How Mindfulness Leads to Emotional Intelligence » Mind Tools Blog
How Mindfulness Leads to Emotional Intelligence

How Mindfulness Leads to Emotional Intelligence

August 16, 2018

@GettyImages/Martin Dimitrov

If you hear that a new team member or manager is “emotionally intelligent,” you’ll probably nod gratefully. You’ll understand that he or she will likely listen to you, try to see things from your point of view, and resist jumping to conclusions.

Before 1995, though, you may have wondered what on earth that phrase meant. That’s when psychologist and science journalist Daniel Goleman published his groundbreaking book, “Emotional Intelligence.”

Emotional What?

At the time, he wasn’t at all sure the idea would catch on.

How Mindfulness Leads to Emotional Intelligence
Daniel Goleman: “Mindfulness practice, or meditation generally, are essentially practices of self-awareness.”

“In fact, I’d already put out a proposal for my next book, because I didn’t think this book would do much of anything in particular. So I was astonished,” he tells me in our Expert Interview podcast.

“I remember having the thought, before it came out, that if one day I heard two strangers using the phrase ‘emotional intelligence,’ and they both knew what it meant, it had become a meme and I would have succeeded in the goal. So it’s been a success far beyond my expectations.”

More bestselling books followed, most of them related to emotional intelligence or some aspect of it. Goleman’s latest book is a prequel of sorts.

Meditation and Mindfulness

The new book is called “Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body.” In it, Goleman shares how he first embraced meditation when he spent two years in India as a Harvard graduate student.

While he was there, he began practicing mindfulness, which he calls “a subcategory of meditation.” For him, it’s “very interwoven” with emotional intelligence because it helps people to focus – a thread that runs through all four parts of the emotional intelligence model.

“Mindfulness practice, or meditation generally, are essentially practices of self-awareness. That’s the first part of emotional intelligence,” he says.

“The payoff is not only in being able to monitor what’s going on inside you and handle it better, but also in self-management, which is the second part of emotional intelligence. You are better able to manage your upsets, and to stay focused on your goals and marshal a positive attitude,” he says.

The Science Behind Mindfulness

“And then there’s presence to other people. That’s the third part of emotional intelligence. Those three parts are what we combine in our relationship skills [the fourth part]. So I would say that it’s a booster across every part of emotional intelligence.”

In “Altered Traits” – a play on the phrase “altered states” – Goleman and co-author Richard J. Davidson, PhD, present the scientific argument for meditation and mindfulness, citing dozens of experiments that provide evidence of their benefits.

Goleman welcomes the growth in such studies, and the peer-reviewed articles that endorse them. After all, mainstream recognition of the transformative effects of meditation has been a long time coming.

Early Skepticism Replaced by Acceptance

“When I proposed studying meditation at Harvard, my professors were mostly against it. They thought it was crazy, a waste of time,” he recalls.

“That was many decades ago. Now, it makes a lot of sense, because the data clearly shows there are changes in the brain. There are changes at very basic levels of mind, brain and body, and this, of course, means there might be some very practical applications that come out of this research.”

As an example, Goleman says that we can see positive results from as little as 10 minutes of mindfulness practice a day.

“We know from the research that your attention becomes stronger. You’re able to focus even in the midst of multitasking, which is a very useful skill these days, for sure. You can remember better, you can learn better. Students who do mindfulness actually score better on exams,” he reports.

Mindfulness as a Stress Buster

“There’s also a real benefit for how you handle stress. You become less reactive, triggered less often, and if you do have an emotional hijack, you recover more quickly. These are results that show up pretty much from the start, but the more you practice, say you have a daily session of mindfulness, the stronger the benefits become.”

Because of this, Goleman believes there’s a powerful business case for bringing mindfulness into the workplace.

In this audio clip, from our Expert Interview podcast, he reflects on how it might be introduced.

Listen to the full 30-minute interview in the Mind Tools Club.

Would you welcome regular mindfulness practice in your workplace? Join the discussion below!


13 thoughts on “How Mindfulness Leads to Emotional Intelligence

  1. Adebayo wrote:

    How can I practice mindfulness. Is it something I can learn on my own if guided?

    1. Midgie Thompson wrote:

      Thanks Adebayo for your question. There are several mindfulness courses online that are available at no cost. I have done a few of them and found they are quite good. Saying that, having a teacher who can provide feedback, guidance and advice certainly has its merits too!

  2. Michelle P wrote:

    If you are looking for apps, Adebayo, then there’s plenty out there. I strongly recommend the ‘Calm’ app – their ‘Daily Calm’ is a 10-15 min mindfulness exercise, or there are collections based on themes (including Mindfulness at Work). I’ve also heard good things about Smiling Mind. There’s great value in guided meditation, rather than trying to work it out myself (plus I tend to get distracted, so having a voice that gently pulls me back is soooooo helpful!). I’d suggest trying the free version of Calm or other apps, before investing in expensive subscriptions – we are all different, so it’s important to find what works for you.
    On the article itself: Daniel Goleman has had a profound impact on today’s culture and understanding of self and how we interact with others. Looking forward to reading about how mindfulness has impacted on his journey, given I’m a recent convert to mindfulness myself.

    1. Midgie Thompson wrote:

      Hi Michelle, Thanks for your suggestions about the mindfulness apps. I have heard of ‘Calm’ and will go check out ‘Smiling Mind’. Like you, I also find it helpful to have someone guiding me as it contributes towards bringing my thoughts back to the focus! Adebayo, have you checked out any of the online resources yet or tried an app and how did it go?

  3. Ashley wrote:

    Adebayo, also perhaps also look up John Kabat-Zinn. He’s an expert on mindfulness and founder of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR).

    1. Midgie Thompson wrote:

      Thanks Ashley for that suggestion to look into John Kabat-Zinn and mindfulness-based stress reduction. Definitely a good place to start. For me, putting into practice mindfulness is all about ‘acceptance of what is’.

  4. Amir Qullikutz wrote:

    I am practicing meditation for the last one year for one complete hour. I work eight hours at my project and three hours at my 2nd project. I feel full of energized and sleeps well at the age of sixty. Meditation is my great invigorating force and strengthens my mind.

    1. Midgie Thompson wrote:

      Thanks Amir for sharing your experiences with meditation. It is great that you can work so long and still feel full of energy! I am currently trying to do shorter meditations throughout the day to help with my energy levels and it seems to work well for me!

  5. Candace L Pendragon wrote:

    To value social skills over actual learning and intelligence is part of the foundation that has weakened our culture; we no longer lead the world with scientific developments, we are the only nation that traveled to the moon, yet now the ‘society’ makes a joke of learning/teaching basic math and science. My next door neighbor is an elementary school teacher and had to ‘think it over’ when I explained that water runs downhill. What are teachers like her actually teaching?

    1. Midgie Thompson wrote:

      Thank you Candace for sharing your thoughts. I personally believe there needs to be a balance of knowledge and skills that is taught to help people develop into well-rounded individuals that can function well within society.

  6. Larry C. Santos wrote:

    It’s really a nice and useful piece of info.I am satisfied that you simply shared this useful info with us.

    1. Midgie Thompson wrote:

      Thanks for the feedback Larry. There are so many benefits of mindfulness and we can all benefit from learning and practicing it.

  7. janie_gray wrote:

    Hi, a very good article and I would like to share my experience which i went through. Meditation helps to be as effective as antidepressants in reducing symptoms of depression, anxiety, and pain. Just sit, listen, and enjoy helped me in reduced pain intensity by 27% and decreased the emotional aspect of pain and also make people more resistant to infection.

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