Growing in emotional intelligence, like growth in other areas of life – fitness training, learning a new skill, acquiring knowledge – requires time and effort. It’s not going to happen automatically.
It takes conscious effort, purpose and direction. Growth in emotional intelligence demands not only focus on ourselves, but focus on others and focus on the wider world around us, as psychologist and author Daniel Goleman discusses in his Harvard Business Review article “The Focused Leader.”
This conscious effort and attention can be directed through self-reflection, an important practice and competency within emotional intelligence. We need to take stock of where we are, where we’ve come from and where we want to go. We need to make space for our minds to come to rest so we can tend to our thoughts, emotions, desires and circumstances.
Yet, many of us who want to improve our emotional intelligence already lead busy, over-programmed lives. This poses a challenge for finding time to reflect. But the truth is that the busier we are, the more we need time to pause.
So, how do we start making time for mindfulness, self-reflection and growing our emotional intelligence?
Begin with Five
Can you find five minutes in your day? Ideally, it should happen in the morning, before you get started with your day. But five minutes at any point is a great start.
This is a time to quiet your mind. It’s the first stage necessary for fruitful reflection. If you do nothing else in this time frame, just focus on your breathing. Breathe both steadily and deeply, paying close attention to the act of breathing. This simple step quiets the mind and turns it away from endless internal chatter.
Bill George, a Harvard Business School professor and the former CEO of Medtronic, attributes much of his success and growth as a leader to meditation (watch video). He found time daily, small moments at first, but more moments became available to pause and reflect over time. It’s become a cornerstone of his leadership development program.
Move to Ten
Can you add in another five minutes?
After you’ve stilled your mind just a bit, jot down the chatter. Are there words, tasks or ideas clamoring for your attention? Write them down. This is a way to scoop them off the surface of your mind.
Julia Cameron, author of the bestselling book The Artist’s Way, attributes her growth to what she calls “morning pages.” She starts each day by longhand writing a stream of consciousness on three full pieces of paper. It’s a way to clear the mind from worry and let deeper, creative thoughts emerge. Her method has worked for thousands of people.
Whether you do this in the morning as Cameron suggests, or find ten minutes at a different time of day, writing down what’s on your mind is a critical way to quiet it.
If you’ve made it to 10 minutes, let’s try to add one more five-minute increment to your self-reflection time.
Now that you’ve stilled your mind with breathing and cleared away some of the static through writing, begin some gentle assessment, such as:
- What are the larger issues looming in your mind?
- What plans do you need to make?
- What longer-term projects and goals are you considering?
- What relationships do you need to repair, alter, nurture or celebrate?
- What do you want your life to be about?
Write these down too, in a separate section from the stream of consciousness writing. Carve out written space to reflect and plan for who and where you want to be.
Arguably, we can all find five minutes a day. This is your toehold. Work from there and gradually expand. This basic template is scalable and effective.
Can’t take 15 minutes? Try nine minutes with a 3-3-3 combo. Or, ideally, try to expand to a half hour through 10-minute increments.
This basic but essential practice of meditation and self-reflection will aid you in your growth in mindfulness — and in turn — your emotional intelligence.