Recently, I was interested to come across a podcast by a globally renowned psychologist, claiming that Emotional Intelligence didn’t really exist and further if these traits were present in individuals, then they were less likely to be successful within their specified profession. This was contrary to other emerging schools of thought I had seen, and it didn’t sound too good for a practicing psychologist! As I delved further into the research, I found some fascinating studies.
Emotional intelligence is defined as the ability to monitor one’s own and other’s emotions, to discriminate among them and use them to guide thinking and actions. In measuring EI, the following components can be assessed: ‘empathy’; ‘emotion perception’; ‘emotion expression’; ‘relationships’ and ‘adaptability’. Highers scores of EI are thought to be important for navigating through life’s transitions. Emotional ‘self-efficacy’ (our belief that we can manage negative emotional states when faced with adversity or during frustrating events to overcome emotions such as anger as well as believing we are capable to adequately express positive emotions such as joy during pleasant events) is said to predict performance and success. EI is also supportive of better educational achievement and is related to lower mood deterioration, emotional reactivity and perceptions of stressors as less threatening.
Researchers in 2017, examined the effect of outdoor adventure experiences on EI and found higher EI scores seemed to be related with outdoor adventures of longer duration and increasing group size (up to 15). The outdoor adventure programmes encouraged more introspection and self-reflection. Another study found that EI and Nature Relatedness, our ability to connect with nature through our feelings, thoughts and experiences shared a common underlying factor and both are correlated with increased wellbeing. In other words, the more easily we relate and open up to each other, the more we feel empathy for and connection with our natural world and the better we feel overall. These findings support the Biophilia Hypothesis from 1984 (an excellent year 😉) that due to our evolutionary past, humans have an innate need to connect with other life forms.
So, the introspection, self-reflection and mindful states we find ourselves encountering outdoors improve our wellbeing, and this in part may be mediated by improved interpersonal relationships and EI. As we practice non-reactivity and observing by spending time with the natural world, we can bring these traits forward into our own relationships improving life-satisfaction and overall well-being. When we slow down and appreciate the moment outside, so too can we find peace through any challenging or uncomfortable interpersonal dynamics.
Coming back to my recent vlog on the vagus nerve, higher EI also correlates with higher vagal tone, this isn’t surprising given the vagus nerve’s involvement in our social senses and facial expression but gives us reason to improve these faculties when there are knock-on implications for our health.
Back in 2003, researchers examining neuronal damage to a specific network within the brain known as ‘somatic marker circuitry’ found lower EI scores when specific neural circuits were damaged. Specifically, the ventro-medial pre-frontal cortex, when damaged leads to poor judgement in decision-making, disadvantageous choices in personal lives and in relating to others. Also, the amygdala, involved in the processing of emotional memories, when damaged compromises our ability to make decisions via sensing our own body state. The EI competencies that were affected by damage to this neural circuitry were the abilities:
To be aware of oneself and one’s emotions
To express oneself and feelings
To manage and control emotions
To adapt flexibly to change
To solve problems of a personal nature
To motivate oneself to mobilize positive affect
An individual’s self-regard, our accurate awareness and assertiveness are the facets most affected by compromised somatic circuitry. In essence, our self-worth and our ability to effectively communicate our inner-most needs.
Thankfully, the overall plasticity of the brain encourages hope for us all to improve our emotional intelligence, EI training has previously been shown to improve extraversion, agreeableness and decrease neuroticism. From personal experience, body-mind practices that are likely to impact upon the plasticity of our somatic circuitry are worthwhile exploring alongside biophilia.
Historically speaking, emotional intelligence hasn’t been given a whole lot of importance through our education and professional systems. Yet we lack a crucial part of our human capacity and potential when we shut out our intuitive and emotional abilities to assist our decision-making processes. Life begins to feel dull, flat and without colour when we focus solely upon our intellect. There is a reduced sense of aliveness, no dance. In fact, it can leave us feeling wholly disempowered and out of the driving seat of our destinies, if we rely only upon logical sense making, our drive and our strength can feel sapped. As though we can only ever achieve a ‘half-way’ point on our journey to living our own personal heaven on earth, trapped by adolescent monotones of emotional expression that lack the power to convey the full spectrum of our unique essence. When we become more closely acquainted to our emotions as our compass, passion re-enters our sphere as we follow through on those sparks within our hearts. Beginning to utilize emotional and intuitive capacities alongside our intellect, allows greater freedom to flow into life. By balancing emotion with intellect, a sovereign interdependence, rather than co-dependence infuses a richness into relationships. Further, we hone our ability to discern which direction is life-giving and which is life-depleting.
Ultimately, learning to tune in and use these innate skills feels a little bit like learning to ride a bike. A little shaky and unsteady at first, needing to be propped up occasionally and practice a lot, until we find our rhythm and revs. As we acclimatize to new ways of sensing using our emotional dimensions, we begin to blend more in harmony with our surrounding natural environment. Wisdom imbues our instincts with the fires of sacred knowledge and our hearts expand wider, in synchrony with the tapestry of life. Give it a go, open up to cosmic mastery as you let your heart lead the way along the road less travelled, and figure out the details along the way, you are wholly capable and wholly worthy.