4 Real-World Tips For Improving Emotional Intelligence
“Don’t let’s forget that the little emotions are the great captains of our lives, and that we obey them without knowing it.” – Vincent van Gogh
In last weeks article, we explored the concept of emotional intelligence, why we generally suck at it, and why developing it is a good idea. This week features 4 tips to get you thinking about emotional intelligence a little more so that you don’t try to cut off your ear when the feels get you down.
Tip #1 Life is hard, things hurt, stop avoiding them
We live in an overly-optimistic culture that tells us we can do or be anything. We’re told that simply keeping our heads up is the way to overcome most challenges and that any struggle can be remedied by shifting our perspective to something a little more cheery.
Yes, optimism can be great but it’s not the end-all solution to solving emotional traumas. Neither are the typical strategies of seeking out friends and distractions, pretending everything is alright, drowning yourself in digital media, or self-medicating through drugs, alcohol, and self-harm.
While it’s not always convenient, the truth is that life is hard and things hurt. Rejections sting, failure sucks, and loss is gut-wrenching. Even the emotions we crave – joy, euphoria, desire, hope – can be both amazing and painful at the same time because of the nagging fear that we might lose them.
Avoiding the pain of strong undesirable emotions just perpetuates them and fucks up our heads and the way we interact with the world. Nothing gets resolved if we keep putting it off, just like the dishes that have been piling up for 3 days now.
Emotional maturity starts with the courage to accept and experience whatever emotions come our way, whether they’re desirable or not. You don’t expect to get better at anything by avoiding opportunities to learn, so the next time a painful emotion hits you, let it hit you with full force.
Let the pain of grief, guilt, rejection, failure, hit you like a freight train. Feel it in your body, cry your fucking eyes out, scream…just actually feel the emotion. It’s uncomfortable at first but I promise it gets easier and that you’ll get better at bouncing back from these painful situations.
By experiencing our emotions fully – especially the bad ones – we learn to get in touch with our authentic selves, fully process and move forward from trauma, and accept the humbling reality that life is truly challenging at times, which maybe isn’t so bad after all.
Tip #2 People are self-serving and they rarely behave how we want or expect
Quick question: do you usually act out of self-interest or the interests of others? If you answered anything but self-interest, scientists are waiting nearby to examine your brain to see if they can replicate it.
Assuming you’re not an alien lifeform whose only purpose is altruism, you probably do most of the things you do because they serve you in some way. Well newsflash – so does almost everyone else.
The next time you think someone is out to get you or that they don’t respect you or that they’re trying to get under your skin, remember that people are generally acting out of self-interest. Your irritation may just be a side effect.
People are hungry, tired, stressed, have different views of the world, different backgrounds, different genes, different personalities, etc. People are highly complex and have a lot going on in this crazy, busy world we live in. Let’s cut all the self-righteous bullshit and start viewing the world and people as they actually are rather than how we think they should be.
We so often expect people to “get us” and behave a certain way that we forget the fact that people are going to do whatever they’re going to do. No one does anything unless they want to and we have very little influence on it. This may be inconvenient but it’s reality.
You can either resent the fact that people are self-serving and behave in strange and inconvenient ways or use it to become better at empathizing, setting realistic expectations, and treating people like people rather than the supporting cast in your life movie.
Tip #3 Be your own weirdo, not somebody else’s
We are evolutionarily designed to desire love, approval, and acceptance. It kept us from freezing to death and getting eaten way back when papa Urg and uncle Drugh were hunting large mammals.
We carry these desires into modern interpersonal interactions and tend to behave in a way that we think will yield favorable results. We assume that if we do what other people want and like, we will be liked. This behavior is likely based off of early childhood programming, the cultural paradigm we’ve been exposed to, and our assumptions of other people.
The problem is that when we try to cater to other people for the sake of being liked, we end up acting out of alignment with our values, personalities, and natural ways of being. This can manifest in the form of wearing certain clothes, choosing to say or not to say certain things, or behaving in particular ways. Whenever we do this and compromise our uniqueness and authenticity, we end up acting like total weirdos. The funny thing is that we aren’t even very good at guessing what people want anyway.
Since it’s impossible to avoid being a weirdo to some degree, the solution is to be your own weirdo, not somebody else’s. This takes a lot of courage and emotional maturity because it means being who you are (i.e. behaving in a way that feels natural and congruent) regardless of what others might think or say.
In the famous words of Ralph Waldo Emerson “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
In order to maximize your weirdness, it’s helpful to learn how to recognize social cues and body language so you can tailor your approach to be more agreeable. Be aware of the context of your situation. Think about the consequences of your actions. Take some time to figure out how you typically behave under various circumstances. Think about your strengths and weaknesses. Reflect on how emotions impact your behavior. Learn the nuances and subtleties of interpersonal communication. Oh, and don’t be an idiot or do something stupid (seriously, you don’t need to put the Icy Hot THERE!).
Tip #4 Emotional intelligence is a lifelong process
Be patient. Accept that you’re going to make mistakes and fail a couple (hundred) times. There will be times you wish you had handled things better. Some elements of emotional intelligence will develop faster than others. You’ll digress at times. The process can be hard. Learn and reflect. Evaluate past situations so that you can handle similar future ones with more tact and maturity. Take your wins and successes with dignity. Commit to the lifelong process of emotional mastery and strive to get .001% better each day.
Emotional intelligence is a lifelong process and you’ll be stuck with emotions until the day you die (or until we can transfer consciousness to computers…I swear I’m not hoping for this).
You might as well buckle up and enjoy the ride.
This list is definitely not conclusive and I’m not the “emotional intelligence guru” (it doesn’t even have a nice ring to it). I’d love to hear from you if you have any tips or strategies that have worked for you regarding emotional intelligence, so feel free to send a message or leave a comment!
Until next time, be smart (emotionally) :).