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A Nobel prize nominee’s step-by-step guide to improving emotional intelligence

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Reuters/Vincent West
Quality over quantifying.
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

This question originally appeared on Quora: How can we improve our emotional intelligence? What are the benefits? Answer by Chade-Meng Tan, co-chair of Nobel-Peace-Prize-nominated campaign and New York Times bestselling author.

Emotional intelligence (EI) is defined as: The ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions.

Essentially, EI is a collection of mental and emotional skills. Therefore, to train EI, all you have to do is to train your mind to acquire those skills. In Search Inside Yourself, we do that in three steps:

Step 1: Attention training

Attention is the basis of all higher cognitive and emotional abilities. Specifically, the idea here is to train attention to create a quality of mind that is calm and clear at the same time. That quality of mind forms the foundation for emotional intelligence.

Step 2: Self-knowledge and self-mastery

Use your sharpened attention to create high-resolution perception into your own cognitive and emotive processes. With that, you become able to observe your thought stream and the process of emotion with high clarity, and to do so objectively from a third-person perspective. Once you can do that, you create the type of deep self-knowledge that eventually enables self-mastery.

Step 3: Creating pro-social mental habits

Qualities such as kindness and compassion can be created as mental habits. E.g., imagine  that whenever you meet anybody, your habitual, instinctive first thought is, “I wish for this person to be happy.” This is the highly trainable mental habit of kindness, formed the same way you train other mental habits.

There are very many benefits to EI. Just in the business world, for example, emotional intelligence has at least three compelling benefits:

  1. It is highly correlated with stellar work performance. Studies show emotional competencies to be twice as important as cognitive competencies for doing outstanding work, even among engineers.
  1. Emotionally intelligent leaders and managers are far more effective than leaders or managers low on emotional intelligence.
  1. Emotional intelligence create the conditions for personal happiness, and happy workers are a great asset because they work better in teams, provide better service to customers (and happy customers return to spend more money), and are generally more creative and productive.

There are also compelling personal benefits, and the most basic of those occur in three categories: calmness and clarity of mind, resilience, and more satisfying relationships.

  1. You become increasingly skillful at calming the body and mind and seeing things clearly and objectively, even in difficult situations. There are studies that show just a few weeks of mindfulness training can reduce the activity of the part of the brain associated with fear panic called the amygdala. There is also a fascinating 2014 study which shows that with merely 15 minutes of mindfulness meditation, you can begin to overcome cognitive bias in decision making.
  1. As you become increasingly skillful at calmness and clarity, you also become increasingly resilient to life’s difficulties. Like a kung fu fighter who can defeat more powerful opponents as she becomes more skillful at martial arts, you can manage life’s problems with increasing ease and joy as your practice gets deeper.
  1. You begin to see yourself with increasing kindness, and you begin to see everyone with increasing kindness. Because of that, relationships become more satisfying. With kindness, happy relationships become happier, neutral relationships become happy, and unhappy relationships become manageable.

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