Self-awareness is an essential component of emotional intelligence. College students who are self-aware are conscious of their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. They know their strengths and weaknesses. They have clear values and use their values to inform decisions. Emotional intelligence develops out of self-awareness. Emotionally intelligent college students think deeply about their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and understand their source and impact on others. Emotional intelligence enables them to control their emotions and maintain healthy relationships. It is also critical for college and career success.
Daniel Goeman, the author of Emotional Intelligence: Why It Matters More than IQ says:
“People with well-developed emotional skills are more likely to be content and effective in their lives, mastering the habits of the mind that foster their own productivity; people who cannot marshal some control over their emotional life fight battles that sabotage their ability for focused work and clear thought.”
Many of the college students I coach are naturally attuned to their thoughts, feelings, and emotions, a sign of a high EQ. But, when self-awareness does not come naturally, there is good news. Both self-awareness and emotional intelligence can be developed with intentional practice. Below are several exercises I use with my college-age clients to improve their self-awareness and EQ. Give them a try!
In the everyday hustle of college or summer internships, it can be easy to lose track of time and self! Intentional check-ins involve setting an alert several times a day (I suggest mid-morning, afternoon, and evening) and when prompted, take a moment to pause. Stop whatever you are doing, take a deep breath, and check in with yourself. Ask: How am I feeling right now? What do I need? This intentional check in not only helps you identify feelings but it also provides space to consciously prevent stress or overwhelm.
2. Celebrate Wins
Don’t overlook good things! Our negative bias pulls our focus toward what is wrong or needs to be improved. When something good happens, acknowledge it. Say “yes!” to yourself or share the win with a friend. Notice when life is good and things are going your way, and say “thank you!” This perpetuates good feelings and experiences, counters the negative bias, and builds optimism.
3. Reflect on Growth
Most college students are focused on the future. They are making plans for classes, future career, or Friday night. While it is important to plan, it is equally important to take time to look back and remember where you have been. Consider the challenges you’ve overcome and the experiences that shaped you. This type of reflection builds confidence and serves as an important reminder of your strengths and capabilities.
4. Get to Know Your Triggers
The next time you are angry, frustrated, stressed, or downright depressed, ask yourself what prompted this feeling. Was it a thought, a person, an experience? Understanding your triggers helps you manage them. For example, you might notice that every time you scroll on Instagram, you feel down. Whether your feed is full of seemingly perfect people who trigger you to feel less-than, or whether it is filled with alarming videos of catastrophic world events, the result can be depressing. Once you recognize the impact of a choice, you can make a different choice, and change the outcome. In this case, spending less time on social media or preparing yourself to scroll more mindfully will minimize internal criticism and sadness.
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One of the most effective ways to gain perspective and deepen your understanding of yourself is through journaling. When you write down how you feel or what you are experiencing, you start to identify what you can and cannot control, A sense of relief will set in. There is no right or wrong way to journal. Simply take pen to paper (or use your notes app) and write whatever is on your mind and in your heart.
Self-awareness and emotional intelligence are incredibly valuable skills. As you learn more about yourself, you set yourself up for meaningful relationships, a fulfilling career, and personal happiness. The process is eye-opening and the benefits are even better!