I have been studying emotional intelligence, the ability to understand and manage emotions, for several years. In doing so, I learned some important lessons.
One of the most important lessons is this: despite years of research and study, it is easy to make the same mistakes over and over again.
That is, unless you find a way to break the habit of making permanent decisions based on temporary emotions.
And the best way to do it?
The rules of emotional intelligence, that is. These are not hard and fast rules; rather, they are principles or guidelines. You can use these principles at work and at home to keep yourself from getting into situations you don’t want to get into. And when you find yourself in complex and delicate situations, these rules can help you find a way out.
Take the following five rules, for example. Use them to guide your behavior, and you will find that you are able to better understand and manage your emotions, and even the emotions of others.
(If you find value in these ten rules, you might be interested in the Complete Emotional Intelligence Course – which includes each of these rules plus ten more. Check out the full course here.)
The Blue Dolphin Rule
In psychology, the “white bear” problem (also known as ironic process theory), says that when you try to suppress certain thoughts, you often increase their frequency. The concept takes its name from a century-old essay by Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky, who suggested that if you try not to think of a white polar bear, that’s all that will come to mind.
So how do you conquer your polar bears? You need a blue dolphin.
A blue dolphin is an alternate thought, something you can immediately focus on if your polar bear comes to mind.
If your polar bear is that every time you have to give a presentation or speak in public you think, “Don’t get upset,” you can replace it with a blue dolphin, mentally telling yourself, “I’m so excited.” go very well.”
Now you are tapping into a potential negative – your nerve energy – and turning it into a positive.
(Read more about the blue dolphin rule here.)
The awkward silence rule
The awkward silence rule is simple: When you’re faced with a difficult question, instead of answering, you pause and think deeply about how you want to answer.
But this is not a short break. You might spend five, 10, or even 15 seconds (or more) before offering a response. Which, if you’re not used to it, will seem very awkward – at first.
This rule is an excellent tool for critical reflection. But it is also much more than that.
When you’re faced with a difficult question or under pressure, it’s easy to lose control of your emotions and say something you don’t really want to say.
But when you make a habit of stopping a little before answering, you take control of the situation. You give yourself time to think. You increase your confidence and are more sure to say what you mean and mean what you say.
(Read more about how Elon Musk and Steve Jobs practice the awkward silence rule here.)
The Simple Range Rule
In project management terms, “scope” is used to describe the details of what is involved in a job, and the time and effort required to complete it. As you can imagine, whether you are working on a complex project or even a small set of tasks, defining the scope is extremely important.
Let’s say you keep taking too much, thinking, “Oh, I’m going to adapt somehow. You think time will magically appear or a job will somehow do itself…
In contrast, when you set the scope correctly, you reduce stress and help life flow more smoothly.
(Read more about how Jeff Bezos uses the Simple Range Rule here.)
The Diamond Cutter’s Rule
Nobody likes to receive critical comments. But we all need it – it’s one of the best ways to learn and grow.
I like to compare critical reviews to a freshly mined diamond. This rock can be ugly to the naked eye; but after cutting and polishing, its value is clear.
Criticism is like that unpolished diamond: it’s ugly at first. But the vast majority of the time, that ugliness will be rooted in truth. And even if you don’t, it can still help you improve, as it will help you better understand how others perceive your work, allowing you to adapt if necessary.
You can benefit from more critical comments by becoming a diamond cutter. You have to take the rough, unpolished diamond and turn it into something beautiful – turning this critique into a learning experience.
(Learn more about using the Diamond Cutter Rule here.)
The refocusing rule
To refocus means to bring yourself (your thoughts and emotions) back into focus. It involves taking the time to reaffirm your main goals, values and key principles – even listing them in writing – and then using them as a focus to help focus your thoughts and emotions.
It is necessary because we are surrounded by so much noise. So many voices telling us how we should think or what we should do.
But by taking the time necessary to reaffirm and write down what is important for you – you can’t help but slow down and bring your thoughts back to your center. And psychology teaches us that controlling our thoughts allows us to exercise some control over our emotions.
(Learn more about applying the refocus rule here.)
These are just a few of the rules you’ve learned, but I hope you find value in them. I use these rules daily in my personal and professional life. I hope you can do the same.
Because, remember: emotional intelligence is truly a lifelong journey.
And it’s never too late to start.