The benefits of Emotional Intelligence (EI) are widely acknowledged and supported by extensive research (see a sample list below). These studies highlight how becoming more emotionally intelligent can help us live a more fulfilled and successful life amidst the stress, uncertainty, and crises happening in the world. Naturally, as the benefits of EI have become more widely known, people have become increasingly interested in how they can cultivate their own EI.

While the secret to EI development is mindfulness, mindfulness itself should not remain a secret, which is why I’ve developed The Missing Manual for Your Mind, a twelve-week online course that helps participants connect the dots between mindfulness and their own EI development and start to put it into practice in their lives.

To understand the connection between mindfulness and EI, you need to be clear about what Emotional Intelligence is. The goal of Emotional Intelligence is to help us make the best possible choices in our lives. The output of which is not only achieving the outcomes we desire, but living in greater alignment with what is most important to us. In the EI development model, the way to achieve this is to learn to work with our emotions more effectively both in ourselves and in our interactions with others and the world around us. This starts with our ability to recognize and process our emotions skillfully.

The better we understand our emotions, the more emotionally intelligent we become.Understanding our emotions requires self-awareness. 

Why is that? We can only change what we are aware of! If we are not aware of our emotions or mental patterns, we cannot do anything about them. That’s why self-awareness is the foundation of EI and the gateway to all personal and professional development.

Fortunately, we all have awareness. It is with us all the time, every moment of our lives. But it manifests in many ways, some more useful than others. If you’ve read Michele Nevarez’s book Beyond EI, you are familiar with the Awareness Matrix which describes four possible modes of awareness: consciously aware, passively perceptive, subconscious or unconscious, and autonomic. Here, is the challenge. According to neuroscience, up to 95% of our feelings, behaviors, beliefs, etc. are coming from our unconscious mind.

“It’s estimated that 95% of our behavior runs on autopilot. That’s because neural networks underlie all of our habits, reducing our millions of sensory inputs per second into manageable shortcuts, so we can function in this crazy world.”  —

The unconscious part of our mind is incredibly powerful and amazing, but it also is prone to cognitive distortions and biases. Additionally, our instinct to react may create damage when our response is disproportionate to our perception of the triggering event. If we want to minimize these types of situations, we need to become aware of the way our mind processes and habitually reacts. We need to cultivate the ability to notice before we react in order to avoid undesired outcomes and to create the outcomes we do want.

It is often the case that our own unconscious beliefs about ourselves work to undermine us from taking the necessary actions to bring about desired outcomes. Once we realize there is a causal connection between the source of one’s results on the one hand and one’s motivation, thinking, mindset, and beliefs on the other, then we can start to understand the importance of examining our habits of mind and repositioning these to lead a more conscious life.   — Michele Nevarez

Intentionally managing our emotions is only possible in the mode of conscious awareness. This is where mindfulness comes in. It develops our ability to be more aware of our inner processes, so we can be aware of our emotions and better understand them and in so doing, we choose more effective responses over ineffective ones.

Mindfulness is the exact opposite of these default processes. It’s executive control rather than autopilot and enables intentional actions, willpower, and decisions. But that takes practice.   —

Mindfulness increases emotional self-awarenesss. 
Fortunately, we all have the ability to increase our innate capacity to be mindful. We can train our mind to be more consciously aware. When we approach our lives from this stance, we stand to gain insight and better understand ourselves, others, and the world around us.

To avoid this remaining an abstract idea, let me explain how mindfulness helps to increase emotional awareness. Often, we are not consciously aware of our emotions. When we feel angry, sad, frustrated, or afraid, we may not fully feel or process our emotions. Instead, they lurk in the background, covered up by a vague yet nagging sense of unease.

There are often many reasons why we may be disconnected from our feelings. Many of us have since our childhood been instilled with the belief that emotions are bad or unwanted. We were either not allowed to express them or made to feel shame or guilt if we did, leading us to deny or avoid them altogether. Learning how to skillfully understand and express emotions, is not part of our culture nor built into our education system.

So, how can we be more in touch with our feelings? Emotions have a physical component. Emotions manifest in our body even when we suppress them. Of course, how they show up exactly varies from person to person. Here, are some typical examples. When we hold in angry feelings, our jaw may tighten up and our shoulders and neck often become equally tense and rigid. Sadness may manifest as a sense of pressure in the chest. Fear can make our heart beat faster.

The clues to what we are feeling in the present are in our body
Let me share an allegory to explain how we can work with how emotions and feelings present themselves in our bodies. In the same way we don’t see the wind directly but instead detect its presence by how the rustling of the leaves and the swaying of a tree’s branches, we can observe and feel how our emotions manifest as bodily signals and sensations. Our awareness of what’s unfolding in the body and what we are feeling helps us discover what was previously obscured or hidden from our perception.

Like the leaves rustling or the branches swaying, we can become more aware of the energy and meaning we assign to what we feel. We can use physical sensations as a gateway to develop self-awareness to gain insight and self-understanding. Mindfulness training has a practice exactly for this called the body scan.

To sum up… Mindfulness is the key to developing emotional awareness, and emotional awareness is the key to emotional agency, empathy, self-compassion, resilience, stress management, impulse control, and relationship skills. This is why mindfulness is the secret to developing EI! There is one caveat, as mentioned in the quote on mindfulness above, “But it takes practice!”

Cultivating mindfulness requires regular study and practice. Study, so that you can understand what mindfulness is and how to practice it. Regular practice, so that you can develop a lasting habit of mindfulness that you embody in your life. The new BEI powered 12-week mindfulness course entitled The Missing Manual for Your Mind is designed to provide all the support and guidance you need to do that. In part 1 (6 weeks) you cultivate mindfulness and part 2 (6 weeks) shows you how you can apply mindfulness to enhance your Emotional Intelligence.

About the Author
Bernie Schreck, M.A. Bernie’s 35+ years of training in diverse mindfulness traditions paired with his teaching expertise allow him to help clients advance their personal and professional growth.
Founder & President of MBEID (Mindfulness-based Emotional Intelligence Development)
Goleman EI Certified Coach
Search Inside Yourself (SIY) Certified Teacher
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Teacher

A few examples of scientific research on the benefits of emotional intelligence:
“The Role of Emotional Intelligence in Mental Health” (Journal of Clinical Psychology 2005).
“Emotional Intelligence, Cognitive Intelligence, and Job Performance” (Administrative Science Quarterly 2004).
“The Effects of Emotional Intelligence, Age, Work Experience, and Academic Performance” (Frontiers in Psychology 2016).
“The Relationship between Emotional Intelligence and Academic Achievement in Medical School” (BMC Medical Education 2019).
“Emotional Intelligence and Well-Being: A Review of the Literature” (Journal of Applied Psychology 2008).