Psychological Muscles That Make You Awesome

If you could choose, wouldn’t you want to be awesome?

Not awesome like Superman, Wonder Woman or Batman (because that’s a fictional kind of awesome, and let’s be honest, who would want to wear those weird underpants, anyway?). We mean awesome like those people we all know who are really great at managing themselves and interacting with others.

You know the kind. Those amazing humans.

Life seems to be much simpler for them. They tend to succeed in achieving what they want, they effectively build great relationships and influence others, and they seem to enjoy life no matter the circumstances. When things go wrong (because, of course, they sometimes do) they seem to take it in their stride, responding effectively in ways that lead to growth and benefit rather than brokenness and despair.

They seem to be winning at life.

That’s because underneath the personal and social success of these kinds of people is a set of specific skills. These skills act like psychological muscles, keeping a person fit and healthy, socially and psychologically. Recent developments in neuroscience have also shown that these skills can be developed and strengthened, the way muscles are developed in a gym.

This set of skills is collectively referred to as Emotional Intelligence (EQ or EI).


So, What Is Emotional Intelligence?

Most people have heard the term EQ, and almost all organisations refer to it in some way or another. It is one of the buzzwords floating around in the corporate world.

But few people know what it is specifically, and it has often been thought of as vague and fluffy.

There were a few key players involved in the emergence of EQ as a coherent, measurable construct. Psychologists from different parts of the world tried to understand this aspect of intelligence that didn’t seem to fall within the traditionally known Cognitive Intelligence (IQ) category.

Here are three definitions from different psychologists who first described EQ:

“The ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings, to discriminate among them, and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and action” 1

“An array of non-cognitive abilities, competencies and skills, which influence one’s ability to succeed in coping with environmental demands” 2

“The capacity for recognising our own feelings and those of others, for motivating ourselves and for managing emotions in ourselves and in our relationships” 3

All of these definitions are from the 1990s. Subsequently, many definitions have emerged as our understanding of EQ has grown.

Underlying the wide array of definitions, are four common aspects:

1) a set of skills;

2) rooted in our emotions;

3) helping us to effectively manage ourselves and

4) our relationships

Taking all of these definitions and research into consideration, at Mygrow we define EQ as “a set of emotional skills that makes people great at managing themselves and interacting with others”.

“A set of emotional skills that makes people great at managing themselves and interacting with others.”

Skills that make you better at being you.


What Is Intelligence?

It was previously thought there was only one general intelligence. This was seen as someone’s cognitive capacity and speed for processing information, abstract reasoning, problem-solving and learning.To determine whether someone was one of the ‘sharper tools in the shed’, so to speak, psychologists endeavored to test the level of individual intelligence through tests. The score achieved on one of these tests became known as the Intelligence Quotient (IQ).

IQ rose to prominence through the work of Alfred Binet within the schooling system in the late 1800s as psychologists tried to classify children into different classes.This showed that IQ is very important for high performance in specific tasks. There’s no denying that. After all, IQ is what drives things like logical reasoning, abstract thought, and short term memory, all critical for success in many school subjects.

Since then, many different psychological theories have emerged, introducing an array of competencies that make up various aspects of intelligence.Howard Gardner introduced a theory of multiple intelligences, and highlighted that intelligence is used differently by scholars,7 which led to a tussle in the field about what intelligence actually is. Moreover, most people use the term ‘intelligence’ incorrectly, or slap it onto a description of someone they admire.

To curb some of the confusion, two psychologists analysed 70 diverse scholarly definitions of intelligence and concluded that “intelligence measures an agent’s ability to achieve goals in a wide range of environments”.8


Two of the most well-known intelligence types are Cognitive Intelligence (more specifically, IQ) and Emotional Intelligence (EQ).


So IQ Is Not The Only Form Of Human Intelligence?

The short answer: no.

Yes, many people, when talking about intelligence, are referring to IQ. But human intelligence is much broader than that.

IQ has erroneously become a dominant benchmark for all human performance. However, psychologists started noticing that some people with lower IQ were outperforming others with higher IQ, and so they began to question whether IQ was the best way to classify overall human intelligence.It was then that different theories of intelligence started emerging.


EQ Is At The Core Of Who We Are

Psychologists saw the important role that the emotional centres of the brain play in many aspects of life. While IQ functions sit predominantly in the frontal lobes of the brain, EQ is essentially rooted in the ability to balance the emotional centres and the frontal lobes of the brain. This is a balancing act of emotions, instinct, and rationality.

Emotional Centres of the brain

Years ago, neuroscientist, Antonio Damasio, had a patient called Elliot.10 Formerly a successful businessman, model father, and husband, Elliott suffered from a brain tumor and had to have it removed. Following the operation, Elliot’s life began to fall apart.

Although his high IQ was still in tact, his marriage and businesses collapsed. He became an “uninvolved spectator” in his own life and he seemed unable to experience emotions. This made him unable to make decisions when personal or social elements were involved. Even small decisions required endless deliberation: making an appointment took 30 minutes and choosing where to eat lunch took hours. It turned out, Elliot’s lack of ability to effectively process emotional information paralyzed his everyday functioning.

EQ and emotions do not come directly from the heart, despite what your favorite rom-com has taught you. Emotions are linked to the brain and they are deeply involved in almost every aspect of the way we navigate our lives. Without emotions and the successful integration of EQ in our lives, there are serious repercussions.

So, EQ is at the core of who we are for almost every part of life.


IQ vs EQ

More recent discussions around EQ have maintained its place as an intelligence type, while concluding that EQ is distinct from other mental processes. It involves problem-solving and reasoning with emotions, and how these processes enhance thought.11

This is why Daniel Goleman subtitled his first book on EQ, Why it can matter more than IQ.12

Goleman suggested that within the work context, IQ acts as a screening mechanism for people to get jobs.13 Once people are in, their technical knowledge and skills can advance their careers. But the skills most needed in the work environment are ones like teamwork, leadership, and handling conflict. Within similar occupational levels of complexity, EQ is the primary differentiating factor for success.

So, what allows top performers to get ahead within groups that have already been filtered by cognitive intelligence and technical prowess? EQ is the most powerful predictor of success.


Constructing Emotional Intelligence

There are different models that have been created to describe and measure the set of skills that make up EQ. The measurement methods have been diverse in an attempt to discover whether EQ is inherent or developed.

In line with research, at Mygrow, we know that EQ is not simply an inherited trait or an ability we either possess or don’t.

It can be developed.14

We like to think of the different EQ models as different car models. Some have the fuel tank on the left, others on the right. Some have four doors, while others have two.

The same is true of EQ models.

  1. The MSCEIT Model has four branches and eight specific competencies
  2. The ECI Model has four categories with 19 different skills
  3. The TEIQ has five categories and 15 skills
  4. The EQi2.0 has the same amount, just different types
  5. The Genos Model has six categories
  6. The ESCI Model has four categories with 12 skills
  7. The 6 Seconds Model has three categories and eight skills

This is what these models look like side by side. You can get a sense of what we mean by many models.

Emotional Intelligence


The Big 3: Emotional Intelligence Measurements

The sheer number of models can be a little overwhelming.

All the different models structure the skills differently. One EQ model clusters empathy with social skills, while another groups empathy with emotionality. They also use language differently. To give you an idea, have a look at the components from three of the most well established EQ models and scales below.15

You can play the ‘spot some of the similarities and differences’ game, if you’d like.

Emotional Intellligence


Can The Intelligences Be Developed?

There seems to be the impression that we are simply born with different levels of cognitive and emotional intelligence. Surely, some people are just better than others. Aren’t some people just born with higher EQ? Actually not, this is not the case at all.

The intelligences develop over time, although they develop differently. IQ develops a bit like bones in the body, which develop up to a certain age and then plateau; EQ develops more like muscles in the body, the more you exercise, the stronger and more defined they get.

However, many people still question whether EQ can be developed.

EQ Can Be Developed And Here’s Proof

In 2009, a significant study showed overall EQ (not just one aspect or trait) is something that can be developed in the short-term and over the long-term.16 The study involved psychology students that were divided into experimental and control groups. The experimental group participated in an EQ intervention consisting of four sessions of two and a half hours each, completed over a 4-week period. Each session had a 1-week interval to allow participants to apply the content in their daily lives. The sessions were based on short lectures, role plays, group discussions, and readings. The participants also had a personal diary in which they had to report daily on one emotional experience.

The study’s findings were astounding. They showed that EQ can develop over time. Not only were there significant improvements in the EQ in the experimental group, but all positive changes remained significant six months after the intervention.

So changes to EQ were not only evident in the short-term but persistent over the long-term.

Yes, you read correctly. EQ can be developed and this development is sustained over time. This graph from the study shows the development of EQ for the two groups:

 Emotional Intelligence

So, if EQ matters more than IQ, and we can develop it, this means we have control over something we can improve. What a massive encouragement for those of us who are not as awesome as we want to be yet.


EQ Myths (Busted!!!)

Daniel Goleman outlined a few examples of some misconceptions around what EQ is (not).17 After all our work with EQ, we like to refer to these as the myths surrounding EQ, which we hope have been successfully busted in this blog.

Below are six of those myths:

  1. Emotional intelligence is about being nice and friendly
  2. EQ is a soft and fluffy construct
  3. IQ is much more important for success at work and in life
  4. EQ is about giving free reign to feelings
  5. Women are emotionally “smarter” than men
  6. EQ is inherited or stops developing after early childhood


Emotional Intelligence Facilitates Success

How does someone with high EQ think and behave?

EQ allow individuals to relate more effectively to the dynamics of the social world surrounding them. These individuals are able to perceive the emotions someone else is experiencing, assimilate this information into their thinking and decision-making, formulate the appropriate words to explain emotions, and manage and regulate their own emotions as well as the emotions of others around them.18

Wow, that was a mouthful.

However, the links to personal and organisational success are clear.19 In a meta-review on the outcomes of EQ, the authors showed that high EQ individuals experience the following positive outcomes: better social relations; being perceived more positively by others; better family and personal relationships; better academic achievement; better social relations during work performance, including negotiations; and better psychological well-being.20


Emotional Intelligence In The Workplace

You may have wondered how EQ applies in the workplace specifically? Well, here are some researched areas where EQ is critical for success in organisations:


Higher EQ allows people to appropriately respond to, and influence, the environment and people around them. Therefore, EQ competencies have clearly and repeatedly emerged as a differentiating factor for successful leadership, making up a suggested 85% of the skills needed for successful leadership.21 While EQ alone does not equate to good leadership, the most effective leaders have great reserves of EQ competencies and have a highly positive effect on their work environments.22

Leaders with higher EQ have also proven to outperform their targets by as much as 20%, while those who lacked them under-performed by almost 20%.23


The impact of EQ on productivity is multiplied in more complex roles. In the most complex jobs, top performers have been shown to be 127% more productive than average performers when they have high EQ levels.24

Most top performers have high EQ, while very few low performers also have high EQ.25

Company Revenue

EQ can directly impact a company’s revenue. In a national insurance company, sales agents with developed EQ sold policies at an average premium of 110% more than their lower EQ counterparts.26

In another insurance company, new sales staff with high EQ sold 37% more life insurance in their first two years than others.27


Why Measure EQ?

We mentioned earlier that EQ develops like muscles. Let’s think about physical health and the (in)famous Body Mass Index (BMI) score. Knowing your BMI score can be helpful as an indication of what you might need to change. But simply knowing your BMI score does not make you slimmer or healthier. The effort you put in, once you know your BMI, is what develops your health.

It is the same with EQ, just knowing what your EQ levels are is not what changes or develops it. Measuring EQ is a good start, but actually developing it requires more than just measurement. It takes the implementation of specific techniques over time.

Because EQ is not set in stone, and not inherited from your great uncle’s grandmother, you know it can change and improve over time. Once you know more about your EQ, you can then work on your development. Measuring EQ is therefore important to track development and progress.

What are some other ways of measuring EQ?


The Importance Of 360° Feedback

Since many aspects of EQ involve interpersonal dynamics, feedback from others about your EQ is a vital step in measuring, learning about and developing your EQ. Some aspects of EQ are a bit like bad breath: you need others to point them out.

Some aspects of EQ are a bit like bad breath: you need others to point them out.

Of course, feedback is not the end of the developmental journey (as we saw with finding out your BMI score), but rather, it’s the beginning. Once you have asked for feedback from people around you, you can get a better sense of what others think about you and how you use your emotions to interact with the world around you. You can then compare what you believe about the elements of your EQ to what others think.

This is a really powerful exercise that can lead to wonderful insights about yourself. You can get this assessment done right now.

Measure your EQ now


Get Better At Being You

Since EQ is such a powerful part of being successful in all aspects of life, it’s probably a worthwhile cause spending a bit more time on it for your own life. EQ can change your life. You can develop it. You can measure it. And you can start right now.

So, back to our first question, do you want to be awesome? Do you want to build the psychological muscles that make you a better human?

Creating a lifestyle of developing your EQ will make you better at being you.

To start doing that, click here

Reference List:

1. Salovey, Peter, and John D. Mayer. “Emotional intelligence.” Imagination, cognition and personality 9, no. 3 (1990): 185-211.

2. Bar-On, Reuven. BarOn emotional quotient inventory. Multi-health systems, 1997.

3. Goleman, Daniel. Working with Emotional Intelligence. New York: Bantam Books, 1998.

4. Roberts, Richard D., Moshe Zeidner, and Gerald Matthews. “Does emotional intelligence meet traditional standards for an intelligence? Some new data and conclusions.” Emotion 1, no. 3 (2001): 196.

5. See work such as Binet. A., & Simon, T. The development of intelligence in children. Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins, 1916.

6. See note 2 above.

7. Mayer, John D., Peter Salovey, David R. Caruso, and Lillia Cherkasskiy. “Emotional Intelligence.” Chapter. In The Cambridge Handbook of Intelligence, edited by Robert J. Sternberg and Scott Barry Kaufman, 528–49. Cambridge Handbooks in Psychology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511977244.027.

8. Legg, Shane, and Marcus Hutter. “A collection of definitions of intelligence.” Frontiers in Artificial Intelligence and applications 157 (2007): 17.

9. Goleman, Daniel. Emotional Intelligence: Why it Can Matter More than IQ. New York: Bantam Books, 1995.

10. Damasio, Antonio R. Descartes’ Error : Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain. New York: G.P. Putnam, 1994.

11. Mayer, John D., Peter Salovey, and David R. Caruso. “Emotional intelligence: New ability or eclectic traits?.” American psychologist 63, no. 6 (2008): 503.

12. See note 9 above.

13. Goleman, Daniel, Richard E. Boyatzis, and Annie McKee. Primal leadership: Unleashing the power of emotional intelligence. Harvard Business Press, 2013.


14. Dulewicz, Victor, and Malcolm Higgs. “Can emotional intelligence be developed?.” The International Journal of Human Resource Management 15, no. 1 (2004): 95-111.

15. See note 4 above.

16. Nelis, Delphine, Jordi Quoidbach, Moïra Mikolajczak, and Michel Hansenne. “Increasing emotional intelligence: (How) is it possible?.” Personality and individual differences 47, no. 1 (2009): 36-41.

17. See note 3 above. Goleman refers to these as “Misconceptions”.

18. Kilduff, Martin, Dan S. Chiaburu, and Jochen I. Menges. “Strategic use of emotional intelligence in organizational settings: Exploring the dark side.” Research in organizational behavior 30 (2010): 129-152.

19. Bharwaney, Geetu, Reuven Bar-On, and Adèle MacKinlay. “EQ and the bottom line: Emotional intelligence increases individual occupational performance, leadership and organisational productivity.” Ei World Limited (2011): 1-35.

20. See note 11 above.

21. Van Jaarsveld, Pieter. The Heart of a Winner: Developing Your Emotional Intelligence. South Africa: Lux Verbi, 2003.

22. Mittal, Er Vipin, and Ekta Sindhu. “Emotional intelligence and leadership.” Global Journal of Management and Business Research 12, no. 16 (2012); Rosete, David, and Joseph Ciarrochi. “Emotional intelligence and its relationship to workplace performance outcomes of leadership effectiveness.” Leadership & Organization Development Journal 26, no. 5 (2005): 388-399.

23. McClelland, David C. “Identifying competencies with behavioral-event interviews.” Psychological Science 9, no. 5 (1998): 331-339.

24. Hunter, John E., Frank L. Schmidt, and Michael K. Judiesch. “Individual differences in output variability as a function of job complexity.” Journal of Applied Psychology 75, no. 1 (1990): 28.

25. Bradberry, Travis. The business case for Emotional Intelligence. Talentsmart, 2009.

26. Hay/McBer Research and Innovation Group (1997). This research was provided to Daniel Goleman and is reported in his book Working with Emotional Intelligence.

27. Seligman, Martin. Learned optimism: The skill to conquer life’s obstacles, large and small. Random House: New York, 1990.

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