The ABCs of Emotional Intelligence

As spring is upon us, I find myself thinking about what a difference a change of scenery or season can make on mood. We are often swayed by external circumstances or situations. Sometimes the world makes us feel good—other times, not so much.How can we change ourselves and how we feel regardless of what’s going on around us? Spring is great, but what can you do in the winter?The answer to that falls under the realm of Emotional Intelligence (EI).MORE: How to Cope With Seasonal Affective DisorderEI refers to the ability to recognize, evaluate and affect emotional states. High EI allows people to better manage their feelings, while at the same time being sensitive to the emotional needs of others. When you can monitor emotional content, you may gather skills in how to discriminate which emotions are useful in the right situations. Using this information can offer clues to which feelings are needed to say the right thing at the right time in the right degree to the right person and in the right way (phew!). Aristotle himself said that this skill was not an easy one to master.But if we do develop it, results can be dramatic. With high EI, you don’t need spring to come around to make you feel good.Dan Goleman, Ph.D., psychologist and author of the landmark book, Emotional Intelligence, says that having a high EI is a better predictor of success in anything—relationships, work, school, even health—than having a high IQ. Emotional Intelligence composes the characteristics of people who excel in real life: emotional awareness, self-control, persistence, eagerness and motivation, empathy and social deftness.The good news is that although some people are born and blessed with high levels of EI, most everyone can get better at it.MORE: Could Pessimism Actually Make You Healthier?This is one of my jobs as a health coach at Miraval Resort and Spa. I teach a course that offers a set of fundamental practices to improve Emotional Intelligence. I call them the ABCs of EI.Every emotion has a series of steps or patterns to shape and mold it into a feeling. It is this set of patterns that determines our state, and more importantly, the decisions we make when we feel that way. When we can understand our feelings and learn to manipulate these steps, we can optimize our state and improve what we do. This is Emotional Intelligence.Here are the key ingredients to improve your EI:

  • Give it the right name. The first step in understanding emotions is to perceive and identify them. Naming a feeling may activate a part of the brain that suppresses the amygdala, the brain’s emotional memory bank that can rapidly increase the intensity of negative emotional states. Ask yourself: How do I feel?
  • Pay attention. We respond emotionally to things that capture our attention, and what we focus on often determines our reality, whether it’s real or not. Changing our focus can change our perception and the feelings we have as a result. For example, being out in nature can change our focus in a heartbeat; so does music. Asking a different question that’s more empowering can cause our focus to change and create a different result by doing it.
  • We DO feelings just as much as we have them. Our bodies move a certain way based on how we feel. This is why going for a walk or exercising can often get us out of feeling depressed or anxious. We do different things with our facial muscles, our posture, breathing and movement. The simple act of smiling—truly smiling with our eyes—for 30 seconds can help us respond to a situation in a more positive fashion. More to the point, it lingers, causing us to behave better (and for longer) to everyone around us.
  • Watch your words. The language we use colors the content of our emotions. When we use words that intensify our experience, it steps up our feelings. Exaggerating negative events with heightened language makes us feel worse; softening positive situations with weak words or phrases disempowers our lives and the decisions we make.

MORE: Are You Too Hard on Yourself?By naming how we feel, changing our attention, our bodies and our communication, we can shift to a more empowered emotional state and as a result, access a wider range of decisions and behavior.That’s the power of EI.

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