A model of emotional intelligence and self-awareness

May 26, 2013 by Joshua
in Awareness, Exercises, Models, Visualization

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

What is self-awareness? What is emotional intelligence?

Everybody I know agrees that improving them improves your life and ability to lead yourself and others. “Know thyself,” a basic instruction for improving yourself that has stood the test of thousands of years, means improving self-awareness.

Yet few people can define either of these terms effectively.

Today’s model explains them both.

A model for emotional intelligence and self-awareness

First, some basics I’ll take for granted. You have a head and body. You breathe. If you pay attention you can feel your heart beating. You know your thoughts.

The more important and subtle parts of self-awareness are knowing how your mind works.

I illustrate the emotional system, how to use it, and how it relates to the rest of your mind below. Those illustrations work for me. You might have other ways of thinking about them, but you’ll need something like them

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is your voluntary conscious mind knowing about your emotional system — both how it works and what state it’s in at any moment — and having skills to lead your emotional system (and those of others).

The Model covers how each emotional cycle works. You have cycles for all the motivations your ancestors evolved — hunger, thirst, rage, empathy, etc — which operate all the time involuntarily.

Knowing about your emotional system means knowing The Model, or whatever model you use for the emotional system.

reward environment beliefs emotions behavior

The Model of the human emotional cycle, the foundation of emotional intelligence.

The state it’s in at any moment is however you feel. I don’t know how to illustrate that, but you can tell just by mentally sensing your feelings. You can tell if you’re angry, sad, in love, or whatever set of emotions you feel at a given moment.

The skills to lead your emotional system means knowing The Method, or whatever system you use to influence your emotions.

The method

The Method — a strategy to improve your life based on The Model.

Note that your emotional intelligence will decrease the less effective your model, the less you know your model, the less effective your method, and the less you know how to use your method.


Self-awareness is knowing how the mind operates and what state it’s in. Self-awareness involves knowing more than just the emotional system as covered by The Model. You have some voluntary mental abilities, like willpower, focus, self-talk, and so on. You also have other mental abilities that aren’t relevant to self-awareness and emotional intelligence.

Self awareness diagram

A rudimentary illustration of the important non-trivial parts of self-awareness. At the bottom is the emotional system, illustrated by innumerable emotional cycles. Above it is voluntary conscious thought like attention, willpower, and mental chatter. Above that are other mental processes less relevant to emotional intelligence.

Others have illustrated the human mind other ways. The illustration above shows the parts of self-awareness relevant to emotional intelligence and leadership — that is, the emotional system and the voluntary conscious thought that interacts with it.

When I use this belief

I use this model as a structure to understand what self-awareness and emotional intelligence are and for direction for how to improve them.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces the widespread vague notions of what emotional intelligence and self-awareness are with more specific meanings.

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to an easier time understanding and improving your self-awareness and emotional intelligence and less wondering what they are.

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