Emotional Intelligence (or EQ) is the study of how to recognize and manage our emotions introspectively and relationally. Whether we realize it or not, our emotional health and intelligence directly impacts our spiritual formation — in our personal lives, community, and relationship with God. Healthy emotional intelligence allows us to accurately identify our current spiritual maturity and discern a vision for our spiritual formation.

Travis Bradbury describes two main attributes of emotional intelligence as self-awarenessand self-regulation. These two simple (but not necessarily easy) practices can build upon our spiritual formation as we grow in self-control and become more like Christ through the working of the Spirit. At the very least, these two attributes can provide language for our Christian walk.


Self-awareness is about knowledge and mindfulness of one’s own desires, motives, and emotions. John Calvin appropriately states that “without knowledge of self there is no knowledge of God. Our wisdom… consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But as these are connected together by many ties, it is not easy to determine which of the two precedes and gives birth to the other.”[1] Our self-awareness is about our beliefs; so, when we ask the question who is God to us, it’s a reflection of our beliefs. EQ allows us to close the gap between who we say God is and who we trust God is.

Emotions are beliefs that don’t have words yet. Behind every outburst, cheer of joy, and panic attack is a belief system we can name, negotiate, and tame. Emotions are the best indicators of what we truly believe about God, others, and ourselves. We often build our identities upon lies, and without the language and/or emotional health necessary to isolate and repent of those faulty beliefs, we remain in unhealthy patterns of thought and action. For example, I formerly held the false belief that loving others meant expecting that they’ll never love me back; therefore, I approached ministry as a martyr rather than a family member. We need self-awareness to identify beliefs that are inconsistent with God’s truth. Our identities are separate from our actions, reactions, and beliefs; we are first and foremost image bearers of the Holy God.

We need self-awareness to identify beliefs that are inconsistent with God’s truth.

Practically, there are a few ways to help build self-awareness. One of the most common ways to build this is to talk openly with someone you trust on a consistent basis. Another easy way is by truth journaling. Truth journaling is a journaling practice designed to isolate and articulate our underlying beliefs. Barb Raveling describes the three-step process of truth journaling: 1) spill out your thoughts, i.e., write down every unfiltered, gut-level thought; 2) number your thoughts, i.e., identify separate patterns of thoughts and beliefs by categorizing and labeling them; and 3) write the truth for each lie, i.e., argue against each lie by declaring God’s truth.[2]For example, if you believe, “I am not worth being seen,” you can journal, “I deserve to be seen, but need to make myself known because God made me to live in community;” likewise, if you believe the lie that “God is not going to save me from my suffering,” you can declare that “God is a rescuer and we are meant to draw near to him.”


Self-regulation “liberates us from living like hostages to our impulses.”[3]Self-regulation is the logical next step after self-awareness. It is the practical skill of applying self-awareness by regulating your responsesto emotions. (Notice I did not say to regulate the emotions themselves.) The three main provisions of self-regulation are 1) inclination towards reflection and thoughtfulness, 2) acceptance of uncertainty and change, and 3) the ability to say no to impulsive urges. All self-regulation must start with prayer. I often ask the Holy Spirit what my needs are and how they’re meant to be satisfied. As Christians, self-regulation must orient us toward being Christ-like. Galatians 5:23 calls self-control a fruit of the spirit that we are meant to receive from the Holy Spirit — lest our knowledge causes us to grow away from Christ.

As Christians, self-regulation must orient us toward being Christ-like. 

When the Holy Spirit shows us how to practice self-regulation on a regular basis, we see a variety of great ways to carry that revelation from day to day. Two practical ways (among many) are by creating boundaries and utilizing daily lists. Boundaries are a great example of preemptive self-regulation. We can discern where our boundaries should be by recognizing the point at which we will need to make decisions based solely on our will at a given moment. For example, the choice not to hangout with someone you’re dating too late into the night recognizes a scenario you’ll only have your personal will to rely on. Also, regarding technology, I have a boundary that when I experience anxiety I won’t look at social media to to distract me from the present. Personally, daily task lists have been the best self-regulation tool over the past 18 months. I’ve discerned (with the Holy Spirit) what type of Christ follower I want to be — e.g. relational, healthy, mindful, biblically versed, emotionally available, etc. — and then wrote out what daily habits reinforce that identity. This allows me to become that person without having to think like that person every day. My list includes uninstalling social media, worship, journaling, stretching, liturgy, and about 20 other smaller tasks. This type of self-regulation grasps a vision and puts the smallest and most simple action toward that identity.

While these two attributes will be practiced differently for everyone, all Christians should be more conscious of their emotional intelligence so as to grow toward and become more like Christ.  As we become more aware of psychology, emotional health, and mental health we must look for and apply resources that help up cooperate with the Holy Spirit on our spiritual journeys. In reality, being truly conscious of oneself and building a life around self-regulation from that knowledge is really just reclaiming a rich Christian history of practices. This is for a good reason too; utilizing emotional intelligence as a tool can heavily transform and shape the whole Christian walk.


[1] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ch. 1.

[2] Barb Raveling, www.barbraveling.com/how-to-truth-journal.

[3] Daniel Goldman, http://www.danielgoleman.info/daniel-goleman-self-regulation-a-star-leaders-secret-weapon/.