Use Stoicism to Develop Emotional Intelligence

posted on: January 24, 2020
author: Anthony Pellegrino

Faces of Buddha, a master of emotional intelligence

Photo by Mark Daynes on Unsplash

Let me ask you something:

Have you ever thought about how many forms of intelligence there are? 

Does that seem like a preposterous question to you? There’s only one type of intelligence: intelligence. If you’re smart, you’re smart, right?

Well, not quite.

While there is certainly an overarching general intelligence within the human mind, it is also possible to see intelligence existing in a few different modes.

People can find themselves and others more intelligent in some of these modes and less so in others. 

Some people have greater intelligence in a more analytical, or logical-mathematical way, like physicists, engineers, and scientists. Others are more creative or artistically intelligent, like novelists, painters, or designers. 

You get the idea.

This idea, or the Theory of Multiple Intelligences as it is formerly known, was initially proposed in the 1980s by a psychologist named Howard Gardner. It attracted a decent amount of attention but was later criticized for its lack of empirical evidence and the rather ad-hoc nature of the theory. 

Nevertheless, a perception that there are multiple modes of intelligence still remains in popular discourse. Specifically one mode in particular: It’s called emotional intelligence.

What is emotional intelligence?

Emotional intelligence is defined as the ability to recognize different emotions in oneself and others, accurate label and appropriately define those different emotions, and then be able to guide one’s behavior based on those emotions and one’s emotional reactions in a legitimate way.

If you’ve been reading our other posts about Stoicism and emotions, you should already be getting a good idea of what our main point in this article is going to be.

Adopting a Stoic philosophy and Stoic ideals in your life and your performances can do wonders for your emotional control and the development of your emotional intelligence. 

At the root of Stoic thinking is this central idea:

There are many things in life, many circumstances, and many events that lay outside our control. We can’t always control the outcomes in our lives, or how people behave or act. 

We become so attached to the outcomes that we desire that we become devastated when they do not come to fruition. This is especially true when that negative outcome was outside our control. 

Paradoxically, we often trick ourselves into thinking we could have done more or done something differently to have affected the outcome.

But the ancient Stoics thought that this was preposterous. This is what they ultimately believed was the root of most of our daily suffering. Instead, they taught us that we should be able to recognize and focus on nothing but what’s within our legitimate control.

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Epictetus, an ancient Greek Stoic, writes in the opening paragraphs of his book The Enchiridion:

“Some things are in our control and others not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in a word, whatever are not our own actions.”

The emotionally intelligent Stoic knows they must only worry about what falls within their control. 

As Marcus Aurelius has said, 

“You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”

Emotional intelligence is a vital and invaluable skill in life and in competition. The vast majority of competitive sports have the same overall nature, even if some of the details are different. Most sports are a push and pull between opponents. Ultimately, only one can be declared the victor.

This type of situation can often invoke very negative emotions to the forefront. During especially challenging matches, competitors can find themselves dealing with a colossal amount of stress or anxiety, which can often lead to negative or hampered performances.

If we can’t manage to control our emotions, or we allow our emotions to start making decisions for us, then we’ll find ourselves making silly mistakes and losing more often.

Optimal performance requires a cool head, no way around it.

The state most aligned with victory is that of flow, and unruly emotions will foil every attempt to sink into that state of total immersion. 

But Stoicism can help us out. At its core, all Stoicism is really doing is developing our emotional intelligence through our own patterns of thought. As competitors, we should be meditating on Stoic ideals every day, but especially right before we go into competition. 

This regular Stoic practice will do wonders for the development of our emotional intelligence, and ultimately increase our opportunities to achieve victory.

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About the Author

Anthony Pellegrino is a freelance journalist, writer, and content marketing strategist. He is currently studying to get his B.A. in Philosophy at Fort Hays State University. He works as contributor to Pulse Magazine and as a freelance content creator for several marketing agencies and brands. His writing is focused on philosophy of mind, metaphysics, politics, everyday life, and content marketing.

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