult.
Now that I understand it’s a trigger, I have responses ready that are not defensive but effective and make me feel confident when someone uses that phrase. I also am able to quickly recognize if the phrase is used to insult. If it isn’t, I’m able to rationally brush it off. In other words, I’m able to put it in better context in order to know how I should react.
However, before learning how regulate emotions, start small. Start with simply recognizing your emotions and learning to sit with them instead of suppressing them or ignoring them. Get curious about them. You can even create a chart like the one below to list out common emotional triggers and start recording what triggered it and how you reacted. The more you do this, the more patterns you will identify.
You can take it one step further by using an emotion wheel to choose a word that closely describes how you feel, so you can into the habit of labeling your emotions more precisely. Take note of how it feels to label an emotional response as “frustrated,” rather than “angry.”
Understanding our emotions take time
Emotional intelligence is a journey. Becoming an emotion scientist takes ongoing effort. You’ll have to stay curious about your emotions and the emotions of others to start seeing the impact it can make on your life.
To get started, listen closely to your emotions and develop a way to record them. Collect the data first before you dive into learning to manage them.
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