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Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman [Actionable Summary]

This is a comprehensive summary of the book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ by Daniel Goleman. Covering the key ideas and proposing practical ways for achieving what’s mentioned in the text. Written by book fanatic and online librarian Ivaylo Durmonski.

Deluxe printable: Download this summary to read offline.

The Book In Three Or More Sentences:

According to Daniel Goleman, it is not the level of our IQ, but the level of our emotional intelligence (EQ) that is much more important for achieving our desired goals and handling situations of adversity. In this book, the award-winning psychologist helps us understand the importance of our feelings by sharing real-life cases, scientific research, and actionable ways to handle emotional distress. Primarily, his goal is to equip us with the tools we need to become more rational when feeling.

The Core Idea:

What’s emotional intelligence? In short, our ability to stay cool even amidst turbulent emotions caused by outside (and inside) sources. The ability to control yourself when under pressure. The power to say nice things even when you want to hurt others. Keep moving forward even when you want to quit. To disallow the brain from preventing you from doing what’s right even when you’re tired, overwhelmed, and under stress. Put differently, this book teaches us how to handle our emotions with intelligence and helps us teach our children to do the same.


  • We are hardwired to feel before we think. It’s a feature, not a bug. But a feature that can cost us a lot if we don’t know how to properly handle it.
  • Pointing exactly what you are feeling will help you better react to a situation. And, also, help you change your mood from miserably awful to surprisingly exciting.
  • Worrying about something all the time will rarely produce adequate solutions. Only when you move away from the oppressing thoughts you can find a fresh way to move forward.

Think Workbook #002:

This book summary comes with a Think Workbook included (previously available only for members – now free).

Inside, I explore some of the best concepts from the great work produced by Daniel Goleman – along with guided writing exercises.

Download the workbook by clicking here.

7 Key Lessons from Emotional Intelligence:

Lesson #1: We Are Designed To Feel Before We Think

What was the most irrational thing you’ve done in the past that you now label as, “oh gosh, I was so stupid to do it!”?

We all have such clumsy moments in our history. Situations where we act before we think.

But have you ever asked yourself why we do it?

Well, Daniel Goleman did. That’s actually the whole premise of the book.

In Emotional Intelligence, he explains why our emotions exist. After that, provides usable techniques that help us become more intelligent when experiencing high arousal sensations. This way, we can prevent ourselves from reacting to a situation before carefully considering the consequences – for example, replying hastily to your boss to his usually illogical conclusions.

But one interesting feature we all have – which we rarely consider – is that we are designed to feel before we think. And this hardwired characteristic, as the author explains, is a feature that exists for a good reason.

For example, if we suddenly see a wild beast coming out of the bush, we don’t want to think about what we should do. We want to feel alert, scared, we would want to flee before we consider the best course of action.

However, in the modern world, we rarely face wild beasts that can cause us harm. There are still dangers, but they are more subtle. Most commonly, we have to deal with people who pretend to care about us but are actually more concerned about their own gains. Or, cases where we feel stressed, emotionally exhausted, angry, but if we let our primary emotions take over this will most commonly lead to a breakup, procrastinating on a project, a fight, or losing your job.

And while we can’t block the emotional mind – nor we should – by realizing when we are acting impulsively, and what triggers these automatic reactions, we’ll better approach disturbing moments in the future. Thus, stop acting illogically in cases where a more intelligent response is needed.

That’s what the book teaches us. And the first thing you need to realize is that we default to feeling and acting based on what we initially feel. Once you get that, you’ll become a bit more mindful about acting based on what first feels right. You’ll learn to pause, consider carefully the situation, and then respond.

“In a very real sense we have two minds, one that thinks and one that feels. These two fundamentally different ways of knowing interact to construct our mental life. One, the rational mind, is the mode of comprehension we are typically conscious of: more prominent in awareness, thoughtful, able to ponder and reflect. But alongside that there is another system of knowing: impulsive and powerful, if sometimes illogical—the emotional mind.” Daniel Goleman

Lesson #2: Inability to Handle Emotions Leads to an Unstable Life

Our lives are a wreck and the decision we make are often bad not because we are unavoidably stupid, have a low IQ, or intolerant to books but because of our weak emotional spirit.

This is a frequent problem in our daily lives.

Smart people often end up divorced, having alcohol or drug problems, or at some point find themselves in court because they “lost it” when confronting someone in the parking lot, for example.

Intelligence and emotional intelligence are two different things. And these two different kinds of intelligence are labeled as rational and emotional in the book.

To become a well-rounded person, you need to have both of them – not just have a high IQ, but also possess the ability to control your feelings. On a lot of occasions actually, having the EQ part is much more valuable. Here’s how the author describes it: “many people with IQs of 160 work for people with IQs of 100, if the former have poor intrapersonal intelligence and the latter have a high one. And in the day-to-day world no intelligence is more important than the interpersonal. If you don’t have it, you’ll make poor choices about who to marry, what job to take, and so on. We need to train children in the personal intelligences in school.”

Surely being smart is helpful, but being able to persuade others, understand them, feel empathetic when the situation requires it, save and be mindful with your money, plan for the worst – these are all things that are often much more important to move up the world.

Intelligence is far from just scoring high on your Sat test or getting a high IQ test – this is the old way of scoring Intelligence. Smartness is understanding the people around you, predicting their moods, and attuning yourself based on how others feel and think.

As concluded in the book, we are awful in the latter because there is no EQ schooling. We are taught how to read books, how to calculate difficult mathematical equations, how to use the internet but no one is teaching us how to handle seemingly helpless situations that require vigor and grit.

These are all things we learn by just, well, living.

The starting point is understanding yourself. Making time to think about the things that move you and developing your natural competencies and gifts. Once you understand yourself, you’ll be better at handling emergency situations and also better at understanding other people. And above all, you’ll obtain the ability to nurture your relationships, keep your real friends closer, resolve conflicts with style, and quickly analyze a social situation and find the best outcome for the group.

“Inter personal intelligence is the ability to understand other people: what motivates them, how they work, how to work cooperatively with them. Successful salespeople, politicians, teachers, clinicians, and religious leaders are all likely to be individuals with high degrees of interpersonal intelligence.” Howard Gardner

Lesson #3: Understand the Key Abilities To Acquire Emotional Intelligence

Imagine that you have to describe what is an “intelligent person”. What would you say? You will probably include math, programming, accounting, and other library-like skills that are heavily endorsed in school. And that’s normal. Practical and “smart” skills are the first type of activities that comes to mind when we think of a person who is supposedly super smart.

But that’s not what scientists who observe how people cope in life think about intelligence.

Practical intelligences that are valued in the workplace can get you a decent salary, but they surely won’t make you the boss. You need, among other things, people skills.

Here’s a list of the 5 main characteristics a person needs to become more emotionally intelligent:

  • Knowing one’s emotions: Your ability to recognize your feelings when they occur is of key importance. Being self-aware is crucial for your place in the world. It will help you in various situations, but most notably in situations when you’re feeling agitated and instead of hurting others, you withdraw, regroup, and act with intelligence.
  • Managing emotions: Sadness can lead to despair and hopelessness. But not necessarily. When we can spot our feelings, we can more easily find ways to soothe ourselves and bounce back instead of wallowing in depressing emotions.
  • Motivating oneself: Mobilizing yourself, so you can keep pushing even if things aren’t looking good is a key ability every representative of the hall of fame has – i.e., someone successful. Emotional self-control consists (mostly) of delaying gratification and battling impulsiveness.
  • Recognizing emotions in others: Basically, this means having “people skills”. It’s about your ability to read the nonverbal cues in other people. This will not only make you the most popular person in your social circle but also emotionally stable. Instead of reacting harshly when others are angry, you’ll feel empathetic and understanding.
  • Handling relationships: Managing what’s happening around you can be compared to a director on a movie set. You clearly know what’s the plot and by taking into account the temper of others, you smooth-talk them to keep pursuing the end goal. If you excel in this skill you’ll be a social star.

Naturally, the next question will be: How can you add these things in your emotional arsenal?

The book answers these questions by including different stories and scientific studies but below I’ll add a succinct breakdown of the core attributes:

  • Our feelings require constant self-monitoring. This skill sounds quite simple – you are aware of the feelings you are having. However, it requires constant work. By knowing exactly what you are feeling you can direct your thoughts to other, better thoughts.
  • Raging if someone cuts dangerously close to you while you are driving is usually the common response. But instead of seeking revenge, you can see the situation from a different perspective. For example, consider the scenario that maybe there is a medical emergency and that’s why the person is driving carelessly.
  • Motivating yourself is about harnessing your emotions properly. Instead of feeling stressed and overwhelmed by an upcoming speech, for example, you use the feeling of anxiety to better prepare – therefore do well. In essence, it is about using sabotaging feelings as fuel, not as a way to flood your brain with disastrous thoughts.
  • Emotions are nonverbal. To better understand others, we need to focus more on what people are doing – their face, the tone of their voice, the gestures – as opposed to what they are saying.
  • Our moods transfer to the surrounding people – they are contagious. Keep that in mind when talking to others. You can either let the moods of others consume you, or you can do the opposite – add a bit of hope and positivity to a seemingly hopeless situation.

“Men who are high in emotional intelligence are socially poised, outgoing and cheerful, not prone to fearfulness or worried rumination. They have a notable capacity for commitment to people or causes, for taking responsibility, and for having an ethical outlook; they are sympathetic and caring in their relationships. Their emotional life is rich, but appropriate; they are comfortable with themselves, others, and the social universe they live in.” Daniel Goleman

Lesson #4: Overcoming Bad Feelings Requires Different Approach

Those who crave self-knowledge spend a hell lot of time thinking about their own feelings. Reflecting, considering what can be improved.

And that’s a good thing. It’s like having a wingman always standing by your side, watching your back.

In a sense, self-awareness is like having an ever-watching shadow that is constantly reporting what your mood is and why this mood is currently experienced. It’s a lifelong skill that helps you understand when you are caught up in a negative feeling and instead of reacting impulsively, you consider the best response based on the situation.

You can also imagine it like a 24/7 monitoring system of yourself. The following passage from the book describes it perfectly, “like being accompanied by a second self—a wraithlike observer who, not sharing the dementia of his double, is able to watch with dispassionate curiosity as his companion struggles.”

However, the self-control ability is more than just your skill to label what you are feeling. After all, simply stating that you’re feeling agitated, for example, won’t help you much in a situation. To make the most of it, you need also to let go of the bad feeling and consider why what you’ve experienced led to this feeling.

The following example included in the book will help you understand this better: “When we say “Stop that!” to a child whose anger has led him to hit a playmate, we may stop the hitting, but the anger still simmers. The child’s thoughts are still fixated on the trigger for the anger—”But he stole my toy!”—and the anger continues unabated.”

In the above situation, it’s important not only to prevent a bad response, but also to explain why anger is not the right choice from our arsenal of feelings.

We need to be aware of both our mood and our thoughts about that mood – why it’s occurring and what can be done to make it better?

To help us with this, the author cites John Mayer, a psychologist from the University of New Hampshire. Based on his research, he categorizes people in three groups in regard to how they handle their emotions:

  • Self-aware: Such people fully understand the emotions they are experiencing. When they enter a bad mood, they don’t obsess about this condition. They analyze the situation and find a way out. In short, their mindfulness helps them take action, not ruminate about the current bad outlook.
  • Engulfed: People in this category lose themselves in their feelings. They don’t fully understand their emotions and feel often helpless. A mood can quickly take over and make them either obedient when they are aroused. Or, overwhelmed and devastated if it’s a bad mood.
  • Accepting: Usually understand their feelings but don’t try to change them. As explained in the book, there are two subsections of this category: Those who are usually in good moods and don’t feel motivated enough to make a change (imagine someone working an okayish job for years). The second subsection is the type of people who can clearly define their bad mood but are too lazy to do something to change their situation (procrastinators who binge-watch movies).

What’s your personality type based on the above? Can you easily sense your mood? And once you do, are you doing something to make a positive change, or are you the type of person who accepts his condition and does little to make improvements?

“At its best, self-observation allows just such an equanimous awareness of passionate or turbulent feelings. At a minimum, it manifests itself simply as a slight stepping-back from experience, a parallel stream of consciousness that is “meta”: hovering above or beside the main flow, aware of what is happening rather than being immersed and lost in it.” Daniel Goleman

Lesson #5: New Fresh Solutions to Problems Rarely Come From Worrying

Telling someone to “stop worrying” is a common reaction when we see depressed people. Of course, it rarely works.

However, anxiety quickly becomes addictive according to Daniel Goleman. We think that keeping a problem in our minds helps us in some mysterious way to handle the situation while in reality, we simply become chronic worriers. Constantly thinking about a particular problem only intoxicates our mind.

Or as the author further explains, “Instead of coming up with solutions to these potential problems, worriers typically simply ruminate on the danger itself, immersing themselves in a low-key way in the dread associated with it while staying in the same rut of thought.”

How can you escape this seemingly endless condition of depressing episodes and actually do something about the situation that is troubling your mind?

Fortunately, there is a way out. A way to regain control over your mind and let go of the sabotaging episodes that forever circle your consciousness.

First, you need to be on the lookout for depressing episodes and catch them as soon as they enter your orbit – i.e., being self-aware. Plus, learn what type of activities or people trigger anxiety in you.

Once we identify the situation – figure out the cause that causes us to worry – we need to think critically about it. Ask ourselves a couple of questions that will help us take some sort of action. For example: What is the possibility of something like this happening? What are the alternatives? Does it really help to go through these anxious thoughts all the time?

In simple terms, you need to challenge the thoughts that are giving you a hard time. Not let them destroy you, and, as complicated as it might sound, shift your attention to something else. Something completely different to what you’re doing – e.g. exercising. The more you let worries circle your mind, the more space they will take and constantly make you feel miserable.

“Aerobic exercise, Tice found, is one of the more effective tactics for lifting mild depression, as well as other bad moods. Exercise seems to work well because it changes the physiological state the mood evokes: depression is a low-arousal state, and aerobics pitches the body into high arousal.” Daniel Goleman

Lesson #6: Identify Your Feelings To Find The Best Solution

Emotional intelligence is more than simply learning how to talk with others and the ability to recognize your current emotional state. It’s also the skill that helps you identify your feelings and find ways to make corrections – when these feelings are sabotaging.

The author, Daniel Goleman, explains that the majority of people turn to alcohol or food, when they are feeling down, because they cannot correctly spot their feelings.

As he writes in the book, “Some obese people are unable to tell the difference between being scared, angry, and hungry, and so lump all those feelings together as signifying hunger, which leads them to overeat whenever they feel upset.”

Or in other words, poor self-awareness is causing distress that leads to an activity that at some point has become a habit – eating for example.

And while we all know, and we can all tell when we are bored, angry or hungry, we usually apply the same response to all of these feelings.

For instance, having a fight with your spouse will surely raise your adrenaline. Make you feel anxious or even depressed. But if you don’t know how to deal with the situation effectively – talking with your partner to smooth the situation – you will probably turn to your favorite activity – eating, for example.

The intelligence part from the EQ abbreviation comes to aid here. We search for a more rational way to handle situations when we usually act impulsively. Alcohol, narcotics, these are all addictions caused by our inability to handle our sensations properly. Actually, a lot of people, based on studies in the book, state that they feel normal only when they are consuming these opiates. Which basically means that they don’t fully acknowledge their sensations.

It sounds simple, “understand your emotions and respond effectively!” But not everyone understands this. We are not thought to spot our feelings, therefore, we turn to the easiest solution: alcohol, drugs, etc.

There are a couple of steps that we need to take to best tackle a highly emotional situation:

  • Identify the feeling. What exact feeling are we experiencing? Sadness? Anger? Anxiety? They might feel the same at times, but they are quite different.
  • Spot how you react in different situations. How do you act when you are bored? How do you act when you are angry? Why do you act the way you do?
  • Learn to better soothe yourself depending on the situation. Avoid responding to every bad feeling with eating, or drinking, or arguing, for example. Rather than binge-eating, or fighting, ask questions, listen to others, replace your damaging responses to certain situations with positive ones. Instead of drinking when bored, find an alternative activity that can enhance your skills in a certain field.

“Anonymous and other recovery programs have demonstrated for decades. Acquiring the ability to handle those feelings—soothing anxiety, lifting depression, calming rage—removes the impetus to use drugs or alcohol in the first place.” Daniel Goleman

Lesson #7: Learn to Wait When There is Emotional Hijacking

As stated, we are prone to feel before we think. But this is not an innocent act. Feeling, especially when the sensation is strong, often leads to reckless actions. Such moments, when we act impulsively without properly considering the situation, are called neural hijackings.

The technicality behind this term is rather complex. But put simply, the limbic brain declares an emergency and forces the rest of the brain to stop all activities while dealing with the current situation.

You can also imagine this as if like being possessed and/or out of your control. Acting like an animal or simply “losing it”. There are a lot of examples in the book of brutal crimes that are carried out precisely under this internal condition. Also, there are a lot of examples of innocent acts – laughing inappropriately loud when you hear a joke, for example.

The main idea here is that in some situations, our consciousness gets hijacked and we simply act impulsively. Emotions take over and no thinking is involved. We are reckless. It’s a very raw, primitive even, response our bodies are attuned to.

I’m pretty sure that you can find a moment of your life that you’re not particularly proud of. Reacting harshly to a comment, shouting, insulting, crying for no real reason, etc. That’s neural hijacking. Immediate emotional response to a situation that lacks thinking.

So how do you deal with such seemingly uncontrollable human reaction?

Well, it’s complicated, to say the least.

Impulsive reactions are embedded in us for a reason. They help us jump quickly when a car is approaching or move when someone is throwing a ball at us. They are here to stay because they can save our lives! Yet, they can also ruin our relationship with our partner or make us lose our job when we cannot effectively handle high emotional situations.

There are solutions though.

A great way to deal with hard to control emerging situation is the so-called stoplight method.

Here are the six steps as presented in the book that will help you better handle highly emotional situations:

  • Red light:
    • 1) Stop, calm down, and think before you act.
  • Yellow light:
    • 2) Say the problem and how you feel.
    • 3) Set a positive goal.
    • 4) Think of lots of solutions.
    • 5) Think ahead to the consequences.
  • Green Light:
    • 6) Go ahead and try the best plan.

Right before your head is about to explode because you are feeling anger, for example, you hit the break. You force yourself to withdraw from the situation, the red light. Then, think about the situation from another point of view. Consider the possible outcomes – the yellow light. Finally, you act, not emotionally, but strategically – the green light.

Considering multiple perspectives is a skill that needs to be honed. By slowing down and waiting you add thinking into the mix. Which, as you can imagine, prevents you from responding like a wild beast.

Because let’s be honest, our first reactions are usually not the best. We need to create a window of opportunity in order to invite rational thinking. Keep this in mind before you open your mouth next time.

“Once when I was about 13, in an angry fit, I walked out of the house vowing I would never return. It was a beautiful summer day, and I walked far along lovely lanes, till gradually the stillness and beauty calmed and soothed me, and after some hours I returned repentant and almost melted. Since then when I am angry, I do this if I can, and find it the best cure.” Carol Tavris

Actionable Notes:

  • Be hopeful: It sounds simple, but being hopeful plays an important role in our lives. People who have high hopes are feeling more optimistic, are more resilient, and handle better potential roadblocks. Hope, as described in the book, is more than just having a positive outlook. It’s attuning your mind to success. It’s believing that you have both the skills and the abilities to accomplish a certain task regardless of what happens. This simple internal restructuring is what distinguishes successful students, and not only, from unsuccessful ones. Put simply, you’re more likely to achieve your goals because you keep showing up despite the setbacks. You don’t see failures as the end of the road, you see this as an opportunity to make a change.
  • The power of empathy: One of the conclusions in the book based on a study is that students who are able to read nonverbal cues in others are the most popular people in their schools. Also, these students did better on average and were also emotionally stable – meaning that they rarely end up in long and severe sessions of self-doubt. This ability to read others is also called empathy. A highly-praised life skill that is often confused with sympathy. Sympathy is a feeling of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune. However, it’s only a feeling. Empathy, on the other hand, is actually doing something to relieve the person from his misery. That’s why it’s more powerful. Why reading others is so helpful? Well, you don’t only understand others better, you also connect with them on a much deeper, emotional level. Therefore, you make connections and lasting friendships.
  • Mitigate emotional hijacking: Giving vent to anger – shouting back when someone is screaming at you – is considered one of the best ways to handle rage. But the findings in the book state otherwise. Catharsis – venting – only additionally pumps up your already annoyed brain which can lead to some brutal consequences. According to the author, the best way to stop acting impulsively in unexpected situations is by waiting. Blocking your first reaction and giving yourself time to think about the problem. Consider all the options. And find the best solution. It’s not about suppressing anger or holding it back, nor inside yourself. Rather, not acting based on the first emotion and adding reason and logic.
  • Drawing as a therapy: We think that doodling is just nonsense. An act of boredom. But not according to the findings in the book. Art – yes, even drawing on a piece of paper – is a therapeutic process that can calm and fix even the most traumatized mind. Daniel Goleman writes that children often express themselves with their drawings. The big eyes they draw, the strange faces, these are often representations of how they view the outside world and how they think about what they experience. A notable example is of a boy who was asked to draw a picture after being kidnapped with his mother by her ex-boyfriend. The man ordered the boy to hide under the blanker while he beat the mother to death. The drawing the boy later composed, as stated in the text, “was of a race-car driver who had a strikingly large pair of eyes.” The therapist who treated the boy explained that the big eyes were because the boy was peeking at the killer.
  • Understand “as-if personality”: Being authentic is highly praised. We all talk about how we should be ourselves all the time. Sadly, that’s not always helpful, nor possible. We, sometimes, probably more often than we wish, need to fake it. To say things only to win social approval, for example. These personality types are called social chameleons (as-if personality). It basically means saying something only to make others like you more, without actually thinking or doing what you’ve said. Creating a different public person, at least different from the private one, is not a new concept. Still, it’s a good idea to note the differences between how you act when at home and how you act when amongst others. If there is a huge difference, this means that you’re probably not in the right circle of friends, colleagues, etc. Based on these findings, it’s also helpful to scan the situation you are in and spot the people who are simply saying what others want to hear. These shape-shifters are usually people you cannot trust.

Commentary and My Personal Takeaway

I’m strangely fascinated by the content produced by Daniel Goleman. The book tackles emotions. Things we know. Things we feel. Things we experience daily. Yet, all sensations we were never thought about how to cope with.

I mean, who ever thought you about how to act when you’re angry? Or sad? Sure, probably you were asked not to hit back and to calm down when things are falling apart. But how are these vague guides helping you feel better?

Holding still when someone is angry on the other end is usually an act of courtesy. But the growing emotion that is making you want to hurt others is not something you’re taught how to properly handle.

Well, the author throws a ton of research papers and situations to help us understand our emotions better. And, most importantly, teach us how to act when things seem depressing and unfixable.
It’s surely a book you would want to read. A book that will teach you empathy. A book that will help you decipher your wrecking behavior and find alternatives ways to act.

Key takeway:

It’s OK to feel sad. Depressed. Angry. Anxious. All these things are normal. We need these feelings to handle the situations we experience daily. The better you become at spotting your feelings, and why they arise in you, the better you will become at dealing with them.

Notable Quotes:

“One of the most important lessons, of course, is anger management. The basic premise children learn about anger (and all other emotions as well) is that “all feelings are okay to have,” but some reactions are okay and others not.” Daniel Goleman

“Today’s lesson is on identifying feelings; being able to name feelings, and so better distinguish between them, is a key emotional skill. Last night’s assignment was to bring in pictures of a person’s face from a magazine, name which emotion the face displays, and explain how to tell the person has those feelings.” Daniel Goleman

“One of his recommendations is to use self-awareness to catch cynical or hostile thoughts as they arise, and write them down. Once angry thoughts are captured this way, they can be challenged and reappraised, though, as Zillmann found, this approach works better before anger has escalated to rage.” Daniel Goleman

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