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5 Ways Unfamiliar Experiences Sharpen Your Emotional Intelligence

It’s totally normal to want to stick with what’s familiar. Of course, the more time you spend clinging to your comfort zone, the harder it’ll be to leave it. Many people spend their entire lives there, never venturing outside to find out what else they might be capable of achieving. But if you consider the “soft skills” deemed crucial to the future of work, including the capabilities of people with high emotional intelligence–like adaptability, listening, problem-solving, and more–few of them are easy to develop when you cling to what you know.



Those who never venture far will never know what might have been if they’d taken that risk or tried that new thing just beyond whatever they felt they could manage. Emotionally intelligent people are good at imagining possibilities–they have an expansive sense of what’s possibledespite any doubts about what’s plausible. In other words, the likelihood of failure doesn’t cut off the ability to envision success. Going outside your comfort zone can help train you to imagine and weigh possibilities that might not even occur to you otherwise.



As the old saying goes, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Yet that’s basically what clinging to familiar experiences does. Implementing something new, which is bound to make you at least a little uncomfortable, is the only way to test–and improve–the inner strength you need to continuously push your boundaries. Even if you fail, that experience remains a powerful learning tool you can draw upon next time. It’s these encounters with the unfamiliar–regardless their outcome–that culminate in a more ambitious, emotionally intelligent approach to life and work.



Confidence is not something you’re necessarily born with; it’s something you develop by setting goals, achieving those goals, and then setting more goals. That’s predicated on being able to face your fears and step up to do something you’re not sure you can do. We all know the exhilaration that comes with achieving something risky. This feeling is a huge confidence accelerator that can help you realize you’re capable of doing more than you’d previously thought.



The more time you spend in your comfort zone, the scarier new territory will appear. The rate that things are changing in the modern workplace is putting a high premium on adaptability; those who fear change may be left behind. It isn’t that highly emotionally intelligent people don’t feel anxious or uncertain amid rapid changes–it’s that they’ve practiced feeling that way and know how to stay (relatively) calm and analytical anyway. You can’t sharpen that skill without seeking out unfamiliar experiences on a regular basis, and getting better acquainted with the uncomfortable.



There’s nothing worse for your creativity than never straying from the tried and true. That’s the case when it comes to traditional “creative” pursuits, like artistic activities, but it’s the same for more analytical ones as well. It takes a different kind of creative thinking (but creative thinking nonetheless!) to see problems in a new light and unravel the threads of a particularly complex challenge. The broader your range of experiences, the more raw material you’ll be able to draw on in order to solve those problems. And since creative problem-solving is another hallmark of emotionally intelligent people, it’s one more reason to get out there and seek out novelty–even if it presents you with challenges.


After all, if unfamiliar encounters aren’t challenging, they probably aren’t unfamiliar enough.


Originally published at Fast Company

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