The process of building emotional intelligence (EI) is a lifelong journey. We start learning emotional recognition, social cues, and empathetic behavior in infancy and those skills are further refined over the next few decades. As life gets more complicated, so do our emotional reactions and social interactions. The need for stronger EI is well-covered on this blog, but in summary it can improve career success, help forge meaningful relationships, and bolster your abilities as a parent. In order to establish a strong foundation in EI, we have to put in intentional effort every day. Here are some tips for daily practices that build key EI skills. From simple things like journaling to entire perspective shifts, this list will cover 5 emotional intelligence routines that work wonders.
1. Keep Track of Emotions With an Emotion Journal
Creating a daily journal is shown to improve not just EI, but a whole host of mental abilities. It strengthens one’s ability for self-reflection, problem-solving, and focusing. But one of my favorite daily emotional intelligence routines is what’s called “emotion journaling” or keeping a “mood journal.” Essentially, mood journaling involves tracking your emotional state on a day-to-day basis. People who struggle with difficult emotional issues like depression or anxiety are often prescribed mood journaling by mental health professionals, but it can be a cathartic experience for anyone going through intense emotions.
Ideally, it’s useful to journal, even for a very short while, in the morning and then reflect again at the end of the day. If only once a day is feasible for a person, then I usually recommend saving the journaling for before bedtime as a way to wind down at the end of a long day. It’s important to jot down different emotional moments as close to the time that they’re experienced as possible, before we forget about them, but I prefer to save the analysis and explanation for later in the day. That way, it also gives us a chance to reflect on our day and how we think everything went. Another helpful thing to have on hand for this routine is a list of complicated emotions. You don’t want to spend all your journaling time trying to think of the most appropriate emotion to describe how you felt or feel in the present moment. Instead, have a list handy like this one here that you can reference.
I don’t recommend going through the full analysis of your emotions every single day as it can become very time-consuming and burdensome. And it’s usually unnecessary. Some days there are no particularly strong feelings to work through and other days they’re easily identified and explained. But on those days when everything seems to go wrong or days when you overcome some particularly difficult emotions, it does wonders to look back on what triggered those feelings and how you responded to them.
During this analysis it’s extra important to consider that our emotions are always appropriate because they are what they are at the time and a result of who we are at the time. How we respond to them is what can either be appropriate or not. If we take the time to reflect on what the trigger was that resulted in us feeling a certain emotion or range of emotions, what often happens is that we start to reframe the triggers and what emotion they once evoked in us changes as we learn and grow from each situation. After the heat of the moment passes, it’s likely that we’ll see things differently. Don’t use this as an opportunity to judge or self-criticize; everyone has bizarre emotional reactions and overreactions at times.
By identifying our different emotions through the day and tracking what brought them about and why we were feeling them at particular moments, we can really start to not only identify our emotional triggers and pitfalls but also become aware of our habits of mind. For example, one might notice that they feel overwhelmed every time their boss mentions a far off deadline. Realizing this, they may dive into why they feel that way.
Maybe time management isn’t their best skill and they fear failure every time the deadline is mentioned? Maybe they worry needlessly about possible undesirable outcomes even though there’s no logical reason for this. Just by recognizing what triggers profound emotions within us, we can make changes in either our daily habits or our perspective to avoid these points of conflict. A great question to ask ourselves is, “How is that working for us?” When we gain the awareness that something isn’t working for us then we gain the power to make a decision to do something about it!
2. Switch Off Devices/Have a Device-Free Room
We all love our screens; it’s how I’m able to communicate with you right now! Screens are great for lots of things like entertainment, staying informed about the world, and staying connected with the ones we cherish most, but they can also feel unavoidable when we really want a break from them. In the years prior to the pandemic and then even more so since the pandemic, screen time has been going up and up for both adults and children alike. If you feel like screens have become more problematic than beneficial for you, you’re not alone. I’ve written about making screentime healthier and there are many ways to combat the negative effects you might be experiencing, and let me tell you, it’s really important that you do.
Screens can cause all sorts of addictions and distress, especially when they become ingrained in us and consume our lives. When you work on a screen all day and then come home to the whole family being on screens, it can start to spiral. One way to avoid them is by putting physical distance between you and your screens. Designating one room (probably the bedroom) as the screen-free space where you will not interact with any devices can feel like such a relief. And it can be really effective to make a certain room screen free during certain hours of the day, such as mealtime or family game time.
Instead that room becomes a space where we talk with our family and friends, read books, meditate (more on this later in the list), play board games, enjoy a meal with engaged conversation or whatever we want to enjoy without screens involved. This helps clear the mental clutter for all of us and puts us in a better headspace that can even impact our tomorrow.
3. People Watching to Develop Recognition
One of my favorite emotional intelligence routines while traveling is people watching. You learn all sorts of things by watching people go about their day to day lives. It gives you a feeling of being outside of the world for a second, like you’re just a casual observer. But not only is this hobby fun and interesting, it is also a great way to improve your emotional intelligence.
People watching is a great practice because you can do it anywhere and learn something new. Whether you’re at a grocery store, airport, mall, park, or anywhere public, you can find new and interesting people to observe. Sometimes, the most interesting ones are the ones who don’t call attention to themselves at first. People watching reveals information about identity, self-esteem, emotional state, niceness, and extraversion. These are just a few of the things you can start practicing noticing, but I guarantee that the more you do it, the more you’ll begin to notice about the people in your own life.
When we watch other people who don’t know we are there, we learn so much about human interaction. People watching can serve as an education in body language and picking up on social cues. As humans, we are able to deduce so much through body language, which is why people with conditions that affect their ability to pick up on body language are at a huge disadvantage. But even if you think you are good at picking up on non-verbal cues, you’ll always learn something new or pick up on something you’ve never seen before by people watching.
4. A New FRAME of Mind
The FRAME method brought to us by Scott Mautz is a 5-minute exercise that he incorporates into his daily routine as a way to build emotional intelligence. It may only take 5 minutes, but it can have a lasting effect on your attitude and mood for the day. FRAME stands for:
—Feelings won’t overrun thoughts
When something comes up that invokes a strong emotion, taking a moment to think about it first before reacting can help you have a greater say in your reaction. Instead of letting those emotions dictate your response, you can be in charge of your response.
—Read the room
Sensing the emotions of those around you is part of having high EI. People who can’t do this are often viewed as insensitive, incapable, and out of touch with the people around them. By reminding yourself to read the room around you, you remind yourself to tap into your peers and use empathy to influence your behavior.
It should come as no shock that people react very well to authentic, genuine personalities. People who are secretive can come across as standoffish very quickly, but people who are open serve as role-models. You can only cover up your true self for so long before people around you begin to notice something is off.
Along with mood journaling after your day, taking a moment in the morning to recognize your mood and name it can have a huge effect on your emotional state. Our moods often dictate our behavior, but there’s often not much we can do to change them; when you’re in a bad mood, you’re in a bad mood. Though by recognizing them, we are better able to minimize their impact on our well-being and behavior and most people react well when someone says, “it’s not you, I’ve just been in a bad mood today.”
—Engage to Understand
This last one is a call to connect with others. By engaging instead of interrogating, we can connect more deeply with the people we care about. People can tell when you’re really listening and when you’re just playing along. More thoughtful discussions lead to more thoughtful relationships and this daily reminder is a great way to make that happen.
I love the FRAME method as it represents a total mental shift by reminding us to consider the effects our moods and emotions and behaviors can have on others. Just because we’re having a bad day doesn’t mean we have to take it out on others. By simply sharing our moods, engaging those around us, and remembering to be more authentic, we can build the kind of trust and respect that real relationships are built on.
5. Emotional Intelligence Routines: Meditation
It’s no secret anymore; meditation builds a strong mind and a resilient spirit. Ask any business magazine, industry leader, or brain researcher and they all usually have the same answer. Meditation literally reshapes your brain in a way that makes it healthier, stronger, and more resilient.
That’s why it should come to nobody’s surprise that I recommend building a daily meditation practice. Taking some time out of your day to simply exist within your own mind is one of the best things you can do for yourself. It’s free, there are so many helpful guides out there to get you started, it’s endlessly beneficial, and it’s something you can do alone or with others. I recommend the whole family get involved!
If you’re looking to get young ones started on a daily practice, I highly recommend the Netflix series on meditation by Headspace. It colorfully glides through the history and benefits of certain meditation practices and then ends each episode with a guided meditation. In any time of uncertainty or emotional distress, meditation is your best friend for finding peace and perspective. And what I gleaned from the meditation I listened to this morning on the 10% Happier app is that our mind can become our best friend. I’ve been listening to the course led by the host, Dan Harris, and his guest, George Mumford, called “Performance.” George shares so much wisdom. He coaches professional athletes, mainly NBA players, and is author of “The Mindful Athlete.”
I hope these emotional intelligence routines are some great starters for you! I had a lot of fun coming up with this list and I put a lot of these into practice myself. By choosing to prioritize your mental health and strengthening your mental capacities through meditation, reading, people watching, and all the rest, you’re making a choice to better yourself and the people around you. I applaud everyone working on their emotional intelligence and working to bring more empathy and understanding to their lives and I hope some of these practices help with that.