When I first learned about emotional intelligence (EQ) from The School of Life, I immediately understood that’s what was missing in my life. It helped me see that culture and society values the technical, logical skills as a measure of intelligence, but we forget that the skill to navigate the emotions that are an inevitable part of life is also crucial (if not more) for better long-term decision-making and stress management.
In talking with so many others since then, I’ve realized that EQ is still difficult to define for many, until it can be applied to a specific situation in our lives.
Here are 11 ways for you to identify if you could benefit from improving your emotional intelligence.
1. You Want To Stop People-Pleasing
Learning about your emotions allows you to uncover the needs behind what you say, do, or feel (or don’t say, do, or feel). In this case, what need are you satisfying when you hold yourself back from expressing your truth, just to please others? Better yet, what need are you not satisfying?
Maybe you like bringing harmony to your environment. Maybe you want to be seen as adaptable to different situations, or to be a supportive listener.
But what are you leaving behind in the process? Being heard? Having your own outlet? Building credibility in your subject or authority in your role? Ability to develop a deeper connection with others?
The balance comes with becoming more emotionally intelligent. For me, it was raising awareness that the emotional need behind the ‘nice guy’ was to be perceived as valuable, worthy, helpful. But by succumbing to the whims of others, what I lost was respect, assertiveness, trust.
Having emotional intelligence isn’t just about being nice to others. It’s about having self-regard for how you feel and being assertive in expressing it.
Your mission: Cause conflict. Not in a destructive way. But in a loving, curious way. Challenge people by asking more 'why' questions and tap into the feelings, on both your end and theirs. Nonviolent Communication (NVC) teaches us to differentiate between thinking and feeling. Many times we’ll use the word “feel” while not actually expressing a feeling. So when you experience a chemical reaction in your body, try expressing what that feeling is for you, rather than trying to think through the external situation.
2. You Want To Set Better Boundaries
You might be here because you have a history of allowing others to push your boundaries. You might even consider yourself an empath where you take on the pain of others and you’ll go out of your way to help at every notice. And you’re starting to realize that people are taking advantage, purposefully or not, of your willingness to help and you’re getting tired.
Or you might be here because it’s been brought to your attention that you’re overstepping other people’s boundaries by asking too much, or intruding past their comfort zone.
Whatever it may be, you can set better boundaries by communicating the emotions that come up in regards to what you are and are not willing to tolerate in your interpersonal relationships. Paradoxically, containing your feelings is what will eventually allow others to step all over them. You might think that keeping them to yourself is protecting them, but in reality, it hurts them by not acknowledging their existence.
When you feel your limits being pushed, stop and take a look at what’s happening. Ask yourself why these emotions are coming up for you and what about the situation can you pull from to get more context?
You mission: Create a “NOT to do” list. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with all the things we have to do, or should do, especially for others. But keep a list of things you will say “no” to and make sure to refer back to it as often as you can.
3. You Want To Be Adaptable To Change
As the world changes faster than the world our parents grew up in, one thing is certain, we need to learn to be adaptable. And within that skill is the emotional resilience required to take the punches that the world throws at you.
Improving emotional intelligence means better being able to respond rather than react to the situations and the emotions invoked by them. Having awareness of the emotions that come to play in stressful times will allow you to develop a sense of control.
For example, when I hit my quarter-life crisis and realized that I wanted to pursue a more creative career, there was so much resistance for me to make a change. I loved my comfort and security. I feared taking risks and failing. I worried about outside judgment. I would get anxious thinking about having no income for a while. And all of those negative emotions did a really good job keeping me safe.
But do I want to be safe? Or do I want to be different and grow?
If we want the latter, it would mean developing the skills to prepare ourselves for the bumpy road ahead. It means practicing detachment from external results. It means letting go of what we can’t control. It means having bias towards optimism rather than being the victim. It means laughing it off once in a while. And again (sensing a theme here?), it means being vulnerable with what you are struggling with and being willing to ask for help.
Your mission: Reflect on what might be causing resistance for you to change. Use the Immunity to Change worksheet developed by Harvard professors.
4. You Want To Be Better At Taking Criticism
This one’s for the perfectionists. If you’re like me, it can be hard to take in criticism of your work. I know I might still struggle if someone were to tear apart my writing.
Part of being emotionally intelligent is being in tune with what triggers certain emotions in you and then being able to disassociate yourself personally from those triggers.
In terms of receiving feedback, that means disassociating your personal identity from your actions or pieces of work. I know, a sh*t ton of people suck at giving feedback and it could come off as an attack on you, but the ball’s in your court in how you want to respond to that.
It’s difficult, I know. Because what is your identity if it’s not a collection of your actions? There’s gotta be whole books on just that.
The point is, you can decide if you’re going to let that feedback debilitate you or teach you something.
Your mission: Practice seeing either your own or other people’s actions separate from identity. Give feedback on the work or the behavior rather than the person. Doing so will help you to not take it personally either, even if they haven’t learned how to deliver it effectively yet.
5. You Don’t Want To Be Brittle In High-Stress Situations
There are so many moments in my life where I would submit to whatever the overpowering force was at the time. I can’t remember all of the details, but I do remember the feelings of cowering when criticized and bending over backwards for people. There were also many subtle ways where I would make rash decisions in the heat of the moment, just to get out of it, but then regret it later.
It’s still something I’m working through today as I learn to be more resilient and assertive. I just know that I’m tired of living on the surface level of my emotions and letting them take a hold of me.
Being emotionally intelligent means you are aware of what could cause an emotional reaction within you, how you might react to them, and to set up your environment or mindset to allow you to thrive instead.
I know one of my stressors where I tend to be brittle is with high-status people, e.g. big name entrepreneurs, high-level leadership, cool guys, attractive women, strong personalities, etc. I would voice my opinion about something and if there was even a hint of opposition from them, I would back peddle and lighten my position to better fit theirs.
Though this might initially help me build a friendly rapport with them, there was no integrity or depth to me. If I were to flip the script, I know I would hesitate to partner with someone, work for someone, or date someone if they would just succumb to my every move.
Your mission: Journaling prompt: when was the last time you were emotionally brittle? What were the environmental or circumstantial elements that caused you to fall off track? What can you do to build resilience for that in the future? What would you do differently if something similar happened again?
6. You Value Making More Effective Decisions
Like I mentioned before, when the emotions are firing in all directions, it’s a lot harder to think critically and make clear decisions.
Of course, humans are emotional beings and most, if not all, of our decisions are based on emotion. The food you eat, the car you buy, the college major you choose to study, even the mutual fund you invest into are all decisions, aided by logic and reasoning, but based on emotion.
If you’re not aware of those emotions, you’ll let them run everything, and logic will never get a say. Emotional intelligence is not about pushing those emotions aside in order to always be logical. It’s about acknowledging those emotions and what might be causing them and partnering them with logic so they can truly thrive.
Your mission: When in high-pressure situations, the overwhelm and fast pace pushes logic out the window. Keep them in the room by practicing the 6-second method, breathe in deep for three seconds, and breathe out for three. It may feel awkward when a coworker is yelling at you, for example, but doing so might even help them slow down as well, and you can both switch to collaborative problem-solving.
7. You’re Ready To Expand And Deepen Your Relationships
According to the 2018 US Cigna study, about half of Americans report feeling some type of loneliness. Many of us don’t feel like we have someone to go to for the deeper stuff, even those who have a wide network.
Aside from the social structures that make it difficult to truly connect with people, on an individual level, it’s difficult to create depth in your relationships if the relationship with yourself is shallow.
Having an understanding of your emotions will give you the ability to quell – not fix – your social anxiety. It helps you express yourself and your ideas, even with fear. It teaches you to empathize with others and to seek to understand them first.
Being emotionally intelligent means giving love, not just romantically, but in a way that allows the other person to grow in what feels natural to them. Rather than forcing your ideals onto them, or projecting the advice you might need to hear more for yourself, validate how others feel and build on top of it rather than deconstruct it.
Your mission: Adopt the mindset of saying "yes, and" rather than "yes, but." This is an improvisational acting technique where the actors find ways to add to what the other actors are saying or doing. It shifts the interaction away from claiming the spotlight or wanting to be ‘right’ to being more collaborative.
8. You Want To Manage Conflicts Better
If you find yourself in either external, social, or internal conflict often, working on your emotional intelligence can help.
Conflict arises when either of the two interacting parties – internally, the adult self and the inner child – feel their needs are not being met. The issue is that most conflict is triggered by an external circumstance and we’ll rush to address what’s happening on the surface without taking a look at what’s deeper.
You might argue with your partner about the necessity of a big, new item you just bought and will try to validate it by talking about the features, the use cases, and the benefits. But then you lose sight of why you’re both arguing in the first place. And your partner might not even be disapproving the purchase itself, but frustrated that they were not included in the decision. Or because they might be feeling distance between you and worried this is another escape. From your end, it might be that you rarely feel celebrated and took it upon yourself to give yourself a gift. The point is, conflict is less about the tangible symptoms and more about the underlying emotion that isn’t being acknowledged.
Your mission: Reflect on the last big conflict you've had in your life, not just with others, but within yourself. And use the ABCDE framework. Write down, in any order: -The Activating event that triggered the conflict. -The Beliefs you had about either the event. -The Consequences of the event, i.e. the emotions that came up. -The Disputes of the Beliefs you wrote down. -The Effects you might have with the new beliefs instead.
9. You Aim To Align Your Feelings, Words, And Actions
One of the hardest things to do as humans is to be completely honest with how you feel, what you say, and what you do. To me, that is having integrity. It’s finding alignment between all three.
The reason it’s hard is not because we intentionally want to be liars, procrastinators, or hypocrites, but because identifying how you truly feel in the first place is a skill that is rarely taught or practiced. To make it worse, even if you are taught emotional intelligence, it’s still difficult to stay consistent in applying it because of how contextual and subjective our emotions are.
It might be possible that you’re here because you’re starting to see the negative consequences of this lack of integrity. Maybe you’re losing trust of those around you. Maybe you’re confusing potential business or romantic partners because they don’t know where you stand. Maybe you’ve lost a sense of clarity within yourself and how you want to lead your life, tired of beating yourself up for not walking the talk.
Whatever the case, you can start to create alignment within yourself if you can tap back into your emotions and honestly express them.
Your mission: Integrity is lost when we put our mouth ahead of everything else before understanding how we feel or before we're prepared to back them up with our actions. Journal prompt: When was there a time you might have been unintentionally dishonest, where you spoke too soon before you ready to fully adopt your words? What was your intention in sharing that? What was the feeling you had or wanted? Why don’t you think your actions are reflective of your words or feelings?
10. You’re Done Being Complacent
On my podcast, I talk about how there are many aspects of life that makes it convenient to numb our pains, but then that also numbs the pleasures. Social media and streaming services have numbed our minds. Social stigmas numbed creative expression. Over-the-counter drugs literally numbed our emotions.
You’re here because you’re done with all of that. You’re done following everyone else’s orders. You’re done staying in one place.
And now you’re wondering where to even start. You’re overwhelmed with all of the possibilities. How do you decide what to do from here?!
I know you know what I’m going to say: emotional intelligence.
I know the lack thereof was one factor that kept me stuck. I lost excitement for my trajectory and in what I was doing. I allowed my bias for comfort guide my decisions. At one point, I even mentally convinced myself that I would be OK forever being alone even though my body knew I would not be.
Your mission: Do one thing that scares you every day. Start small. Like, calling someone over the phone. Making eye contact and smiling at a stranger. The bigger ones might be, starting a channel or platform for your creative outlet. Applying for totally out-of-reach jobs that you’re interested in. Opening up about how you’re truly feeling rather than the neutral response of, “I’m good.”
11. You’re On The Way To Create Your Own Life Path
It takes a lot of courage to create your own path in life, whether it be starting your own business, or leading a part of someone else’s with your own initiatives. If you’re breaking away from being told what to do, I acknowledge your discomfort and congratulate you for taking the risk!
This path represents intentionality and a bit of rebelliousness. And that requires emotional intelligence to sustain the unpredictability, the judgment, the failures, the responsibility, the leadership.
More importantly, going off on your own is a very lonely road. You’ll need the ability to connect with other businesses, entrepreneurs, and your audience. If you can better understand how you feel, you’ll be able to better relate to others and understand to some degree how they feel. That’s what will lead to your success.
Your mission: Reach out to someone you’d like to connect deeper with and give before you take. Actively listen to their story, share a resource that will help them, point them to someone they’d be interested to talk to. For yourself, find someone - or a group - who you can use as a sounding board and to keep you accountable to your goals.
Want To Accelerate This Growth?
Now that you’ve identified areas, it’s going to be a roller coaster of emotions, success and obstacles. Know that this is a process and will take months, even years to fully implement. Save this post so you can refer back to it when you get stuck.
Better yet, download the 11 EQ exercises I’ve collected to help you connect deeper to yourself and others.