In our last blog post, we examined the concept of emotional intelligence, and how it can help us have better relationships, avoid reactive behaviors, and lead happier lives. Today we want to talk about how we can develop emotional intelligence.

Before we get down to the nitty-gritty, though, a disclaimer:

Scientists and researchers are highly conflicted about whether or not emotional intelligence is something that you can develop. In fact, even the two original scientists who coined the phrase disagree on that point. After all, in its original definition, emotional intelligence is much like other kinds of intelligence, or an IQ score. Many believe that it’s an inherent trait – something you’re either born with, or not.

However, the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence defines it a little differently, instead favoring the term SEL, or social and emotional learning. When looked at from this perspective, emotional literacy is more of a skill or ability, that can be learned and taught.

So, with that being said, here are some ways that you can develop greater social and emotional skills to benefit your life:

  • Set a timer throughout the day. It might be an alarm that goes off on your phone every 45 minutes or hour. Whenever it goes off, do an internal inventory. Ask yourself what your emotional state is and take stock of the physical feelings associated with that emotion. Do you have a knot in the pit of your stomach? Are you feeling light-headed? Are your thoughts feeling quick, or tired?
  • Practice noting your thoughts, as well, and their interaction with your emotions. What does your internal dialogue look like when you’re feeling a certain way? Are there certain thoughts that contributed to your current emotional state? Can you change your emotional state with other thoughts?
  • Practice expressing deep emotions in intimate relationships with someone that you love and trust.
  • Practice expressing negative emotions in a constructive way, that won’t stir up defensiveness in another person, and that effectively communicates your point.
  • Practice empathy. Put yourself in other people’s shoes. Practice guessing at what they’re thinking and feeling, but be humble enough to admit when your assumption is wrong. You can test it by asking the other person in the moment, if you’re close enough to discuss it.
  • Ask others how they think that you’re feeling. Sometimes it’s hard for us to be aware of our own emotions because we’re too close to them. However, asking others can help you gain clarity. Furthermore, it can help you understand when you’re broadcasting the wrong signals.
  • Learn positive coping techniques as reactions to stress. For example, you might do deep-breathing meditation, get some exercise, or talk it out with a friend. Some people find it helpful to write or find an artistic outlet.
  • Take responsibility for your emotions. Realize that no one else is MAKING you feel a certain way. It’s something that’s internal and possible for you to manage. Don’t stifle emotions, but acknowledge them and take ownership.