Improve Your Emotional Intelligence Using These 3 Simple Rules

Quit reacting and start responding

Gabriella H.
4 min readAug 28, 2022
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I used to love school. School was a breeze and my grades were nothing but A’s all across the board. (Except for Physical Ed. That class really threw off my groove.)

I used to revel in my parent’s “you’re so smart” praises. This led me to believe that intelligence, at least logical intelligence, was the only thing that mattered.

So I became smart, logically smart, but I was — and still am — a complete idiot when it comes to emotional intelligence. (And perhaps in every other sense, as well…)

But these three rules have helped me become a bit less awkward in the emotional intelligence area.

The Rule of Awkward Silence

Hollywood has made me believe that quick, witty answers are the only answers that matter. So if I’m not quick and/or witty, do I matter?

Existential question aside, Hollywood is wrong once again. Emotionally intelligent people do not feel the need to answer right away. They give themselves 10 -20 seconds, or longer, to answer the question or issue in front of them.

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This silence is utterly useful to get your thoughts and emotions in order because we all know the amount of incoherences we can say when emotions are floating too close to the surface. We’re bound to say something we’ll later regret.

So give yourself some space to chat with your emotions before shattering the awkward silence with an even more awkward answer.

The Blue Dolphin Rule

Don’t think about a white bear. Don’t do it.
Darn, now I’m thinking of a white bear.

Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote in an essay:

“Try to pose yourself this task: not to think of a polar bear, and you will see that the cursed thing will come to mind every minute.”

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The more you try to avoid a thought, the harder it will be to eliminate that thought. Avoidance is like resistance training for thoughts, and when you’re weak and unable to avoid them, they will just come back to you with a vengeance.

This psychological process is called the Ironic Process Theory. Turns out the best way to avoid an unwanted thought is not by resisting it, but by replacing it.

Enter the Blue Dolphin. Every time your white bear shows up, think of a blue dolphin instead.

Sure, easier said than done, but like everything in life, it requires practice, so don’t give up if this method doesn’t work at first try.

For example, I deal with a ton of intrusive thoughts on a daily basis. Anxiety is fun like that. There are some particularly troubling thoughts that I’ve been trying to resist for a while with little to no success.

The trick is to identify the way the thought makes you feel right before it enters your head. Every thought has its own signature knock right before it crosses the door of your awareness. With my thought, I start to feel a stab in my chest and a slight tingling sensation in my head. These are very subtle, so it took me a while to identify these physical sensations. But now, every time I feel them, I must call my blue dolphin before I let the white bear in.

Your blue dolphin can be anything you need it to be. For me, it’s imagining the exact opposite of the feeling that my unwanted thought provokes in me.

The Rule of Recentering

If you’ve ever tried to hit a piñata blindfolded, you know how important it is to know where your target is located. Or at least have a general idea of its location.

Life is a party, and your goals are your piñata.

The swings you take can sometimes be so strong — and misguided — that you end up striking the wind.
The party is noisy, and so are the people around you. Everyone is yelling for you to hit left, to hit right, up or down. And while most people are well-intentioned and give you correct directions, others just want to see you make a fool of yourself and will tell you that the piñata is far away from it’s actual location

All these things — life itself — can very easily veer you off from your goals, your principles, and your values.

If you want to find your piñata again, you need to recenter, to refocus your efforts, and to remind yourself where you want to be and who you want to be.

Often when you’re feeling sad, depressed, anxious, and all those emotions on the darker side of the spectrum, it’s because you’ve lost your center. And that’s fine. We all do. We all need time to recenter. In fact, we should all take some time in the morning, before our day begins, to remind ourselves what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. Daily reminders can do wonders to keep you on track, and to prevent you from striking the air.

Emotional intelligence is a constant development, but improving your ability to understand and manage your emotions will help you conquer all your white bears.

Happy living!



Gabriella H.

I’m always curious, always looking for something new to learn, using life as a learning canvas.