The one thing you really can control in life is your attitude, yet most people view their attitude as the result of external things happening to them rather than a conscious decision they make every minute of every day.
In this article, I will explore some ideas that can help make your choice more intentional. These ideas are not new or unique; they have been expressed by numerous authors or scientists, and yet they are easily forgotten by anyone in the heat of the moment.
When you react to a stimulus, an emotion is created in the limbic system (right side) of your brain. That emotion will translate into a “feeling” about the stimulus immediately.
The reaction is a chemical one that you have no control over at all. Instantly you are caught by the emotion, and this will form into an attitude if you let it.
The skill I am describing here is Emotional Intelligence; a phrase coined by Wayne Payne in his doctoral thesis in 1985 and popularized by Daniel Goleman in the mid-1990s.
Emotional Intelligence is your skill at understanding your emotions and your ability to use that knowledge to obtain more appropriate responses to stimuli. It is also about understanding the emotions of others and your skill at managing situations to obtain the most helpful result for them.
At its core, Emotional Intelligence is the ability to work effectively with people at all levels. It is a critical skill.
The good news is that Emotional Intelligence, while extremely powerful, is relatively easy to master, if you wish. There are numerous books on the topic and dozens of evaluations you can take. One of my favorite books is Emotional Intelligence II by Bradberry and Greaves. The book has theory and exercises that can improve your Emotional Intelligence quickly. A self evaluation is also included in the book.
One word of caution about administering self evaluations of Emotional Intelligence. Daniel Goleman discovered that people with low Emotional Intelligence also have the biggest blind spots. That means they cannot see how they are not able to control their emotions well, so be wary of taking your own opinion of yourself as being totally accurate.
If someone cuts in front of you in heavy traffic, causing you to slam on the brakes to avoid an accident, you instantly have the emotion of fear, realizing this might be the last conscious moment in your life.
You are decidedly unhappy about this. The fear quickly gives way to rage as the stimulus is processed in your limbic system ( the right side of your brain) . That idiot nearly killed you!
It is important to build in some dwell time before you react with a hand gesture or worse. Allow the signal to pass, through the corpus callosum, to the left side of your brain (which controls logic).
Now comes the part where you have a choice. Up to this point, the entire sequence was automatic, and it happened in less than a second. As you decide whether to honk your horn at the other driver, or even tailgate to teach him a lesson, now you are using your rational left brain to translate your current attitude into actions.
The actions can either be good for you, or they could lead to making a bad situation considerably worse. The choice is up to you. How can you grab on to a choice that is in your long term best interest?
The moment of truth is just after you recognize the situation in the conscious side of your brain. Before taking action, if you can program in a little self-talk, that slows the process down enough for you to make a rational decision, you have the opportunity to make a wise choice rather than poor choice.
To do this, you need to suspend judgment about how you will react until there is enough time to think about alternatives and consequences. Even though the temptation is to blast the jerk with a heavy dose of your horn, if in that split second you can suspend the action, it gives you a chance to change your attitude and your actions.
One simple technique is to try to envision the best possible intent on the part of others who provide unhappy stimuli for you. In our example, you might envision that the person who cut you off might really be a victim of something else that happened to him.
Perhaps he spotted a loose tire iron in the road and swerved to prevent hitting it and sending it airborne to crash through your, or someone else’s, windshield. Even though the scenario might seem far-fetched, taking the time to envision the best possible intent does slow down the urge to take action simply based on your rage. It prevents the flash point reaction.
Now you have the opportunity to think through two or three options and focus on the alternatives and potential consequences. It only takes a second or two. You have the opportunity to consciously manage your attitude, and that is truly liberating.
When you train your brain to slow down just long enough to think through some options, it puts you in control of your attitudes rather than the other way around. That analysis can save you from making some serious judgment errors that you will regret later.
Learning to change your attitude is not rocket science. It requires some study and work, but it is easy work, and the benefits are so positive and immediate, the study time is quickly rewarded.
One of the biggest benefits that you will receive is greater trust. When others realize that you respond thoughtfully to different situations without flying off the handle, they will trust you more. In return, they will be less defensive, argumentative, or difficult.
Emotional Intelligence is one of the biggest assets a leader has when building trust.
Those who can manage their attitudes and can interface with their world with Emotional Intelligence can master change rather than having change master them.
1. Emotional Intelligence allows us to build in a safety net for our emotions.
2. Emotional Intelligence is a learned skill. In fact it is one of the easier things to master.
3. You may not be the best judge of your own Emotional Intelligence.
1. Recall the last time you were successful at changing from a negative attitude to a positive one. Remember how good it felt to be in control of your emotions rather than the other way around.
2. Pick up a copy of the book Emotional Intelligence II by Bradberry and Greaves. It is a compact book that can change your whole life.
3. Have a discussion with your mate today, inviting him or her to let you know when you are beating yourself up unnecessarily. Sometimes a reminder from another person is all it takes to shift gears.
Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of: Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change, The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at www.Leadergrow.com, firstname.lastname@example.org or 585.392.7763