The scientific understanding of intelligence has evolved. Where just a generation ago, the understanding of intelligence was limited to how well you did in school, today it is known that there are multiple intelligences at play. American education professor Howard Gardner, Ph.D., identified nine such intelligences, which are:
- Musical—rhythmic and harmonic
This article focuses on the last type of intelligence on this list—emotional intelligence.
What Is Emotional Intelligence?
Emotional intelligence (EI) refers to a person's ability to empathize with others. This includes your ability to identify, evaluate, control, and express emotions as well as the ability to perceive and assess others' emotions.
The good thing about EI, according to the author of Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman, is that it is a not an inborn trait; you can learn to be more emotionally intelligent with practice.
Levels and Scale of Emotional Intelligence
There is a scale of EI.
- Spongy: At the highly emotional end there are people who are “spongy.” Sociologist and life coach Martha Beck notes social interaction for some people can cause “anxiety, sadness, indignation, and other inexplicable feelings.” It’s good to be emotionally aware, but taking on a friend’s, family member’s, or co-worker’s emotions isn’t usually helpful. The good thing about being on this end of the EI spectrum is that you feel and recognize a range of emotions. If you are a spongy person, you know how challenging it can be knowing whose emotions you are feeling or becoming bogged down by the emotional weight of the people you spend time with.
- Nonstick: In the middle of the scale are the “nonstick” people—the people who recognize the emotional nuances of others without being sucked into them. These people are attuned to emotions but are not easily influenced by the emotions of others. The challenge with being in the middle of the spectrum is that sometimes your emotional repertoire isn’t as robust as it could be. Your capacity to regulate can cause you to be seen as not empathetic enough. On the plus side, you are likely more of a thermostat than a thermometer—when emotions surprise you, you can pause and respond rather than feeling hijacked by them.
- Unaware: At the other end of the scale are the “unawares.” These people have a type of blindness to the emotions of others. Sometimes this lack of insight extends to your emotional climate but not always. The unawares usually have very few emotional words—things are usually “fine” even when they aren’t. The unawares don’t catch the subtle signals that emotions are escalating and can be oblivious to the displeasure of others.
Consider a scale of -55 (spongy) to 0 (nonstick).<-55----------------------33 -------------------0->
Spongy Nonstick Unaware
The following quiz will show you where you sit on this scale of EI.
1. I can recognize my emotions as I feel them.
2. It’s hard to focus when I am frustrated or sad.
3. I have conflicts with friends and family members.
4. I fit in easily but don’t have a sense of true belonging.
5. I often feel heavy or burdened when around others.
6. I want a solution not sympathy.
7. I enjoy solving problems for other people.
8. I sense when things are wrong before people tell me.
9. I mediate problems between other people.
10. I have been told I am sensitive.
11. I feel drained after social events.
To get your total:
- For questions 4, 6, 7, and 9: A=5, B=0, C=3
- For all other questions: A=3, B=0, C=5
Place your total along the scale to see where you fit.
Improving Your Level of EI
There are things you can do to enhance your emotional intelligence and move your position on the scale. Just remember, everyone has his or her own unique emotional intelligence. Don’t compare the way you experience EI to anyone else.
To heighten your emotional awareness:
- Practice leaning into your feelings rather than avoiding them. When an emotion occurs, notice where you feel the sensation in your body.
- Name the emotion. Work on expanding the repertoire of emotions you use to get more specific.
- Journal. This shouldn’t just be the details of your day; add your feelings, too.
- Let your body do the talking. It sends sensations. When you pay attention, you will start to notice that a tight stomach accompanies one feeling and a softening behind your eyes another. Be a detective and start to notice your patterns.
To decrease your sensitivity to being overwhelmed by emotions (yours and other people’s):
- When you are stuck in your head, do something that requires your full attention like a dance class or horseback riding.
- Pick a phrase like “not my circus, not my monkeys” to anchor you when you start to get sucked into drama that isn’t your own.
- Breathe until it passes. Notice the emotion; take a couple of long slow rounds of breath.
- Step away. Remove yourself physically and wait until you feel yourself return to a more balanced state.
When you learn about how others’ experience of emotion can be different than your own, it leads to greater understanding. If you want to see how strong you are at recognizing your emotions, consider also taking this quiz from the Greater Good Science Center.
Harness the power of your emotions and desires to create a life that feels deeply meaningful with the Chopra Center’s Discover Your Purpose Toolkit, which includes a free e-book, worksheet, 1:1 discovery session, and guided meditation. Get your free toolkit now.