As noted, the good news is that you absolutely can improve your mental fitness. It takes intentional and consistent practice, just like improving your physical fitness does.
Here are 3 tools for strengthening your EQ muscles:
Schedule Reflection Time
Leadership guru Warren Bennis found a common thread amongst the best leaders - they built “reflective structures” into their lives. In other words, they scheduled time to think about what they said, what they did, and how they felt on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis.
Journal - While scheduling time to sit in reflective thought is beneficial, writing down your thoughts and feelings on paper is most impactful. Get a journal and use it as an outlet for identifying and processing emotions and improving self-awareness. Studies have also shown that journaling creates an emotional release that lowers anxiety and stress and also induces better sleep.
Deconstruct your conversations/situations - When conversations and/or meetings turn south, don’t just ruminate on what happened, write it down so you can come back to it with a clear head to try to understand where your emotions may have gotten in the way and how you might have engaged differently.
Practice Gratitude - At the end of each day, spend a few minutes reflecting on, and journaling, three things that happened that you are grateful for. Not only does research show that stress hormones like cortisol are 23% lower in grateful people, developing a gratitude practice also helps you sleep better and have a more optimistic mindset.
A good deal of EQ is about managing your emotions, which can be particularly challenging in cortisol-inducing, high stress startup environments. Breathing exercises or guided meditations are an easy way to work on presence and to develop the ability to note your thoughts and emotions and give them space before you act on them.
Create Feedback Loops
Interestingly, most people think they are self-aware, but studies have found that only 10-15% truly are. Creating feedback loops, which can be done informally via a trusted colleague/mentor or more formally through 360 reviews, is crucial. Business coaches are also an excellent option for improving self-awareness and providing action plans for addressing blind spots and leadership gaps.
For managing emotions “in the moment”, we suggest creating a “Self-Soothing Toolkit.”