What the Heck is Emotional Intelligence (and Why Should We Care)?

Photo by Emma Frances Logan on Unsplash
7 min read.

Most of us growing up were never taught how to manage our emotions. In school, we learned the functional necessities – reading, writing, speaking, math, science, history (unraveling the mystery!).

There were exercises in analytical thinking and applying concepts to “life” scenarios, but those were all still fabricated by the teacher, or the school, or the curriculum. Most of them were not personable or relevant to our actual lives. We were always given tasks, homework, and things to just memorize, but not think for ourselves.

It’s not natural.

The Traditional Curriculums Were Narrow

Of all the species living on this tiny rock in a seemingly never-ending universe, we are one of the few who have the ability to feel and recognize such a wide range of emotions. We are the most self-aware species, with a very high level of consciousness, giving us the power to control our own environment.

And yet, there are still so many of us who either don’t know who we are, or can’t accept who we are, and it ends up stripping away the love in this world because we haven’t learned to love ourselves.

We graduate from schools with schools of thought and still feel completely lost. Wait, no one is giving me things to do anymore. What do I do? Where do I go? Who am I? Gahhh!

If we do end up finding a job, it’s more of the same with someone else telling you what to do (sometimes even how to do it). It’s as if we were programmed to be stationary robots, only to move when given a command.

During our “school programming” (in quotes because I know it makes me sound like a new-age conspiracy theorist, but it definitely rings true in my experience), we’ve had our natural sense of wonder, curiosity, and excitement beaten out of us. We were forced to sit still and listen, or raise your hand to speak. Granted, if there was no order and discipline, the classrooms would be chaos. But the point is, we were subconsciously taught to hold back our thoughts, emotions, and feelings. If we had a question, we had to wait for our turn or ask for permission to ask it.

Is that why some of us feel too rude to ask for what we want out of life?

We need those emotions back. We need to be able to feel again. We need the ability to ask big questions, dive in to how we really feel, learn to celebrate any and all emotions that come up. We need better Emotional Intelligence (aka EQ).

SO BUT LIKE, WHAT ARE EMOTIONS REALLY THOUGH?

Let’s first define what emotions are. You might initially think of the 6 primary emotions – anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness and surprise. Cool, that covers the whole spectrum, right?

Nah playa. You got a lot more emotions in that brain of yours. Check them out here.

Now what if I told you that our emotions and how we feel them are a social construct (and I ain’t even smoking)?

Whaaaaat? Emotions are not natural human traits? What do you mean? We all have them! It’s in my head and body. How can someone socially construct how I feel?

Because our emotions are just a way for your brain to explain what’s going on around you. Humans are capable of experiencing all of these emotions, but they aren’t built in at birth. They have been developed since the first of man by observation and interpretation of each other’s behaviors.

I bet you can think of someone right now who is seemingly emotionless. Or you probably know someone whose emotions totally confuse you and you just can’t get a read on exactly how they’re feeling.

Well, that’s just it. Emotions are only how we perceive them to be and are going to be felt and expressed differently in every individual. It is an old, traditional view that emotions are innate within us.

In fact, psychologists and sociologists have learned that emotions are built automatically and unconsciously by our environment and culture. They are as much a muscle that needs to be exercised as our intellect and can be developed with more experiences and self-reflection.

Our emotions are just predictions made up by our minds based on past experiences or familiar contexts. These predictions are what help us try to make sense of the world and understanding others, and sometimes, they’re spot on, but more times than we’d care to admit, they’re wrong. Because our emotions are not universal. We will never truly know how someone else feels inside other than how they are expressing it with their facial expressions, body language, or words, and all of that has great potential to be misinterpreted.

OK, BUT IS EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE EVEN A THING?

I get it, the rational mind would never associate emotions with intelligence. Intellect is something you can measure, explain, prove. Emotions are too subjective, impossible to quantify, and have so many variables based on environment, culture, upbringing, and biology.

But a common definition of intelligence is the ability to gather knowledge and implement them in order to turn them into skills. Human emotions are not exclusive to that. You can learn about all of the emotions and how each of them affects your body to give you insight on what matters to you. When you can identify those feelings, you can then practice managing them in a way that will be useful for you and the navigation of your social environments.

Imagine if you are able to identify your emotions and why you’re feeling them, and then be able to maximize the positive ones, while minimizing the impact of the negative ones. Wouldn’t that be a good skill to have?

Notice I said, minimize the impact of the negative ones, meaning we’re not going to completely get rid of them. We’re human, we’re going to feel all types of emotions throughout our lives. You can’t ignore them (unless you’re the great Barney Stinson). Having good Emotional Intelligence means understanding how to acknowledge and regulate them as they come up rather than shoving them aside.

Negative self-talk, on the other hand, is something we are allowed to completely destroy. It is unproductive and detrimental to our mental health. There are no benefits that come from talking negatively and pessimistically to yourself. None at all. Notta. Nothing. In Automatic Negative Thoughts Therapy, patients are trained to squash the ANTs that crawl around in their minds. So go ahead, you have permission to kill those ANTs.

Look, I understand. Being responsible for your own emotions can be intimidating because there’s nothing else you can blame other than yourself if you’ve behaved poorly, and that’s a hard pill to swallow. But that is also where you can start building your strength to take control. That is how you enable yourself to be the chef who creates their own dish, rather than the cook who follows a recipe.

“ONCE YOU UNDERSTAND THAT YOU’RE ACCOUNTABLE AND IT’S YOUR FAULT FOR EVERYTHING, YOU BECOME EMPOWERED BECAUSE NOBODY’S STOPPING YOU.”


-Gary Vaynerchuck

So yes, EQ is definitely a thing, if not one of the most important things to living a meaningful life. It teaches us to break past the surface level and become self-aware of who you are and what your deep desires are. It is about being able to recognize your strengths and weaknesses, to lean in towards what you’re already good at, while being comfortable with admitting what you’re not so good at.

We all know we can’t do life completely alone, so with a good EQ, you’ll have the courage to be vulnerable and reach out for help when you need it.

OK, BUT WHY SHOULD I CARE ABOUT IMPROVING IT?

Increasing your EQ is not just about being emotional. It is about taking control of your mind, body, and spirit. It is about developing profound relationships with the people you love, and meaningful connections with your peers and mentors. It is about being able to act in spite of what you’re feeling, disallowing the negative emotions to turn into an unwanted behavior. It is about discovering what truly matters to you and your well-being.

“WHAT PEOPLE REALLY WANT IS A PARTICULAR SET OF EMOTIONS. WHATEVER YOU WANT, OR BE, OR HAVE IS ALL BECAUSE OF THE EMOTION YOU BELIEVE TO BE ASSOCIATED TO THAT DESIRE.”

I’m sure we’ve all experienced being told that we have to be a certain somebody, have certain things, control or manipulate certain things around us in order to be a happy, successful human (damn you, marketing companies!). But anytime anyone chases those external sources of happiness, they almost always end up disappointed. They go into a crisis. They then question everything.

I spent all this time going after this thing I thought I wanted and I’m here, but why do I still feel like something is missing?

There may be multiple reasons, but one of them is most likely because they wanted an external material to satisfy their internal feelings. It might help the surface level, giving them that quick “high,” but it’s way more effective to feed the roots of the tree rather than just its leaves.

This is why I care so much about emotional intelligence because it is the beginning of understanding ourselves and our place in this world. If you care about any type of personal growth, this is a good place to start.

We are human (or are we dancers? I’m on my knees looking for the answers too, Brandon!), and we are emotional beings. Everything we see, do, and touch is an experience of emotions constructed within our minds based on observation.

Being able to manage them will result in better, more meaningful connections with that friend you wish you were closer with or that boyfriend or girlfriend that got away or is slipping through your fingers. Or that coworker that produces good work, but always gets under your skin. Or those potential partners or customers that you could work with to expand your business. Having a strong EQ will help with all of that.

Enjoy the journey!

How Do We Increase Our EQ?

Check out my other posts for stories and strategies to increase your emotional intelligence. I also collected 11 exercises for you to practice doing on your own.

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Sources, books, and inspiration for this post

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