Over the course of my career, I’ve found myself investing more and more effort into developing my emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence (EQ) has played a large role in developing a better understanding of the people and world around me. Here are three “aha” moments that have served me well.
Invest Your Energy Wisely
Over the years I’ve realized how important it is to be conscious and intentional about where I invest my energy and attention.
The aspect of EQ most affected by this is motivation. Your fundamental emotions and intrinsic drive can be affected and neutralized by the emotions around you, and some of the emotional energy we absorb or lose comes from who we spend time with and their emotional condition, who and what we listen to in the media, and how we navigate our daily schedules.
I have learned to hang out with people who encourage, inspire, and challenge me through their examples and their friendship. Sometimes, I’m not physically with these people; we might connect through their writing, podcasts, or other mediums. I have also learned to intentionally discriminate when I consume news and check social media. When I observe myself getting caught up or frustrated, I know there will be an emotional cost later, so I consciously disengage and spend my energy elsewhere.
Finally, I invest the first part of every day in managing what only I can manage: myself. This includes investing in my continual growth mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Some days, these investments in personal growth are inspirational and other days they are very dutiful and routine.
This trifecta of relationships, entertainment, and personal discipline has had a significant impact on all three aspects of understanding, managing, and optimizing my emotions.
Train Yourself to ‘Take Your Emotional Temperature’
Early in my career, I learned that if you don’t develop self-awareness, it becomes counter-productive in using emotional intelligence as a profound leadership skill. Here’s what I mean!
Although I wasn’t conscious of it, I grew up in a generation where “being a man” meant stifling your emotions, especially when you arrived at the office. There was not much encouragement to understand emotions, especially negative emotions— optimism and positivity were valued while pessimism and criticism were viewed as weaknesses.
In response, I developed my own definition of exemplary leadership. I over-emphasized sacrifice and the grind of work, how no matter how I was feeling inside. In a sense, I was shutting down the voice of any emotions that I perceived to be negative. The problem was they were still there; they had just been silenced. My wife shared her observation that I wasn’t in touch with my emotions, and it pushed me to do some introspection. That was a very important step for growing more EQ for me.
Developing my EQ opened me up to a part of myself I had never realized was there! One of the ways I did that was by learning how to take my emotional temperature. When I first started this process, I pause throughout the day and ask the question, “What am I ‘feeling’ right now?” and “How intense is this emotion?” I used a list of “primary emotions” (love, joy, hope, sadness, envy, anger, fear) to help me identify. My theory was that every emotion was some combination of one or more of these emotional building blocks.
This helped me find the triggers and patterns of my emotions and build strategies for emotional exercise more intentionality while also being more honest with myself. Often, I would catch myself saying internally, “Wow! Where did that emotion come from? How can I identify it affecting me mentally and physically?” I became much more aware of my inner scripting and the assumptions that stirred both positive and negative responses.
Being mindful and aware takes active effort and practice but it has become an invaluable tool for me as I work to continuously grow my EQ. Becoming more and more cognisant of our emotions lets us realize that the only thing we can change is today— you cannot let regrets from the past or plans for the future overwhelm the reality and opportunity of today.
Focus on Gratitude
One last area that has directly impacted my emotional intelligence has been nurturing a habit of gratitude for the people and experiences around me.
Every morning when I wake up, I start by making a list of all of the things I’m grateful for that happened the previous day. I also include stressors, making note of what they were and what they taught me. I do this every day on one document for the full week and then on Sunday mornings I review this list and reflect on the last seven days.
This ritual has become a very concise way for me to reflect on the richness of my experiences. It helps me increase my self and social awareness and regulation and my motivation.
I can’t count how many weeks I have read this list and realized what a great opportunity it is to be alive. The list can be as simple as the cup of coffee I drink while I write, a productive meeting, air conditioning in the harsh Arizona summer, a delicious meal, or even a problem I’m working on solving.
Moving Forward With EQ
Learning about emotional intelligence has transformed my work and my life. It has provided the context for me to understand myself better, regulate both helpful and harmful emotions more effectively, and gain a deeper appreciation for the uniqueness of each of our journeys.
Maybe most of all, it has made me a better husband, father, and colleague, one day at a time. In many ways, I feel like I’m just getting started and the best is yet to come!