What Is Emotional Intelligence?

This two-part essay describes emotional intelligence (EI) a little bit more precisely than most people like to consume it.  If you like that sort of thing, please read on. If you don’t, be patient.  There is a lot more to come.

Part I

A positive emotional intelligence (EI) orientation is believed to produce effective emotional outcomes. Less functional EI, for example, a negative problem orientation, impulsivity, carelessness and avoidance of personal responsibility for one’s emotions are believed to be associated with maladaptive behavior and psychological distress. Few researchers agree on the most appropriate techniques for achieving EI proficiency. Many agree, however, that people process problems through a four-stage model: 1) input, or the act of perceiving and understanding the problem; 2) processing, or the generation of alternatives and selecting solutions; 3) output, or the act of planning and implementing solutions; and 4) review, or the process of evaluating solutions or modifying them, if necessary. The steps outlined in this book appear to mirror this paradigm and may be ideal for use in your pursuit of improved EI. EI theory is effectively an adaptation to the learner’s current method of social problem solving (SPS). SPS can be defined as the process of overcoming the obstacles that block the path between a person’s present situation and a desired goal. Competence in SPS is thought to be a crucial component for enriching psychological well-being. SPS may be weakened and influence psychological well-being by giving unjustified weight to ill-perceived realities, leading to less-than-optimal solutions. SPS is believed to be strengthened through improved EI and may lead to more competent, long-term emotional adjustment. EI theory is derived from a model of SPS that endorses rationality in personal decision-making, often citing Epictetus as its maxim: “What disturbs people’s minds is not events but their judgments on events.” The term rational may be defined as dysfunctional thought processing that includes exaggeration, oversimplification, overgeneralization, illogic, unproven assumptions, faulty deductions, and absolutistic notions. EI theory seeks to develop in the individual an efficient, flexible, open-minded method of addressing emotional problem by teaching fact-based observation and decision-making skills. People who express confidence in their SPS can be expected to demonstrate accountability for their emotional decisions and display a higher degree of frustration tolerance when addressing complex social situations. EI theory aims to transform an individual’s core belief structure (and its correlated emotional expression) to one reflecting fact-based decision-making. EI theory relies on cognitively-motivated, Socratic disputation of irrational beliefs to achieve problem solving in the social environment. EI theory also incorporates emotive and behavioral measures, usually in the form of in vivo (in life) exposure. Homework is encouraged to independently act against irrational thoughts and behaviors. EI theory promotes the use of learner-initiated homework. The practice is thought to be a vital part of the process of behavior change and, just as importantly, self-efficacy. Homework often consists of one or more self-directed activities, designed to encourage the individual to independently act against irrational thought and its corresponding negative social behavior. The result of homework becomes the focus of future problem-solving activities. The learner may, for example, keep an event log, a documentation of experiences that can be addressed at some point in the near future. (People are not always available for emotional problem solving at a moment’s notice. Planning for later is essential to building a firmer foundation of EI.) The learner may also choose to immerse h/erself in a situation that would normally be anxiety-provoking. The learner would be expected to keep a record of the thoughts s/he produced while in the moment. The learner may, at some point following the event, review this record and attempt to better resolve the issues. Over time, however, the learner is likely, as a product of having done h/er homework, be better prepared the next time the situation arises and to resolve the issue in the moment (in vivo). At issue in this text, however, will be the learner’s potential to succeed at using the EI skills, alone, as an efficient method of social problem-solving. From my experience, the learner may manage the process of identifying faulty thinking, but you may stop there and not commit to continue the problem-solving process toward discovering more reasonable, manageable belief options. The learner just may get bogged down in doing what s/he has always done – thinking once and finding a rational to continue doing so. The learner will be often left with making a decision between the using EI self-help paradigms and returning to a more familiar pattern of SPS. The learner may find h/erself on the phone, asking others to help with the problem. EI theory, however, is built upon the idea that nothing can better bring you peace than yourself. We may be strengthened when we learn to be self-reliant, even when solving our own emotional problems. Remember, EI learners appear to be very likely to do what they have always done the last time shit happened, if it worked. That does not mean it brought them good results. It just means that, on some level, the learner was happy with the result s/he got and prefers it over doing something else. EI theory places substantial weight on self-efficacy, determination and the increased frustration tolerance. Regardless, the learner must recognize these pitfalls and strive to overcome them. According to the basic premise of EI theory, in order to overcome emotional conflict, we must practice and strengthen more useful and adaptive social problem-solving behaviors. By establishing personal practice methods, those behaviors the learner can sustain over time, for example, behaviors that encourage objectivity when being judged by others, help the learner rely more on h/er own judgment of h/erself and h/er worth; discourage emotional conformity and encourage emotional range; emotional self-determination; help to build the value of self acceptance over the concept of self esteem; the strengthening of the process of solving one’s own emotional problems, will likely result in better preparation for the next time shit happens. Without some vigorous, consistent effort on the learner’s part to think differently, success is extraordinarily limited.


27 responses

  1. Pingback: Emotional Intelligence: The Benefits of Singing the Blues | CNN « Phil Bowman, MA

  2. Hi Michael

    As I am relatively new to blogging, I was surprised and glad to see you are following me (oh that does sound funny!)

    It is great to connect with someone wise!

    I have just subscribed to your blog because I’m interested.

    Thank you!


  3. My girlfriend, Suzanne, insists that I am emotional leper…now we have mental age, cronological age, functional age, and of course emotional age! I hate dealing with emotional age! I think I am above average in Iq and Fq, but this emotional age thing kills me! What does it truly mean? Please help!

    • Hello Robert! Well, like most things, our culture adapts to logic that is so often repeated that it becomes our functional wisdom. Chronological age is probably the worst SINGLE method of determining ANYTHING about an individual. If WE WANT TO EVOLVE THIS OUTDATED SYSTEM OF MEASUREMENT, we might take our chronological age, our physical age and our emotional age and divide by three to come up with our true age. (I am not a big fan of any system of aging anyone – especially myself.) Chronological age, of course, is an appraisal of the amount of time you have lived – usually in years, although young children often measure years months, days, weeks and minutes. Physical age is related to your overall health, e.g., exercise routine, eating habits, etc. Emotional age is a mindset that only you can assess. If you think like a 15-year-old (GOOD FOR YOU) you can be deemed to have an emotional age of 15-years. So, an obese, sedentary, grouchy 15-year-old can, in fact, be deemed 66 years old, when we consider other factors in determining h/er age. I, on the other hand, am around 29 – where I shall forever be until I die – of old age. Thanks for the question and the opportunity to answer it!

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