Why emotional intelligence can make you more successful and happier

Do you ever wonder what skills you wish you would have learned in school or even a lot sooner than you have? 

For me, one of them was definitely emotional intelligence, alongside with loving myself like my life depended on it and understanding I was enough, just the way I was…I am enough and I can grow from there.

Once I dived deeper into the concept, I’ve realised that EI/EQ is the foundation for everything we do in life purely because it touches on these four important pillars:

Source: Leadership Alive

Firstly, self awareness – being aware of our emotions, how do we feel at a given moment – so we can recognise those in others it’s a crucial element of everything that we do really. If we don’t do our best to understand ourselves and our emotions, how will those around us understand?

Secondly, self management – how good are we at adjusting our emotions, at adapting ourselves to “so called crisis” situations? How can we have a positive outlook even when we don’t feel like it. Can we motivate ourselves and how do we keep going? 

Thirdly, social awareness – Can you spot emotions in others easily? Can you “read the room” so to speak? And if you can… do you have the capacity for empathy. Can you really understand others and put yourself in their shoes. (Hint: Empathy is not saying “I am sorry you’re struggling, at least you don’t have it as bad as others.” Empathy says: “I hear you, I am here and you’re not alone.”)

I love this video where Brené Brown talks about empathy, it’s really simple and yet powerful.

Last but not least, it’s about social management – Are you a good mentor or coach? Can you build relationships with others? Are you a good team player? How do you interact with others? Are you a good leader? I often say that leadership is not just a job title. You’re a leader in your own life, community, family, team and so on. The way you show up on a regular basis impacts yourself and those around you too, whether you realise it or not.

In a nutshell EI or EQ (emotional quotient) is the ability to understand, use, and manage your own emotions in positive ways to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathise with others, overcome challenges and defuse conflict.

According to Goleman, Emotional Intelligence, “handling feelings so they are appropriate is an ability that builds on self-awareness. A crucial role in life is played by having the capacity to soothe oneself, shake off anxiety, irritability and so on. People who are poor in this ability are constantly battling feelings of distress, while those who excel in it, can bounce back far more quickly from life’s setbacks and upsets.”

Interestingly, EI is crucial at work too and according to Travis Bradbery, “Emotional intelligence is the single biggest predictor of performance in the workplace and the strongest driver of leadership and personal excellence.” In a recent study 42,000 people were tested on their emotional intelligence and those who had high emotional intelligence made up to $29,000 more a year than those with lower emotional intelligence. It is not a bad outcome, if you ask me. That alone can be enough motivation to get some people started on learning how to be more emotionally intelligent.

But EI goes a lot deeper than this…

How does Emotional intelligence actually help? 

The brutal reality is this: SHIT HAPPENS

As such, we need the capacity to be able to understand our emotions so we can focus on what we can control and choose our response. I was recently giving a talk on the topic and just as I got to this particular part when I was saying shit happens, one of the hosts was trying to hook a mic on me. As she did that, the wire got crossed with the things she was holding in her hand and she nearly pulled me off the chair whilst I was still talking. It was funny in the moment more so that when that was happening the slide that read “shit happens” appeared on the screen, I mean talk about perfect timing.. In that moment I could have panicked but I chose to laugh and crack a joke. To my relief, the audience responded well and we all moved on. I was literally applying in action the quote that I use as one of my mantras:

Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you respond to it

Charles R Swindoll

You see, although you might not realise it, everything we do in life is about perspective and mindset. For a number of years, I guide my life based on the above. Most often then not, we don’t realise that we can always choose our response provided we have the emotional awareness and learn the capacity to self regulate. 

Last year I was giving a talk on “Lessons learned on the other side of fear” at an opening night event. What I didn’t realise was that people were mainly interested in socialising (drinking and eating mainly) and they didn’t come there to listen to me. I eagerly started my talk only to realise that those listening to me were mostly my friends (thanks guys!) and a few other people that didn’t know me, so maybe something like 5% of the audience. The moment I realised it, my heart sunk and I could feel all sorts of emotions rushing through….You know the usual: heart pounding, sweaty palms, felt like someone was punching me in the stomach. In that moment I realised that this feels more like an epic fail moment and I am bombing big. As soon as I realised that I caught myself thinking “This is how a comedian must feel on stage” (it just so happened that I had listened to a podcast where Kevin Hart was talking about such moments a few days prior to the talk). That thought actually got me excited as I told myself: “This is how it feels, it’s cool just embrace this fear and go with it”. That was my power moment – I realised it was happening and I could self regulate in the moment. And also understood emotionally that is not as bad as I might think and it will be fine after this whatever happens.

At the end of the talk, I had a few people coming up to me to say it was good and then I knew it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was. Usually my scope is to help 1 person in the room so if I manage to do this, it’s a win in my books. I can’t control how people see me, whether they like me or not or whether they like what I say or not. All I can control is how I show up. So every time I choose to show up prepared with great energy, empathy and love. This experience has also taught me an important lesson:

Don’t dismiss moments that build you up whatever shape or form they come in. 

Which areas of our lives does emotional intelligence affect?

Physical and Mental health

It is crucial for our mental and physical health. If you’re not okay mentally you will feel it in your body and vice-versa. I am willing to bet you’ve experienced at least a few times in your life moments when you weren’t feeling that well mentally and you perhaps felt less energetic and even physically tired. That’s because when we’re not in a good mental state our brain will signal our body too.

Relationship building

Building relationships with others that are strong and meaningful is vital for our wellbeing. If we lack empathy and interpersonal skills it typically tends to be a lot harder to connect with others. Research shows that social connections not only impact our mental health, but our physical health as well. A review of 148 studies (308,849 participants) indicated that the individuals with stronger social relationships had a 50% increased likelihood of survival. This remained true across a number of factors, including age, sex, initial health status, and cause of death. 

Conflict resolution

Emotional intelligence plays a crucial role in the way we resolve conflict. Without understanding both sides of the argument we simply cannot de-escalate conflict. Armed with some extra emotional intelligence and an understanding that we’re prone to cognitive biases, we can surely become better at diffusing conflict. At the same time, any type of leadership has includes an element of conflict resolution. I often say that leadership is not just a job title but rather we’re all leaders in our own lives, we’re leaders in our own communities, families and so on.

How do we become more emotionally intelligent?

  • We observe our feelings. We listen. We journal. We meditate. We become  present. We ask: “How am I feeling? Why am I struggling? Why am I happy/sad/angry/anxious/annoyed?”
  • We ask for feedback – Although constructive criticism doesn’t feel so great in the moment, without it we cannot improve. Asking for feedback is crucial to growth. Hint: Don’t ask for constructive criticism from people whom you wouldn’t seek advise from. Check in with people who are in the arena as well.
  • Don’t be a prick! Pretty self explanatory – but the world has enough negativity. For some reason, it always seems easier for certain people to choose that response. Don’t be someone who adds to it. Be someone who is kind, uplifts and empowers others. It’s not a zero sum game. If I win, you can win too and vice versa. 
  • Apply what you know. They say knowledge is power but only applied knowledge is power. Knowing something without applying it, without doing won’t really get you far.

If [more] information was the answer, then we’d all be billionaires with perfect abs.” 

Finally, I want to leave you with this one thought:

How would your life look like if you grew more emotionally intelligent? Would you be kinder, more empathetic? Would you build better connections with those around you? Would you be happier and more successful? (Whatever your definition of success is)