Emotional intelligence can be a sign of emotional strength, and it’s a trait that many people strive to achieve. But while most of us strive to become emotionally intelligent, some are confused about what that really means.
What is emotional intelligence?
It’s common to confuse emotional intelligence with empathy, but the two are mutually exclusive. You can have empathy and not emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence comes into play when you have enough self-awareness to be able to manage your empathy.
Emotional intelligence is comprised of the following:
Self-awareness — a conscious knowledge of one's own character, feelings, and desires.
Social awareness — an understanding of other people’s feelings and motivations (this includes empathy).
Self-management — the ability to maintain self-control, remain adaptable and have a positive outlook.
Relationship management — the ability to work within a team, resolve conflicts and inspire leadership.
How to Achieve Emotional Intelligence
Think about emotional intelligence in terms of a workout. If you wanted to run a marathon or enter a bodybuilding competition, you’d have to train. You can set goals, but if you’re like most people, you’re always going to strive to be better.
In that way, emotional intelligence is like fitness. But instead of working out your body, you’re working out your mind.
Meditation is one of the best ways to exercise your mind, but you can also start with self-awareness. Step back and take a mental note of how you handle your own emotions. Are you quick to react without thinking things through? If so, you have some room for improvement.
Meditation is such a good mental practice that it’s commonly incorporated into addiction recovery treatment and other counseling methods. But you don’t need to be in recovery to strengthen your mind.
How Meditation Increases Emotional Intelligence
Did you know that meditation can actually change the physical structure of your brain? A Harvard research team came to this conclusion after studying the effects of meditation. When you start to meditate, the changes you’re likely to see can help support your emotional IQ.
Self-awareness — Improved self-awareness is a major goal of meditation. When you meditate, you’re training your mind to focus in the present moment. Through meditation and mindfulness, you become more aware of your thoughts and physical presence.
Social awareness — Meditation strengthens connections between two areas of the brain that can help improve a person’s sense of empathy: The dorsomedial prefrontal cortex and the insula. The dorsomedial prefrontal cortex manages your personal perspective while the insula is involved with inferring someone else’s state of mind. As you become more aware of other people’s feelings and motives, you will become more socially aware.
Self-management — Meditation can help weaken neural connections in the amygdala and strengthen connections in the prefrontal cortex. Fear and anger are triggered in the amygdala while the prefrontal cortex is responsible for rational thought and logic. The combination of reducing fear and boosting logic can help you improve levels of self-control and self-management.
- Relationship management — Meditation can help you become more aware and in-control over your own emotions. It can also help you become more aware of other people's emotions. Through increased empathy and understanding, you can improve things like teamwork, conflict management, and empathy. As you let go of personal bias, you'll find that you're able to have more effective discussions and better relationships.
How to Practice Mindfulness Meditation
If you’ve been avoiding meditation because you think it’s difficult or the thought seems overwhelming, you may be in for a treat. While meditation may be difficult to master, it is simple to practice. You don't need any special tools or expensive equipment. All you need is the willingness and a quiet space to practice.
Sit in a quiet room, preferably facing a blank wall. This will help eliminate any distractions. Next, set a timer for 5 minutes. Your goal within these 5 minutes is to focus on the present moment. Start by noticing your breath. Feel the air as it flows through your nostrils. Don’t try to control your breaths, but just notice them.
If you start thinking about anything, it’s okay. Don’t beat yourself up over it. Simply try not to follow the thought. For example, if you remember you have to get milk, try to let it end there. Don’t follow the thought down the path of what else you might need or what you’re going to use the milk for. When the timer buzzes, you have completed your session. As you feel more confident in your practice, you may increase time by 5-minute increments until you reach 30 minutes.
Note: The mindfulness meditation described here is a different practice than transcendental meditation. Both practices are very beneficial. For an article about the difference between these two practices, click here. To download our tool for Transcendental Meditation, click here.
Emotional intelligence is a trait that some of the world’s greatest leaders have in spades, and you can have it too. Strengthen your mind through meditation, and you should notice a difference in your emotional IQ.
is a freelance writer and recovering addict and alcoholic who's been clean and sober for over 5 years. Since his recovery began, he has enjoyed using his talent for words to help spread treatment resources, addiction awareness, and general health knowledge. In his free time, you can find him working with recovering addicts or outside enjoying about any type of fitness activity imaginable.