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How Sleep Primes The Brain For Emotional Intelligence

When I first started dating my now husband, he asked me what he should know about me. The first thing I told him was that if he notices that I’m ever a bit “grumpy,” it’s likely an easy fix. I realized after a decade of sleep deprivation raising my three kids, who are now teenagers, that I need eight hours of sleep. Little did I know, it’s not just me…we all need our sleep. And, according to Matthew Walker, PhD’s new book, Why We Sleep, Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams, getting eight hours of sleep not only makes us feel great, but measurably improves our performance. Sleep is also key to building Emotional Intelligence. It can affect our Emotional Self-Control, Empathy, and Adaptability, which are three of the twelve competencies that Daniel Goleman’s research has determined comprise Emotional Intelligence.

Getting eight hours of sleep is essential–not six or seven, but eight hours. Why? According to the research, those last two hours are filled with 60-90% of the important dream state REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. It is during this time that our brains get a sort of emotional tune-up. As humans, we have the ability to deeply experience and regulate our emotions. We can recognize and influence the emotions of others. We also have more REM sleep than any other species. According to Walker, REM sleep “enhances emotional and social sophistication.”  

Here are three ways that sleep helps build Emotional Intelligence:

1.  Sleep helps us manage our emotions  

I described how I sometimes become “grumpy” when I don’t get enough sleep. Parents of young children experience this all the time. Both in the sleep deprived parent and in the toddler who was possibly up all through the night. We see it in the workplace when an “angry” leader might snap at and lose patience with a subordinate. A sleep deprived doctor can come across as impatient and have poor bedside manners. These “inappropriate emotions” are often the result of sleep deprived individuals. This is not an effective way to build strong relationships and improve connections. Managing ourselves and having Emotional Self-Control (also referred to as Emotional Balance) is a key competency for building Emotional Intelligence.  

So how does sleep help us manage our emotions? A part of the brain called the amygdala is responsible for triggering strong emotions such and anger and rage, and is linked to our fight or flight response. Walker describes a sleep study in which two groups were shown images that ranged from neutral in content (a basket, a piece of driftwood) to negative in content (a burning house, a venomous snake) to a group of individuals who stayed up all night and another group who got a full night of sleep. It turns out, the sleep deprived individuals showed well over a 60% increase in emotional reactivity in the amygdala. The well rested group showed only a modest degree of reactivity.

Without adequate sleep, we produce inappropriate emotional reactions and are unable to put things and situations in the appropriate contexts. To make matters worse, the part of our brain that is responsible for managing the emotions of the amygdala is compromised by sleep deprivation. This area, called the prefrontal cortex, is responsible for rational, logical decision making. Getting adequate rest is essential to maintaining Emotional Balance.  

2. Sleep builds Empathy  

Empathy is another important competency of Emotional Intelligence. Empathy means having the ability to sense other people’s feelings and understand what they are experiencing and thinking. It means having an interest in what matters to the other person. Our ability to recognize different emotions through facial expressions is one way that we can develop Empathy. Facial expressions communicate the emotions and intent of another person. Our response can be influenced by the expressions of another.   

There are regions of the brain whose job is to read and decode the meaning of emotional signals, especially in faces. It is these regions of the brain that REM sleep recalibrates at night. Matthew Walker makes the analogy, “we can think of REM sleep like a master piano tuner, one that readjusts the brain’s emotional instrumentation at night to pitch perfect precision, so that when you wake up the next morning, you can discern overt and subtly covert micro-expressions with exactitude.” When we deprive ourselves of this dream state REM sleep, facial expressions become distorted. This is where we might confuse a friendly expression with anger or frustration.   

I remember meeting my friend, Charles, for coffee one early morning. I had a late dinner meeting the night before and I felt exhausted. Shortly into our conversation, I shared a thought about an idea we were brainstorming. I could see his mouth close tight. He looked up. And I could feel my heart start to race. I thought to myself, “Here it comes.” I could feel my body tighten as I prepared for the coming argument and possible harsh critique of what I had just said. Just as I was about to prematurely defend myself and my idea out loud, Charles broke into a smile, his eyes softened and he said, “I agree.”

I had mistaken his “thinking” look with what I thought was an “angry” look. What started off as a friendly conversation could have easily turned into a negative experience. Thankfully, I didn’t react to my sleep deprived misinterpretation.

3. Sleep sparks creativity

Being able to handle change and adapt to new situations with fresh ideas or innovative approaches is another key competency in building Emotional Intelligence.  

How does this show up in the brain after a good night of sleep? Walker shows through several studies the increased creativity of his participants compared to the sleep deprived individuals. It is especially true after a full night of rich dream state REM sleep. One study showed problem solving abilities increased by 15-35%. A full night of dream-induced REM sleep also revealed an ease in problem solving. When we are in our dream state, our mind can process a wide range of stored information and come up with multiple solutions for complicated problems.  

In the workplace, a creative leader can adapt more easily to a changing environment. They can think of multiple ways to achieve their goals. They don’t get stuck in the same old ways of doing things. They are open to new ideas and perspectives. And they are therefore able to grow and innovate. These are all important aspects of Emotional Intelligence.  

It is clear that getting eight hours of sleep, especially the dream state REM sleep, is essential to well-being, optimal performance at work, and building our Emotional Intelligence. So how do we actually get better sleep? Walker offers several ideas. Here are my top three favorites:

  • Exercise! But not within 2-3 hours of sleep. Exercise helps your brain and body to relax, but working out too close to bedtime can be counterproductive. Your body temperature can remain high after exercise, making it difficult to drop your core temperature sufficiently to initiate sleep.
  • Allow yourself adequate time to prepare for bed. Reading, using dim lights or candles, and listening to soft music are soothing activities to prime yourself for rest.  
  • Create a tidy, gadget-free bedroom environment that is conducive to sleep. Tidy up your bedroom and remove your gadgets so that distractions are minimized. Open the windows to cool down the room; this helps drop core body temperature which is also needed to initiate sleep.

Recommended Resources:

 

 

Want to cultivate your Emotional Intelligence or bring EI training to your organization? Reserve your spot for the Foundational Skills of Emotional Intelligence. You’ll explore twelve learning paths based on Daniel Goleman’s books and research through facilitated, group learning. You’ll discover the science behind each competency, why they matter, and how to apply them to positively differentiate yourself.

For a taste of the Foundational Skills, join our two-week Emotional Balance experience. In this portion of the Foundational Skills of EI, you’ll build your resilience, self-awareness, and focus.

 

 

 

 

For further reading, our series of primers focuses on the twelve Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competencies, which include Emotional Self-Control, Adaptability, and Empathy.

The primers are written by Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis, co-creators of the Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competency Model, along with a range of colleagues, thought-leaders, researchers, and leaders with expertise in the various competencies. Explore the full list of primers by topic, or get the complete collection!

 

 

 

 

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The Lasting Benefits of a Retreat or Pilgrimage

Fancy adverts for retreats offering yoga by oceans or a fine wine often grace the pages of magazines on mindfulness and wellness. Then there are the less advertised retreats, those done in silence or without the luxuries of a 5-star restaurant or indoor plumbing.

Regardless of our preferences or current goals, time away from our “regular” lives is meant to help us reset and renew in some manner. In a world that doesn’t stop moving, our brains are constantly under fire, and as we now know, chronic stressors can have long-term implications on the way our brains function, our emotional balance, and our capacity to maintain healthy relationships. While some retreats allow participants to delve deeper into self-reflection, and others are meant more for pleasure, they all help us press the pause button and find space.

Retreats may provide us with physical refuge, but they can also serve as liminal spaces. Liminal, from the Latin root limen meaning “threshold,” refers to the notion of the in-between, a place of transition, the after-the-before and before-the-next. Liminal spaces generally refer to those places and even states of mind in which we feel uncomfortable. The sense of uncomfortableness often stems from a place of uncertainty. For many of us, uncertainty can give us great anxiety. For many obvious reasons, we find security in knowing what we’ll be doing, who we’ll be with, and where we’ll be living. We are creatures of habit and often squirm when we have to endure upheavals, whether big – a job loss, divorce, relocation, or small – ever get upset because your regular coffee shop runs out of your preferred roast? However, these transitional times require us to sit in the discomfort because, well, we have no other option. And it is often during this discomfort and in these spaces that we find growth.

People have sought out such spaces for thousands of years in search of meaning and purpose. One such liminal space is the famous Camino de Santiago, the Way of St. James. Rare would be one who has walked this Catholic pilgrimage who was not changed in some capacity. While there are many paths to Santiago, the most popular is the Camino Frances, an 800-km walk from St. Jean-Pied-de-Port in southern France to Santiago in western Spain. Several years ago, I spent 30 days walking the Way, carrying with me everything I needed, food notwithstanding. For 30 days, I woke up at 4:30am and walked until I was tired. For 30 days, I kept my cell phone in my pocket for emergencies and occasional check-ins. For 30 days, I met pilgrims from all over the world walking for different reasons: honoring religion, recovering from divorce, celebrating beating cancer, sightseeing, adventure. Whatever the reason, each pilgrim entered a physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual liminal space of their own.

Such liminal spaces force us to confront ourselves, our thoughts, and our emotions and to remove the façade many of us carry. One conversation I will never forget was with a young Dane, who was a good foot taller than me. As we walked, he said to me, “you’re only the second American I have met who truly seems happy.” He articulated his observation that as a generalization, he found Europeans more willing to be upfront about their struggles, and the Camino was a way for them to confront their transitional discomfort. On the other hand, he found Americans were generally eager to express a mirage of happiness and upbeat engagement that crumbled as the Camino became not the escape they hoped for, but a journey that required them be naked with themselves.

The Camino, like many liminal spaces, can leave its pilgrims feeling unsettled, whether because we wished we paid more attention in Spanish class, or that we didn’t have ten pairs of shoes to choose from, or that we weren’t really sure where we’d be sleeping that night until we stopped for the day. Much of this journey is done in silence for hours, and for some, its entirety. During this time, we are alone with nature and our thoughts and for many, it is the first time to be so, and it can be uncomfortable.

Pilgrimages and retreats can be extremely challenging for those of us with an underlying mental condition and even those who do not have a regular practice in mindfulness. For example, there are reports every year of tourists to Jerusalem, a rather powerful liminal space, who exhibit symptoms of the Jerusalem Syndrome, a disorder whereby individuals who had no previous signs of psychosis suffer from an acute episode when there. On the Camino, while not common, it was not unheard of for pilgrims to seek refuge in a bottle after a few days because the discomfort of silence and the space was overwhelming. Sadly, there is an increasing number of pilgrims who bring their iPhones to drown out their inner voices with other people’s noises.

Fortunately, mindfulness and emotional intelligence can help us to seek out liminal experiences for their capacity to help us grow and transform. When we are able to bring a greater awareness of our emotional states, we become more willing to step into physical and mental places of discomfort. We are less susceptible to external and internal triggers, we ruminate less, and we worry less about the unknown. Mindfulness and emotional balance allows us sit in presence because we are less preoccupied with what happened or what will happen. By expanding our awareness – and awareness of awareness – we can be more readily available to act with wisdom and discernment and to listen to our inner voices with kindness, without being swept away by their cacophony.

When we build our emotional intelligence, particularly though mindfulness meditation, we build our capacity for resilience and balance, allowing us to better manage the subtle and the tumultuous disruptions of life. As Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson wrote on the impact of meditation in Altered Traits, “the after is the before for the next during.” In other words, after we meditate, we can make long-lasting internal changes, which alters how we were before the meditation, setting a new baseline before the next practice. With repeated practice, we find strength in stillness and courage in balance.

This practice doesn’t require us to go on a 30-day pilgrimage or a mountain retreat. While those can be valuable and transformative experiences, we can also sit in our bedrooms to enter liminal spaces with awareness and a beginner’s mind, enhancing our ability to embrace life’s constant uncertainties with curiosity and presence.

 

Recommended Resources:

 

Altered Traits audio cover

 

Interested in learning more about mindfulness and the science behind it? Listen to Daniel Goleman read his book, Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body, written in collaboration with neuroscientist Richard J. Davidson. This audiobook, available as a download or on a reusable USB drive, is the perfect accompaniment to your commute or workout.

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you’d like to work with Belinda and help others develop their Emotional Intelligence, we encourage you to apply for the Daniel Goleman Emotional Intelligence Coaching Certification. This in-depth program, akin to a professional degree, draws upon a range of evidence-based concepts and practices, including the Emotional & Social Intelligence framework. Coaches will gain meaningful new insights to impact their personal and professional lives through online learning, one-on-one guidance from a Meta-Coach, a coaching practicum, and more.

 

 

 

 

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How Meditation Fuels Emotionally Intelligent Leaders

meditation and emotional intelligence

Not many of my readers know this, but long before I started writing about emotional intelligence and leadership effectiveness, I studied meditation. I started back in my college days, and found daily meditation calmed my undergraduate jitters and helped me focus better. To get a scientific look at what I had experienced, I did my doctoral research in psychology at Harvard University on how meditation might help us be less reactive to stress.

Back then, there were but two scientific studies of meditation I could point to. Today, there are more than 6,000. This past year or so, working with my friend since grad school, Professor Richard J. Davidson, a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, we used rigorous standards to review all that research. We share the strongest findings in our book, Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body. While 99 percent of the studies failed to meet these standards, about 60 – one percent – were first-rate. They make a convincing case for the positive, lasting effects of meditation.

Meditation and Emotional Intelligence

While continuing my interest in meditation, over the past 20+ years, of course, I’ve studied and written about emotional intelligence and its powerful role in high performance and leadership. My colleague, Richard Boyatzis of Case Western Reserve University, and I developed a model of emotional and social intelligence that centers around twelve learned and learnable competencies. Now when people ask me how to develop those competencies, my response often includes the power of meditation to strengthen emotional intelligence.

It’s not that meditation makes you expert in all twelve emotional intelligence competencies. Not at all. Exhibiting these at a high level takes specific learning, particular to each competence. But meditation has some general impacts that can help upgrade several of these leadership skills.

For example:

Emotional Self-Awareness supports development of all of the emotional intelligence competencies, simply because it allows us a way to monitor and evaluate what we do and how we think and feel. Mindfulness meditation cultivates emotional self-awareness, helping us develop the mental ability to pause and notice feelings and thoughts rather than immediately reacting. Seeing our thoughts as just thoughts, and feelings as just feelings gives us a platform for choosing more skillfully how we react, or to change for the better what we habitually do.

Emotional Self-Control means that you are in charge of your disruptive reactions, rather than your feelings controlling what you do. I’ve written extensively about the executive centers of our brain (the prefrontal cortex) and the fight-or-flight emotional centers (and their trigger, the amygdala). Research now shows that regular practice of mindfulness meditation builds the pathways between the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex so that the calming, thoughtful influence of the prefrontal cortex can curb the knee-jerk reactions of the amygdala.

Empathy – tuning into and reading accurately how others feel – helps us manage our relationships. While emotional self-awareness helps you know yourself, empathy means being able to understand the thoughts and feelings of the people around you. My new book Altered Traits reviews several studies that show certain kinds of meditation enhance empathy – for example, just eight hours of a form of meditation known as loving-kindness or compassion meditation has been shown to strengthen our mental brain’s circuitry for empathy.

Conflict Management
Conflicts big and small are inevitable in work and in life. Being able to understand different perspectives and effectively work toward finding common ground is an essential skill for leaders at all levels of organizations. The building blocks of skillful conflict management include the other three competencies I mention above. Before we can manage conflict effectively, we need to recognize our own disruptive feelings and manage them. We also need to understand the feelings and perspectives of others. Just as mindfulness meditation supports development of the skills for knowing our own feelings and controlling them, those skills enhance our ability to manage conflict.

Emotional intelligence means being skilled at a variety of competencies. Meditation alone will not make you excel in these skill sets, but it can help. To become adept at the competencies, get a strong foundation by first learning to become aware, to focus, to interact with others in a constructive and meaningful way. These abilities are exactly what meditation helps to cultivate.

Recommended Reading:

Altered Traits audio coverAltered Traits is the newest book by bestselling author Daniel Goleman and neuroscientist Richard J. Davidson. Through thoughtful analysis of countless studies, the authors offer the truth about what meditation can really do for us, as well as exactly how to get the most out of it. At the heart of what Goleman and Davidson aim to impress upon readers and listeners is that beyond the pleasant states mental exercises can produce, the real payoffs are the lasting personality traits that can result.

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The Five Stages of Intentional Change Theory

intentional change theory boyatzis

The Five Stages of Intentional Change Theory

by Richard Boyatzis

How do people make changes in their behavior?

What does it take to make lasting change?

These are questions my colleagues and I have studied for the last fifty years. Since 1967 we’ve used Intentional Change Theory (ICT) to understand what leads to lasting change. ICT is a multi-level theory that helps predict sustained desired change for dyads, teams, organizations, communities and countries.

The “change” one makes may not just be in behavior, it also may be in a person’s habits, competencies, dreams, or aspirations. It may be a change in perspective, how someone looks at events in their life or how they feel in certain situations. When I say “desired,” I mean that the change is something that the person would like to occur. By “sustained,” I mean that the change lasts for a relatively long time.

The basis of Intentional Change Theory is what we call “the five discoveries.” These are:

  1. The ideal self and a personal vision
  2. The real self and its comparison to the ideal self resulting in an assessment of one’s strengths and weaknesses, in a sense a personal balance sheet
  3. A learning agenda and plan
  4. Experimentation and practice with the new behavior, thoughts, feelings, or perceptions
  5. Trusting, or resonant, relationships that enable a person to experience and process each discovery in the process

People pass through these discoveries in a cycle that repeats as the person changes.

Let’s look at each of these discoveries.

1) Imagining Your Ideal Self and Creating a Personal Vision

Before making an intentional change, we need to discover who we want to be. What we call our “ideal self” is an image of the person we want to be. There are three components to developing the image of our ideal self:

  • An image of a desired future
  • Hope that one can attain it
  • Aspects of one’s core identity, which includes enduring strengths, on which to build for this desired future

Just like champion athletes develop and use an image of themselves performing at their peak in preparation for competition, there is power in focusing on a desired end. Our research shows that people develop a deep emotional commitment to making a change if they have created an image of their ideal self and use it in their change process. Hence, the output of the first discovery is a personal vision.

2) Comparing Your Ideal Self with Your Real Self

Once you have a sense of your ideal self, it’s time to look at how that ideal compares with your current “real” self. By “real,” I mean the person that other people see and with whom they interact. For many of us, our self-image is some mixture of awareness of our own internal state and the feedback we receive from others about who we are. It can be challenging to get a solid grasp of our actual strengths and weaknesses, either because we don’t want to look too closely or other people are reluctant to let us know what they see. To really consider changing a part of yourself, you must have a sense of both what you value about yourself and want to keep, and what aspects of yourself you want to change. Where your ideal self and real self are not consistent can be thought of as gaps or weaknesses. The output of this second discovery is a personal balance sheet.

3) Developing a Learning Agenda and Plan

Once you have a vision for the future and an accurate sense of your current self, it’s time to develop a plan for how to move toward your vision. In this stage, the output is on creating that learning plan. Such a plan would focus on development, and is most effective if it is coupled with a positive belief in one’s capability and hope of improvement. A learning plan would also include standards of performance set by the person who is pursuing change. Once the plan is in place, the next step is to try it out.

4) Practicing Desired Changes

The fourth discovery is to act on your learning plan and practice with desired changes. Depending on your goals, this often means experimenting with new behavior. After such practice, you have the opportunity to reflect on what happened, and experiment further. Sometimes practicing new behavior can happen in a course or a controlled learning environment, but often it happens in real world settings such as at work or at home. Whatever the situation, experimentation will be most effective in conditions where you feel safe. Such psychological safety means that you can try out your new behavior with less risk of embarrassment or serious consequences of failure.

5) Relationships That Help Us Learn

Our relationships with other people are an important part of our everyday environment. Crucial to our ability to change are the relationships and groups that are particularly important to us. They provide the context in which we can see our progress on our desired changes. Often, our relationships and groups can be sources of support for our change as well as for feedback. They also can help us from slipping back into our former ways of behaving.

Putting It All Together

There is a mechanism that allows movement from one discovery to another. Inside of us are two states, a Positive Emotional Attractor (PEA) and Negative Emotional Attractor (NEA). Arousing the PEA allows a psycho-physiological state of being open to new ideas – this allows movement to the next discovery. In contrast, the NEA is a feeling of obligation. This stops the sustainability of any change attempted because you’re simply not motivated intrinsically.
In the Real Self, there should be an emphasis on your strengths, not on the development needs. This stimulates the PEA because it’s about building upon what you’re already good at and filling in the gaps, rather than dwelling on weaknesses.

You can handle only a few developmental or change goals at a time, so remember to make your learning plan something you are excited about trying. Approach it with openness and curiosity, then build upon what you learn gradually.

Recommended Reading/Learning:

Our new Primers provide a concise overview of the Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competencies of Emotional Self-Awareness and Emotional Self-Control, both valuable in creating intentional change.

The Primers are created by Emotional Intelligence author Daniel Goleman, with several fellow thought leaders in the field of EI, leadership development, and research, including Richard Boyatzis, Vanessa Druskat, Richard J. Davidson, and George Kohlrieser.

 

 

 

For even more in-depth information from Richard Boyatzis and Daniel Goleman, see our new video series, Foundations in Emotional Intelligence. This series explores the Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competencies in theory, with examples for practice, and support from research.

 

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Improve Your Attention Span Through Self-Awareness

attention-span-self-awareness

attention-span-self-awareness

Improve Your Attention Span Through Self-Awareness

By Ann Flanagan Petry

“You think because you understand ‘one’ you must also understand ‘two’, because one and one make two. But you must also understand ‘and’.” – Rumi

In the workplace, we often fall into just the trap that Rumi describes. We think that because we understand how to be busy accomplishing tasks (one) we also understand how to be effective in our work (two). So, we focus on agendas, “to do” lists, and clearing out our in-box. But when we do that, we are missing out on the quiet yet critical, “and” in the equation: the powerful force of mindful self-awareness.

Attention span is the length of time you’re able to concentrate on a single activity before becoming distracted. The longer you’re able to sustain attention, the more likely you are to gain depth and quality in things like learning or creating. This impacts work and life in a myriad of ways, from increasing productivity to being able to express the best of what we have to offer. But how can we improve our attention span effectively?

Self-Awareness is a Verb

Self-awareness is often referred to as a static state within leadership competencies: “he has self-awareness.” In other words, he has met this competency and we can check “goal met.” However, it is important to recognize self-awareness is really more of a verb and refers to an ongoing process. To understand this more fully, take a moment and tune-in to your own mind and body right now… What do you notice? Indeed, recognizing what is happening in any given moment – from the inside out – can be a bit of a shock. Someone once described it as hearing one insult after another. Others have said it was like an endless barrage of complaints… what isn’t working… what isn’t good enough. Beyond being aware of the internal narrator, we might notice other things, like the tension we are holding in our bodies or the incessant urge to stay busy – to be productive.  This is self-awareness. Remarkably, our inner experience is ever changing and shifting. Awareness of this reality is at the heart of the self-awareness competency.

The Challenge of Continuous Partial Attention

In fact, the cultivation of the competency of self-awareness is becoming more critical for 21st century leaders. To understand just how important, consider the increasing regularity of lack of self-awareness occurring in daily life. Linda Stone coined the term Continuous Partial Attention (CPA). Stone, a former Silicon Valley executive, honed her leadership skills at both Apple and Microsoft. She discovered this from observing leaders all around her. Continuous Partial Attention coupled with fear of missing out (FOMO) is the new normal. We take our smart phones out at the slightest hint of a wait, whether it’s at the grocery store or the stoplight. Both terms describe a recent human phenomenon: a constant state of anxiety and hyper-vigilance to attend to texts, social media, and email… all at the same time!

To demonstrate this further, a survey of Canadian media consumption by Microsoft concluded that the average attention span had fallen to eight seconds, down from 12 in the year 2000. We now have a shorter attention span than goldfish, the study found.  Attention span was defined as “the amount of concentrated time on a task without becoming distracted.”  Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft believes human attention is “the true scarce commodity” of the near future.  Daniel Goleman describes the impact of “the impoverishment of attention” in his book, Focus, The Hidden Driver of Excellence.

Self-Awareness as an  Inner-Rudder

Notably, according to Goleman, “self-awareness, particularly accuracy in decoding the internal cues of our body’s murmurs, holds the key” and is an inner-rudder that can bring us back to deepening attention. As a result, numerous organizations are explicitly coaching and training employees in awareness skill-building. The organizations range from multinational corporations to city governments.

Inspired by the work of neuroscience researcher, Richard J. Davidson and his vision to “imagine a world where we could improve our capacity to pay attention by even 5%,” Sara Flitner, former Mayor of Jackson, Wyoming, together with the support and funding of the Wellness Department at St. John’s Medical Center (SJMC)  partnered with the Wisconsin School of Business at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Center for Healthy Minds to offer research-based practices in well-being and leadership development. Together, they undertook a community-wide initiative to bring this content and learning to elected officials, school administrators, as well as hospital and town leaders.

Also of note, a large professional services firm engaged the Center for Healthy Minds to train hundreds among its leadership ranks. Michele Nevarez, a positive organizational development consultant and adjunct faculty with the Wisconsin School of Business helped facilitate the neuroscience-based leadership training for Jackson’s leaders and the firm. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Nevarez believes the sessions met a critical need of bringing key stakeholders together to apply practices that strengthen attentional focus and promote renewal. This can help to combat the daily information overload and allow for better coping with the stresses of everyday life, which if left unmanaged can undermine well-being.

The challenge of Continuous Partial Attention and information overload is a common and tremendously difficult problem that is growing with each new wave of technological capabilities. Yet, we are discovering people are adaptive and have agency to choose how and what to pay attention to.

Try this:

Choose a time of day, or trigger activity (such as for 10 minutes before or after eating lunch) and check in with yourself. You can even schedule this on your calendar for reminders and to insure you’re not interrupted. What do you feel in your mind and body? A sense of hurry to get back to work? Unease from lack of sleep or lingering emotion from disagreement with your spouse? The simple act of tuning in and noticing what comes up is, in essence, the practice of tapping into one’s emotional self-awareness and attention. With regular practice, this can help deepen and lengthen attention span by rewiring the brain to be more at ease with less reactivity to external impulses. It will also help to combat the daily information overload, allowing for better coping of the stresses of everyday life.

Ann Flanagan Petry is a Positive Organizational Development Consultant, Coach and Contributing Author of the forthcoming book, Advancing Relationship-Based Cultures. She has over 20 years of experience driving performance improvement in organizations. She partners with leaders to cultivate resilient, mindful, emotionally intelligent teams who improve clients, their own and their organization’s performance and wellbeing. 

Recommended Reading:

Interested in learning more about Emotional Self-Awareness? Our newly released Primer provides a concise overview of this Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competency. It is co-written by several thought leaders in the field of emotional intelligence, leadership development, and research: Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, Vanessa Druskat, Richard Davidson, and George Kohlrieser. See the Primer here.

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Your Body’s Role in Making Difficult Decisions

making difficult decisions

making difficult decisions

Don’t let the voice of others’ opinions drown out your inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.”- Steve Jobs

When it comes to making difficult decisions, how do you hear “your inner voice,” that your heart and intuition somehow already know?

Listen to your body’s signals.

Making Difficult Decisions: Gut Feelings

Dr. Dan Siegel, clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine, explained the complex process of how our minds and bodies formulate and respond to a hunch for our video series Leadership: A Master Class.  You can read the excerpt here.

There’s wisdom in the body. When you’re self-aware, you get a gut feeling. You have a heartfelt sense. Our gut feelings are messages from the insula and other bottom-up circuits that simplify life decisions for us by guiding our attention toward smarter options. The better we are at reading these messages, the better our intuition.

Yet sometimes, if we have been traumatized, for example, the gut feeling we get can lead us astray. If you’ve been bitten by a dog or hurt by someone who had red hair, when you see a dog or a person with red hair, your gut may say “bad, bad, bad”, and may create a tone of negativity that is based on past traumatic experience. So bodily input doesn’t always mean you should respond to it directly. You should analyze it.

Making Difficult Decisions: Somatic Markers

Somatic marker is neuroscientist Antonio Damasio’s term for the sensation in our body that tells us when a choice feels wrong or right. This bottom-up circuitry telegraphs its conclusions through our gut feelings, often long before the top-down circuits come to a more reasoned conclusion. The ventromedial prefrontal area, a key part of this circuitry, guides our decision making when we face life’s most complex decisions, like who to marry or whether to buy a house. Such choices can’t be made by a cold, rational analysis. Instead we do better to simulate what it would feel like to choose A versus B. This brain area operates as that inner rudder.

Making Difficult Decisions: Sensing

Erica Ariel Fox spoke with Daniel Goleman in his Leadership: A Master Class video series about “direct knowing”: I know this, but I don’t know how I know it. I didn’t read it in a book. Nobody told it to me. I didn’t have an Excel spreadsheet that laid it out for me. Nonetheless, I know it. She argues that we have a set of skills that coaches and leaders who work with teams might call “reading the room.” Others call it attunement or discernment. It’s not data processing and thin-slicing, and it’s also not having an emotional evaluation of decisions. It’s a sensing. When she works with a team in crisis, she recognizes that tuning in to the group’s feelings and emotions helps her ask the right questions about what’s happening.

Making Difficult Decisions: Use Your Body

When we’re under pressure, we become narrow minded and tense. We aren’t able to tap into our body signals. But we also forget to use our body to help us refocus. Taking a time out also allows us to hone our self-management skills. Paying attention to the mental and physical signs and experiences that occur during stressful situations gives you an opportunity to practice composure.

Breathing is often abandoned or compromised when anxiety arises. A few conscious deep breaths will oxygenate your brain and improve the clarity of your thinking. Here is a simple exercise you can do: Breathe in and count one… then breath out and count one. Breathe in and count two… then breathe out count two. Breathe in and count three… then breathe out. Keep repeating this in a steady rhythm.

To ground yourself further during the process, place your hands on your abdomen or chest and observe the sensation of your abdomen or chest rising and settling. Learn to relax in the experience.

Master the Art of Making Difficult Decisions

making difficult decisions

Registration is open for the Mindful Leadership Breakthrough System, a live webcast series with executive coach and senior meditation instructor, Dawa Tarchin Phillips. The program is designed to help executives and leadership development professionals apply mindfulness principles to overcome common internal and external barriers to presence, productivity and performance.

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What Oprah Winfrey Has Learned from Daniel Goleman

Super Soul Sunday

Super Soul Sunday

SuperSoul Sunday with Daniel Goleman and Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey uses what she has learned from Daniel Goleman every day. And, she thinks everyone can learn from Dr. Goleman’s work. That’s why she sat down with Dr. Goleman for an interview on SuperSoul Sunday. Here’s a taste of what they covered in their wide-ranging conversation:

What is the difference between IQ and emotional intelligence?

Technical and intellectual knowledge can get you in the door for a job, but emotional intelligence is what keeps you there and successful. Oprah shares examples of how she has seen the power of emotional intelligence.

What are the three kinds of empathy and why do they matter?

Any relationship or interaction is enhanced if we can empathize with others. Can you understand how someone thinks and how they feel? Does your understanding lead to concern?

How does Focus relate to Flow?

What is Flow and how can we intentionally get there? Dr. Goleman shares a key to achieving a flow state – pay attention. Goleman and Oprah discuss how our attention is under siege in daily life and how to step away from distractions.

It’s never too early, or too late, to develop emotional intelligence.

At any age, our brains can change, and we can build the mental muscles of emotional intelligence. Parents and schools can help children develop emotional intelligence from an early age. Dr. Goleman talks about the use of Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) programs in schools and how cognitive control is a predictor of future success.

How can we each be a force for good in the world?

Oprah asks Dr. Goleman about his book, A Force for Good, his friendship with the Dalai Lama, and his work to help spread the Dalai Lama’s vision for the world. In the face of what seem like overwhelming challenges, we can each take steps to be a force for good. Dr. Goleman shares the greatest lesson the Dalai Lama has taught him.

Why does the media focus on negative news?

Dr. Goleman explains the brain science behind our fascination with news that is threatening or scary and how the media capitalizes on that fascination. Oprah and Dr. Goleman discuss how to manage the barrage of negative news.

What is the impact of the stories we tell ourselves?

Emotional intelligence allows us to change our relationship with our own thoughts and feelings and have more choice.

Watch the full SuperSoul Sunday interview with Daniel Goleman and Oprah Winfrey.