Can we improve our emotional intelligence?

I am very fortunate to have Martyn Newman as a trusted and inspiring friend. He is a clinical psychologist and thought leader in the field of Emotional Intelligence. He would often share his knowledge during our interesting dinner conversations to help me address personal and career development issues.

I would like to share the essence of his advice with you. It boils down to developing three crucial emotional intelligence skills:

  1. Self-Reliance
  2. Confidence
  3. Optimism
Me and Martyn spending holidays together with our families

Developing these skills (yes, they can be developed!!) has enabled me to make the right decisions and navigate with confidence the challenging times we are in.

What is Emotional Intelligence?

We used to think that our behavior is explained almost exclusively by intellect and personality and that these things are fixed by the time we are 20.

The social and behavioral sciences discovered that before our intelligence is involved, physical and emotional experiences arise within us that shape our intellectual response. Our judgments and behavior are really driven by these primary experiences.

The effective management of emotions in ourselves and other people is crucial for being effective and successful.

This is what Emotional Intelligence in essence is about. Unlike personality, the skills of emotional intelligence can be learned and developed.

We now know that emotional intelligence skills are those that make exceptional leaders. We all have these skills dormant within us and we can develop them to access our full potential.

I will elaborate on the three skills that are most frequently found in great leaders.

Self-Reliance

This skill enables us to go inside ourselves and find the courage to take responsibility for our thoughts and our actions. It means, learning to influence our mindset to create beliefs that will motivate us to rise above the limiting circumstances and take bold actions.

Nothing splendid has ever been achieved except by those who dared believe that something inside them was superior to circumstance.” – American Congressmen Bruce Barton

Often life brings suffering. Those who thrive, rather than simply survive, are those that have learned to protect their minds being brought down by negative emotions, panic, or fear. Self-reliance is the first step in reclaiming our personal power, instead of becoming a victim of the negative circumstances.

To develop self-reliance, we simply need to start taking action. If it fails, admit it frankly and try again something new. Experimentation and persistent action are key to developing this leadership skill.

Confidence

This skill is about feeling good with ourselves. Healthy self-confidence is based on two factors:

  1. Self-liking
  2. Self-competence
Photo by Rene Asmussen, Pexels

The first factor, liking yourself, is a decision you can practice. When you look inside yourself, whatever you find there, you need to make the decision to like it. Because if you don’t, no one else will.
By accepting who you are, the good and bad stuff, you will protect yourself from spending your life compensating for not really valuing who you are. It doesn’t mean that you should not change the things you are less happy with instead, it means to be self-compassionate. You may not be everything that you like to be, but still, begin to treat yourself more kindly.

Self-competence is being shaped in childhood, but can also be learned. Parents who are overprotective can limit their children from experiencing the positive learnings of taking risks. Instead of acknowledging the creative, resourceful, and brave actions of their children, they focus solely on safety and rules. These children do not learn to trust and see themselves as competent.
Micromanagement on the workflow can have the same devastating effect on people. Overcontrolling managers have difficulty with the delegation of tasks. They fail to create a culture where people feel free to be themselves, feel valued and competent.

Luckily, we can take things into our own hands. To boost confidence, we need to start taking risks, developing new initiatives and new skills, and backing up our opinions. This will clearly get us out of our comfort zone, but the more we do that, the faster we will get the nurturing benefits of self-licking and self-competence.

Optimism

In twenty years of psychology research, optimism is the single most reliable predictor of how well people will do in life. I am not talking about some superficial pink glasses through which we should look at the world, neglecting the circumstances. What I mean is choosing optimism as a strategy of not giving up. It is a skill of being creative, looking over the horizon to see what is possible, recognizing opportunities that will help you bounce back from a setback.

I love how Melinda Gates has described optimism as a conscious choice to not look away. This is what she said once she visited one of the hospitals that Gates foundation sponsors in Africa:

Optimism for me isn’t a passive expectation that things will get better; it’s a conviction that we can make things better – that whatever suffering we see, no matter how bad it is, we can help people if we don’t lose hope and we don’t look away.

According to the founder of positive psychology Martin Seligman when people are suffering prolonged adversity, the default and automatic response is helplessness, a sense of a lack of control of our environment.

Optimism is not an inborn quality, but the skill that enables us to protect and maintain hope. We need to learn to deal with the helplessness. We need to learn how to maintain hope, the perception that we can control, and harness the unpredictability around us. The ways to develop optimism are by looking ahead into the possibilities, by experimenting with alternative solutions, by learning lessons from the current situation, and last but not least, by taking constant action.

Emotional Intelligence is all about building leadership skills. If you want to learn more about it, I suggest you read Daniel Goleman.

The main message I wanted to convey with this article is that self-reliance, confidence, and optimism are not inborn skills.
Anyone who puts effort into improving them, can learn how to influence his mindset, protect his mood, and stay flexible and strong in difficult circumstances.

Get in the driver’s seat and create the life you love!

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