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Caffeine: The Silent Killer of Emotional Intelligence

By Dr. Travis Bradberry

This month’s tip for increasing your emotional intelligence is the most simple and straightforward method I’ve provided thus far. For many people, this tip has the potential to have a bigger impact upon their emotional intelligence than any other. The catch? You have to cut down on caffeine, and as any caffeine drinker can attest, this is easier said than done.

If increasing your emotional intelligence is proving difficult, or you’d simply like an extra jolt to take your emotional intelligence to the next level, reducing your caffeine intake is a great way to turbo-charge your efforts. 

The Good: Isn’t Really Good                                                                                           

Most people start drinking caffeine because it makes them feel more alert and improves their mood. Many studies suggest that caffeine actually improves cognitive task performance (memory, attention span, etc.) in the short-term. Unfortunately, these studies fail to consider the participants’ caffeine habits. New research from Johns Hopkins Medical School shows that performance increases due to caffeine intake are the result of caffeine drinkers experiencing a short-term reversal of caffeine withdrawal. By controlling for caffeine use in study participants, John Hopkins researchers found that caffeine-related performance improvement is nonexistent without caffeine withdrawal. In essence, coming off caffeine reduces your cognitive performance and has a negative impact on your mood. The only way to get back to normal is to drink caffeine, and when you do drink it, you feel like it’s taking you to new heights. In reality, the caffeine is just taking your performance back to normal for a short period.

The Bad: Adrenaline

Drinking caffeine triggers the release of adrenaline. Adrenaline is the source of the “fight or flight” response, a survival mechanism that forces you to stand up and fight or run for the hills when faced with a threat. The fight-or-flight mechanism sidesteps rational thinking in favor of a faster response. This is great when a bear is chasing you, but not so great when you’re responding to a curt email. When caffeine puts your brain and body into this hyper-aroused state, your emotions overrun your behavior.

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