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Guests Inside My Head: How to Combat Rumination

How many voices chatter inside your head—especially during moments of stress? How often do they speak over each other—over you? All these voices, like guests who pop up unexpectedly to your house, demand attention. At times they are useful, for example, these voices help us intentionally look at a problem and come up with creative solutions, such as how best to navigate a difficult relationship with a new client. Sometimes they’re not helpful, and can keep us caught in a loop of repeating thoughts—we might relive a conversation from the previous day over and over again. In other words, productive mind wandering is different than what often happens—mindless chatter and unhelpful rumination. 

Particularly in moments of stress, or in the face of a setback or unexpected news, unplanned guests may storm the various rooms inside our heads, each voicing their opinions about what we should feel and how we might respond to a difficult situation. Be upset. Be generous. Be angry. Be elated. Without emotional awareness or regulation, the guests in our heads can easily turn a civilized tea party into an out-of-control rager.

These guests in our head often mill about unattended, and sometimes, undisciplined. Matt Killingsworth’s study found that 47% of the time our minds wander, mostly worried about and anticipating what’s to come, or ruminating about the past and what we coulda/shoulda/woulda. The good news: there is increasingly substantive research on how mindfulness can help us to focus on the present moment rather than get stuck in what was or what might be. Some of this research is documented in Daniel Goleman and Richard J. Davidson’s book, Altered Traits.

Mindfulness certainly helps in situations in which the unexpected guests in our head demand so much attention that we become overwhelmed. It enables us to reduce mind wandering and focus better. We can also more effectively manage our triggers. However, as Matt Lippincott and Goleman note, we need more than awareness of our triggers. Otherwise, while we might be fully aware of these guests in our heads, we don’t know how to contain their energy. Without the other competencies of Emotional Intelligence, such as emotional balance and empathy, these guests can overwhelm us.

Whether at work or at home, practicing EI in real life is not easy. Yet without EI, the unexpected guests might overstay their welcome, causing disruption or longer-term harm to the integrity of the house. Mindfulness can encourage awareness and non-judgmental curiosity about the guests and allow us to observe them without falling down a rabbit hole of rumination. With greater self-awareness and self-management, we become more able to attend to each guest without pretending they don’t exist or trying to deny them entry. As studies have shown, suppression or avoidance of emotions and feelings generally result in the opposite of what we want—they eventually surface with even greater fury and demand for attention.

Contrary to some misconceptions, mindfulness and Emotional Intelligence don’t require that we “forgive and forget” when we are negatively impacted or triggered. The impact is still an impact. Mindfulness and Emotional Intelligence offer us the tools to better manage how much we are impacted. Self-awareness helps us pay attention to the guests inside our heads without being held captive by them. Self-management enables us to not get carried away such that we forget that we are in control of which voices get to stay. Social awareness and relationship management offer us the capacity to navigate challenging dynamics with others. By practicing these competencies, we can intentionally shift from fruitless rumination to self-reflection.

We have the capacity to choose which guests inside our heads get to stay and which we release so they don’t occupy unnecessary real estate inside our heads. Then we can allow our own inner voice to speak with greater clarity and calm.

Want to develop your Emotional Intelligence in a supportive, virtual community? Over five, twelve, or twenty-four weeks, you can hone the skills that differentiate top-performers. Begin your learning journey this fall. You can learn more and register yourself or your team here.

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Coaching vs. Counseling: Advice for New Coaches

TW: This article includes a brief mention of sexual abuse.

As the fields of coaching and counseling continue to grow and evolve, there is increasing overlap and influence between them. Clear objectives, homework assignments, and even Emotional Intelligence assessments have become more common in therapy, while coaching is increasingly open to the importance of unconscious bias and triggers. Yet it remains vital that ethical coaches understand the purview of their work and the line between coaching and counseling.

I recently spoke with Michele Nevarez, Head of the Daniel Goleman Emotional Intelligence Coaching and Training Programs, and Nora Infante, a licensed psychologist and senior executive coach, about the distinctions between coaching and counseling as well as their advice for new coaches. As Nora eloquently put it, “This topic as a whole comes from identifying coaches’ need to better understand how these two worlds come together and what keeps them apart.”

How these worlds come together

In addition to increasing overlaps in the goal orientated nature of coaching and counseling and common tools and timeframes, the root of a client’s need for coaching or counseling often overlap. Nora shared: “The reason someone goes to therapy or counseling is because they have a situation in their lives that is painful or not useful that they want to move beyond. The goal is working toward a different experience. Both therapy and coaching begin with the client in a present state that is less than perfect and hopefully advance to a future state that will be improved.”

What keeps them apart

Usually, the gravity of clients’ situations as well as the extent to which their past is explored differ between coaching and counseling. Nora observed: “Coaching clients are generally in less serious situations, while counseling is more likely to come at a moment of crisis. Most coaching engagements begin with someone who is already functioning well but really needs to develop some self-awareness and insights to help them maximize their skills and develop new ones. It’s very behavior focused. Whereas in therapy you will delve more deeply into some of the root causes of triggers than in coaching.”

While coaches identify triggers with their clients and help develop ways to move forward effectively, they don’t spend time exploring the root causes of triggers. Substantive exploration of the past remains the domain of therapy. Coaches may touch on the past, but only in a very focused way⁠—to gain context for the present and to help their clients identify strategies to move forward.

Red flags for coaches

It is important that coaching clients have the “ego strength” to receive constructive criticism and even negative feedback and make use of it. If feedback itself is a trigger for a client, making them overly reactive and emotional, it can be a sign to the coach that coaching may not be the right fit for the client.

Additionally, feeling particularly concerned or protective of a client and/or having a client who continually returns to the same chronic issues can represent red flags. Nora elaborated: “If you find yourself feeling excessively preoccupied or protective of a client, it’s an important sign to you as a coach that you’re in an area of emotional vulnerability for the client that probably requires a deeper level of work than is appropriate for a coach. It is also a red flag if you find yourself having the same thematic conversation over and over again with your client⁠—despite their receiving feedback, having clear coaching goals, and giving homework assignments.”

Common fears

Particularly for new coaches without clinical training, the line between coaching and counseling is often blurry and intimidating. “Anybody who’s an ethical coach should know how to walk that line,” Michele said, “Because if they are so scared of that line that they don’t actually know the difference between coaching and therapy then they won’t even be a good coach. They may overlook the things they should be paying attention to that enable them to get to the heart of a client’s belief structure and mindset that fuel their current behavior and outcomes.”

When new coaches do identify a client who would be better served by therapy, there is often fear around saying so and ending an engagement. “They might be afraid of a client’s reaction, need the business, or don’t want to burn bridges,” Nora explained.

How can new coaches navigate the line between coaching and counseling?

Find a mentor

For new coaches, the insight of a psychologist mentor or a seasoned coach who understands the nuances between coaching and counseling can help tremendously. The guidance of a mentor was extremely beneficial for Michele early in her coaching career: “Having a mentor was vital for me as a new coach because I didn’t want to shut down and stop coaching in the areas that are appropriate and would allow me to do my job well. Nor did I want to traverse a step ethically. Sharing situations anecdotally (as to maintain confidentiality) with a mentor can make a huge difference in making those discernments.”

We discussed a story of an early client with whom this outside advice was crucial: “One of my very first coaching engagements was with someone who unfortunately had experienced sexual abuse. I remember at the time when they shared that with me I was so nervous. So, I went to two of my psychotherapist friends⁠—of course while keeping my client’s confidentiality⁠—and asked for advice. For me, it was super helpful to have a mentor. Someone who is more experienced and understands the nuances. 

“As it turned out, the client had been in years of therapy and had substantially worked through their trauma. So even though it was initially a red flag to me, it ended up not being an issue at all. They already understood the source of past triggers and were able to take a forward focus in their work with me.

“That forward focus is the simplest way I’ve found to describe the line between coaching and counseling to new coaches. If you go back it’s only to gain context that informs the present⁠—but coaches don’t spend time exploring the past. And of course, if the past becomes too intractable or repetitive that’s a critical warning sign.”

Learn to identify common personality disorders

Coaches are likely to encounter clients with personality disorders including narcissism, OCD, histrionic, and borderline,­ even among top-level executives. Nora encouraged coaches without a clinical background to familiarize themselves with personality disorders:

“Knowledge is power. You may not have clinical training, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t gain valuable practical knowledge with basic and ever-continuing education. The chances of a new coach running into something complicated in the person they’re working with are quite significant. I really encourage formal coaching programs to spend meaningful time helping coaches identify when they may be dealing with a personality disorder and helping them to recognize when to seek appropriate collegial consultation for issues that are beyond the scope of routine coaching. Coaches can prepare for those important conversations, which unfortunately might ultimately include extricating themselves from an engagement. It’s important that coaches not be naïve about the complexities of the human mind and behavior. Coaching is rarely going to be easy and straightforward.”

Pair coaching with therapy

While some clients’ situations unfortunately necessitate that the coach end the engagement, many others can benefit from pairing coaching with therapy. Both Michele and Nora shared that they are always prepared to work with therapists in conjunction with a client.

Even clients who have not experienced trauma may benefit from the pairing of coaching and therapy. Nora shared the story of a client for whom this was effective: “A C-suite client who I’ve worked with for a couple years identified early on that her stress resulted from being a ‘people pleaser.’ She believed that she achieved her success just from being easy to get along with. She had a much harder time owning her intelligence. She saw her success as a result of her being a nice person⁠—a bit of imposter syndrome. It turns out that during her whole life she had been the one taking care of everything for everyone and wanting to please all the people all the time⁠—an impossible task. 

Nora continued: “Six months into our engagement this remained an overarching issue. I assigned homework, she understood it well, and was in control of her emotions, but we continued to come up against this bedrock problem. After about nine months, the stress of her need to make everybody happy so over shadowed our work that I recognized the need to refer her to a therapist. And this a good example of where the client continued coaching and started important therapy. In therapy, she was really able to deep dive into the root of her need to please, convert those important insights, and return to the tools that I could use to effectively  support positive change.” In this way, helping a client pair coaching with therapy⁠—or even knowing that a client is already in therapy­⁠—can benefit both client and coach.

Above all, it is crucial that coaches learn to navigate the line between coaching and counseling. The guidance of a mentor, training on identifying personality disorders and ending engagements, and the ability to work in conjunction with a therapist can all make this often-intimidating line far easier to navigate. 

Strengthen your Emotional Intelligence alongside like minded peers with our online courses. You’ll utilize our application-based model to create positive changes throughout your life from anywhere in the world. Click here to learn more and register to begin your learning journey this fall.

Interested in becoming an EI Coach? Click here to learn more about the Daniel Goleman Emotional Intelligence Coaching Certification and register to receive updates on our 2020 cohorts.

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True Compassion Takes Action

The number of programs and certifications and courses on mindfulness, compassion, and Emotional Intelligence seem to grow each year. In a time in which the pressure to chase externally-induced goals is heightened, people are increasingly desperate to rediscover meaning and purpose in their lives. Whether through an app or at a retreat, people often feel encouraged and energized to incorporate greater awareness, balance, and empathy into their lives.

Yet after the buzz of time spent amongst like-minded, well-intentioned, deeply-passionate peers wears off, how many actually practice regularly?

Not many of us, at least not always. In one famous study, psychologists John Darley and Daniel Batson told seminary students to prepare to deliver a talk on the meaning of a calling in the ministry. Half the group were told to incorporate the story of the Good Samaritan. As the students were preparing their remarks, the researchers told groups they had to walk to another building to deliver the talk. To half the group, they told them “hurry up, you’re late!;” to other, “take your time.” On the way to the other location an actor slumped in a doorway, coughing and evidently ill. Did the students, particularly those talking about the Good Samaritan, stop to help? Only if they weren’t in a rush. It didn’t matter the subject of their talk. In fact, students would literally step over the evidently ill man in a rush to deliver a talk about the Good Samaritan.

Recently, I was headed to dinner with three friends. Three of us have been immersed in the work of mindfulness, Emotional Intelligence, and compassion. The fourth, my friend’s wife, Gwen, listened patiently and quietly as we talked about our shared passion for creating a better world through self-awareness.

At a red light, as I was admiring a frozen yogurt shop, Gwen blurted out, “Stop the car!” She bolted out of the running car. We couldn’t figure out why until we saw Gwen chatting with an elderly man, who looked like he had been living on the streets for quite some time. We then saw her flag down a delivery truck driver and slowly accompany the sick man to a nearby drugstore. When we finally reached her at the drugstore, Gwen was chatting with the store manager while the truck driver was on the phone with emergency medical services. After the CVS store manager assured Gwen the man would be watched over until the ambulance arrived, we left the store.

In a community where homeless folks were not uncommon, Gwen noticed that this elderly man needed help. “NBD,” she said. No big deal. She simply saw someone in need and did something about it. Calling on an unsuspecting UPS driver and staying by this elderly man as he urinated on the short way to the CVS was just something anyone would do.

Except that not everyone would.

Here we were, teachers of mindfulness chatting away about yogurt shops without noticing the people quietly calling for help. Here Gwen was, noticing and acting.

In A Force for Good, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Daniel Goleman share how each of us can take action like Gwen: 1) check into and manage our own emotional states; 2) practice compassion towards self and others; and 3) help those in need. In other words, it’s not enough for our inner world to feel calm and collected. We can talk and share all the research behind compassion and Emotional Intelligence we want. But if we don’t practice it, it remains words on a page. We need to muscularize compassion.

Easier said than done. The good news is that EI is something we can train and cultivate. Practicing the EI competencies, such as empathy, can help us to recognize those in need, whether obviously visible or deeply submerged. Influence can help us motivate others to live more intentionally. In the immersive EICC program, participants are coached first so that they can experience and build empathy for their clients, as well as gain insights into their own barriers. Above all, the EI competencies give us more tools to bring compassion to life as a force for good.

Want to develop your Emotional Intelligence in a supportive, virtual community? Over five, twelve, or twenty-four weeks, you can hone the skills that differentiate top-performers. Begin your learning journey this fall. You can learn more and register yourself or your team here.

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Tired of Counting Breaths? Try Open Awareness

Our personal agency—that over which we have direct control—comes into play when we change our relationship to our thoughts and our emotions. This allows us to fine-tune our reactions to our own emotions as well as those of others. Developing the capacity to relate differently to our internal experience first requires we become cognizant of our mental phenomena (i.e. our thoughts and emotions) as they unfold in the moment. Once we hone our awareness, we can begin to react to our emotions in a more productive way.

Learning to notice our own patterns of thought and emotion can be difficult, but thankfully it’s not impossible. That is where meditation or mind training comes in. The word for meditation in Tibetan, gom, literally means “getting used to” or “familiarizing oneself with.” Getting used to what? Familiarizing ourselves with our own minds and how our thoughts and emotions unfold within our experience.

There are many ways to train the mind through meditation. One way that I’ve found helpful for familiarizing myself with my own patterns of thought and emotions is to sit up in a comfortable, yet upright position in which my spine is straight. Instead of closing my eyes, I often leave mine open. I prefer this because it better prepares me to be able to employ these practices in day-to-day circumstances. I’m not closing myself off to sensory input, rather I’m training in circumstances that more closely resemble our waking reality.

Instead of focusing on an object, I let my mind settle into its natural, wakeful quality, allowing myself to become aware of awareness itself–sometimes referred to as meta-cognition. I gently notice my mind’s capacity to be awake, clear, and spacious; I don’t intently focus on this or that. I just allow my mind to rest in a natural state of openness. I don’t have to imagine or conjure up anything in my mind’s eye, nor do I get involved with what is taking place visually in front of me or what I may hear happening around me, or even with what is unfolding within my own experience (i.e. my thoughts and emotions).

When I do get distracted by sensory inputs, by a thought or an emotion, or any movement of mind whatsoever, I gently notice this with an attitude of openness, like the experience of passing through beautiful scenery while on a train ride. We see the beautiful scenery, if only for a brief moment, and then it’s gone. Instead of getting caught up with the thought or the emotion, I let it pass. Like waiting on a platform for the subway, we may notice the trains as they come and go, but we let them pass, knowing, “this isn’t my train to catch,” and so we don’t get on.

You can also imagine your thoughts and emotions as clouds moving through the sky. Clouds don’t make a big deal about themselves. They just come and go rather unceremoniously. They might produce rain or lightning or thunder and then they are on their merry way. 

By the time you notice you’ve been distracted, you’re already back, meaning your awareness is already poised and ready to perceive whatever unfolds next within the space of your awareness and perception. It’s like riding a well-trained horse, you don’t have to yank at the reins, you lean and the horse senses what you want it to do by the shift in your body’s weight. Our minds are like this, gentle touches are all that is needed. If you start trying to yank around your mind, scolding it each time it moves, be prepared to watch it act out.

Other times our awareness can take on the quality of a cat lying in wait, tail switching back and forth, ready to pounce on whatever comes into its path. When we notice that our awareness is lying in wait for the next thought or emotion to appear we give that up too, letting go of any urges we might feel to become expert noticers. Instead, try taking a deep breath, one that’s slightly deeper than usual. Let this be a gentle reminder to let your mind relax. Then, as you breathe out, release the urge for any mental doing. Your only job at this moment is to be aware, allowing the mind to settle into its natural capacity to be clear. For that instant, the mind clears right up and isn’t preoccupied with anything.

The bright and fresh quality of mind is similar to the experience of taking in a breath of crisp, cold air when you first step outside on a cold winter’s day or how the mind feels after a brisk run when we collapse on the couch when we get home.

I find, for myself, having something that isn’t tangible, yet can still be experienced–like the awake and aware quality of my mind left untampered–is more helpful than intently focusing upon an object, such as the breath. In the space of open awareness, I am able to change my relationship to my thoughts and emotions in the moment. It’s easier to let go when you’re not holding on so tightly to begin with. 

Want to develop your Emotional Intelligence in a supportive, virtual community? Over five, twelve, or twenty-four weeks, you can hone the skills that differentiate top-performers. Begin your learning journey this fall. You can learn more and register yourself or your team here.

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Social and Emotional Learning in Post-Conflict Situations

Photo of Chantha by Thibault van der Stichel

For the past five years, I’ve volunteered at the Cambodian-based NGO Pour un Sourire d’Enfant. Since its foundation in 1996, Pour un Sourire d’Enfant has turned Cambodian children away from defeatism and a vicious cycle of drug addiction, prostitution, gambling, and violence. These children grew up amid severe hardship in which many of them were abused, prostituted, or orphaned in the aftermath of the Khmer Rouge genocide, which occurred during the 1970s. Almost 2 million people were murdered. Ethic minorities were targeted as well as students, doctors, lawyers, and business leaders. There was widespread abduction and indoctrination of children, and many were persuaded or forced to commit atrocities. Now, those kids have grown up, and their kids have inherited the extreme violence their parents suffered. This has created a desperate cycle of violence and poverty, and has made scavenging, prostitution, and drugs the main options that these children have to survive.

The Lasting Impact of the Cambodian Genocide

After the Khmer Rouge regime collapsed, the psychological repercussions were enormous, yet mental health care was ignored for many years. With their harrowing past, a significant proportion of the Cambodian population were inevitably afflicted with a variety of mental illnesses, most commonly depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Cambodian parents nowadays drink to forget, consume drugs to alleviate the pain, and use violence as a way to educate their children, communicate their needs, and express their emotions. Poverty, desperation, and a lack of empathy make Cambodian parents force their children to work on the streets, search for plastic at dumpsites, or prostitute themselves. These parents abuse their children and often sell them to child traffickers.

I observed that Pour un Sourire d’Enfant does a fantastic job of providing medical care, nutrition security, and education to more than 6,000 Cambodian children. Yet as the students get older, many of them consume drugs and alcohol, gamble, have suicidal thoughts, drop out of school, and struggle to understand and manage their emotions. I didn’t understand why this happened until I read Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ by Daniel Goleman.

The Importance of Emotional Intelligence in Post-Conflict Situations

Thanks to Emotional Intelligence, I learned that family life is our first school for emotional learning and that everything a child sees, feels, and experiences will shape their sense of self. During the first three or four years of life a toddler’s brain grows to about two thirds its full size and evolves in complexity at a higher rate than it ever will again.

The areas of the brain affected by trauma are usually those associated with the regulation of emotion, as well as those that control learning and memory. Studies from the Johnson & Johnson Pediatric Institute, L.L.C. show that other brain regions related to the control of impulses and reasoning, problem-solving, and judgment are also impaired and, therefore, have less influence on an individual’s behavior. Victims of conflicts often have difficulty with bonding and attachment and thus developing stable and trusting relationships. Young children who experience trauma also show cognitive and language delays that place them at risk for early learning difficulties and later academic challenges. Traumatized children often suffer significant mood swings, anger, irritability, and profound depression. 

I soon understood that Cambodia was the perfect example of what could happen to an entire generation if mental health wasn’t taken into account after a country experienced war or conflict. Victims of extreme violence, human trafficking, and abuse, according to Dr. Goleman, “have had an early and steady diet of trauma, but seeing how the brain itself is shaped by brutality—or by love—suggests that childhood represents a unique window of opportunity for emotional lessons. The massive sculpting and pruning of neural circuits in youth is the reason why early emotional hardships and trauma have such enduring and pervasive effects in adulthood.” As a result, the sooner schools embed emotional learning, the greater likelihood that children can develop the skills to manage complex emotions.  

The post-conflict cycle of violence and poverty that occurs within families, communities, and entire countries can be lessened through Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) education and reintegration programs. Research shows that SEL programs reduce fighting and bullying and increase academic achievement. Implementing SEL in post-conflict countries can accelerate their social and economic recovery and provide the foundation for a brighter future.

Beyond having the basic needs of food, safety, and shelter met, all people benefit from gaining a basic understanding of their emotions and how to manage them. Emotional Intelligence is key to leading a happier and more fulfilling life. It enables us to understand ourselves and forge meaningful relationships with others. Developing and cultivating EI in education, therefore, creates a foundation for success and helps kids develop emotional balance, self-esteem, and the ability to adapt to life’s challenges.

SEL for the Future of Post-Conflict Countries

There are several ways children can be affected during and after a conflict, such as becoming child soldiers, refugees, or victims of child trafficking. According to the Child Soldiers International’s World Index, in 2017, 203 cases of “suicide bombers” in Nigeria and Cameroon (by Boko Haram) were verified, “more than 3,000 cases of recruitment by armed groups in DR Congo were reported” (46 States militaries around the world continue to recruit children), “at least 19,000 under-18s are believed to be participating in the conflict in South Sudan,” and 240 million children live in countries affected by conflict.

We need to teach children not only how to do math and read English, but also how to understand and navigate their emotions, how to focus and adapt, and how to build positive connections with others. SEL should be incorporated into post-conflict child protection, education, and reintegration programs to help kids who suffer from child trafficking, extreme violence, and war injustices.

Recent research gives us reason to be hopeful. A large meta-analysis of SEL programming showed positive impact up to 18 years later on academics, conduct problems, emotional distress, and drug use. And, higher social and emotional competencies among SEL students at the end of the initial intervention was the best predictor of long-term benefits, demonstrating how important it is to develop these competencies in students. Ending the cycle of conflict, violence, and trauma is critical to advance civil society and it is within our reach. 

If you would like to learn more about SEL, check out these resources:

Want to develop your Emotional Intelligence in a supportive, virtual community? Over five, twelve, or twenty-four weeks, you can hone the skills that differentiate top-performers. Begin your learning journey this fall. You can learn more and register yourself or your team here.

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Adaptability: Change Your Relationship to Change

Scientists tell us the adaptive ability of any system is usually gauged by its response to disruptions or challenges. In the case of the human system, a.k.a. you and me, adaptive abilities mean you are a person who is flexible in handling change, juggling multiple demands, and navigating new situations with innovative ideas and approaches.  

Is This Me? 

Think about these statements, and choose A or B: 

  • A) I tend to think of change as bad. B) I tend to see change as an opportunity.
  • A) I dislike change. B) Some change can be worthwhile. 
  • A) I feel uptight when plans change at home or work. B) I find changes in plans energizing. 
  • A) I hate making adjustments in my routines. B) I make adjustments to routines easily. 
  • A) I feel threatened when a challenge arises. B) I like a challenge.
  • A) I often get “locked in” to an idea or approach to solving a problem. B) I’m open to new information when solving a problem.  

If you find yourself agreeing with most of the A statements, you may be someone who is uncomfortable with change. If you find yourself agreeing with more of the B statements, you may be more able to adapt as changes demand. 

Looking at your own beliefs and judgments can be an important first step toward greater adaptability. If you are fixed in your thinking, you may struggle against change rather than turning it into an opportunity. Learning to sit with discomfort amidst uncertainty is something every human can benefit from. 

An agile mindset is one that recognizes that adapting to change is the price of admission for living a meaningful life. Let’s face it, any time you try something new, you face uncertainty and there is risk involved. You never know exactly how things will turn out. For example, you may have to make a decision about whether to take a new job or stay where you are. There are no guarantees the job will be a good fit.  If it is, great! You took the leap and it paid off. If the new job isn’t great–you chalk it up to learning. You are wiser, you gain new skills, new connections, and you’re able to translate that into a better decision next time. The bottom line: change is difficult, uncomfortable, and at times downright painful. Our ability to effectively handle the discomfort of change improves through experimentation and repetition. 

Here’s how rigidity, the opposite of adaptability, can show up at work: Imagine an executive who quickly shuts down an idea suggested by a team member for a more tech-based system of project management that could increase productivity. The executive may not realize this “shut-down” reflex has become an unconscious habit, triggered by any suggestion of change, which results in his automatically coming up with reasons the new idea won’t work, rather than why it might. Such a habit keeps things as they are and squelches innovation. This lack of adaptability keeps inefficient practices in place, and, maybe worse, sends a message not to question the status quo. Over time, this results in stagnation, reduced passion, and energy and weaker financial results.

However, imagine if that executive had been more adaptable and asked the rest of the team how they feel about the new idea and whether it’s worth trying. If they express enthusiasm, the adaptable executive might give it a chance to see how it goes. If it works, progress is made. If it doesn’t, something useful could still be learned. There is acknowledgement that innovation and change carry emotional and financial outlays. And the emotional outlay can be lessened with an emotionally agile mindset. 

Adaptability is at the heart of innovation in any environment

People who demonstrate adaptability combine curiosity and problem solving skills to achieve their goals. Persistence leads them to try new behaviors or methods of getting things done. They are resourceful and creative, especially when budgets are tight. These key building blocks to adaptability–agility, persistence, and trying multiple strategies–are vital skills for success.

Increasingly, adaptability is a key differentiator of effective leadership in highly tumultuous industries, such as technology and finance. Leaders who show strong adaptability recognize that their industry is continually changing and are better able to evolve. They realize they can’t be stuck doing the same old thing over and over. They think creatively and take calculated risks. 

There are numerous case studies of once-thriving companies whose leaders were unable to embrace change, such as Blockbuster, Sears, and Kodak. Alternatively, we all know companies that make phenomenal examples of adaptability, including Apple and Google, who created new products we didn’t even know we needed. They were attuned to shifting trends and feedback from customers. 

Consider current workplace norms: teams are no longer fixed and steady, they form and disassemble; work is increasingly meted out in short-term contracts. And leaders are attempting to prepare a workforce for jobs that don’t yet exist. It should not be surprising then that employers are putting a high priority on the skill of adaptability.  

By staying adaptable and open-minded, you continue to reinvent yourself and experience significant growth along the way.

Keep in mind, there are times when there’s a good reason not to change, like preserving quality standards or time-tested effective strategies. The trademark of an adaptable leader, however, is the ability to balance core values with responsiveness in the face of a changing world.

Try this exercise for developing your adaptability

Think of a change in either your personal or professional life you have recently experienced or are currently experiencing. How do you feel about the change? How are you responding to the change? 

Here are some examples of situations that require adaptability:

We are launching a new service line. I’m excited about the possibilities it creates, but a little nervous about whether we’ve thought of everything. I’m doing significant research to position myself as an expert.

My daughter just turned 12 and is suddenly becoming moody and withdrawn, spending lots of time in her room and not talking to me or her Dad. I’m scared something might be going on that she’s not telling us.

Now, ask yourself a series of questions to help find a positive perspective on that change: 

  • What opportunities does this change represent? 
  • What positive outcome could I find in this change? 
  • What is outside of my control? 
  • What is within my control? 
  • What is the next (small) action I can take to move in a positive direction? 
  • What is the best outcome that might result?

Avoiding change is impossible. Instead we can change our relationship to change. We can learn to turn toward what scares us, and in turn, we gradually adapt and grow amidst uncertainty and discomfort in life.  

Want to develop your Emotional Intelligence in a supportive, virtual community? Over five, twelve, or twenty-four weeks, you can hone the skills that differentiate top-performers. Begin your learning journey this fall. You can learn more and register yourself or your team here.

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Equality Starts with Emotional Intelligence

For over 40 years, governments have come together under the auspices of the United Nations (UN) to discuss how to build and sustain a healthy and productive environment for all. In that time, they have made great strides; for example, the number of people living in extreme poverty (income below the international poverty line of $1.90 per day) and maternal and child mortality have declined, while primary school enrollment figures have increased since the 1990s. But the work is far from finished. In 2015, the UN adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to mobilize a global effort to end poverty by 2030. However, achieving these 17, from inclusive and quality education for all, to gender equality, to inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable cities, requires more than policy–it necessitates understanding how human beings make decisions and work together.

Logically, few people would dispute the values of equality, justice, and security for all. Yet many express strong emotion when it comes to how to achieve these values, what those values actually mean, and who they serve–particularly if any actions may impact our individual well-being. Achieving world peace and equality might be impossible, but that improbability hasn’t stopped many from trying.

On May 19, Daniel Goleman and Head of Leadership Programs at Goleman EI, Michele Nevarez, took the stage at the UN alongside a group of passionate individuals to speak on the role of emotions and Emotional Intelligence (EI) in achieving the UN’s 2030 SDGs. This momentous occasion marked the first time emotions were the focal point of discussion on the floor of the UN–a result of the efforts of an unsuspecting intern, Fernando Restoy Rodriguez, whose own experience working with youth in Cambodia prompted an interest in EI. (Restoy is joining the second cohort of the Daniel Goleman Emotional Intelligence Coaching Certification.)

While EI is not a one-stop solution to global peace (if it were only that simple), it is a critical component of leadership, relationships, and getting things done. In fact, the second Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld created a Quiet Room at the UN in the 1950s because he understood the vital importance of self-reflection, a key part of EI, in the heavy work of achieving global equality. However, this room stayed relatively unknown until meditation became part of the “cool” vernacular.

The reality is that we haven’t historically heard the word “emotions” used when it comes to geopolitics and treaties–other than it serving as a barrier. The training of diplomats and mediators typically involves learning how to unpack hidden agendas and unspoken needs for shared goals, but not the training of emotional regulation and awareness. If impasse and conflict, or worse, war, is presumably a result of emotions running high, the answer must be to remove them.

Yet we know from emerging science that emotions are inextricably connected to how we make decisions, how we communicate with others, and how we make sense of the world. Nobel Laureate scientist Herbert Simon notes that our emotions can skew our decisions and play a critical role in decision making. Our brain wants to keep us alive, and so we’re constantly trying to figure out whether what is happening around–and inside–us is going to hurt us. And when we try to make decisions that impact millions of people, it becomes even tougher to “remove” emotions. As a result, our intentions may not translate into the wisest decisions or desired goals. As Daniel Goleman notes in The Brain and Emotional Intelligence, “in order to make a good decision, we need to have feelings about our thoughts.” With Emotional Intelligence we learn to understand the feelings we have and their impact on decision making.

Individuals tasked with achieving world peace and equality come with the biases and agendas of their governments, their constituents, and their personal experiences. They are human, after all. The work is not easy, however, and we cannot begin to address world concerns if we are not aware of our own power and responsibility. A key component of EI in the efforts for global peace and equity is the work one must do internally first. As Nevarez noted, “at the heart of EI is personal agency, which leads to global agency.” It is like the oft-used metaphor of the butterfly. One flutter of a tiny butterfly can have massive reverberations.

But if there is no opportunity to pause amid the cacophony of discord and disagreement, we become more susceptible to making decisions that may unintentionally harm others. That is precisely why Hammarskjöld created the Quiet Room to bring back “the stillness which we have lost in our streets, and in our conference rooms, and to bring it back to a setting in which no noise would impinge on our imagination.” If we aren’t introspective enough to know what is happening inside, it is that much harder to do good for others. The EI competencies, such as self-awareness, equip individuals to approach global challenges with greater openness and curiosity, and to make more ethical decisions.

Moreover, to achieve our goals, we have to truly connect with others. To do that, we have to offer our full attention–even when we disagree. As Goleman emphasized, “One must be able to go deep inside to be able to give back to others … There has to be a purpose that resonates with the heart.” EI enables us to deepen our connections with others.

In other words, emotions will always play a role in achieving global peace and equality. When we acknowledge emotions and are mindful of their impact, we have the ability to make better decisions as well as a greater likelihood of success. Cultivating EI helps us manage the complexity of negotiation and conflict about what equality means on a global stage. As University of Toronto professor Stéphane Côte found in her research with Wharton professor Jeremy Yip, “People who are emotionally intelligent don’t remove all emotions from their decision-making. They remove emotions that have nothing to do with the decisions.”

EI is a renewable resource we need to cultivate and nurture. If we are to truly work toward universal peace and equality–no matter how improbable–we must approach ourselves and others with greater awareness and appreciation.

Want to develop your Emotional Intelligence in a supportive, virtual community? Over twelve weeks, you can hone the skills that differentiate top-performers. Begin your learning journey on July 22, September 9, or October 7. You can learn more and register yourself or your team here.

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