You’re in a race and someone hands you a bag, you look inside and find that it’s filled to the brim with cement bricks. You’re now tied to the bag, you and it are forced to travel as one.

How to win when tied to a wall?

Those chips on your shoulder are the unresolved emotions, bent up anger, grudges, along with many others. But guess what? There’s a way out. Rather than focusing on the race and how to win, Emotional Intelligence will help you deal with and resolve the internal clutter that often robs you of that success.

3 brains, one individual

We tend to think of ourselves as either emotional or rational. But our brain is a crowded place, more so than you think. The triune brain model goes as far as suggesting that we actually have 3 distinct brains: reptilian, limbic, and neocortex.



Having your emotions being processed subconsciously means that they’re just below the surface of your cognition. Such a fact can make processing and understanding your emotions difficult. Managing a side of yourself you don’t truly comprehend might not be the easiest battle to win.

The 5 pillars of emotional intelligence

According to a study done on 418 leaders living in the United Arab Emirates, having emotional intelligence predicts over 53% of the variation in professional and personal success factors.

Everyone already has emotional intelligence (EI), but to different extents. Here’s how to cultivate yours:

1- Name your feelings

The first step to anything is awareness. Being emotionally self-aware means being conscious of your emotional states and their impact. In order to become conscious of your feelings, you will need these tools:

  • Acquire emotional literacy (vocabulary for feelings): Ever mistaken your blinding rage for hate? Emotions are multilayered and complex, and that’s why we often mislabel them. Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions can help you better recognize your emotions.
  • Emotions are data: Learning to decipher the message behind the emotion is a critical part of self-awareness. Ask yourself this: Are your emotions a reaction to the current situation or do they remind you of some painful, unprocessed emotions/memories?

Calling your emotions by name makes them less powerful

In an experiment done at the University of California at Los Angeles to test the hypothesis of naming emotions, four groups of participants who had a fear of spiders were asked to approach a large, live tarantula in a large open container outdoors.

The first group was instructed to describe their experience and label what they were feeling, while the second group was instructed to look at the experience in an objective, less threatening manner. Meanwhile, the third group was instructed to say something that was irrelevant to the spider, and the fourth group was not required to do anything; they were only exposed to the spider.

One week later, the same participants were re-exposed to the spider but this time they were asked to get closer to it and touch it. The group that labeled their fear of the spider performed far better than any other group. They got closer to the spider and were less emotionally reactive.

2- Give it six seconds

You are often tempted to push the unpleasant emotions down. Most of your life is spent fighting them, ignoring them, or being suffocated by them. But I urge you to take six seconds to state what you’re feeling, absorb it, and then take a deep breath.

It’s tempting to launch into a verbal rampage after you have stated what you’re feeling (e.g., “I am angry because…”). But any further elaboration often intensifies what you’re feeling.

What to do instead

  • State what you’re feeling in simple 4-word statements: “I am experiencing anger.”
  • Acknowledge your anger as an experience and remind yourself that all experiences are fleeting, thus effectively putting a foreseeable end to your anger.
  • Don’t try to justify/explain your anger.

3- Get a note, write them down

Even when we recognize our feelings and know what they mean, we do not always have the luxury of being able to express them freely. After all, lashing out in a work meeting might not be the best move for your career advancement.

Keep a journal or a note on your phone and take the time to write down each of your feelings as they arise. This simple practice can help validate your emotion’s existence. It will also help you keep track of any patterns or triggers that might be causing you to have these emotions.

Try this: the Mood Meter app is an interactive way to help you keep track of your emotions.

Want to encourage emotional intelligence practices at work?

“In the office, keep a feelings whiteboard divided for 2-3 parts of the day – morning, noon, evening – and list six or eight feelings.  Then ask people to check mark their feelings during the day. See where the max check marks land.”

Dexter Valles

CEO of Valmar International

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4- The answer is in other people

If you think that self-awareness only lies within “thyself,” think again!

Part of emotional intelligence is being able to handle interpersonal relationships effectively. And since we all process emotions differently, you should take time to observe those around you and figure out what these same emotions mean to them.

  • Actively listen: Don’t just observe but pay attention to what is said. Learn not to judge, don’t listen to reply, and be empathic yet keep the person’s background and personality in mind when trying to digest what they said.
  • Eavesdrop for educational purposes: You should never stick to your circles when trying to understand any new concept. That’s why your bus ride to and from work, for instance, can cultivate grounds for understanding the world around you. Listening in on strangers will also help you practice active listening since the urge to reply would be more or less eliminated.

5- Music is a two-way street

A sought-after skill is how to get the emotions we need when we need them. Well, the answer to this is simple: music.

Just like matching your music to your mood, you can choose a certain type of music to trigger certain emotions. This technique can act as your intrinsic motivational system.


You may be familiar with athletes who use music in preparing for competitions. Dr. Jim Bauman, a psychologist with the US Olympic Swim Team, suggests that swimmers put together their own music playlists, with slow music that represents idling or resting, medium to fast music that offers a beat-per-minute pace similar to their competition stroke-per-minute rate, and very fast music that represents “redlining” or excessive anxiety.

“Using these playlists makes it easier for them to remain aware of their psychological and physiological energy levels, or RPMs, as they relate to various stages of getting ready to compete,” he says.

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6- Use the storytelling part of your brain

Asking you to not raise false alarms might not be as convincing as telling you the story of “the boy who cried wolf.” That’s why we naturally use stories when trying to teach lessons. Morals and convictions are solidified in our brains when we experience them as stories.

Now how does that translate into acquiring emotional intelligence?

If stories help us reach certain morals, then adopting storytelling can be our answer to the many “why” questions we have when trying to decipher the meaning behind each emotion.

How to tell stories

  1. Transform the information you want to learn into a story.
  2. Make the story as visual as possible.
  3. Find a moral to your story.

The events you encounter as a child shape who you are as an adult. Telling yourself stories about your childhood and then deriving meaning out of them can help you reach a more rooted understanding of who you are.

How to apply this

I recently did this by conjuring up images of being bullied at school. When I was 11 and was looking to fit in at school, some classmates saw my clumsy attempts to belong as clueless and bullied me for it. Thinking back, the “moral” of that story, for me at least, was that trying to fit in brings pain and humiliation.

Making this “moral” explicit helped me understand for the first time why, even now, I don’t join social clubs or associations or try to fit into groups. Now try this yourself. When you set out to understand some of your behaviors, frame a visual story around something that happened to you early in life and extract the meaning behind it.

7. Practice, Practice, Practice

It’s not enough to just learn about emotional intelligence. You have to do it and then keep doing it. It’s a day-in, day-out process. You don’t just wake up one day and suddenly turn into a highly emotionally intelligent person.

You have to wake up every day and decide to be consciously aware of your surroundings, decide to actively listen, and work hard to use all of the other techniques above.

Which of the techniques we talked about do you find the easiest? Which do you find the hardest? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section.




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