Emotional intelligence can seem like a squishy concept. It sounds great… but how do you actually practice and improve yours?

Here are 7 practical tips + resources to help you cultivate emotional intelligence.

Expanding Your EQ Toolkit: 7 Tips + Resources to Cultivate Emotional Intelligence

1. The Emotoscope Feeling Chart. What’s the purpose of emotions in general? They act as a sort of alarm system / filter / guide for us as we go through the world. An emotion (1) focuses our attention and (2) motivates us toward a specific course of action. And every emotion serves its own niche. Fear focuses our attention on a perceived threat and motivates us to protect ourselves. Joy focuses our attention on an opportunity and motivates us to take note of what really matters to us. An often overlooked way to cultivate emotional intelligence is to understand these ins and outs of every emotion – it’s the EQ skill of enhancing emotional literacy. And the Emotoscope Feeling Chart is a resource specifically designed to cultivate emotional literacy. It breaks down the focus and purpose of dozens of emotions. Take, for example, feeling overwhelmed. I often overcommit and find myself feeling overwhelmed. It’s easy to wallow in that feeling and say, “I feel overwhelmed because of all these reasons: x, y and z.” The beauty of the Emotoscope Feeling Chart is that it provides insight into what that emotion is telling me to do. In the case of feeling overwhelmed, it’s to prioritize. What’s the message of anxiety? Check out the Emotoscope Chart below to find out. This is all part of becoming fluent in the language of emotions. Knowing the word for a feeling is step one, but defining that feeling and it’s purpose is the next step. The Emotoscope Feeling Chart is the perfect resource to help you master that step and cultivate emotional intelligence.

 

 

2. Rose, Bud, Thorn. Have you ever heard of Rose, Bud Thorn? It’s a fun, simple game that can be useful to start recognizing your recurring thought and behavior patterns. You and a friend, or a journal, tell each other your day’s best thing (rose), worst thing (thorn), and what you’re looking forward to (bud). I wrote my Roses, Buds and Thorns in my journal for a week, and then I looked at all the thorns and what they had in common. I found a pattern of my thorns being perceived social rejections – friends who had to cancel, couldn’t hang out, or didn’t reach out. The game helped me recognize a pattern of mine: When I feel unwanted, I get easily depressed. I could also look at my Roses and recognize patterns. When I spend a lot of time outdoors, I tend to be very happy. It’s valuable emotional data about what to do more of or less of, and a great way to cultivate emotional intelligence. Josh Freedman discusses the neuroscience of forming patterns and other tips for beginning to recognize them in this video:

 

 

3. The Rule of 3. The ability to exercise optimism is one of the core EQ skills in the Six Seconds Model of EQ. But exercising optimism is not simply wishing for the best. It’s not passive. It’s a form of mental and emotional labor where you work to generate, or see, new options. Josh Freedman, Six Seconds’ CEO, defines exercising optimism as “Knowing there are possibilities even when you can’t see them.” One trick to hone your optimism is to follow the Rule of 3 – when faced with a dilemma or decision, generate at least 3 options to consider. Research from Ohio State University has found that this causes the quality of our decisions to increase pretty dramatically. Dr. Therese Houston, a decision making expert and author of How Women Decide, sums up the problem this way: ““All too often we only give ourselves one option and we fool ourselves into thinking it’s actually two. Should I do this or not? There’s really only one option on the table – I’m going to make this change or I’m going to stay put. If you give yourself three options, it gets you thinking outside the box.” So to cultivate emotional intelligence, generate at least 3 options.

 

4. TIE. Six Seconds’ President, Anabel Jensen, went through an extremely difficult divorce many years ago. It felt like her whole world was coming crashing down. It’s in hard times like these when the ability to exercise optimism is the most essential – and the most difficult. This acronym, TIE, is all about exercising optimism when times are tough. It stands for Temporary, Isolated and Effort, and it helped Anabel and her son respond to this adversity in a healthy, optimistic manner. You can read her beautiful story and an in-depth description of TIE here. And you can download a free TIE worksheet to take you through the process by clicking on the button below.

 

5. Naming Emotions. Naming your emotions is a remarkably effective method for making them less intense. Just simply remembering to say how you’re feeling, like “I am angry / sad / anxious, etc…”, has been found to be a crucial first step in navigating emotions. Why? It seems to bridge the gap between thoughts and feelings. It calms the amygdala, and activates the prefrontal cortex. It calms down our emotional response so we have an opening, an opportunity, to combine our thinking and feeling more effectively – and that is what EQ is all about. Dr. Barabara Fatum describes the neuroscience behind this phenomenon beautifully in the video to the right. So next time you are feeling a difficult emotion, start by labeling it: I am angry, or sad, or anxious. Just tell it like it is. 

 

 

 

6. More Empathy, Less Sympathy. Recognizing and appropriately responding to others’ emotions is what Six Seconds calls increasing empathy. To do this effectively, a high level tip is to understand the subtle differences between empathy and sympathy. Because while they are similar, there are crucial differences that lead to very different outcomes. What’s the difference? Basically, emotional versus cognitive involvement. Empathy means experiencing someone else’s suffering. It’s putting yourself in that person’s shoes and really feeling their pain with them. Sympathy, on the other hand, means understanding someone else’s suffering. It keeps a little more distance than really feeling it. And not surprisingly, sympathetic responses often stay on this cognitive level – offering advice, reasons to look on the bright side, etc. Whereas an empathetic response often means just sitting there and being with that person, validating what they’re feeling. Practicing just sitting there in the muck with someone is great way to cultivate emotional intelligence. This RSA animate, animated by Brené Brown, describes the difference perfectly. 

 

7. Solomon’s Paradox. Did you know that we all have a tendency to reason more wisely about other people’s problems than our own? It’s known as Solomon’s Paradox. Research at the University of Waterloo in Canada has proven it to be true – and found that a simple self-distancing technique can open up that wisdom to be used on yourself. So one trick to cultivate emotional intelligence is to pretend like you’re making a decision for a friend or observing your life, which unlocks some key aspects of EQ. You can read more about the Waterloo experiments here. And you can download a free worksheet that walks you through an effective self-distancing technique by clicking on the button below.

Why Six Seconds?

Why do leaders from places like the UN, FedEx, Amazon, Qatar Airways choose Six Seconds’ tools and methods?

  • Global: Used in 157 countries & territories — this approach works everywhere.
  • Scientific: The latest research creates a robust approach by the pioneers in EQ — these tools are reliable.
  • Practical: It’s not enough to talk about emotional intelligence — Six Seconds helps you put it into action.

Michael Miller

Writer at Six Seconds
Michael Miller is a writer and contributor for Six Seconds who lives in Santa Cruz, California. He is passionate about living a balanced, healthy lifestyle and helping others to do the same. You can reach him at [email protected]

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