I've been studying emotional intelligence, the ability to understand and manage emotions, for several years. In doing so, I learned some important lessons.

One of the most important lessons is this: Despite years of research and study, it's easy to keep making the same mistakes, over and over.

That is, unless you find a way to break the habit of making permanent decisions based on temporary emotions.

And the best way to do that?

Follow the "rules."

The rules of emotional intelligence, that is. These aren't hard and fast rules; they're more like principles or guidelines. You can use these principles at work and at home to help keep you from getting into situations you don't want to be in. And when you're in complex, sticky situations, these rules can help you find a way out.

Take the following five rules, for example. Use them to guide your behavior, and you'll find that you're able to better understand and manage your emotions, and even the emotions of others.

(If you find value in these 10 rules, you might be interested in the full emotional intelligence course--which includes each of these rules along with 10 more. Check out the full course here.)

The Blue Dolphin Rule

In psychology, the "white bear" problem (also known as ironic process theory) says that when you try to suppress certain thoughts, often you'll actually increase their frequency. The concept takes its name from a century-old essay by Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky, who suggested that if you try not to think of a white polar bear, that's all that will come into mind.

So, how do you conquer your white bears? You need a blue dolphin.

A blue dolphin is a replacement thought, something you can immediately switch your focus to if your white bear comes to mind.

If your white bear is that whenever you have to give a presentation or speak publicly you think, "Don't get nervous," you can replace it with a blue dolphin by mentally telling yourself: "I'm so excited. This is going to go great."

Now, you're harnessing a potential negative--your nervous energy--and transforming it into a positive.

The Rule of Awkward Silence

The rule of awkward silence is simple: When faced with a challenging question, instead of answering, you pause and think deeply about how you want to answer. 

But this is no short pause. You might go five, 10, or even 15 seconds (or longer) before offering a response. Which, if you're not used to doing it, will feel very awkward--at first.

This rule is a great tool of critical thinking. But it's also much more than that.

When you're faced with a challenging question or put under pressure, it's easy to lose control of your emotions and say something you don't really want to say.

But when you get in the habit of pausing for a bit before answering, you take control of the situation. You give yourself time to think things through. You increase your confidence, and are more sure to say what you mean and mean what you say.

The Simple Rule of Scope

In project management terms, "scope" is used to describe the details of what's involved in a job, along with the amount of time and effort it takes to complete it. As you can imagine, whether working on a complex project or even a small set of tasks, it's extremely important to define the scope.

Why?

Let's say you keep on taking on too much, thinking, "Oh, I'll fit it in somehow." You think that time will magically appear or that a job will somehow get done by itself.... 

It won't. 

In contrast, when you properly define scope, you reduce stress and help life go more smoothly.

The Rule of the Diamond Cutter

Nobody enjoys receiving critical feedback. But we all need it--it's one of the best ways to learn and grow.

I like to compare critical feedback to a freshly mined diamond. That rock may be ugly to the naked eye, but after cutting and polishing, its value is clear.

Criticism is like that unpolished diamond: It's ugly--at first. But the vast majority of the time, that ugliness will be rooted in truth. And even if it's not, it can still help you improve--because it'll help you better understand how others perceive your work, allowing you to adapt if necessary.

You can benefit more from critical feedback by becoming a diamond cutter. You need to take the raw, unpolished diamond and turn it into something beautiful--by transforming that criticism into a learning experience.

The Rule of Recentering

To recenter means to cause yourself (your thoughts and emotions) to become centered again. This involves taking time to reaffirm your primary goals, values, and key principles--even listing these in writing--and then using these as a center to help focus your thoughts and emotions.

This is necessary because we are surrounded by so much noise. So many voices telling us how we should think or what we should do.

But by taking the time needed to reaffirm and write down what's important to you, you can't help but slow down and bring your thoughts back to your center. And psychology teaches us that controlling our thoughts allows us to exert a measure of control over our emotions.

These are just a few of the rules I've learned, but hopefully you find value in all of them. I use these rules daily in my personal and professional life. I hope you can do the same.

Because, remember: Emotional intelligence is truly a journey, one that's lifelong.

And it's never too late to start.