The other day, I walked through my house, and I stubbed my toe. After that, I dropped my glasses on the floor, and then I dropped them again in my attempt to pick them up. I wanted to throw something through a window. The overwhelming feeling of anger saturated every fiber of my body. Finally, I stopped—counted to ten—and breathed deeply.
A few years back, I would have just let that one moment of annoyance plague my entire day. Instead, what stopped me was emotional intelligence. We've talked about the concept on this site a couple of times, but I think it's important enough to do a deep dive to understand its meaning and how to elevate our understanding.
Emotional intelligence, as defined by Psychology Today, "...refers to the ability to identify and manage one's own emotions, as well as the emotions of others." On the surface, the concept seems relatively easy to understand, but it becomes more complex when you go a bit deeper. To break it down, emotional intelligence—also commonly referred to as emotional quotient or EQ—is said to encompass:
Emotional awareness (the ability to identify and name one's own emotions
The ability to subdue those emotions and apply them to tasks like thinking and problem solving
Ability to govern emotions which includes regulating your feelings when necessary and helping others to do the same
The notion of EQ is much more than just understanding you're upset, happy, or sad; it's knowing what to do with those emotions. People who have low EQ levels cannot articulate how they are feeling, and they are surely unable to explain why they are feeling whichever way. To be emotionally intelligent, you have to have a firm understanding of yourself and what makes you tick.
You can use one strategy to understand yourself and your emotions called an emotion wheel. Often, it's challenging to come up with the right word to describe how you're feeling, but the emotion wheel assists you in breaking down the general feeling into more pinpointed categories.
Try sitting down one day and thinking of different times in your life where you had a strong emotional reaction to an event, and use the emotion wheel to drill down the proper name of the emotion you were feeling. You'd be amazed at how it feels to be able to articulate your feelings.
Once you have a substantial understanding of your named emotions, you can begin identifying the triggers that lead to those emotions. It should be noted that having strong EQ is not about suppressing your emotions—it's about regulating them so they don't consume your life. Triggers can be anything that "sets you off" for lack of a better term. For instance, the other day, I played Wordle, a game where you try to guess a five-letter word and only have six chances to get it right. I was on chance five, and I felt like I would lose my mind. The game's frustration, mixed with the sound of neighbors yelling in the distance, sent me into a tailspin. I started thinking about other things that frustrated me, and I spiraled.
Then something profound occurred—I stopped and told my partner that I was frustrated and I just wanted to vent for a little bit. As I explained why I was agitated, the pieces started to fall into place; the game was the trigger for me getting upset. I felt a little bit ridiculous getting so worked up from a game, but such is life. The important part was that I named my emotion (annoyed), narrowed down the trigger, verbally acknowledged what was going on to my partner, and felt an overwhelming sense of calm in not letting my emotions get the best of me.
Emotional intelligence is not something you learn and then forget about the next day. To increase your EQ, you have to be willing to put in the work every day. When you become overwrought by an emotion, stop yourself, breathe deeply, and put the feelings into perspective. Often this process can take just a few moments, but if you had let your emotion spread and grow, it could potentially ruin your whole day.
Another critical aspect of emotional intelligence is identifying people who lack the necessary skills to understand their own EQ. Some indicators of someone who is not emotionally intelligent include:
They always have to be right
They're oblivious to other people's feelings
They behave insensitively
They blame others for their problems
They have poor coping skills
They have emotional outbursts
They struggle with relationships
They turn conversations toward themselves
Inability to decipher and manage their own emotions
Little interest in finding new ways to solve problems
Trouble accepting criticism, constructive or otherwise
Can you think of anyone in your life that exhibits some or maybe all of the above characteristics? Unfortunately, I can name about five people right off the top of my head that hit every single element on the list. Understanding the actions of others will help you recognize who you want to associate with and who should be kept at arm's length. At times, it may be possible to get the person to understand they are exhibiting signs of low emotional intelligence. Still, even if you are tactful in your approach, the person will sometimes take great offense.
The extraordinary thing about emotional intelligence is your ability to improve by working on specific aspects of EQ daily. One way to improve is taking time to enjoy the positives. When your day isn't going the way you hoped, it's easy to let yourself wallow in your own self-pity, but try to stop and list some things that make you happy. Not only will this help you control the current negative trajectory of your thoughts, but it helps to put your situation into perspective.
Another way to improve your emotional intelligence is to be realistic. This might seem like a no-brainer, but you'd be surprised how easy it is to get frustrated when you aren't seeing the progress you were expecting in your pursuit to understand your emotional intelligence. Set realistic goals to better discern your emotions, triggers, and ways to improve your EQ.
This next one will sound a little bit crazy but stay with me for a moment. Quit social media. Some people reading this probably just had a myocardial infarction. Too many people post everything they are doing on social media, providing an endless positive and negative feedback loop. I'm going to let you in on a little secret—most people online are only telling you the good things that happen to them, and if good things aren't happening to you, their pretend glamorous lives will leave you feeling depressed and alone.
I had my Facebook, and Instagram hacked back in April 2021, and when I tried to verify my identity to get my accounts back, I was told that was not possible, and they were being permanently deleted. My first emotion was anger, and my second emotion was relief. Instead of creating new accounts, I would see what life was like without knowing what everyone was doing all the time. It's amazing. I decided to make an Instagram, but only for topics I enjoy and not to follow people.
Social media brings out the absolute worst in people, and if you stay in that realm long enough, you will lose your sense of reality. So while I think social media platforms have their uses, I caution against spending too much time looking at other people's lives instead of living yours.
Emotional intelligence is the essential foundation for living a genuinely resilient life. You might be able to make valuable tools out of rocks and sticks or know how to utilize every part of your garden―still, if you don't understand your emotions or how to regulate them, you will not last very long in the de-industrialized future. The road ahead is filled with ups and downs—do yourself a favor and make a plan to work on your emotional intelligence so that when our society fully collapses, you are leading the charge toward vital mental health and a future of resilience.