Category Archives: Emotional Intelligence

Brain Language

brain4There has been considerable debate on what comes first in response to any stimulus, thought or emotion? Some argue that how you feel dictates how you think. If I am sad then this emotion will cater to more somber memories and thoughts, and vice versa if I am happy. Others argue that if you choose to think certain thoughts, you can change your emotions from whatever they are to what you want/need them to be for any given situation. I wonder if we have been debating a moot point. Feelings or emotions are labels we have been using to describe what thoughts are being narrated by the brain. New neuroscience is strongly suggesting that emotions and thoughts are in fact the same, neurologically. How we feel can only be described by thought. If you have labeled an emotion you are feeling as sad, then you are in fact using thought to come up with the ‘sad’ label. Your thoughts, neuropathways, are dependent on stored memories, not on objective labels, to make those labels. What is sad to one person might be just mundane to one and traumatic to another. I presented this argument in my first book in 1995, Clearing Your Path, coining the ‘Theory of Emotional Relativity’ concept. Why is it important to re-examine our labels and emotional language? Because the center of out labeling machine, our brain, is an inherently biased and flawed organ. It uses only experiences stored in it, not objective rationale, to label.

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Learn a New Emotional Language

languageStating the obvious, labels and language provide us with the necessary code for comprehension of just about everything. Language has evolved as our evolution and maturation has. Every year dozens of new words are added to both a formal dictionary and our colloquial vernacular. In college, I never “googled” anything nor as I kid did I “binge watch” any show, for example. I’ve been writing for well over a decade now on Emotions, Emotional Intelligence (EQ) and Neuroscience. Our understanding of these has dramatically improved in the last ten years alone, more so arguably than previous centuries combined. We know now that our human body is over 90% fluid, filled with all kinds of chemicals whose total composition is dictated in large part by instant reactions to constantly-changing stimuli from key glands in our body. A certain combination of chemicals (hormones) forces our neurothpathways (thought pattern) to go a certain direction to decipher the stimuli and other combinations go to different places for the same reason. We have been using a bronze-age language to describe these feelings, such as anger, sad, happy, glad, frustrated, joyful, excited, bored, etc. These labels were at best honorable attempts to makes sense of what our glands and thoughts were doing and provided our ancestors with comprehension for decoding visible human behavior. But make no mistake, these are outdated and even inaccurate labels. It is time to learn a new language.

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Use Tragedy to Transform Business

tragedyA few weeks ago, a friend asked me to review the manuscript of his first book. He is a world-class athletic coach in his sport and finally was convinced that his approach was quite revolutionary for his sport based on the success of this athletes. The first third of the manuscript was how he became both an elite athlete himself and subsequently, a coach after the age of 30 having no experience whatsoever prior to.  After a series of failed businesses, bad luck and a few poor decisions, he had hit life’s rock-bottom becoming an alcoholic and purchasing a gun to end his life. He learned his sport because it became an alternative to misery and studied every known approach. Today, he uses that knowledge to transform lives and athletes to great performance largely by providing a model that is counter-intuitive and challenges models developed by the gurus of the sport.

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Conflicts Reflect You

conflict22Conflict between human beings is arguably as old as time itself. In personal relationships and the workplace, we have studied conflict resolution at length providing countless models and tips most of which are quite good. A different perspective on this matter is unveiling itself based on neuroscience. It is not so much on how to deal with conflict when it occurs, as much as it is why conflict would exist in the first place. The same issue or person could be a problem with one person and a non-issue to another, right? So it cannot possibly be the ‘person’ or ‘problem’ that is the issue. It has to be the emotional value ascribed to the other person or issue by the beholder. Conflict is therefore, not a deductive or rational process. It is an interpretation process which is based on how the beholder is interpreting said issue.

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Emotional Fatigue

fatigueAll athletes know that as the competitive event progresses, no matter the sport, there is clearly physical fatigue. If it’s tennis, you are certainly more tired in the third set than you are in the first set. If you play golf, you are also more tired on the back nine than you are on the front nine, and so goes all sports. The physical body has a finite amount of glycogen (energy for physical activity), and our muscles heat as they exercise dehydrating the body and wearing them out. Similarly, athletes also emotionally fatigue as both a symptom of the physical fatigue where aches send messages to the brain as well as the neurological fatigue of having to focus on the competition. The same logic applies to working professionals who show up to work at 8AM and leave at 5PM. There is emotional fatigue from the proceedings of the day that impacts their intellectual capacity. Athletes make poor decisions towards the end of a game that in hindsight (or in practice) they would never make but the combination of other fatigue with emotional fatigue dilutes good decision making.

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“Prove it” will “Kill it”

innovElon Musk, widely recognized as a successful serial entrepreneur and innovator, recently responded to a question from an audience that I found to be a pervasive innovation barrier in the workplace. The question was how he responded to investors or other leaders whose initial response to an idea is either “where has this been done before” or “can you prove it will work?” His response was that virtually all meaningful innovation would cease to exist if those who came up with the idea had to prove the idea would work before even starting.

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The Brain Graveyard

graveyardWhen we think of a graveyard, we associate it as a final resting place of our bodies. It is really final at that point. It is the end of the possibility for any idea that the deceased ever had to materialize. This is a harsh reality but it could be argued there is an even harsher truth – that ideas die in our brains long before the body does.

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Is the Elephant in the room or the brain?

elephantWe are all familiar with the phrase “elephant in the room” – an unspoken negative stimulus in a situation that everyone is aware of but with little recourse on how to handle it knowing all the while that the ‘elephant’ is compromising the integrity of the best and often obvious solution to the issue at hand. Every organization and team has a mutation of an elephant.  There are indeed some elephants in our own homes. There are many strategies out there on how to deal with, or at least work through these elephants. However, I’d like to offer a challenge to whether the elephant is in the room as an existential threat or whether it is a reflection of what our brain interprets as an insurmountable and too risky a threat.

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The most powerful Question…

GooddayLast week I spoke at my favorite conference to an audience of peers in the Human Capital space. I spoke on Happiness and presented some cutting-edge neuroscience on the topic and argued for its relevance in the workplace, not just outside it, as a key lever of human performance. I shared studies starting from about 100 years ago that began to explore the correlation between happy employees and workplace productivity. There is indisputable evidence showing both correlation and causation that you can google search. Yet, it is a taboo subject and as such, the workplace has abdicated that responsibility to outside its walls.  Continue reading

Innovation is a Neuro function

innov2Ask yourself where you had your last few innovative ideas? Ask someone else where they had theirs? You are likely to get a broad spectrum of responses ranging from a coffee shop, a shower, to an offsite retreat and a walk on the beach. The very fact that there are so many geo-spatial locations implies that geography has little to do with innovation. Why then would we design an “innovation center” or assume a conference room of sorts or any other workplace space is where innovation would occur? Or that a certain technology or tool is required for what ultimately is a cognitive function? The truth is that innovation occurs in our brains when a conglomerate of variables come together. It is the same with collaboration which is a form of innovation where the thoughts/ideas in one brain need to be complemented with those of another to produce a better outcome than had each one done it one its own.  I understand that a ‘space’ might be one of those variables but it hardly is an important one. Take for example a 2-hour problem solving collaborative innovation meeting in a conference room at work with say, twelve very talented people in a company meet led by the leader of that team. Let’s say that in the first hour, the meeting has gone reasonably well but the boss of the leader decides to enter the meeting. It is likely that many if not all of the twelve would suddenly ‘feel’ different about sharing their ideas or thoughts because the boss of their boss is now in the room. They might feel some anxiety or apprehension and decide to be more cautious than earlier. In this scenario, nothing much has changed. It was the same problem that had to be solved, in the same room, in the same time with an hour’s progress already made yet everything had changed. That ‘everything’ was a neurological and subconscious assessment of a new threat that subsequently compromised their ability to collaborate and innovate. The result was no real solution was achieved. Did the innovative or collaborative skills of the twelve suddenly disappear (they existed in the first hour) or was the skill still there but replaced with a more powerful motive to self-preserve?  I think most of you would conclude it is the latter.

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Manage Negativity for Success

negativity.jpgAdvances in neuroscience continue to give us both clues and validation on many theories posited by philosophers, great leaders, and psychologists. In several recent studies, it is now conclusive that our happiness, that chemical state of being with higher levels of dopamine and lower levels of cortisol, is less a function of happy activities and more a function of the power of negative experiences. Anecdotally, I had uncovered this when I interviewed over 60 people with Stage IV cancer for my book Is Today The Today, written in 2001. To a person, irrespective of age, gender, life lived, I found what these folks wanted to tell me on their dying beds had more to do with their regrets than their successes. They wanted me to know what had held them back, the negative experiences they had foolishly carried for so long, and how they wished others’ would not make the same mistake. Many other books and research corroborate what I learned.

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It’s all about that threat …

threat2We continue to learn amazing things about our brain. You know, the organ that makes all decisions, that processes all experiences, stores all memory and ascribes value to every activity and possession. Through digital imaging, scans, and virtual reality, we can simulate any experience and map what neuropathways are stimulated. We can now conclude that the brain’s default disposition is to process everything from a threat perspective first. It is not to value love, relationships, creativity, business collaboration and innovation. In other words, we are not inherently designed to do great things despite having an infinite capacity to do so. We are designed to protect ourselves from emotional, financial, corporate, intellectual and physical threats,  and will do it subconsciously without hesitation. Continue reading

Change your workday …

This article has wonderful strategies to change your workday to help you be more productive. The average leader spends almost 65% of their time reading emails each day. That alone should warrant serious concern in how we work.


Learning without growth is … Entertainment

entertainI have been struggling with this for almost my entire adult life. I have a ton of good friends who will recommend a book, send an article, talk about a new video or seminar they attended where they learned all kinds of new things about life, being parents, being spouses, being a leader and so on. I have done my own share of this as well. Like so many, I enjoy a new perspective on the same challenges. After a while though, when all this learning translates into nothing more than a few days of change and a quick revert to the old self,  it begs the questions:  What is the real purpose of learning if not to grow? Is it possible to become so enamored with the learning itself that the celebration of it that becomes a mere smoke screen for the lack of growth? With the abundance of learning channels, has learning become just intellectual and spiritual entertainment?

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Performance undelivered

performanceLast week I spoke to a professional sports team. During the Q&A portion, one of the athletes asked me which was worse during the game –  thinking about what happened earlier or thinking about what needs to happen next. My response was both – as both would keep you from being fully focused on the present moment where he would need to be at his absolute best to get the most out of his skills.  Continue reading