Why would you want to develop emotional intelligence? Perhaps it’s because you want to be in control of your life. After all, we control only three things in life: our behaviours, thoughts, and feelings.
The most important of these three things are our feelings because they drive our thoughts and behaviours. In fact, about 80% or more of our decisions and actions come from our feelings and emotions. However, our feelings are the most difficult part of us to control since we have the least direct influence on our emotions.
Gaining the ability to control your emotions requires that you develop and harness your emotional intelligence, which is the ability to be aware of your emotions and then manage those emotions.
By following the daily habits described in this article, which are all informed by research in neuroscience and psychology, you will develop emotional intelligence skills and gain much better control over yourself and your life.
1. Delay Displaying Emotions
Have you ever reacted rashly during a tense situation and later wished you could turn back time? How about regretted something you said in the heat of a moment? Whether those impulsive reactions are a rare occurrence or something that happens with you all the time, there’s lots of advantages to being able to delay showing your emotions.
But let’s talk about how our minds work and our two thinking systems. The autopilot system corresponds to our intuitions and emotions, while the intentional system reflects on our rational thinking.
Since the intentional system is slow, it takes time to activate it and reflect on any kind of errors that the autopilot system can make. To address the problem, you need to develop a habit of counting to 10 before following any emotion-driven behaviours or decisions. This will allow your intentional system to turn on and address whatever feelings before you show emotions.
Simply understanding how these two systems work and taking some time before reacting will allow you to be more in control of your emotions.
Writing down your thoughts and feelings regularly is beneficial for developing emotional intelligence. Journaling is also an act of self-care that promotes creativity and self-awareness. Research has also shown that journal prompts or simple guide questions to get you started are useful for stimulating reflection.
While there are no exact rules for journaling, make it a habit to do so daily and establish a process. Develop a morning or evening journaling activity that involves three habits relevant to emotional intelligence:
Journaling about yourself and your feelings now
Journaling about what you learned about your feelings over the last day
Journaling about where you would like to focus on in developing your emotional intelligence, including both the ability to know and manage your feelings, over time
Remember, the key is to get started and to be consistent. Keep it simple by picking a journaling method— you can write in longhand, type, use a voice recorder, or pick a journaling app—and just keep at it.
As you start to practice the habits listed here, you’ll want to review your journal entries from time to time. It will also be a good way to check your previous stumbling blocks and how far you’ve come.
Meditation is another way of improving emotional intelligence. While most people tend to associate meditation with spirituality, meditating can build new neural pathways, which may aid in managing stress and emotions.
Meditation can also help men who struggle with traditional norms around emotions and difficulty expressing their feelings. Studies have shown that meditation has helped men engage with their emotions constructively.
I recommend developing these two daily meditation habits:
At least 10 minutes of Zazen (empty mind) meditation – This type of meditation aims to clear and calm the mind. To do this, get into a cross-legged sitting position. Next, breathe, empty your mind, and try not to think of anything. Zazen will help you build attention and focus, which can then be used to have more attention to your emotions.
At least 5 minutes of loving-kindness meditation – This type of meditation will help manage your feelings toward other people and make these feelings richer and more positive. By practicing this, you can strengthen your connection and feelings of kindness towards your loved ones and even acquaintances. This can be done by visualizing the people in your life, focusing on these people, and thinking of these people sending and receiving love and kindness to and from you.
You may have heard of its many health benefits, but let me highlight how it also has a significant impact on emotional intelligence. Practicing yoga teaches you to be in the present and prompts you to become self-aware, thereby allowing you to more easily recognize your emotions. This also translates to body awareness and the ability to manage your body.
Emotions often manifest physically, so body awareness will help you be more aware of your emotions, be able to discriminate between these emotions, and manage them better. Get into a daily yoga habit for at least 15 minutes.
5. Regularly Identify Cognitive Biases
Our emotions often lead us in the wrong direction due to mental blindspots called cognitive biases. These are dangerous judgment errors that can cause you to make poor decisions in your personal and professional lives.
You need to get ahead of these troublesome blindspots by assessing and learning which ones are relevant to you. Then, figure out a daily ritual to address the cognitive biases most impactful for you.
The first four habits I described will also best position you to identify and deal with these biases. For example, you can use journaling to write down how you plan to address them.
6. Relating to Others
While the first five habits on this list will allow you to reflect, assess, and deliberate internally, you should also equally consider how you relate to people. After practicing the fifth habit, I’m sure you will realize just how full we are of cognitive biases when it comes to our emotions concerning other people.
To manage your emotions better, maintain a daily habit of evaluating your emotions when you interact with others. Pause, reflect, and identify what you can learn about yourself during the interactions between people. You can use this as one of your journal prompts.
Equipped with the information that you’ve learned about yourself, plan how you will interact with others moving forward. Remember to continue putting a pause on showing your emotions to others, definitely at first, so you can learn to manage yourself emotions better.
7. Develop Active Listening Skills
Many people listen without hearing what is being said. This is especially true when it comes to arguments when people adopt a combative stance and spend their time forming a response in their heads instead of really listening to the other person.
Without the right listening skills, no emotional intelligence can take place or be employed, and most conflicts wouldn’t get resolved.
When talking with others, listen actively instead of just as using it as an afterthought or just to pass time until it’s your turn to speak. Rather than listen to ensure that you have a good understanding of what’s being discussed.
When resolving the conflict, active listening helps you determine how you can contribute to solving the issue. This is because it gives you time to clarify any points you don’t understand as well as employ your emotional intelligence to help you decide with an appropriate response.
8. Use an Assertive and Collaborative Communication Style
While each habit can be practiced separately with good results, that’s because the first 7 habits all work harmoniously and allow you to be assertive and direct.
bear in mind everything that you have learned about yourself, your biases, how you react to others. Then, develop the habit of being assertive—but not aggressive—and being direct when communicating. This will allow you to express your opinions clearer, therefore encouraging others to communicate with you clearly as well.
No matter what your reason is for wanting to hone your emotional intelligence, you only receive to benefits from the attempt.
Adopting such habits is the key to developing emotional intelligence, which is a gateway to having true control over your life. While the learning curve can depend per person, anyone can take a shot at—and master—the required habits.
Practice just a few to see how it enriches certain aspects of your life or utilize all 8 to reap the compounded benefits of an emotionally intelligent mind.