How Meditation Increases Emotional Intelligence
What is emotional intelligence (EI) and how does it impact on learning and success in life?
There are several conflicting opinions on what EI is and how it effects development and achievement in life; it has also been suggested that EI is a better predictor of success than IQ. Although there may be disagreement about what the term actually means, there is little doubt that having a better understanding of your emotions – and subsequently handling them in a more efficient manner – will attribute to success, both professionally and personally. Research shows that 90% of top performers are adept at managing their emotions. When under stress, top performers remain calm and in control.
Seeing how successful business leaders manage their stress and workload through meditation, and how meditation can have a significant impact on stress, we continue the theme with this discussion about how learning the skill of meditation will improve your emotional intelligence through the ability to remain calm and possess greater self-assessment.
We conclude with Wayne Robbins’ sharing of his personal story about overcoming emotional difficulty, learning to meditate and its impact upon his own emotional intelligence.
What is emotional intelligence?
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, emotional intelligence is:
The capacity to be aware of, control and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically; emotional intelligence is the key to both personal and professional success.
Although emotional intelligence, as a term, is claimed to have been created by Peter Salovey and John Mayer in 1990 [Perceiving Affective Content in Ambiguous Visual Stimuli: A Component of Emotional Intelligence, 1990 and Emotional Intelligence: Imagination, Cognition, and Personality, 1990], the origins can be traced back to 1964 when it was first mentioned by Michael Beldoch [Sensitivity to Expression of Emotional Meaning in Three Modes of Communication, The Communication of Emotional Meaning].
However, the best-selling book Emotional Intelligence – Why it can matter more than IQ [Daniel Goleman, 1995] elevated the popularity of the term into everyday discussion after Mayer and Salovey’s 1990 journal articles.
Although there is discussion surrounding whether EI can be a predictor of success over IQ, it is certain that becoming aware of your and others’ emotions will improve interpersonal relationships. This, in turn, improves workplace interaction and, subsequently, will attribute to work success. As mentioned above, the ability to remain calm under pressure and to maintain control is a trait of top performers and leaders.
“IQ tells you what level of cognitive complexity a person can manage in their job: you need high levels for top management, the professions and the sciences, whilst lower levels work fine in lower echelons.
“Emotional intelligence (or EI) sets apart which leaders, professionals or scientists will be the best leaders.” Daniel Goleman
What emotional intelligence is not
Whilst emotional intelligence and understanding your own emotions better attributes to remaining calm, EI is not, in itself, calmness; it is not happiness, optimism, agreeableness or other personality traits.
Emotional intelligence is the insight into and understanding of how your emotions can positively, or negatively, impact your life and capacity through your behavioural skills. EI is the process of recognition and assessment. It’s not a term that represents a state such as blissful happiness or contentment. EI is awareness.
“Emotional intelligence, as we described it, is the capacity to reason about emotions and emotional information, and of emotions to enhance thought.” John D Mayer Ph.D.
When do we learn emotional intelligence?
EI is considered to be an established intelligence, improving as children grow; and children are generally expected to acquire these skills as they develop – but from where? If a child is learning behavioural patterns from an emotionally dysfunctional family/environment, then their ability to cope with emotions will most likely be modelled on what they are exposed to; a cycle of low EI is perpetuated.
On this basis, there have been campaigns in the US, since the early 2000s, to have emotional intelligence taught in schools as part of the learning curriculum. Various school bodies have implemented trial programmes, but most educational bodies want to see years of evidence which prove that it will be successful, before widescale adoption – it’s a ‘catch 22’ situation.
The formulaic approach to structured teaching doesn’t always equate to the flexibility which emotions and individuals need; the very nature of emotions means that one size does not fit all. Hence, this is why we have such difficulty with emotions in the first instance and why some children have such difficulty in the socially rigid structure of a state school.
There is no doubt that skilled handling of emotional skills will improve behavioural skills, interpersonal skills, the ability to make better judgements and decisions, and thus attribute to more success in life. The introduction of emotional intelligence learning for children now would have a huge impact on the EI of subsequent generations as those skills were passed on.
Until that time, it is only a degree of fortune in the quality of one’s environmental exposure that determines the outcome, unless self-motivated personal development can reverse the effect of impressions of past experience (commonly called stress) which are the cause of lowered EI levels.
There is no doubt that skilled handling of emotional skills will improve behavioural skills, interpersonal skills, the ability to make better judgements and decisions, and thus attribute to more success in life.
How do Mindfulness and Transcendental Meditation increase emotional intelligence?
On the Level of the Problem:
Mindfulness, the practice of training the mind to be ‘in the present moment’ and therefore becoming more aware of everything, including our emotions and habitual thought patterns, can begin the process of preventing further deterioration and the start of recovery.
Addressing the Cause of the Problem:
Stress is not an external event or something that ‘happens’ to us – it is a deep physiological impression in the nervous system (sometimes called a cellular memory) caused by our reaction (fight/ flight response) to past challenges which, if not rebalanced puts us in a state of emotional high alert, where we are more prone to irrationality and extreme emotional reaction. Therefore something more is needed. Learning the practice of Transcendental Meditation, which allows the mind to go beyond the ‘present moment’ into deep levels of silence accompanied by profound levels of physiological rest, will dissolve layers of deep-rooted stress, and enable us to break the self-perpetuating cycle of negativity and anxiety.
Becoming less reactionary to ‘stressful’ (challenging) situations
By becoming more emotionally aware, balanced and rational in our approach, spontaneously more ‘in the moment’, our reaction to events which are out of our control changes. We remain calm and less affected by external events. We think more clearly, our emotions do not control us and we manage our emotions much more effectively.
Becoming free of negative thought patterns
Being more aware of our emotions and thought patterns, we see situations more objectively and by choice, but gradually more spontaneously, react in a more intelligent and mature manner and no longer be controlled by dysfunctional patterns.
As we become calmer and more balanced, we have more available energy for our relationships with others:
Becoming more adept at reading the emotions of others
Good interpersonal relationships are essential to happiness in personal life and achievement in work life. Being able to progress in a career without interacting with others is almost impossible. The ability to read an employee’s emotions is vital to good management and essential in high-level business negotiation. By becoming more detached from negative thought patterns and reacting in a balanced manner, relationships improve dramatically as a result of higher levels of Emotional Intelligence.
Interpersonal relationships are essential to life contentment and also to achievement and success in work life.
Wayne Robbins’ Story: overcoming depression and social phobia
Wayne Robbins, a 43-year-old logistics worker from Helston, Cornwall, says Transcendental Meditation helped him to develop emotional intelligence to beat depression and social phobia:”I had a very unsettled childhood – my dad was an angry character who was regularly unemployed, resulting in a distinctly uneasy atmosphere when I was growing up. Of course, there were good elements too, like anyone, but my main memories aren’t of overriding joy.
“Through my teens, and then early 20s, I was distinctly unhappy on many levels and turned to drink and drugs as a way of boosting my confidence. Without those crutches, I found it extremely hard to find the confidence to talk to people, especially women. I became depressed and withdrawn, never really finding a job I liked or developing any meaningful relationships.
“Fifteen years ago, my younger brother, Scott, took his own life, which rocked my world. I was in pieces; and whilst I’d been able to at least pretend I could carry on, suddenly I knew I couldn’t – unless I found a way to deal with my issues. After about a year of looking for answers, hiding myself away and drinking more than ever, I saw an advert in a local magazine for the Meditation Trust to enroll on a course in TM – something I’d heard about, but never seriously considered. I called, booked myself on a three-day course in London, and the rest is history.
“Meditation became an integral part of my life, spending 20 minutes every morning and evening finding an inner calm; a way to reflect and understand myself and my own emotions. I very quickly came to understand that I was the only one standing in the way of happiness and that, if I approached life differently and took decisions without the baggage of emotion attached, I would feel free. I became calmer, I could approach strangers without feeling unworthy and could live with the small knocks in life (which most people take for granted, but which previously left me wanting to curl up in a hole). ‘Emotional intelligence’ simply means being aware of how your own emotional baggage can hinder you. You don’t ignore your emotions – you just learn to accept them for what they are, take the time to reflect and consider, and then make choices. It’s so simple, but it turned my life around.
“I don’t get angry at small things now. I’m just so much calmer and happier knowing my own limitations, what I can and can’t control, not feeling like I’m always starting every day on the back foot. I’m training to be a meditation teacher now, so I can help transform people’s lives in the same way that I’ve transformed mine.”
‘Emotional intelligence’ simply means being aware of how your own emotional baggage can hinder you