Emotional intelligence is a single term which covers a range of different mental attributes. It can be the ability to recognize and understand our own emotions and reactions. In this case, self awareness. The ability manage and control our reactions to people and circumstances. The ability to motivate ourselves towards achieving a goal or meeting a deadline. Emotional intelligence can also refer to our ability to read other people, understand their feelings, and empathize with them.
Why is all of this important?
Research has indicated that in upwards of 80% of your “success” in life comes from your emotional intelligence (EQ), not your intelligence quotient (IQ). In this case, success refers to a variety of different things. It’s a good marriage, a good relationship with your kids, a positive outlook, a good income, the ability to relate to your coworkers, and a supply of good friends who inspire you. Not to mention your performance at work, and your ability to get things done.
Emotional intelligence is responsible for a majority of it, which is why it’s so important to build it. Reading and improving your brain’s cognitive functioning is important, but when it comes down to it, EQ matters more. With that in mind, here are a few specific domains of emotional intelligence, and how you can build them up.
Willpower is like gasoline in the tank of a car. There’s a limited amount of it and when it runs out you’re done. What’s easy to resist in the morning may be difficult to resist by the end of a day. That’s why one of the quickest and easiest ways to increase your willpower is not actually to build more, but to make the reserves that you have now stretch further.
To do so, you need to remove yourself from situations that deplete your willpower. For example, if you drive by a Starbucks every morning, you might have to exert willpower in order to not buy a coffee. Instead of doing that every morning, try changing your route.
At work, instead of being proud of yourself for always exerting the willpower necessary to not buy soda from the machine, never walk past it. The more you can remove yourself from situations that deplete your willpower, the more you’ll have left over for situations that really matter. If you’d like to learn more about building Willpower, the book Willpower Instinct is a must read.
Whereas we tend to associate willpower with the ability to resist tempting situations, motivation is the ability to get yourself off the couch and moving towards a goal. Motivation is also intrinsically linked to mental health. For example, people who are depressed tend to lack motivation, and they have a hard time seeing how their actions can produce a desirable outcome. Thus, part of motivation itself is having a good locus of control. A belief that the actions you take on a daily basis can have a positive impact on your future.
People who have high levels of emotional intelligence tend to be very motivated. They can see the big picture, and they have the ability to break a goal down into small chunks, work on those chunks, and spend months or years on a project even though they may not be rewarded till the end.
In order to build motivation, many people find that the first essential step is removing limiting beliefs. These are the nagging voices in your head that say things like “it will never work” and “why even bother, someone else is already doing it better”. These limiting beliefs can stop you dead in your tracks, and make it difficult to motivate yourself. For an interesting take on how to change them, consider reading What to Say When You Talk to Yourself. A great book about how we unconsciously sabotage ourselves before we even get started.
Another early step to take when building motivation is to build in rewards right from the beginning. If you’re starting a large project that may not show any payoffs for months, like learning a language or training for a marathon, you might want to create artificial rewards. I studied or ran all week, therefore I’ll treat myself to a special dinner on Friday. As you get better at your skill it will begin to naturally reward you and you’ll be able to gain motivation from that, instead of artificial milestones.
Knowing how to effectively communicate with people is huge! Even in a profession like engineering or coding, being able to relate to your boss and coworkers is an important part of advancing your career. Breaking down interpersonal skills further, we can see that it’s actually made up of several different domains. The ability to listen, and the ability to communicate your ideas clearly and effectively.
Listening is an important part of developing your emotional intelligence. Sometimes it’s as simple as closing your mouth and listening to what other people have to say. Other times it’s more not. Active listening entails listening to a person speak, and then echoing back what you just heard, in your own words. This ensures that you have a clear idea of what they mean, and it also shows them that you’re listening. A great book that dives deeper into the subject is Conversationally Speaking by Alan Garner.
When it comes to communicating your ideas in a clear and effective fashion, there’s nothing like practice. You can talk to other people about an idea or a concept, and then ask them to tell you what they understood of it. This is a good way to find out how well people are receiving your message. Communicating clearly can also be as simple as looking people in the eye, speaking clearly at an appropriate volume, and not mumbling. People like Derek Sivers and Cal Fussman are master communicators, and there is much to learn from them.
Bringing it Together
Emotional intelligence encompasses multiple different aspects of our lives. It’s our ability to relate to others, to control or own feelings, and to motivate ourselves to go out and pursue worthwhile goals. It truly is what’s responsible for your success in life, and your performance at work. That’s why building it up is one of the most worthwhile things that we can do. Instead of thinking about how to increase your income, many people have found it more useful to first increase certain aspects of EQ, like interpersonal communication, and then the success follows. Increase your EQ and your life will be better, it’s a simple truth.