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The Neuroscience Behind Habit Change

In her 2006 memoir, Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert writes about a friend who exclaims when she sees a beautiful place, “It’s so beautiful here! I want to come back here someday!”

“It takes all my persuasive powers,” writes Gilbert, “to try to convince her that she is already here.”

This story is an illustration of the two networks in our brain that we use to process thoughts–the narrative network and the direct experience network.

The narrative network is the default network from which we operate. We use this circuitry when we think about the past or the future. It is automatically triggered whenever we are not task-focused. And it is also our social network, where we focus on stories about ourselves, others, and situations.

The brain hardwires everything that we repeatedly do–this is how habits are formed. So the stories we tell ourselves over and over become default paths, the circuitry the brain naturally activates.

On the other hand, the direct experience network enables us to experience the present moment via our senses. It observes both outer and inner signals, but doesn’t judge them as good or bad. For example, you may do a quick body scan to observe how you are feeling in the moment before approaching a difficult conversation. Though many of us spend most of our time in the narrative network, you can benefit from the direct experience network with intentional practice.

From an organizational perspective, these networks are active during virtually all the work we do. From managing difficult conversations to organizing a team, these two networks are always at play. We constantly balance processing our external environment with creating an internal narrative about our experience.

So how might we use these networks to facilitate greater awareness?

Research has found that people who regularly practiced noticing their default and direct experience paths, such as experienced meditators, have a stronger ability to choose which path they were on. Daniel Siegel, a leading researcher in this area, says, “The greater the ability one has to be mindful in the present moment, the more ability one has to regulate one’s emotions.” That is where Self-Management, one of the four domains of Emotional Intelligence, comes into play.

Researchers at Duke University found that more than 40% of our actions each day are based on habit rather than conscious thought. When considering how to create a new habit, such as providing more meaningful feedback to your team, the brain has to override its default wiring and create a new response to triggering situations.

One method to overcome this hardwiring is to build an if-then plan, where you can cue your mind to behave in a certain way in a specific situation. By developing “implementation intentions,” we create the opportunity to rewire our brains in potentially triggering situations.

For example, a manager might have a habit of focusing on what his team did wrong instead of what they did right. In this situation, he might say, “If I want to give feedback during our 1:1 conversation, then I will pause and first ask a question about their thinking.” By reframing the behavioral event with an if-then statement–and follow through on the “then” action enough times–you can support the growth of a new, better habit.

Practice is crucial to rewiring the brain. It turns out that writing down our intention to change a habit greatly increases our chances of following through. A 2002 study found that 91% of people who planned their intention to exercise by writing down when and where they would exercise each week ended up following through. By linking an if-then plan to an existing habit, one is able to embed the habit more deeply.

Consider the following steps to integrate a new intention to your daily practice:

  1. Identify an unproductive habit that you would like to change. What is one change that would make your life more fulfilling?
  2. Reflect on the impact of this habit on your life to date. How has this habit served you? How has this habit harmed you?
  3. Make a personal commitment to change this behavior. What are the risks of not changing the habit?
  4. Now that you have identified the habit, create your if-then action plan. What will you do the next time that you are triggered? What will this new habit feel like one month from now? Make sure to write down your responses.

Recommended Resources:

Get Coached!

We have only a few spots remaining for our personalized EI coaching and training package. You’ll receive year-long access to our online EI training courses, a range of EI assessments, one-on-one coaching sessions, and more. You can learn how it works and register here.

Become a Coach!

Are you interested in leading Emotional Intelligence transformations? Apply today for the Daniel Goleman Emotional Intelligence Coaching Certification. Whether you’re an established coach or new to the field, this intensive program offers the tools and first hand experience you need to coach for transformational growth.

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Coaching for Emotional Intelligence: Gabriel Stüve on Transformational Growth

Interested in the Daniel Goleman Emotional Intelligence Coaching Certification? Gabriel Stüve–a participant in the first cohort–shares his experience, from his decision to join the program, to his advice for the second cohort.

Could you begin by sharing some insights into your story? Where are you from? How has your career progressed?

I was born in Argentina where I studied Industrial Engineering. Driven by a strong desire and curiosity to pursue my career abroad, I moved to France where I obtained a Master’s degree in General Engineering and a specialized Master’s in Supply Chain Management at HEC School of Management in Paris.

Over the years as a management consultant, I observed that successful and sustainable transformation happens when organizations empower people to bring their best by cultivating positive values like trust, kindness, and compassion. I began to engage with Emotional Intelligence to cultivate a more compassionate perception of myself, others, and every situation, which resulted in better outcomes throughout my life.

What led you to join the first cohort of the Daniel Goleman Emotional Intelligence Coaching Certification (EICC)?

Many times in my life I found myself triggered and overwhelmed by strong emotions like anxiety and stress, which impacted my overall performance. Moreover, I found myself living most of my life in autopilot, and sought fulfilment in external factors like titles, hierarchy, and money.

But I’ve found that beyond these external factors there is an internal place of ease, awareness, and fulfilment. When I find myself triggered by a strong emotion, I can come back to that internal place of ease with mindfulness and Emotional Intelligence.

I joined the Daniel Goleman Emotional Intelligence Coaching Certification to develop the capacity to help myself and other people along this journey of Emotional Intelligence transformation. With EI we can move toward our highest purpose and aspirations, align our values and motivations, and operate at our best.

Moreover, I wanted to expand my network and connect with inspiring individuals who believe that heart and compassion are key factors for the success and well-being of ourselves, organizations, and humanity.

You’ve lead transformation initiatives for organizations in a dozen countries. What is your impression of the interest in and value of Emotional Intelligence around the world?

To succeed their transformation journeys, deliver results, and sustain them over time, organizations need people’s engagement and commitment. Emotional Intelligence is inspiring leaders to upgrade their leadership style, their structures, and their approaches to transformation.

Around the world, today’s employees expect more than a salary. They look for meaningful opportunities, fulfilment, and well-being. They want to do purposeful work, contribute to a higher good, and fulfill the needs of society, customers, communities, and beyond.

What makes the difference within successful organizations are the leaders who care about their teams, and inspire them. Leaders who cultivate a conscious and genuine interest in helping people develop and achieve their own goals have a greater chance of obtaining positive outcomes than those who not have that genuine intention.

What aspect(s) of the program have you found most rewarding?

For me the most rewarding part of the program has been the self-discovery path and the connection with personal purpose throughout the methodology. While most coaching approaches work toward a desired organizational goal, the EICC approach first explores who we really are and what we really want.

When we begin an Emotional Intelligence journey we may not know what we really want, and what we can achieve. As we raise our level of Self-Awareness, shift out of auto-pilot, and learn to recover quickly from emotional triggers and obstacles, we begin to connect with our true nature. That aspect of ourselves is aware and fulfilled by simply being and existing. It enables us to become more compassionate and connect with a larger purpose. In short, we connect with our shared humanity.  

Has anything about your experience surprised you?

What surprised me the most was becoming aware of how our mindset, attitudes, and self-limiting beliefs impact results in our daily lives. In other words, our outcomes, our well-being, and the quality of our relationships depend on how we perceive and react to ourselves, to others, and to the world around us.

There is a quote from Carl Jung: “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” To achieve meaningful and lasting change, we need to understand and address the root causes of why we think and act the way we do. We need a lot of practice and effort to replace old habits and behaviors with new ones. But effort pays, and there will come a day when new habits become effortless.

In my Emotional Intelligence transformation journey, I decided to cultivate a new perception based on understanding and compassion for myself, for others, and for every situation. This has resulted in new behaviors that positively contribute to my goals and relationships.

How do you intend to use your EI Coaching Certification?

I would like to help individuals and organizations implement a more compassionate vision of leadership, and help them connect with a purpose that will generate passion, engagement, and higher levels of performance and fulfilment. The EICC is an amazing opportunity to expand our network of Emotional Intelligence change agents that will have a positive impact on organizations, society, and beyond!

Do you have any advice or wisdom you’d like to share with participants in the second cohort of the EICC?

The EICC program is an amazing opportunity to get inspired by a wonderful group of participants and coaches who will guide you all along this beautiful learning journey, and to join the network of Emotional Intelligence agents of positive transformation.

My advice is to put all your heart into a daily intention and commitment to acquire the Emotional and Social Intelligence competencies. In this way, you will achieve meaningful and lasting change, both as individuals and as future Daniel Goleman EI Coaches!

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Are you interested in leading Emotional Intelligence transformations? Apply today for the Daniel Goleman Emotional Intelligence Coaching Certification. Whether you’re an established coach or new to the field, this intensive program offers the tools and first hand experience you need to coach for transformational growth. And if you’d prefer to get coached in Emotional Intelligence, you can learn more here.

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Begin Your Emotional Intelligence Journey

Proficiency in Emotional Intelligence (EI) is the single greatest differentiator in leadership today. We’re all leaders in our own lives. Even if you aren’t familiar with the specifics of EI, you have undoubtedly experienced the difference between interacting with someone who is consistently aware of their emotions and how they impact others and someone who is not.

Yet it is difficult to develop our Emotional Intelligence in a lasting way. Often, we understand Emotional Intelligence on an intellectual level, but have trouble implementing it in our lives. We remain stuck in the habits we’ve already developed.

Practice paired with objective feedback makes all the difference in our ability to effectively strengthen our EI. That’s why Daniel Goleman believes that “having an EI coach gives you the best path to upgrading your EI skill set.”

In this endeavor, we’ve created a personalized Emotional Intelligence development package. We’ve envisioned this offering for years, and are pleased to make it part of the Daniel Goleman Emotional Intelligence Training Programs.

What You’ll Experience

Assessments & Intake Discussion

You’ll begin your journey with a series of Emotional Intelligence assessments. These include the Emotional and Social Competence Inventory (ESCI)–a robust 360 assessment–as well as assessments that gauge what motivates you and how well you sustain your energy.

When you first meet with your coach–typically via video call–they’ll debrief your results on each of these assessments. This is an opportunity to gauge your current Emotional Intelligence, as well as your purpose and values. By focusing on your overall well-being and the alignment of your values with your daily life, a coach can help you clarify your goals.

For many clients, the debrief is the beginning of a transformational experience. Archana Shetty, Founder of Nextgenleadership, said: “The debrief experience was an eye opener in many ways. The debrief session helped me understand my default patterns, strengths, and my natural tendencies. I have taken many assessments for development in the past, but this experience was different because spotted patterns I’d habituated, yet didn’t notice.”

Online courses

The online courses that go along with your coaching feature three key components designed to help you form more emotionally intelligent habits.

  • Learn: Practical explanations and examples of EI in the form of short articles and videos (about 5 minutes).
  • Apply: Immediate applications (about 15 minutes) of what you learned in the day’s lesson that provide you with a suite of tools to apply to your daily life, both at work and at home.
  • Reflect: Building Self-Awareness is the cornerstone of our model. Following each application, you’ll write a few sentences to reflect on how it went and any insights that arose (5-10 minutes). Your coach will respond to these reflections and note points to bring up in your coaching calls.

If you choose a 12-week coaching engagement, you’ll go through the Foundational Skills online courses, which focus on Self-Awareness and Self-Management. If you opt for 24-weeks of coaching, you’ll experience these Foundational Skills as well as the Relationship Skills, which explore Social Awareness and Relationship Management. You’ll also receive year-long access to the courses, so you can return to the exercises even after your coaching engagement has ended.

Executive Coach Alison Zecha was initially skeptical of the online courses: “However, I committed to making the most of the process and staying on track. Big payoff! I’m very pleased with and excited about my results and have been applying the learning personally and with my clients from the first week.”

Journaling

Journaling creates an archive of your thinking and mindset. This allows you and your coach to spot counterproductive habits and develop practical strategies to overcome any blocks to your success.  

As you journal, your coach will offer real-time feedback to help you uncover the often-hidden chain of cause and effect. If you continually experience resistance to new ideas or changes, for example, your coach will help you spot and work through the various levels of resistance and help you to replace ineffective habits with ones that serve you well.

Taking the time to incorporate journaling into our lives can have great payoffs. Dr. James Chua, an IBM Consultant, reflects on his journaling, this “very basic and simple exercise will clear the cobwebs from the mind. Writing makes our thinking more exact. It builds mental clarity and strength of mind. Daily simple actions form into habits that can benefit us for life. Journaling is one of these habits. It helps one to reflect, unwind, sharpen our thinking and learn from one’s experiences.”

Coaching Calls

Alongside the online courses and journaling, you’ll speak with your coach–typically via video call–every other week. Your coach will share their observations from your reflections and journals, including any patterns or blind spots they notice, and will keep you connected to your purpose and values.

As you go through the online courses, your coach provides a feedback-loop to help you continually progress. This keeps you from getting stuck, and helps you experiment with new ways of showing up. A strong working alliance with your coach creates a highly personalized experience, amplifying your progress beyond what you could achieve through online learning alone.

Reta Coburn, a Leadership Coach, found getting coached herself transformative: “I had not been coached before and I found that my coach was a great support in helping me reach further inside myself, creating the space to non-judgmentally explore challenging issues. My coaching experiences are like a beautiful lighthouse coming into view when navigating choppy waters.”

Above all, developing your Emotional Intelligence in a lasting way requires time, effort, and practice. If you get coached through the 12 weeks of Foundational Skills, you will receive the designation of EI Specialist. And if you complete all 24 weeks of both the Foundational and additional Relationship Skills with coaching, you’ll become an EI Ambassador. These designations have accompanying badges that you can display on your resume, in your email signature, and across social media. You can meet our coaches here and register here.

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Compassion Takes Guts

When we think about the word, “compassion,” images of Mother Teresa and other angelic personas may come to mind–images of figures who have sacrificed something, be it cozy comforts or their lives. Compassion is also sometimes misconstrued as being soft and squishy: people who are nice, affectionate, and sweet all the time.

In reality, compassion does not require us to throw ourselves in front of a truck to save someone’s life, or that we give up our hopes and dreams for another. It doesn’t even require a national catastrophe for us to demonstrate compassion. Rather, we are faced daily with decision points that allow us to practice compassion on an individual level.

Compassion extends beyond feeling sorry for the suffering of others, and while it’s grounded in empathy, it is actually not the same. Empathy is often characterized as feeling “with,” whereas compassion fuels our desire to alleviate suffering. In this way, compassion is empathy combined with the impetus to act. In fact, different parts of our brain get activated by compassion than by empathy. Studies by neuroscientist Tania Singer, at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Germany, show that when we practice empathy, our mirror neurons are in tune with the emotions of the other person: When that person feels pain, the area of our brain for pain also activates. We feel what they feel.

However, this doesn’t always mean we act. In fact, we may become too paralyzed to help when we are struck by empathy–so that we turn away from helping because what we feel is too painful. On the other hand, when we practice compassion, we activate the part of our brain associated with maternal and prosocial behavior; we are concerned and we become motivated to help.

So why are we sometimes moved to help, and other times not? Daniel Goleman references the famous study of Princeton Theological Seminary students to explain. Divinity students were given a sermon topic to practice. Some of them were given the Parable of the Good Samaritan. They were asked to walk to another building to deliver the sermon. During that walk they each encountered a man clearly in need. Some students stopped; others didn’t. The researchers found that the gap didn’t have to do with the sermon topic, but with how much of a hurry they were in. In other words, when they were rushed, they focused on their own needs. While practicing their sermons on being Good Samaritans, they forgot to be Good Samaritans.

This is the paradox, Goleman says, of living in the Anthropocene Age (the geological age in which one species–humans–impact every other species), while our brains were formed during the Pleistocene Age (Ice Age). During the Ice Age we were (and still often are) ruled by our amygdala, our brain’s 9-1-1 alarm system. This part of the brain is oblivious to the impact of our individual, micro-actions on others.

Still, our brains are actually primed for compassion. It is in our nature to want to help. As Dr. Goleman points out, the minute we “attend to the other person, we automatically empathize, we automatically feel with them.” If we remain preoccupied with ourselves, however, we can’t be present enough to even notice that someone else needs help, let alone get past our own personal pain to a point from which we can take action.

The good news is that compassion can be cultivated. The more Self-Aware we are–the more attuned we become to what is happening internally–the better we can engage with the world beyond ourselves. The greater attention we pay to Self-Management–our ability to manage any emotional triggers or reactions–the better we can navigate these emotions in order to help others. The more we recognize our motivation–what drives us–the more we can stay true to our core values. Moreover, those who nurture the Relationship Management competencies of Emotional Intelligence, “have a genuine interest in helping people, especially those who could benefit from their experience.”

But it’s not so easy.

Sure, we can picture ourselves as compassionate beings donating money to help a worthy cause 3,000 miles away. Yet when it comes to our own interactions, showing compassion may be a lot harder. Imagine you have witnessed inappropriate or off-color behaviors and comments from your boss and have noticed how that has created a toxic work environment. You recognize that there have been some ethical, if not legal, transgressions, but at the same time, you care about your teammates, your relationship with your boss, and your job security.

What might be a compassionate response?

LinkedIn’s Jeff Weiner, who has been at the forefront of promoting compassionate leadership, would suggest that a compassionate response is neither to let such behaviors slide nor to launch an all-out assault on the transgressor. Instead, compassionate responses require us to recognize our own triggers, try to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes, and to have the courage to take a stand.

Perhaps your boss’s inappropriate comments were borne out of insecurity or a complete lack of awareness. While that doesn’t abdicate them of responsibility, putting ourselves in their shoes allows us to witness the situation without being swept away by our own emotional triggers. Doing so may also help us understand how the boss’s actions impact the team. It also allows us to reflect on how our actions may be in service of a greater good. Are we confronting our boss or reporting them out of pettiness, or are we doing so in service of the team and for the boss’s own professional growth and development?

As Thupten Jinpa, the Dalai Lama’s translator, noted, compassion requires a heck of a lot courage. It isn’t about blind forgiveness, ignorance, or revenge, but about stepping into challenging situations in the service of something greater. In times of great uncertainty, whether at the global or local level, compassion is vital to the well-being of ourselves and others.

Recommended Resources:

Become an EI Coach

Want to make the world a more compassionate place? Become an Emotional Intelligence Coach. Apply today for the Daniel Goleman Emotional Intelligence Coaching Certification. You’ll work with Belinda and other talented faculty members as you gain the tools and first hand experience you need to coach for a more compassionate future. 


Get Coached in EI

If you’d like to upgrade your Emotional Intelligence, including your competence in Emotional Self-Awareness and Empathy, register to get coached in EI. In addition to a series of personalized coaching sessions, you’ll receive year-long access to our online EI training courses, a range of EI assessments, and more.


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Emotional Intelligence in Action: Team Transformation Begins

Do you despair when you read about the importance of Emotional Intelligence because you know you and your team lack it and you can’t see how to improve it?

You are not alone.

A leader who engaged me to transform her performance and that of her team told me that when she finished reading Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, she cried.

“As the importance of Emotional Intelligence dawned on me, so did the humbling realization that I didn’t have much of it. Worse yet, I had no idea how to improve. Positive outlook and inspirational leadership felt out of reach for me. I felt despair–destined to keep experiencing the stressful consequences of negative thinking, reactive communication, and working long hours to try and compensate for my poor collaboration and leadership skills.”

Today, this leader and her team have transformed.

They have gone from not wanting to go to work, not seeing eye-to-eye, disappointed in their performance, and embarrassed about being perceived by others as a dysfunctional team to feeling happy to go to work, collaborating harmoniously, and achieving better business outcomes. This transformation has been so profound others have noticed. Previously skeptical managers from neighboring teams are now seeking out Mindfulness training and Emotional Intelligence coaching to help their teams too.

In this and forthcoming articles in my series, “Emotional Intelligence in Action,” I’m going to take you on a journey in which I share the approaches that worked. In this article, I recount an activity from the initial training day that instigated immediate and inspiring increases in emotionally intelligent behaviors and that created the foundation for high levels of engagement in coaching and training over the next six months. By adopting (or adapting) the approaches I share, you can become an agent for positive change wherever you are, in whatever setting, right now.

An initial step to building Emotional Intelligence

I started by introducing the team to Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence framework. I did this playfully by having the team rate themselves from 1-10 for how capable they felt in each competency. I read aloud polarized and entertaining examples for the behavioral indicators of low and high skills in each of the twelve competencies (e.g., “If you have no idea what motivates your staff and no interest or idea in how to find out, then you currently have low competency in Coach & Mentor). During a 10-second pause between competencies, the team rated their capacity from 1 (low) to 10 (high) on a worksheet and then scored their current baseline level of Emotional Intelligence (out of 120).

Limitations of this approach

While the self-assessment approach has limitations and is not meant to replace the complete picture offered by a 360-style assessment, it can help teams become motivated to improve, build self-efficacy, and support collaboration. It is an approach that can be readily adopted by any consultant or leader.

Strengths of this approach

To articulate the value of this exercise, I highlight the literature that inspired it and the positive impact it made, below:

Connecting with the personal meaning of information fuels motivation.

Using relatable behavioral descriptors in the self-assessment of each competency helped individuals to connect with the personal relevance of Emotional Intelligence. Research tells us that when activities have personal meaning, we’re more motivated to get engaged. Making the descriptions of the competencies easily understandable and relatable drove high-level engagement on the first day and generated appetite to learn more in coming months.

Creating a fun environment diffuses tension and optimizes learning.

Making this activity fun was intentional and beneficial. This team entered the room stressed out, highly sensitive to negative feedback, and wary of the session. Emotions influence dopamine and impact the neural networks responsible for learning. Beginning playfully created a relaxed atmosphere that optimized the learning environment and visibly established great rapport for the upcoming coaching journey.

Setting up early opportunities for success builds self-efficacy.

Self-Awareness is the foundation of Emotional Intelligence. By highlighting how a simple 10-minute activity had already positively impacted their Self-Awareness (and therefore their Emotional Intelligence) the team experienced self-efficacy in developing Emotional Intelligence. This early win served as a source of inspiration for more positive change.

Emotional Intelligence literacy supports communication & collaboration.

The exercise established entry-level Emotional Intelligence literacy, enabling the team to communicate about the intrapersonal and interpersonal processes influencing their work. Having a framework to discuss struggles and aspirations opened up courageous communication and creative problem solving amongst the team.

Group-level awareness of our common humanity creates Empathy.

When everyone raised their hands to signal they had identified both strengths and areas for improvement across the suite of competencies, it changed the mood in the room. Many team members commented on what a relief it was to see how everyone, not just them, recognized that they have “things to work on.” Through this simple step, a greater sense of connectivity, comradery, and Empathy emerged. It was beautiful to witness, and it signaled the beginning of the individual and group-level transformation that was to continue.

Transformation takes places progressively, one step at a time.

There is much more that we did on that initial day and over the following months to progressively transform this team’s culture from toxicity to empowered productivity. I will share more with you in the next article to further equip and inspire you with simple yet powerful ideas to boost your own Emotional Intelligence and performance as well as that of your team.

Emotional Intelligence makes a difference in people’s lives.

The leader who cried after first reading about Emotional Intelligence emailed me after the training day to say it was the best training she had experienced. When I asked her why she said: “Because I left the day feeling empowered that I could change and that the team could change too. I started to think positively about our possibilities for the first time in a long time, and that is of great value to me.”

Are you interested in leading Emotional Intelligence transformations? Apply today for the Daniel Goleman Emotional Intelligence Coaching Certification. Whether you’re an established coach or new to the field, this intensive program offers the tools and first hand experience you need to coach for transformational growth.

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Emotional Intelligence Makes Resolutions Stick

It’s January, and you have a new set of weights which will finally keep you on track for a six-pack by this time next year. January is named after the Roman God Janus, god of transitions, beginnings, and endings, who is typically depicted with two faces. One looks to the past, one to the future. The past was the unused gym pass; the future is the chiseled abs. Somewhere in the middle is the hard work, the app you downloaded, and the kettlebell.

Regardless of whether your resolution is physical fitness or healthier relationships, the first day of the year is a universally accepted signal to stop living in the past and to break useless habits. It serves as a permission slip to be more present, take more chances, and live our best lives in the new year.

But how many of us actually do?

According to the U.S. News, 80% of people who set a resolution on January 1 break it by the second week of February. In other words, within six weeks of a well-intentioned change, we question, hesitate, and revert back to what is comfortable and known, even if it doesn’t work for us. Like Janus, our two faces constantly look backwards and forwards, but never focus on the present moment.

While there are wonderfully useful tips for how to stick to New Year’s resolutions–keep it simple, be specific, tell a friend–our brains tend to revert into our default mode in which we ruminate and dwell on what we coulda, shoulda, woulda. Or we worry about the future such that we forget to live in the moment. So instead of a quick, 10-minute set with our shiny new weights, we feel remorse at the third brownie we ate or worry about how to carve out time to do sit-ups for the next thirty.

The term “default mode” was first used by Marcus Raichle to describe our brain when it is “resting.” However, studies suggest that our brain isn’t just idling when “resting.” For many of us, our brains default to self-referential thinking (thinking about ourselves), rumination, or preoccupation. We want to go the gym, but our brain’s default system may override its good intentions with fears: What if other people laugh at me; what if this is a waste of energy; what if I don’t have time? To motivate ourselves to put in the hard work, we must shift our mindsets. We need to rejigger our brain’s default mode to one from which we can learn from the past without grasping, be mindful of what may come without anxiety, and live in the uncertainty of every day without avoidance.

Working towards a six-pack is not simply a physical exercise, but also a mental one.

Our brains play a large part in how successfully we will achieve a declared goal–or any habit change. One key domain of Emotional Intelligence that is essential to shifting mindsets and habits is Self-Management, our ability to balance our emotions to make progress towards our goals.

The first Self-Management competency is Emotional Self-Control, or Emotional Balance, the “ability to manage disturbing emotions and remain effective, even in stressful situations,” according to Daniel Goleman. Change is scary, no matter how small it might be. Something as seemingly innocuous as, say, deciding to eat more vegetables, may uncover a deeper emotion or underlying issue. Perhaps eating more vegetables brings back unpleasant memories of a parent forcing you to eat something you didn’t want, and that memory evokes a sense that you are losing your agency to say, “no.” With Emotional Self-Control, we don’t ignore our emotions, rather, we don’t let them hold us hostage. When obstacles arise between us and our goal, we become less susceptible to the whims of our impulsivity and strong emotions.

Second, Adaptability allows us to see change as positive. Let’s say you want to end an unhealthy relationship. It can be scary to let that connection go, no matter how little benefit the relationship offers you or the other person. There is comfort in the known, albeit the dysfunctional known. To move towards the unknown is a transition, and whenever we transition from what was to what will be, we experience change. When we become more adaptable to the uncertainties of life–including the ultimate outcome of our desired goal–we can effectively respond to challenges and transform fear of loss into possibilities for development.

Third, Achievement Orientation is our capacity to meet or exceed a standard of excellence and continually improve. Without this competency, we wouldn’t have the same motivation to effect change and persist when we encounter roadblocks. Strengthening this competency allows us not only to better manage ourselves, but also the context around us so that we can adjust and adapt accordingly to meet our desired goals.

Lastly, the Positive Outlook competency isn’t just about hoping for the best or putting on a happy face. It is an inclination towards the positive. It’s not just an attitude; our brains betray whether we have a tendency towards a Positive Outlook. Neuroscientist Richard Davidson found that people with frequent activation in the left prefrontal cortex tend to be more positive in their emotional outlook. They also may get frustrated when something gets in the way of their goals–and that frustration turns into motivation. On the other hand, those with more activation in the right prefrontal cortex are more likely to give up when the going gets tough.

We can build our Positive Outlook by increasing our “stickability” when obstacles get in our way, and by finding goals that give us meaning and purpose. As Daniel Goleman notes, when we do so, our left prefrontal cortex lights up like a Christmas tree. It is what moves, or motivates, us to keep working towards that goal.

Building our Emotional Intelligence in these competencies helps us become more aware of our default explanatory style about how the world works. Martin Seligman, known as the “father of Positive Psychology,” posed that humans generally have two default explanatory beliefs about the way the world works and their own agency. The first is a pessimistic explanatory style whereby we tend think that our situations are set in stone and that what is wrong will always be wrong. The second is an optimistic explanatory style whereby we think that the opposite.

When it comes to habit formation, either style can be inhibiting if not managed appropriately. The former may be a Debbie Downer who gives up prematurely, and the latter a Polly Anna who ignores reality. While practical realism can prove beneficial, studies suggest that people more disposed to an optimistic explanatory style remain less likely to give up when the going gets tough. In other words, seeing the world with only rose-colored lenses obscures what is really in front of you, and may lead you to make more rash or impulsive decisions. But when we face reality as it is, yet view it with a sense of hope and positivity, we can better recognize how to make the most of whatever challenges life presents.

Want that six-pack by next Christmas? Consider supplementing your new weights with a dose of Self-Management and its four competencies for an inside-out approach.

 

Interested in working with Belinda and helping others develop their Emotional Intelligence? Apply for the Daniel Goleman Emotional Intelligence Coaching Certification–an in-depth program designed for experienced and aspiring coaches. Space is limited, so we encourage you to apply today.

 

 

 

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How to Shift Team Mindset for Effective Collaboration

Collaborating for collective success expands our understanding of ourselves and others. We are enabled to co-create the world we want to see. In this series of articles, you will learn from inspiring stories of individuals, teams, and organizations committed to creating more sustainable team norms. These experiences can help us identify critical variables and Emotional Intelligence competencies that are vital for successful collaboration.

 

There is good reason why collaboration has become so important in the workplace. Organizations need to build their capacity for adaptability and agility in order to remain successful in an increasingly dynamic economy. Collaboration in humanitarian action has also emerged as a more effective response to global challenges. Research indicates that “working with people who have different perspectives or areas of expertise can result in better ideas and outcomes.” Finding commonality among such varied perspectives also offers new complexity and difficulty. By understanding how to harness tensions in a constructive manner, we can guide teams and organizations toward effective collaboration.

What is at the heart of collaboration?

 

Emotional complexity multiplies in a team environment. Vanessa Druskat, an expert on group Emotional Intelligence, says that teams are “emotional incubators” and acknowledges the importance of emotions as the contagious energy that can propel the progress of a group. This contagious influence spreads rapidly, making emotions the lynchpin of successful collaboration and shared understanding. Of course difficult emotions, like frustration, can also work against groups and negatively impact collaboration and results. We observe these dynamics in all types of teams and organizations navigating change: mergers between companies, the consolidation of departments or functions, relocation, etc. Harnessing these tensions in a constructive way is at the heart of effective collaboration for teams and organizations.

LIFE: A collaboration in need of its own emergency response

 

Emotions were strong, and tension was in the air. Several team members were not talking to one another. Relationships had soured due to a climate of reduced resources, leadership changes, and new research findings that had major implications for their strategy.

LIFE was a group of organizations working together to assist a global emergency response initiative affecting millions of people, but the overall mood in the 30-member team was not conducive to effective collaboration. Individually, each member had a strong sense of commitment to the initiative, however, as a group they felt stuck and had lost their momentum. LIFE was polarized in two camps: Those who wished to address trust issues and feelings of exclusion, and those who wanted to avoid discussing emotions altogether.

The collaborative network was on the brink of collapse. “This is a critical moment. We have lost trust. It used to be different, but this time we’re going to make or break this initiative if we can’t figure out how to collaborate,” one executive confided. The first objective was to have open and frank discussions to find new ways to communicate and work together.  

LIFE’s way forward started with developing a Growth Mindset and Positive Outlook

 

The team decided to engage in a learning process that included a face-to-face team session. This meeting was the first pivotal point in a process that embraces what Stanford researcher Carol Dweck describes as a “Growth Mindset.” With a Growth Mindset, change and conflict become opportunities for positive transformation. With the help of their organizational coach, the group engaged in reflective dialogue. Together, they created a set of group norms to navigate difficult conversations. Their guiding principles were a non-judgmental approach characterized by kindness, openness, and a willingness to understand the perspectives of others.

 

Sometimes, it is in the empty spaces during conversations that progress emerges within a team. “Has the world moved on and are we getting stuck in our own illusion?” a group member exclaimed during one of our meetings. Profound silence followed by deep breaths of relief were heard all around. Addressing the elephant in the room affects everyone involved and acknowledging a difficult truth accelerates change. Now, able to address their situation with clear eyes, positive emotions arose and created a climate in which new possibilities for learning and forward motion began to emerge.   

 

Try this exercise to help your team reflect and more fully embrace a Growth Mindset:

  • Share a video called “Stuck on the Escalator.” It will bring some laughs to the room and create a light-hearted opportunity for the group to examine how they might carry stuck mindsets with them.

 

  • Ask them to reflect on the following questions in pairs and then to share with the whole group:
  • Do we have a feeling that we are stuck (“triggered”) on the team?
  • What are the thoughts (or stories) associated with this feeling?
  • What are the opportunities for learning and growth given this situation?
  • From where we are now, what is the first step we need to take to move forward?

 

Going through these exercises, the team realized that unspoken disagreements and a lack of transparency had created feelings of exclusion and distrust. As LIFE put their new group norms into practice, glimpses of Self and Social Awareness started to emerge in their group discussions. “Now I understand the situation you are going through given the cut in resources. We can help you to overcome this,” responded a participant to another colleague in front of the group. Everybody listened to this authentic acknowledgement and it was one of the first positive moments that resonated with the whole team. Slowly, discouragement was replaced with optimism. This perspective brought a new energy into the room and helped team members to reconnect immediately.

 

As psychologist and author Daniel Goleman describes, Positive Outlook is the ability to see the best in people, situations, and events, despite setbacks or obstacles. Research shows that in a team setting, Positive Outlook contributes to a positive emotional climate that spreads throughout a group. This climate leads to improved cooperation, less conflict, and better performance. The LIFE team created the conditions to improve the emotional and social norms required to foster high levels of energy and motivation in their group dynamics. Ultimately, a Growth Mindset, in conjunction with Positive Outlook, allows teams to develop a new understanding of what’s possible, instead of trudging on with unaddressed frustration. Collaboration is not the absence of conflict. It is learning to deal with it in a compassionate way and growing together in the process.

 

Next up in our series on EI & Collaboration, we will explore how teams can develop norms based on trust and empathy to communicate effectively.

 


Leaders who take time to understand different perspectives work toward finding a common ground on which everyone can agree.

But how does one develop this competency? What does it look like in different contexts?

In Conflict Management: A Primer, Daniel Goleman and colleagues introduce Emotional Intelligence and dive deep into the Conflict Management competency. In this quick read, the authors illustrate the valuable skills needed to manage conflict in a range of settings.

 

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