The term “emotional intelligence” first became popular decades ago, but the concept–that we have the ability to understand and manage emotional behavior–is centuries old. Still, I often get emails from readers asking for help on how to start improving their emotional intelligence.
But first things first. What do we even mean when we say emotional intelligence?
A simple and clear definition I like to use is this:
Emotional intelligence is making emotions work for you, instead of against you.
For example, did your temper cause you to say or do something you regret? Or maybe you were feeling especially happy, and you agreed to do too much?
Emotional intelligence isn’t about ignoring those feelings, or setting them aside. Rather, it’s all about finding balance–so you can have better control of yourself, and better relationships with others.
With that in mind, here are ten simple rules that can help make emotions work for you, instead of against you.
1. The do-over rule
Ever do something really dumb, and within minutes (or even seconds) wish you could take it back?
You should try the do-over.
Instead of allowing yourself to get swallowed up in self-pity, or trying to justify why you did what you did, take a few moments to think about how you wish you handled the situation. Then go back and ask the person for a do-over, a second chance.
You’d be amazed how well this works. It’s almost like having your own personal time machine that gives you the power to go back, make things right, and save your most cherished relationships.
Read more about how to use the do-over here.
2. The rule of setting boundaries
The first step in building emotional intelligence is to cultivate self-awareness: knowledge and understanding of your own emotional behavior.
This is important, because we can easily start heading down an unhealthy path without even recognizing it. But once you acknowledge your feelings and emotions–and work to understand them–you can start setting boundaries to protect yourself.
For example, are you trying to help too many people? You may be putting yourself on a path to burnout…which will leave you unable to help anyone, including yourself.
Everyone has a different emotional makeup, and different needs. But learning to identify yours may be the first step to protecting your own mental and physical health.
Learn more about the value of setting boundaries here.
3. No laptops. No cellphones.
Late MIT professor Patrick Winston was one of the school’s most beloved teachers, and he knew how to captivate an audience. He also had a non-negotiable rule in his classroom:
No laptops. No cellphones.
True listening and collaboration require complete attention. And if you’re speaking with another person, that person thought you were important enough to give you their time and attention.
That’s why you should also consider a “no phone” rule for specific times or places. No devices when having a face-to-face conversation with others, for example. Or even putting away devices for certain meetings.
You’d be surprised at the positive benefits these actions reap–and the depth and quality it adds to your relationships.
Read more about how to apply the “No laptops, no cellphones” rule here.
4. The rule of resilience
Resilience is synonymous with toughness. It’s an invaluable quality because it can help you deal with repeatedly challenging events, to face pressure more effectively, all while preserving your mental health.
The rule of resilience is all about learning how to deal with the emotions that rise when you fail repeatedly, or when you face pressure or difficult challenges.
When that happens to you, follow three simple steps:
- Take a break
- Acknowledge your feelings
- Focus on what you can control
The rule of resilience will help you become like a tough and flexible spring–able to easily withstand pressure and return to your original form.
Read more about how to follow the rule of resilience here.
5. The rule of strength and weakness
We all have strengths and weaknesses. And often, a strength carried too far can become a weakness. For example, someone who is extremely productive may get a lot done, but also push others away. Or a person who is very empathetic may bond well with others, but also tend to avoid conflict.
The law of strength and weakness encourages you to
Find a partner who can help you achieve balance
Build processes that help you to leverage strengths and mitigate weakness
Continually learn from your mistakes
Learn more about how to follow the rule of strength and weakness here.
6. The rule of recognition
The rule of recognition is simple: Your default setting is to focus on what a person does right, and make a point to commend the person for those positive actions, sincerely and specifically.
Doing so encourages the person to continue positive behaviors, builds trust and psychological safety, and even makes it easier for the person to receive constructive criticism–because they’ll see you as someone who’s looking out for them, someone who is helpful, not harmful.
Learn more about the rule of recognition here.
7. The rule of acquired taste
Psychologists have discovered that we acquire many of our tastes, likes, and habits in the same way we acquire tastes for specific types of food: gradually, and many times without even realizing it.
As one psychology reference put it: “To put it simply, ‘the more you see it, the more you like it.'”
Knowing this can help you build better habits, a better business, and a better life.
Learn more about how to apply the rule of acquired taste here.
8. The Atomium rule
The Atomium is a huge structure in Brussels that was originally built for the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair. It stands over 330 feet (100 meters) tall and consists of nine connected stainless steel spheres to represent an iron crystal magnified 165 billion times.
I keep a small model of the Atomium on my desk as a reminder. Whenever I start a new project, it reminds me of an important lesson:
Great work can’t be rushed.
The Atomium rule doesn’t excuse laziness. Rather, it’s a reminder that in a world of instant gratification, it can be tempting to try and move quicker than you should. Instead, you need to:
- schedule sufficient time for the project
- break it down into manageable parts
- start early–so you can continue building, improving, tweaking
Learn more about the Atomium rule here.
9. The simple rule of decision making
If you’ve ever been forced to make a difficult decision in the face of adversity, you might have discovered the truth of this small piece of wisdom:
Never make a permanent decision based on a temporary emotion.
This simple rule of decision making can be applied by never making a major decision:
- at night
- after a bad day
- when you’re tired or hungry
- right after vacation
- before giving yourself time to think
Learn more about the simple rule of decision making here.
10. The rule of changing your glasses
People who wear glasses know that a change in prescription is sometimes required, to allow them to see more clearly.
Sometimes, we need to do the same thing mentally: Your thoughts and emotions may cloud your vision and judgment. When that’s the case, you need to change your glasses; that is, change your perspective.
This technique is rooted in principles of cognitive psychology. You can apply it by:
- Writing down your thoughts
- Talking to someone you trust
- Filling your mind with positive thoughts
By changing your glasses, you’ll learn to remain balanced and optimistic, creating healthy emotional consequences.
(If you find value in these ten rules, you might be interested in the full emotional intelligence course–which includes each of these rules along with ten more. Check out the full course here.)