The Science to Becoming More Emotionally Intelligent

June 7, 2017

One key to improving your emotional intelligence is knowing when to switch from your fast-lane brain to your slow-lane brain.

The human brain thinks in two ways.

The first is very fast, based off emotions and intuition, LinkedIn Learning Instructor Gemma Leigh Roberts explained in her course, Developing Your Emotional Intelligence. The second is slow, deliberate and logical.

Most of the time, when making decisions, we use the first method.

Why? Because it’s faster and because most decisions aren’t worth putting into the slow lane, Roberts said in her course. For example, you don’t need to spend hours deciding what toothpaste to buy or what TV show to watch or what to say next in a casual meeting with a colleague.

Most of the time, that’s fine – humans are good at making quick decisions; it’s in our evolutionary nature. But, there are exceptions to that, and those exceptions can be costly.

Determining when those exceptions happen is a big part of becoming more emotionally intelligent, Roberts said. The more effectively you can identify those moments and switch your thinking from the fast lane to the slow lane, the more emotionally intelligent you’ll become.

An example of what this looks like

To further illustrate this point, here is a relatable example of how fast-lane thinking can ruin a relationship in the business world:

Jim is in promotions, Rachel is in PR. Jim believes that Rachel is too conservative and is too worried about the worst-case scenario, as opposed to creating a buzz. Rachel thinks Jim is too impulsive and doesn’t see the big picture.

When working on a project together, they both do their best to be professional, but there is clear tension in the room. When they disagree – which is often – Jim has a tendency to lash out (classic fast-lane thinking). Rachel, conversely, grows stubborn and only fights her point harder (again, classic fast-lane thinking).

This is going to result in a bad outcome. Instead, if one or both cogitatively adopted more slow-lane, logical thinking when working together, they’d form a stronger relationship and produce better work.

How to incorporate this into your day-to-day life

Becoming more emotionally intelligent starts with identifying the areas where this fast-lane thinking has hurt you. When were the times you reacted quickly and regretted it? What caused that – was it a strained relationship? Were you short on time? Were you tired or hungry? 

A key here is to accept your past mistakes, Roberts said. No one is perfect; the key is not making the same mistakes again. By objectively identifying what caused you to act that way, the easier it is to prevent it in the future.

Then comes the actual execution. The next time you start seeing the signs that your fast-lane thinking is going to cause problems, it’s critical to pause for moment, Roberts said. Then, you can switch to the slow lane and approach the situation more objectively and logically.

This isn’t easy. It fights our natural urges – we often act the worst when our emotions are at their highest, which is also the hardest time to control them. The good news is the more you practice it, the easier it gets.

One last caveat – sometimes it works the opposite way. If you are wasting too much time on decisions that aren’t important, you are not trusting your fast-lane thinking enough. This is more uncommon, but streamlining these decisions by “trusting your gut” can save your brainpower for more pressing issues.

Why emotional intelligent matters

Studies show it’s hard to improve your IQ or change your personality. But, you can improve your emotional intelligence – aka EQ – by actively working on it over time and becoming more aware of your own emotions.

Having a high EQ has a huge advantage. Generally speaking, your IQ and your skill level will help you get your foot into the door for a job. But, your EQ will more strongly determine how successful your stay at the job will be and how far you’ll advance within that organization.

That’s because relationships really matter. The stronger relationships you build, the stronger your career will be.

This article merely scratches the surface on becoming more emotionally intelligent. To learn more, watch Gemma Leigh Roberts’ full course today.