5 Simple Ways to Stop Feeling Stuck – Step 5: Develop Emotional Intelligence

This is Part 5 in a 5 part series

Read the Intro

Read Step 1: Identify and Attack Your Triggers

Read Step 2: Make a Bored List

Read 3: Start Heatmapping

Read Step 4: Give Up a Comfort Crutch

On my birthday last year I didn’t throw myself a party or buy a ticket to New Zealand (though I was tempted). Instead, I did a Life Evaluation.

I wanted to review the last year of my personal life the way a boss might review the last year of your professional life. What was I doing well? Where was there room to grow? What had I even done over the course of a year? I made a worksheet, took myself on a coffee date, and spent three hours poring over my journal and calendar from the past year, trying to get a sense of where I succeeded—and where I failed.

Side note: if this sounds like fun to you, sign up for my weekly newsletter! You’ll get a free copy of my Life Evaluation Worksheet when you sign up.

What I realized when I looked back over the year was that I achieved all of the tangible goals I set for myself. Run a half marathon? Check. Write a book? Check. Travel to a different country? Double check (thanks, Canada!). But I’d also really struggled. I went three months without a full night’s sleep. I pulled away from close friends and suffered from some severe cases of the doldrums (see this post from Jennifer Hatmaker on what it means to be stuck in the doldrums).

I realized that what I needed to work on over the next year wasn’t physical, it was mental. I needed to work on my emotional intelligence. When I started feeling stuck, I knew the biggest work I needed to do was on my feelings (which I hate discussing and prefer to pretend don’t exist).

So. What’s Emotional Intelligence?

Emotional intelligence: the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.

In the same way that IQ is a measurement of a person’s mental intelligence, an EQ is a measurement of a person’s emotional intelligence.

Life is hard. This is a difficult fact to acknowledge, but it’s true. I can’t control other people. I can only control myself—and my reactions to the things life throws at me. And so this year I pledged to work on developing more control of my emotions.

Daniel Coleman the author of the original bible on EQ, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More than IQ, lists the top four characteristics of EQ as:

  1. Being able to motivate oneself and persist in the face of frustrations

  2. Control impulse and delay gratification

  3. To regulate one’s moods and keep distress from swamping the ability to think

  4. To empathize and to hope

These all sound like great qualities, but when I started the year I had no idea how to move from where I was (gloomy, pessimistic, distrustful) to this place.

I’ve still got a long way to go, but here are some things I’m trying to incorporate.

3 Tips to Develop Emotional Intelligence:

1. Morning pages

There’s a ton of research that confirms what most of us probably already know: self reflection improves work performance and emotional intelligence. But if you’re like me, when you’re feeling stressed or emotionally overhwlemed, reflection is the first thing to go. I don’t want to write about my feelings when I’m feeling like a failure. I want to eat junk food and make fun of contestants on The Bachelor (let’s be honest, this is what I want to do most of the time).

I’m planning on doing a post on The Artist’s Way sometime in the future, but one of the key components of this program is doing a three-page writing “brain dump” every morning. This has been the first thing I’ve done every morning for the past six weeks and it’s been a centering and TK process.

2. Ask Others

After evaluating how my life, I realized that I wanted other people’s perspectives as well.

I made a Relationship Evaluation Worksheet that basically asked people to tell me everything that’s annoying about me and that has hurt them. I can honestly say it’s been one of the best things I’ve ever done for my relationships. I’ve had honest, painful, complicated conversations with some of my closest friends and gained insight into how my actions affect others.

You can take an EQ quiz from the Harvard Business Review here and then send this PDF to your friends to compare their perception of you with your perception of yourself.

And if you’re interested in using my Relationship Evaluation Worksheet, let me know and I’ll make a version of it available online.


SOCS is a method from Daniel Coleman’s book on EQ. It stands for : Situation, Options, Consequences, Solutions. You can use this acronym to help you process the underlying causes behind your emotions.

Here’s how to use the acronym when something has upset you:

  • Situation: Say what the situation is and how it makes you feel

  • Options: Think about your options for solving the problem

  • Consequences: What are the consequences of these options

  • Solutions: Pick a solution and execute it

I’ve saved this one for last because I know it’s huge. Developing EQ is the work of a lifetime. But if you’re feeling stuck, it’s a great place to begin assessing what’s off in your life.

Henri Nouwen said, “You don’t think yourself into a new way of living. You live yourself into a new way of thinking.” What’s one step you can take today toward developing a more emotionally intelligent way of life?

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Other EQ resources:



5 Simple Ways to Stop Feeling Stuck – Step 3: Start Heatmapping

This is Part 3 in a Five Part series.

Read the Intro

Read Step 1: Identify and Attack Your Triggers

Read Step 2: Make a Bored List

One thing I’ve learned about myself over year years of failure and embarrassment is that I am not good at recognizing correlations in my life. You’ve probably heard the phrase “correlation does not equal causation” in regards to data. On a scientific level, this principle holds true, but I’ve found that, on a personal level, correlation often does equal causation.

Other people are often than the ones who point out possible causes of a problem I’m experiencing. Friends have noticed that I tend to fall asleep if I eat a lot of bread or that I touch my hair a lot and that might be why it gets greasy so fast. These sound like obvious culprit, but before they were pointed out to me I assumed I just couldn’t stay awake during movies and that it was impossible to clean my hair. Connecting emotions to tangible aspects of my life does not come naturally to me.

Hence, Heatmapping.

If I had to pick one tool that I’ve found to be the most essential getting unstuck it would be Heatmapping. No contest.

I first discovered Heatmapping in college and it quite literally changed my life. I was exhausted all the time (like, fall asleep at 8 p.m. on my birthday exhausted) and there was no reason for it. I was happy and getting plenty of sleep and it wasn’t Winter. It was infuriating. I couldn’t stay up past 9 and I was tired all the time, but there was no discernible cause.

I found out about Heatmapping from Susan Dennard (if you are a writer, Susan Dennard is the Yoda you need—her website is incredible). Dennard used Heatmapping to figure out when she was most productive and what elements factored into that increased productivity. By using this technique she was able to figure out her peak work times and how to stretch those times so she could get more writing done.

So. What’s Heatmapping?

Basically Heatmapping requires you to track your activity and mood every hour of the day (you can modify this to every half hour to be more specific). I take this one step farther and also track my activities so I can correlate them with my mood. By tracking mood and energy level on a daily basis you can identify patterns over time. Maybe you tend to feel gloomiest at 3 p.m. or are more productive on days you drink less than two cups of coffee.

In college, I filled a folder with a bunch of copies of a Heatmap, bought some colored markers, and went to town. Within a few weeks I had noticed a pattern: the more sleep I got the less energy I had the next day. I kept tracking my sleep and eventually figured out that I need to between 6.5-7.5 hours to be operate at my highest level. This was a total game changer for me. I’d always been told that more sleep was essential to feeling rested, but in my case the more I slept the more I wanted to sleep and the more exhausted I felt. Since then I’ve to manage my sleep to make sure I’m getting the right amount for my body.

So how can you start Heatmapping? It’s easy and involves coloring so get excited.

1. Choose your template

Traditional, productivity Heatmaps use a circular grid. I find this confusing, but if circles float your boat, you can find a template of this model template here and a detailed explanation of how to use it here.

If you prefer a more straight forward spreadsheet, you can create your own version in Excel. This is what I did in college, but  lately I’ve been using Google Sheets. I like Sheets because it’s on the internet so I can access it from anywhere.

I used to print out pages and fill them in physically. If that’s your style, go for it! Any excuse to color is acceptable in my book. Personally, I find that it’s easier for me to track things digitally.

Here’s an example of what my Heatmap looks like:


I prefer to break my day into half hour increments (as opposed to hour) because I have a short attention span and tend to rotate activities more than once an hour.

If you’d like more info on how I designed my personal Heatmap comment below or shoot me an email and I’ll do a post giving more details on it.

2. Choose your color scheme

Next you’ll want to figure out what color scheme you want to use.

Here’s mine:

Red = time wasted

Green = peak productivity

Pink = lightly wasted time

Orange = TV/entertainment

Purple = socializing

Blue = sleep

Grey = rest, recharge, introvert time

Yellow = necessary life tasks (cleaning, commuting, etc.)

I have this pasted at the bottom of my Heatmap Sheet so I can refer to it easily.

Here’s how Susan Dennard color codes her map:

  • blue= sleeping
  • purple= cooking, showering, dealing with the pets/husband
  • green= creative flow zone
  • yellow= I’m productive but distracted
  • orange=  ugggggggh, I’m barely accomplishing anything
  • red= watching TV, reading, chatting with husband/friends

You can find more on Susan’s Heatmapping method here. I cannot emphasize this enough: if you are a writer and this type of color coding organizational stuff appeals to you, go check out Susan’s website immediately. She is the Queen of charts/productivity/words.

For other ideas you can check out Productive Flourishing’s model, which focuses more on energy level and less on activity.

3. Set up your supplies

If you’re going old school, print 31 copies of your Heatmap and stick them in a folder or binder. Plan on carrying this with you everywhere for the next month. You’ll also want to buy some markers or coloring pencils. If you’re going the digital route, make sure you have access to your Heatmap on your phone and laptop.

4. Map away!

Now’s the fun part! Start coloring in your boxes. I think it’s better to do this throughout the day as opposed to all at once, but if you’re struggling to remember to update the map on an hourly basis, you can do it once a day.

Tips for effective Heatmapping:

  • Set reminders

In order to get the best results, it’s essential to fill in the map every day—and to fill it in on the day you’re recording. It’s not helpful if you spend Friday morning trying to remember your mood and activities on Thursday. To help me remember to fill mine in I have reminders set on my phone and computer.

  • Commit to Heatmapping for 31 days

To get a sense of your mood and energy patterns, you need at least a month’s worth of data. You can start looking for patterns earlier, but for best results, stick with it for an entire month.

  • Be honest

When we start paying attention to how we’re spending our time and how that makes us feel, it can be tempting to lie. You might want to downplay how much time you spend watching TV or how many hours a day you waste trolling the internet. Don’t. Being honest about your life is the only way you can hope to improve it.

I’m found that simply paying more attention to the way I’m spending my time often helps me get unstuck. And Heatmapping is the best way I know to force myself to pay attention. Have you tried Heatmapping or another time tracking method? Let me know in the comments below?

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