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Emotional intelligence
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Learn the key ideas of the book by Daniel Goleman

Emotional intelligence

Intelligence is not all it takes to become a better person

Self-awareness, control of one's emotions, empathy, the ability to establish healthy interpersonal relationships: these are just some of the skills that come with cultivating emotional intelligence. This is all because each of us has two minds: the rational one that helps us to excel in traditional intelligence tests, and the emotional one, which allows us to face fears, accept failures, understand others better, and not become overwhelmed by anger, anxiety, and stress. In his book, Emotional Intelligence, psychologist Daniel Goleman takes cues from dozens of different studies to explain how emotional intelligence can help us in our marital and professional relationships, in raising children, and in staying away from the most serious mental disorders known to the modern world.

Emotional intelligence
Read in 31 min.
Listen in 39 min.

We have two minds, one rational and one emotional: we cannot continue to underestimate the emotional mind

We are constantly reminded by sad stories in the news of the ever-increasing rates of depression, as well as being witness to daily episodes of uncontrolled anger, stress, and melancholy that we often witness with our own eyes: in this day and age, there is an increasingly pressing feeling of never having complete control over our emotions. Fortunately, neuroscience is making progress in this area: we are always learning more about emotions and how they work, thus discovering more and more ways to offer remedies to the emotional crises that afflict modern society. New scientific discoveries attribute increasing importance to emotional intelligence: we will only be able to aspire to a more peaceful future if we learn to cultivate emotional intelligence in a systematic way, because, in doing so, we will be able to consciously manage our emotions.

So, why are emotions so prevalent in our lives, in the first place? There are situations or tasks that are too difficult to be entrusted to the rational intellect alone: painful losses, moments of great danger, starting a family. We all know this from personal experience: when the time comes to make decisions and to act, feelings matter as much as rational thinking, sometimes even more so. Therefore, a model of human nature that ignored the power of emotions would be pretty ineffective. Feelings are usually indispensable in the rational mind’s decision-making processes, helping to point us in the right direction, where pure logic will then be able to perform at its best. In cases where life's decisions become complex, the emotional teachings that life itself has imparted to us send signals that restrict the range of appropriate options, making it easier for us to reach a decision.

In practice, it is as if we have two distinct minds: one thinks, and the other feels. They are two “modalities of knowledge”, fundamentally different, but which interact to build our mental life. The rational mind is the mode of understanding which we are usually conscious of: it dominates awareness and reflection, and it is capable of pondering and reflecting. The emotional mind is the other side of the coin: impulsive and sometimes illogical, but very powerful. It comes out when we have feelings, and the more intense the feeling, the more dominant the emotional mind becomes, and the less effective the rational one.

These two minds almost always work in a perfectly coordinated way, but when passions intensify, the equilibrium is overturned and the emotional mind takes over, overwhelming our capacity for reasoning. Associated with this problem is the fact that, as we said, emotions help us make decisions and, therefore, dictate our actions. Emotions are, in fact, impulses to action, which evolution has endowed us with to manage life’s emergencies in real time. The etymology of the word “emotion”, which comes from the Latin moveo, or "move", actually illustrates this. The problem becomes clear when we look at how civilisation has progressed over time: it has happened so quickly, that evolution has not been able to keep up, forcing us to live the typical dilemmas of the postmodern era without having developed an adequate emotional repertoire. It is not surprising, therefore, that all too often we see a disconnect between the emotion felt by a person, and the corresponding action.

Faced with this disconnect, as well as the capacity of the emotional mind to overwhelm the rational one, the need to develop emotional intelligence becomes clear: it is a set of skills that allows us to increase our self-awareness, control our negative feelings more effectively, maintain our optimism, persevere despite frustrations, increase our capacity to empathise and care for others, and cooperate and establish social bonds.


The key ideas of "Emotional intelligence"

We have two minds, one rational and one emotional: we cannot continue to underestimate the emotional mind
Emotions might be smarter than we previously thought
Self-awareness and self-control: understanding your emotions and learning to manage impulses
Motivation in emotional intelligence: resisting impulses and reaching the optimal level of anxiety
Empathy and understanding the feelings of others: quality relationships are cultivated through emotional intelligence
Using emotional intelligence to manage couples conflict: the importance of listening, staying calm, and being specific
Future leaders will be emotionally intelligent, and will know how to give constructive criticism
The mind and medicine: how can it worsen a disease, and how can it help?
Raising emotionally able children: leading by example and influencing temperament
Emotional illiteracy comes at a price: let's counter this by teaching young people about emotional intelligence
Take-home message
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