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EI: Moving Beyond Our Primal Instincts

We’ve been conditioned to believe that an IQ or intelligence quotient, is the sole determinate of an individuals performance in life. IQ is a number derived from a standardized intelligence test and is sometimes referred to as the measure of an individual’s rational mind. Private societies have been formed around this measurement of intellect. Score high enough and you’re part of the tribe! If you don’t make the grade, you remain on the outside looking in on this esteemed club. Well, there is something that can be said for being the outsider in that group. You in fact may be more successful at work and at play! Evidence now shows that IQ only accounts for a relatively small portion of that success, somewhere in the 10-25% range. Which makes perfect sense when you look out into a society where there are scores of highly intelligent people failing miserably in their personal and professional lives. That doesn’t have to be your destiny.

A far better place to excel is in the area of EQ, or emotional quotient. This measures the level of an individual’s Emotional Intelligence (EI). It is best explained by the ability you possess to perceive, control, evaluate, and express your emotions, as well as your demonstration of empathy toward others. This emotional mind is the determining factor in how we conduct ourselves in interpersonal relationships and can be responsible for success or failure within those relationships. Considering that EI accounts for an amazing 75% (or more) of a person’s ability to succeed, many companies have begun giving applicants EI tests before hiring them while other companies have mandated EI training programs in the workplace. Unfortunately, it isn’t proper etiquette to hand out EI evaluations to prospective friends, so here are a few unique observable qualities which determine an individual’s EI that you should be on the look out for when embarking into a new relationship:

  • Self Awareness – The first step in controlling emotions is to be aware of their existence. Those who are self aware have confidence in their abilities.
  • Self Regulation – Once control of emotions has been mastered, the individual is less apt to give into impulses reactions. Self regulators accept responsibility for their own actions, are open to new ideas and adapt easily to change.
  • Motivation –Motivated people set goals and strive for improvement. They remain positive when faced with challenges and are known to boost the moral of those around them.
  • Empathy – The ability to understand the perspective, experiences, or motivations of another individual and to comprehend and share another individual’s emotional state as well as recognizing how one’s actions affect others.
  • Social Skills – Social skills, both verbal and non-verbal, are used to communicate and interact with others. The better and individual’s social skills are, the higher their social competency will be.

The question remains, “Can emotional intelligence be taught?” Not unlike like IQ, studies suggest that EI can be taught and that emotions can be adapted if properly modeled and managed. If taught early in life, the results can lead to enhanced decision making skills and improved academic performance. Effectively, higher EI can lead to a higher IQ. A strategy known as social-emotional learning (SEL) revolves around the concept that emotional skills are critical to academic performance. In recent years, SEL has gained popularity due in part to social concerns involving school violence, teen suicide and bullying with a goal aimed to develop the psychological intelligence necessary to help children positively channel their emotions.

 “Something we now know, from doing dozens of studies, is that emotions can either enhance or hinder your ability to learn…They affect our attention and our memory. If you’re very anxious about something, or agitated, how well can you focus on what’s being taught?” –Marc Brackett

The good news is that even old dogs can learn new tricks! One important way to develop EI as an adult is by minimizing negative thought processes. When faced with challenges or an unpleasant situation, it’s important to take an extra moment use your rational brain for further exploration. The emotional brain will quickly create a link between the unpleasant situation you are facing and unrelated memories that stir negative emotions. Those negative emotions can quickly cascade into further unpleasant emotions and feelings, resulting in a downward spiral. It important to interrupt the negative thought process, remain positive and keep a healthy perspective to ensure a positive mood throughout the day. In order to change your perception, you must commit to a level of awareness that demonstrates knowledge of yourself and mastery of your emotions.

Perhaps that is easier said than done. The emotional mind tends to kick into action more quickly than the rational mind. From a human developmental standpoint, it comprises an important part of our survival instinct. This survival instinct, a type of intuition, comes front and center when we need to quickly make decisions. Primal instinct is behind our innate ability to react to a new experience or dangerous situation in the interest of self-preservation. Although humans still possess most of the instincts of our primal ancestors, other instincts have been adapted and evolved which override the older reactions. In our decision making process individuals are more likely to react in primal ways only in extreme situations. Decidedly slower, the intellectual mind adds a layer of rational to the decision making process. In life threatening situations, the extra moment it takes to rationalize in place of reacting can impact us negatively and be the difference between life and death. Conversely, in a situation where the individual is filled with negative emotion or self-doubt, taking the extra moment to rationalize can have a positive impact on life as in the long run, emotional health impacts physical health. It has been estimated that over 80% of health problems are stress-related. Stress is experienced as a reaction to challenges we face that affect us emotionally. How we handle stress affects our overall quality of life.

If your emotional abilities aren’t in hand, if you don’t have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can’t have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far.” –Daniel Goleman

While both IQ and EQ are important, a healthy balance between the two is ideal. But for now, don’t stress if you are an outsider looking into that members only IQ club. You may actually go further in life as a member in the EQ club!

Photo Credit: Carl Gandolfo Photography. Follow Carl @

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