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Alcohol and Mental Health

How To Improve Emotional Intelligence

September 22, 2023
25 min read
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Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
September 22, 2023
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
September 22, 2023
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
September 22, 2023
25 min read
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Reframe Content Team
September 22, 2023
25 min read

When we think of intelligence, we often picture IQ tests, math problems, and vocabulary quizzes. But there's another kind of intelligence that's just as crucial — if not more so! — for leading a fulfilling life, especially for those looking to cut back on or quit alcohol: Emotional Intelligence (EI).

But how do we know our emotional intelligence is in good shape? And how can we give it a boost? We’ve got seven concrete ways to do just that!

Improving Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence refers to our ability to identify, understand, manage, and effectively express our own emotions while also being attuned to the emotions of others. It's the foundation for empathy, self-awareness, and relationship management.

It's one thing to understand what EI is, but how can we actually improve it? For those of us on a path to changing our relationship with alcohol, enhancing EI can be a game-changer for navigating life’s ups and downs. Here's a closer look at seven steps to boost your emotional intelligence.

1: Commit to Self-Awareness: Knowing Yourself Is Key

Self-awareness is often heralded as the cornerstone of emotional intelligence. Think of it as the compass that guides us through the vast landscape of emotions, both familiar and uncharted. But how can we truly cultivate this crucial skill? Let's break it down step by step.

  1. Start a reflection routine. Dedicate a few minutes each day to introspection. This could be first thing in the morning, during a lunch break, or right before bed. Ask yourself: How do I feel right now? Why might I be feeling this way?
  2. Journaling. There’s something powerful about putting pen to paper. Journaling allows you to express and process your emotions, providing a tangible record of your emotional journey. Over time, patterns might emerge, offering insights into your emotional triggers and responses.
  3. Mindfulness practices. Activities like meditation or deep breathing exercises can anchor you in the present moment. These practices calm the mind and heighten awareness of your emotional state.
  4. Set realistic goals. As you become more self-aware, identify areas you'd like to work on. Maybe it's managing stress, improving patience, or becoming a better listener. Set realistic, achievable goals and track your progress.

Embarking on the journey of self-awareness is like giving yourself the gift of clarity. While the path may be challenging, the rewards — in personal growth, enhanced relationships, and overall well-being — are immeasurable. So buckle up and enjoy the introspective ride!

2: Seek Constructive Feedback: The Mirror to Self-Awareness

It's not always easy to see ourselves objectively; many of us (probably all of us!) have blind spots about our behaviors or reactions. Asking trusted friends or family members for feedback can provide us with a fresh perspective on our emotional responses and interpersonal skills while identifying areas of improvement. Remember, it’s not about criticism — it’s about gaining a fuller picture of ourselves.

Seeking feedback can be transformative. While it might be daunting at first, remember that it’s a pathway to growth, understanding, and connection. Here are some ways to start:

  1. Choose trusted sources. It’s essential to approach people who have your best interest at heart. Ask close friends, family members, colleagues, or mentors.
  2. Ask open-ended questions. Instead of asking "Did I do okay?" (which is a yes/no question), try asking "How do you think I handled that situation?" or "Is there anything you think I could do differently?"
  3. Be receptive. When seeking feedback, enter the conversation with an open heart and mind. Resist the urge to get defensive. Remember, this is a learning opportunity.
  4. Reflect on the feedback. After receiving feedback, take some time to process. What resonates with you? Is there a recurring theme in the feedback you receive from different sources? Reflection lets you determine which areas to work on.
  5. Express gratitude. Always thank the person providing feedback. Whether or not you agree with everything shared, expressing gratitude acknowledges the effort and trust the person took to help you.
  6. Act on it. Feedback is most effective when followed by action. Identify actionable steps based on the insights you've gained, and commit to implementing changes. Track your progress, and occasionally revisit the feedback to ensure you're on the right path.
3: Embrace Empathy: Navigating the World With an Open Heart

Empathy has the power to transform relationships, break down barriers, and infuse interactions with warmth and understanding. Empathy isn’t just about feeling pity or sympathy for someone — it's about understanding and sharing another person's emotions and perspective. It’s a heart-to-heart connection in which we momentarily step into another person’s shoes, viewing the world through their eyes.

Here are some ways to enhance your empathy skills, deepen relationships, and broaden your emotional horizon:

  1. Avoid judgment. Everyone’s experience is unique. Before forming an opinion, remind yourself that you might not know the full story. Try to keep an open mind.
  2. Ask insightful questions. Encourage others to share more about their feelings and experiences. Questions like "How did that make you feel?" or "What was going through your mind?" can elicit more thoughtful responses.
  3. Share personal stories. Sharing your own experiences and vulnerabilities can create a safe space for mutual understanding.
  4. Practice empathy in daily scenarios. You don't need a significant event to practice empathy. Even in everyday situations, like waiting in line at the grocery store or during a casual conversation, try to understand the feelings of those around you.
  5. Educate yourself. Read books, watch movies, or attend workshops that offer insights into different cultures, lifestyles, and experiences. Broadening your horizons can help you relate to a diverse range of people. Podcasts that feature personal stories can be a fantastic place to start. Try one (or all!) of these:
  • "The Moth": This podcast shares true stories told live on stage without scripts. The diverse array of stories from people from all walks of life provides insights into different facets of the human experience.
  • "StoryCorps": Launched as an initiative to record and preserve the stories of everyday Americans, this podcast captures intimate conversations between loved ones, shedding light on personal triumphs, struggles, and everything in between.
  • "Ear Hustle": Co-created by a former inmate at San Quentin State Prison, this podcast offers a deep dive into the daily realities of life inside prison, as well as the transition to life outside.
  • "Terrible, Thanks For Asking": Host Nora McInerny delves into the honest, and often difficult, answers to the question, "How are you?" This podcast addresses grief, trauma, and other complex emotions with honesty and humor.
  • "Kind World": A podcast about how a single act of kindness can change someone's life. These short episodes emphasize the profound impact of compassion and connection.
  • "This Is Actually Happening": This podcast delves into the extraordinary life events of ordinary people, giving listeners a glimpse into experiences that are often left unspoken.
4: Practice Effective Communication: Talk the Talk, Feel the Feel

It's one thing to feel emotions, but communicating them effectively is a whole different matter. Effective communication is an art — when done well, both parties are in sync, creating a mutual exchange that resonates with clarity and understanding. How can we facilitate good communication? Practice these skills:

  1. Listen actively. Before you speak, listen. Absorb what the other person is saying without mentally formulating your response. Truly hearing someone makes them feel valued and understood.
  2. Be clear and concise. Ambiguity can lead to misunderstandings. Make your messages direct and to the point, eliminating room for guesswork.
  3. Mind your tone. It might be a cliche, but it’s often true — it's not what you say but how you say it. Be aware of your tone, ensuring it matches the message you intend to convey.
  4. Non-verbal cues matter. Research shows that much of our communication is non-verbal. From facial expressions to body posture, make sure that your non-verbal cues align with your spoken words.
  5. Practice empathy in conversations. While expressing yourself, try to anticipate and understand the feelings of the listener. This promotes a two-way street of understanding.
  6. Seek feedback. After sharing your thoughts, encourage others to provide feedback on what they've understood. This lets you know that your message was received as intended and offers a chance to clarify if needed.
  7. Limit distractions. When engaging in meaningful conversations, reduce external distractions: turn off the TV, silence your phone, or choose a quieter setting.
5: Set Personal Boundaries: Creating Your Own Space of Respect and Well-being

Personal boundaries are the limits and rules we set for ourselves within relationships. They can relate to physical touch, personal space, emotional interactions, and even our time and energy. Think of them as invisible fences that define our comfort zones and protect our well-being.

Boundaries are also vital blueprints that guide us in navigating relationships and experiences. They ensure that our needs, values, and feelings are recognized and respected. They act as safeguards against being overextended or exploited.

Here are some ways to shape the emotional landscape by tweaking personal boundaries in your life:

  1. Self-reflection. Before setting boundaries, it's essential to know what you’re comfortable with. What are your limits in different areas of your life, from personal space to emotional sharing? Dive deep and be honest with yourself.
  2. Express clearly. When you're aware of your boundaries, communicate them directly. Use “I” statements, like “I feel more comfortable when …” or “I prefer …”.
  3. Stay consistent. Consistency reinforces your boundaries. If you waiver frequently, it sends mixed signals to others that your boundaries are flimsy or negotiable.
  4. Practice saying “no.” Remember, it's okay to decline requests or invitations that don't align with your boundaries. Saying “no” can be empowering, and it’s essential for self-care.
  5. Avoid over-explaining. While it's good to be clear, you don't owe everyone a detailed justification for your boundaries. A simple explanation is often sufficient.
  6. Re-evaluate periodically. As you grow and evolve, your boundaries might shift. Periodically review them to make sure they still align with your comfort, goals, and well-being.
  7. Surround yourself with respectful individuals. Seek relationships that honor and respect your boundaries. Mutual respect is the foundation for healthy interactions.

Establishing personal boundaries is like setting the rules for a game. When everyone knows and follows the rules, the game proceeds smoothly, ensuring fun and fairness for all involved. 

6: Dialing Down the Pressure: Engaging in Stress-Reducing Activities

Stress can be a massive inhibitor to emotional intelligence. When unchecked, it doesn't just cloud our mind: it can affect our physical well-being, sleep patterns, and even relationships. It’s like a background app running on your phone, draining the battery without you noticing — until you suddenly need to recharge.

But here’s the good news: we don't have to let stress take control. With the right activities in our toolkit, we can reduce our stress and improve our well-being, making room for greater emotional intelligence. 

Science-Backed Benefits of Stress-Reducing Activities

Stress-Melting Activities

  1. Deep breathing exercises: Simply focusing on your breath can do wonders. Take deep, measured breaths, holding for a few seconds before exhaling slowly. This exercise acts as a mini-reset for the mind.
  2. Nature walks. The tranquility of nature, whether in a park, beach, or forest, can be incredibly soothing. Even a short walk can help you disconnect from daily stresses.
  3. Journaling. Putting your thoughts on paper can be cathartic. It helps process emotions and offers a fresh perspective on challenges.
  4. Exercise. Physical activity — in a gym session, a dance class, or just some stretches — releases endorphins, natural stress-relievers.
  5. Hobbies. Delving into a hobby (painting, music, gardening, stamp collecting…) offers a refreshing break from routine and acts as a creative outlet.
  6. Limit screen time. Reducing screen time, especially before bedtime, can significantly enhance relaxation and sleep quality. Maybe swap that nightly scroll for a good book or some soft music.

Remember, everyone's stress-relief formula is different. What's essential is to recognize when you need a breather and to have a toolkit of activities to turn to. Life's too vibrant to be overshadowed by stress!

7: Never Stop Learning: The Endless Joys of Curiosity

Ah, the thrill of discovering something new! The satisfaction that comes from mastering a fresh skill or gaining knowledge in a previously uncharted territory is incomparable. It's like finding a new flavor of your favorite snack — delightful and oh-so-satisfying. Dive in with us as we explore the exhilarating world of lifelong learning.

While our formal education might have a finish line, true learning doesn't come with an expiration date. Every new day offers lessons, be they big or small, making us more well-rounded and informed. Here are some of the benefits:

  • Brain boost. Continuous learning stimulates the brain, keeping it agile and sharp. It’s like taking your brain to the gym!
  • Increased adaptability. In a rapidly evolving world, the more you learn, the better equipped you are to adapt to changes and new situations.
  • Enhanced self-esteem. Every new skill mastered or subject understood brings with it a sense of achievement, bolstering confidence.
  • Social connections. Joining classes or discussion groups introduces you to like-minded individuals, expanding your social circle and enriching personal connections.

Ways To Keep the Learning Flame Burning

Emotional intelligence isn’t a static trait — it’s a practice. Here are some ways to continuously educate yourself with an eye on emotional growth:

  1. Read widely. Books, magazines, online articles — the world is filled with written treasures waiting to be discovered. Set aside dedicated reading time, even if it's just 15 minutes a day.
  2. Online courses. The digital age blesses us with a plethora of online courses covering nearly every imaginable topic. Dive into a subject you're passionate about, or explore something entirely new.
  3. Attend workshops. Physical or virtual workshops offer hands-on experiences and the joy of shared learning with fellow enthusiasts.
  4. Travel. If circumstances allow, travel! Every place has its stories, traditions, and lessons. Even local travels can open up avenues of knowledge.
  5. Engage in discussions. Whether with friends, family, or new acquaintances, discussions can offer fresh perspectives and insights on familiar topics.
  6. Document your journey. Keep a learning journal, writing about new things you learn or skills you acquire. Reflecting on this can be incredibly motivating.
  7. Stay open-minded. Embrace the unknown. Don’t shy away from subjects or skills because they seem too challenging or out of your comfort zone. The magic often lies just beyond the familiar.

By committing to learning, you're not just gathering information; you're cultivating a lifestyle, a zest for life that keeps the days exciting and the mind stimulated. So equip yourself with a spirit of discovery, and let's embark on this unending journey of learning together!

Why Emotional Intelligence Matters for the Alcohol Journey

For those of us trying to reduce or eliminate their alcohol consumption, EI is particularly crucial. Why? Because, often, people lean on alcohol to navigate or suppress emotions. Once we remove alcohol as a crutch, it’s pivotal to have the tools to manage emotions healthily.

  • Self-awareness. Understanding your emotions means you're better equipped to handle triggers or situations that previously led to drinking.
  • Better relationships. Alcohol can cloud judgments and impede genuine connections. With enhanced EI, relationships thrive, providing essential support during one's journey.
  • Effective decision-making. Emotions play a big part in decision-making. Recognizing and managing them can lead to choices that support your recovery and overall well-being.

Taking the Leap: Enhancing Your Emotional Intelligence Around Alcohol

  • Practice mindful meditation. Instead of reaching for a drink, sit quietly and focus on your breath. This calms the mind and makes you more aware of your emotions. Begin with 10 minutes a day and gradually increase the duration.
  • Keep an emotion journal. Dedicate a few minutes each day to writing about your emotions. Over time, you'll see patterns and triggers, helping you anticipate and manage challenging situations without alcohol.
  • Response pause. Before reacting, especially in emotionally charged situations, take a deep breath and count to five. This gives your brain a chance to process emotions, allowing for a more thoughtful response.
  • Emotion labeling. When you feel an emotion, try to label it accurately. Instead of saying you feel "bad", pinpoint whether you're "frustrated", "lonely", or "anxious". This specificity helps in addressing the root cause. If you struggle to find the right word, you might try using the emotion wheel.
  • Social scenarios practice. Place yourself in social settings without the presence of alcohol. Observe your emotions, and instead of using alcohol as a buffer, use your growing EI skills to navigate. Start with smaller, less intimidating gatherings and progress from there.

A New Life Awaits

Improving EI isn't an overnight process. It's a journey, one that intertwines with various facets of life. As you enhance your emotional intelligence, you'll find yourself better equipped to manage emotions, foster genuine connections, and create a supportive environment for yourself and others.

Like any skill, emotional intelligence requires practice and patience. However, the rewards — better understanding of self, improved relationships, and a stronger foundation for a life with less or no alcohol — are well worth the effort!

Summary FAQs

1. Why is self-awareness pivotal in cultivating EI?

Self-awareness forms the cornerstone of EI. It's about recognizing and understanding our own emotions. When we're in tune with our feelings, we're better equipped to navigate our reactions, make decisions, and interact with others in a healthy way.

2. How can seeking feedback improve our emotional understanding?

Seeking feedback offers an external perspective on our actions and behavior. It helps us see blind spots, understand how our emotions manifest in our interactions, and provides insights on areas for growth.

3. Why is empathy more than just feeling sorry for someone?

Empathy is about understanding and sharing another person's feelings. It goes beyond sympathy (feeling sorrow) by putting oneself in another's shoes, fostering genuine connection and understanding.

4. How does effective communication tie into EI?

Effective communication is the bridge between emotional understanding and expression. It's about conveying our feelings clearly, listening actively to others, and ensuring our emotional messages are received and understood accurately.

5. Why are personal boundaries significant in emotional well-being?

Personal boundaries safeguard our emotional and mental well-being. They ensure our needs and feelings are respected, preventing emotional burnout and fostering healthier interactions.

6. How can lifelong learning benefit our Emotional Intelligence?

Continual learning exposes us to diverse perspectives, experiences, and knowledge. This broadens our understanding of the world and people, which in turn nurtures our empathy, adaptability, and overall emotional acuity.

Start Your Lifelong Learning Journey With Reframe

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually, with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

You’ll meet millions of fellow Reframers in our 24/7 Forum chat and daily Zoom check-in meetings. Receive encouragement from people worldwide who know exactly what you’re going through! You’ll also have the opportunity to connect with our licensed Reframe coaches for more personalized guidance.

Plus, we’re always introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help as you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol.

And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app through the App Store or Google Play today!

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