Why is Emotional Intelligence So Important?

When it comes to predicting how successful a child or teen will be, it’s not intelligence (IQ) that comes out on top. It’s emotional intelligence. Why? Cognitive intelligence is developed though the knowledge a personal has acquired and the strength of their cognitive skills. However, emotional intelligence is a measurement of how they understand and manage their emotions and identify and react to the emotions of others.

What is emotional intelligence?

Emotional quotient (EQ), also known as “emotional intelligence,” allows us to be perceptive, engaged, and empathetic toward ourselves and others. People with high EQ are typically well equipped to:

  • diffuse conflict
  • communicate effectively
  • empathize
  • overcome challenges
  • problem-solve
  • calm themselves down

With an understanding of the types of skills that emotionally intelligent individuals have developed, it’s easy to see why people with high EQ may have an easier time getting along with others, advancing their career goals, achieving personal goals, building and maintaining stronger relationships, and exhibiting resilience in the face of adversity.

According to HelpGuide.org, EQ Is typically defined by the following four attributes:

  1. Self-awareness: Recognizing our emotions and how they affect our thoughts and behavior
  2. Self-management: Controlling impulses, taking initiative, adapting to new situations and environments, and following through on commitments
  3. Relationship management: Communicating clearly, inspiring and influencing others, managing conflict, working well as a team
  4. Social awareness: Understanding the emotions and concerns of others, socializing, having empathy, reading emotional cues and body language, comforting others, recognizing the “power dynamics” of groups or organizations

Tools to develop emotional intelligence

Developing your EQ starts with three basic steps that can serve as a daily practice for self-awareness and self-soothing, which can then better position you to be emotionally healthy and responsive to the needs of others. They include:

Step #1: Employ quick stress-relief techniques.

Although there are lots of tried-and-true stress-busters—from exercising and cuddling a pet to yoga and getting a massage—people with high EQ tend to adapt techniques that can be done immediately and in almost any situation. Consider practicing some breathing exercises to reset your nervous system. 

Or simply focus on your senses to get grounded in the present moment by asking yourself, “What do I hear, smell, taste, see and feel right now?” You may also want to try the 4-7-8 breathing technique in which you inhale for a count of 4, hold the breath for a count of 7, and then exhale for a count of 8. Be sure to put the most focus on your exhale, which should be audible as a sigh, hum, or even “vvvv” sound to get the full benefits.

Step #2: Identify and experience your emotions.

Numbing or ignoring your feelings isn’t healthy and in fact, even “negative” emotions can be beneficial. Fear, for example, is an innate response that can help us take life-saving action and anger can inspire us to take action against injustice or unfair treatment. 

Start by identifying your feelings in the moment and then sitting with them without trying to change them or problem-solve. Try to understand why you’re feeling a particular emotion and avoid the temptation to immediately distract yourself by scrolling on your phone, turning on the TV, or playing a video game. Instead, simply observe the feeling as if you’re a third party. 

Once you’ve slowed your fight-or-flight response and recentered to a point of calm, you can determine whether the emotion requires you to take action or simply let it go. 

Step #3: Meditate on compassion.

If you don’t know the story about French-born Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard, it’s worth noting that he’s been dubbed, “The Happiest Man in Alive.” It’s not necessarily a subjective moniker, as Ricard (who is a trained scientist himself) was discovered to have the highest capacity for happiness ever recorded when neuroscientists scanned his brain during his compassion-focused meditation. As an advocate for training the mind in habits of well-being to generate fulfillment and serenity, Ricard—much like the Dalai Lama—believes that focusing on compassion causes our brain to function better and creates inner strength by calming us, reducing fear, and giving us self-confidence. 

Practice building emotional intelligence by meditating on the images and emotions associated with being compassionate (toward people, animals, nature). Don’t worry if your mind starts to wander. That’s a very typical response, especially with those who are just beginning to try meditation. By definition, training your mind to focus is “the practice” of meditation, and the benefits only increase the more you do it. 

Think of developing EQ as putting your own oxygen mask before helping others. 

As you begin to use these tools to develop emotional intelligence, your focus should be on identifying and regulating your own emotions. As you master these skills, you’ll position yourself to better empathize and support others organically.

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