Emotional intelligence – a pathway to success in life

Some might insist that meditation is a mandatory or integral pathway to emotional intelligence or mindfulness. I would suggest it is but one of many pathways to achieving the same.

Perhaps we have always had emotionally intelligent people but have only more recently identified it as a phenomenon that is both good for our overall health and predictive of success in life. So, what is it?

In simple terms, I describe it as the capacity to manage our emotions sufficiently so that we can access our higher order capacities, that is, be able to think, be aware, remember, problem solve and make decisions. Most people can manage their emotions most of the time, yet the greatest test of emotional intelligence is when there is the greatest danger, the most fear or the outcome we strive for is very important.

In many ways, emotional intelligence is the ability to perform well while under pressure or stress. Effectively, the greater the pressure, the greater the emotional intelligence required. Nevertheless, there is real pressure (eg. experiencing a death scenario) and imagined pressure (eg. I must make this putt to win the $1 million prize). Emotional intelligence also allows people to know the difference between real and present danger, and other self-imposed fears or burdens, and to develop successful habits to act accordingly.

Emotional intelligence will be something we have gained, developed and been taught through our early years of life, whether intentionally via good parenting, or implicitly by good role modelling of our first and most significant care-givers.

However, not every person has had the benefit of a safe up-bringing with enlightened and loving parents. Instead, some people have grown up anxious, angry, confused, impulsive, bitter, traumatised and more. Many such people carry with them an ‘inner conflict’, and they struggle as adults in many ways, to manage their social anxiety and their anger, to cope with their depression, and to establish and maintain positive relationships with trusted others.

To assist such people, to help them achieve psychological well-being, it is important to help them resolve the inner conflicts in their lives, as best they can, so that positive emotions and clarity of mind can prevail. We want to help them build their emotional intelligence, and so achieve more resilience.

In the context of the following diagram, we encourage all people to practise controlled incongruence (aka emotional intelligence). We cannot always change or control our thoughts or emotions but we can choose how we behave regardless. Or we can practise the ‘acceptance’ of the things we cannot change, and so achieve some level of control or harmony (or congruence) in so doing. The alternative is to be stuck with uncontrolled incongruence (lack of EI), and remain tormented and compromised.

Resolve the conflict by changing either our emotion (relax!), change our thinking (it is what it is), or change our behaviour (stop that habit, like smoking). Or focus on completing our values-informed actions regardless of, for example, our anxiety (emotion) or doubt (thought).

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