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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 a Positive Outlook Helps Mindful Leaders Thrive

positive outlook emotional intelligence

 

In my previous article on Achievement Orientation I touched on the way mindfulness training helps to cultivate positive emotions, and increase the ability to focus. The 42 leaders that participated in my study provided many examples of this process helping them reach significant goals, as well as repeatedly overcoming extremely challenging situations during their careers. One critical element of these successes is the Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competency of Positive Outlook, which I explore in greater detail in this article.

Based on my research, there is a relationship between mindfulness and positivity, which influences leadership effectiveness via development of specific emotional intelligence competencies.

How Does Positive Outlook fit into Emotional Intelligence?

Positive Outlook is one of the competencies included in the Leadership Competency Model developed by Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis. It falls under the domain of Emotional Self-Management, and is present in leaders with a stronger tendency to see the positive aspects of situations and people. A leader is identified as possessing the Positive Outlook Competency if they have:

  • A dominant belief that the future holds better potential outcomes
  • A tendency to focus on positive aspects of difficult circumstances
  • An inclination towards positive perceptions of others

Positive outlook, along with each of the other eleven competencies, has been empirically linked to increased leadership performance through more than 62,000 assessments conducted at a variety of global organizations.

Positive Outlook in the Workplace

The leaders I interviewed made a point of emphasizing the overarching value that a positive outlook provided for their career success. These observations occurred during in-depth descriptions of how mindfulness helped them recognize the influence their reactions and beliefs have on the way they approach situations and view others. These realizations were also reported as having a profound effect on leaders by bringing their attention to how much control they actually had over the quality of their daily experiences.

How Does Positive Outlook Contribute to Leader Effectiveness?

The development of positive outlook contributes to a number of critical leadership capabilities. Examples include a solution-oriented approach to interpersonal conflict, and consciously choosing to focus on strategies for success during periods of great adversity. This development was attributed by leaders to the way mindfulness enables honest analysis of how they could have handled past challenges more effectively. Leaders described incorporating this knowledge into real-time emotional self-management activity, which helped them stop behaviors that detracted from others’ willingness to support their objectives.

Many leaders described life-altering realizations about the power of positive outlook influencing dramatic changes early in their careers. This is exemplified by a CIO, who led departments for a major US city and University, when describing how he chose to view a potentially catastrophic situation earlier in his career: “The company actually went bankrupt, but it was a great way to get out of a situation, which actually propelled my career in a big way.”

Leaders also provided many examples of mindfulness contributing to an awareness of how they could develop a more positive outlook concerning their feelings about, and interactions with, others in the workplace. This realization is summarized by a senior manager at a large US hospital network, who stated: “I understand that the people there are often making the best decisions they know how to make, doing the best they can.”

How Can You Begin to Develop Positive Outlook?

As discussed in my article on Emotional Self-Awareness, mindfulness contributes to a heightened level of both emotional self-awareness and meta awareness (conscious awareness of what you are aware of). This helps you identify the relationship between events and your mood or attitude about them, and gain a better understanding of how you tend to view experiences. With this knowledge you can begin to identify whether or not your approach to situations or interpersonal relationships is more negative – and therefore less productive – than it could be.

Incorporating this personal insight, you can begin to increase your capacity for positive outlook by investing time in the following activities:

  • Reflect on your attitude and expectations relating to past events and interactions
  • Observe your emotional and physiological reactions to anticipated events
  • Refine your ability to observe your emotional states and reactions in real-time
  • Learn to identify the way your beliefs subconsciously influence experiences

These are some of the skills developed or enhanced by mindfulness training.

The information you obtain from these activities will play a crucial role in helping you identify opportunities for improving positive outlook. These results can materialize in a number of ways, including through greater Emotional Self-Control, and/or understanding the value of activities that leverage your new level of self-awareness.

For example, leaders reported setting aside time to focus on planning when they are in a positive mental state. They also described reserving time before important meetings to think through the best way to communicate critical details, and strategies to proactively resolve potential conflicts. Finally, leaders also described assuming a success-oriented approach to engaging in difficult conversations and activities once they began to view them as challenges instead of obstacles.

Give it a try, keep track of your results, and then continue to build upon them over time.

Recommended Reading:

Our new primer series is written by Daniel Goleman and fellow thought leaders in the field of Emotional Intelligence and research. The following are available now:

Emotional Self-Awareness, Emotional Self-Control, Adaptability,  Achievement Orientation, and Positive Outlook.

For more in-depth insights, see the Crucial Competence video series.

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How Positivity Broadens and Builds New Skills

positive emotions broaden and bridge

 

“Don’t worry, be happy” is such a cliché that many people roll their eyes when they hear something about the importance of thinking positively.

Barbara Fredrickson isn’t one of those people.

For over twenty years, Dr. Fredrickson has studied how positive emotions improve physical and emotional well-being, as well as performance at work. More Than Sound author Daniel Goleman cites Fredrickson in his introduction to Positive Outlook: A Primer, the fifth in the series focused on the twelve Emotional Intelligence Competencies. Research conducted by Fredrickson and her colleagues shows that people who experience and express positive emotions more frequently are more resilient, more resourceful, more socially connected, and more likely to function at optimal levels.

One of Fredrickson’s key contributions is her “broaden-and-build” theory which presents an understanding of the evolutionary value of positivity. Positive emotions widen a person’s outlook in small ways that, over time, reshape who they are. In a threatening situation (or one we perceive as threatening), our view of options literally narrow as we choose one response and react quickly. In situations that evoke positive emotions such as joy, interest, contentment, or love, we can see a wider range of possible responses. Fredrickson describes this effect:

“…positive emotions broaden peoples’ momentary thought-action repertoires, widening the array of the thoughts and actions that come to mind. Joy, for instance, creates the urge to play, push the limits and be creative; urges evident not only in social and physical behavior, but also in intellectual and artistic behavior. Interest, a phenomenologically distinct positive emotion, creates the urge to explore, take in new information and experiences, and expand the self in the process…. These various thought-action tendencies””to play, to explore, or to savor and integrate””each represents ways that positive emotions broaden habitual modes of thinking or acting.”

This “broaden” part of the theory has been proven in empirical research conducted by many laboratories.

The “build” aspect looks at the cumulative impact of that “broader” thinking. Seeing a broader perspective allows us to discover and build personal resources. Fredrickson says it is a:

“…recipe for discovery: discovery of new knowledge, new alliances, and new skills. In short, broadened awareness led to the accrual of new resources that might later make the difference between surviving or succumbing to various threats. Resources built through positive emotions also increased the odds that our ancestors would experience subsequent positive emotions, with their attendant broaden-and-build benefits, thus creating an upward spiral toward improved odds for survival, health, and fulfillment. In sum, the broaden-and-build theory states that positive emotions have been useful and preserved over human evolution because having recurrent, yet unbidden, moments of expanded awareness proved useful for developing resources for survival. Little by little, micro-moments of positive emotional experience, although fleeting, reshape who people are by setting them on trajectories of growth and building their enduring resources for survival.”

Positive Outlook and Today’s Leadership

Fredrickson’s concept of “broaden-and-build” doesn’t relate just to long-ago ancestors surviving, it provides an important lesson for leaders today. Leaders and the people with whom they work experience the same broadening and building through positive emotions. In a work setting, people who regularly feel positive emotions are more able to think creatively, consider novel solutions to problems, and take advantage of opportunities that might not be immediately obvious.

Leaders who are strong in the Positive Outlook Competency see others positively and help their colleagues recognize the positive in what others might consider a setback. By continually evoking positive emotions in the people around them, leaders help build the capacity of their teams to be successful in their work.

Recommended Reading:

Our new primer series is written by Daniel Goleman and fellow thought leaders in the field of Emotional Intelligence and research. The following are available now:

Emotional Self-Awareness, Emotional Self-Control, Adaptability,  Achievement Orientation, and Positive Outlook.

For more in-depth insights, see the Crucial Competence video series.

 

References:

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780124072367000012

http://www.unc.edu/peplab/publications/Fredrickson%202013%20Updated%20Thinking.pdf

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Two Key Skills for High-Performance Leadership

high performing leader presenting to colleagues at a work meeting

What does it take to be a high-performing leader? Emotional Intelligence author Daniel Goleman explored this question with George Kohlrieser, Professor of Leadership and Organizational Behavior at IMD, while they discussed emotional intelligence and leadership.

Their conversation centered on the twelve emotional intelligence competencies many organizations recognize as being essential for effective leadership. Each competency focuses on a specific aspect of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, or relationship management.

Positive Outlook is a competency in the self-management domain. During their conversation, Professor Kohlrieser stressed the importance of positivity, saying leaders must be able to find and convey to others what is positive in any situation. Dr. Goleman described research that highlights ways leaders can learn to be more positive. Here is a brief section of that conversation:

If there is one constant in life and the work world, it is change. Along with being positive, effective leaders must be able to adjust to the changes they face each day. In this brief video clip, George Kohlrieser talks about positivity as an essential precursor to another emotional intelligence competency, Adaptability.

Positive Outlook and Adaptability are just two of the twelve emotional intelligence competencies of leaders who perform better than their peers. Research shows that leaders who score high in six or more of the emotional intelligence competencies are better able to create the conditions needed to improve performance in the groups they lead.

Oftentimes the result isn’t just better performance, but happier and less stressed teams. And who doesn’t want that?

Want to learn more about leadership and emotional intelligence?

Crucial Competence: Building Emotional and Social Leadership is a series of video conversations between Daniel Goleman and his colleagues, including Richard Boyatzis, Richard Davidson, Vanessa Druskat, and George Kohlrieser.

Leadership: The Power of Emotional Intelligence is a collection of Daniel Goleman’s writings filled with advice for leaders on using emotional intelligence to enhance their performance.