Exercises to Strengthen Your Emotional Muscles

If you are in a management role, it’s highly likely that you are one of the smartest people in your organization. But smart does not always transfer to “successful.” 67% of the long-term success of a leader is predicted by Emotional Intelligence, or your ability to notice and manage your own emotions, read others’ emotions, and build positive relationships.

The following simple exercises focus on strengthening each of the four dimensions of Emotional Intelligence.


  • Watch Your Emotions: For 2-3 weeks, diary your emotions. After every interaction, take 1 min to “score” the effectiveness of that interaction (e.g. thumbs up, down, neutral, or a number 1-10), then name the 2-3 emotions you felt. Notice your patterns – common emotions, trigger situations, etc.). Awareness is crucial to deepening your emotional intelligence.
  • Practice centering. Stand tall, connect to the ground, and breathe deeply.


  • Practice Deliberate Emotions: Identify an emotion you want to inhabit more often (e.g. calm, caring, openness). What “story” or self-talk goes with that emotion? How does your body feel? How are you breathing? Practice moving yourself into that intentional emotional space several times daily.
  • Practice Recovery: (Note: play carefully, here!) Find a safe space at home or alone in your office. With intention, shift into anger, irritation, or some other emotion that gives you trouble. Hold that intensity for a minute (it helps to set a timer, first). Notice all the visceral signs of that emotion in your body: breath, pulse, posture, etc. When the timer goes off, practice releasing that intensity and settling back into center/calm.

EMPATHY/Other Awareness

  • Strengthen Awareness: While sitting in meetings, act as an observer of the other players. Without judging right/wrong or good/bad, see if you can identify – from language, body language, tone, other visible physical signs – what mood or emotional space that person is in. Do this several times during a meeting, noticing changes. (Strengthens your ability to read others.)
  • Check Awareness: In conversation with others, try to identify the mood you are feeling from them. You might ask, “You seem ______. Am I reading you correctly?” (This refines your emotional radar.)

RELATIONSHIPS/Other Management

  • Mirroring/Drawing: When in conversations with others, try one of the following:
    A. Purposefully mirror the mood/emotion of the other, through standard mirroring techniques, e.g. matching body posture, energy, speed of speech, etc. Notice what effect that has on the conversation.
    B. Do the opposite of A – purposefully choose a DIFFERENT space and shift into that in your speech, energy, non-verbal language, tone, etc. Hold it with intention, drawing the other party into your emotional space. Notice what happens in the conversation.

Improve your leadership capacity. While IQ is immutable, you can dramatically improve your EQ, or Emotional Intelligence, through active practice and attention.



Jim Smith, PCC, is The Executive Happiness Coach®. He is an international speaker, executive and life coach, and author. He provides his clients with inspiration and practical tools to live a happier life and build more positive work cultures. He is the author of Happiness At The Speed of Life: 13 Powerful Strategies for Finding Happiness at Home and On The Job, and has touched the lives of over 10,000 people worldwide through his work on Positive Emotion and Leadership. You can connect with Jim at theexecutivehappinesscoach.com.