A lot has been written recently about “mindfulness”. It’s a hot topic, for sure. But even though it contains the word “mind”, there is a direct connection to our hearts as well, which is rarely talked about. “Mindfulness”, for the purposes of this article, means increasing our awareness. In this sense, we can mindfully listen to our child or spouse, mindfully attend to our work, or even mindfully clean the dishes. But what does all this have to do with emotional intelligence?
Emotional intelligence necessarily entails awareness. We can’t exercise emotional intelligence in our relationships with others if we aren’t aware of our internal feeling states. For example, if your partner says something that triggers you and you fly off the handle, we would probably say this response is highly reactive – that is, it lacks emotional intelligence. When you are reactive, you are not in control; you are not in a state of awareness. In the example, you are unconsciously responding to a heightened emotional state and acting on impulse.
This kind of response typically leads to spiraling conflict; the antidote is mindfulness. If we are aware of our triggers and their causes, we are less likely to behave reactively, and we are more likely to respond with emotional intelligence. Without awareness, we remain stuck in unconscious, negative patterns of reaction.
What might a mindful, emotionally intelligent response look like instead? Perhaps rather than a knee-jerk, angry retort, a more measured response might sound something like: “You know, when you said that just now, it reminded me of how my father used to criticize my every word and action, and frankly, it really hurt.” This is likely to illicit a much different response from your partner.
But in order to engage in this kind of more helpful way of responding, we must first be aware of what we’re feeling and why. This is the work of therapy – talking about our emotions and the things that trigger them increases our awareness of them, and therefore increases our emotional intelligence.
How to Practice Mindfulness
So how do we practice mindfulness in ways that increase emotional intelligence? For starters:
Keep a Journal
Journaling forces us to be in the present moment, even if we are reflecting on events, thoughts, and feelings from the past. Keep a journal on your nightstand and check in daily (first in the morning and before you go to bed are good times to do this) through the written word. For example: “Today I got really angry when my manager made a sarcastic comment about me in our staff meeting. I really hate to be put on the spot like that. It reminded me of that time in 5th grade when my teacher, Mrs. Johnson, called me out in class for not completing my homework. Ouch.” Or: “Today as I was waiting at the red light, I felt really sad for some reason and started to tear up. Maybe it had something to do with the Alanis Morissette song that was playing on the radio, which made me think of high school and how much of an “outsider” I was. Actually, I still feel that way a lot of the time.” If you want buy a pre-made therapy journal, check out some of these products.
Start a Mindfulness Meditation Practice
Many people find that having a regular meditation practice really helps them become more focused and aware. This doesn’t have to entail sitting in a cramped, uncomfortable position for hours a day. Try starting with just five minutes; you can even sit in your chair at work during a break and no one will know. If sitting still is a challenge for you, try starting out with a walking meditation instead. I highly recommend this free resource, “Mindfulness in Plain English”, by Henepola Gunaratana. If you prefer a physical book, you can purchase this product online as well.
Go to Therapy
Last, but certainly not least, attending therapy is perhaps the most important and effective way of honing our mindfulness, and therefore our emotional intelligence. When we are engaged in the process of talking about our feelings with a skilled therapist, it really forces us to be in the present moment, even if in ways that make us feel uncomfortable at times. Reflection and verbal processing connect our brains and hearts in ways that encourage new insights, new feelings, and new ways of understanding the present and the past. Therapy allows us to flex these muscles in an environment that is safe, confidential, and non-judgmental.
When you’re feeling ready to embark on your therapeutic journey, please do get in touch to schedule a free consultation to discuss how this process may help hone your own self-awareness and emotional intelligence.