by Allison Aboud Holzer

In my work at Yale, I think and talk about emotions every single day. Recently, I got certified to administer and interpret the only ability-based assessment in Emotional Intelligence called the MSCEIT (Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test), designed by the original creators of Emotional Intelligence. According to this model, there are four sub-categories of Emotional Intelligence skills:

  1. Accurately Recognizing emotions,
  2. Using emotions effectively,
  3. Understanding emotions, and
  4. Regulating emotions.

Most people score higher in some EI skill areas than others. The research tells us, however, that emotion regulation (#4) predicts success in relationships, school, and work more than any other skill area. The ability to regulate one’s own emotions and the emotions of others turns out to be a vital life skill.

What is emotion regulation? Jonatan Mårtensson captures the essence of emotion regulation when he said: “Feelings are much like waves, we can’t stop them from coming but we can choose which one to surf.”

Essentially, emotion regulation is the ability to make conscious decisions about how to express, internalize, communicate, and experience emotions. It’s what allows some people to remain calm in the face of extreme danger, to think rationally in an emotionally charged situation, and to handle difficult circumstances in ways that maintain, rather than damage, relationships with others.

Many people think of emotions as irrational and unwieldy; but in reality, a moment of time exists between a trigger event and our reaction to it. Using simple strategies like taking several deep breaths, taking a walk, or distracting our thoughts for a few seconds can buy us extra time to contemplate how we want to react to the situation in a way that cultivates our own well-being and relationships with others.

Emotion regulation is quite personal. Not only do strategies vary depending on the person using them, but they also vary by emotion. For example, when I’m feeling frustrated, it helps me to take a few deep breaths; however, when I’m feeling anxious, breathing doesn’t help me as much as exercising or taking a short walk.

The challenge of this bliss tip is to become more conscious about how you regulate (or don’t regulate) your emotions effectively. Try keeping a journal for a week and writing about the various ways you handle your emotions and the effectiveness of these strategies. If you aren’t the journaling type, have a discussion with a friend or read a related book. The process of self-discovery will undoubtedly lead to a new level of awareness that can only enhance your EI skills!