Welcome to a special Earth Day edition of the More Than Sound podcast. In this episode, Daniel Goleman speaks with Anthony Gell about the role of ecological intelligence in today’s marketplace, the importance of developing it for the future, and who he expects will drive changes in the years to come.
Anthony Gell- You’ve got an audio cd out, which is Relax: Six Techniques To Lower Your Stress. Can you, for me and anyone else out there who gets in a stress state, give us some insights as to how we can manage that?
Daniel Goleman- Well, I did this audio instruction on six ways to manage stress. It goes back to some research I did years ago at Harvard, which showed that people really differ in what works for them as a relaxation modality. One thing doesn’t work for everybody, and so one way to relax if you want a method, and I recommend that people have a method and the reason is this: What you’re doing is training your brain to relax, even under pressure. You don’t want to learn this under pressure, you want to practice at home when things are quiet and calm, And you can try out a method and do it daily. Because you’re going to need that method in the heat of the day, during your frazzle, or approaching frazzle, moments, and if you haven’t practiced your brain won’t be able to do it. So one of the methods, for example, it’s very simply paying attention to your breath and letting go of other thoughts. Turns out that that’s very effective for many people as a way to both lower your metabolic state, which is to say get more relaxed, and to focus, to develop more concentration. One of the big problems today is staying concentrated amidst all the distractions. But for other people for example, a deep muscle relaxation will work better. That’s why there are six different methods.
AG- OK, so we’re just going to get the CD. But you, I’ve read, actually do it first thing in the morning.
DG- Yeah, I like to do a meditation first thing in the morning. I’m a writer, so I’ll have breakfast, then I’ll have a meditation session, then I’ll do writing, because I’m in a very focused state.
Anthony Gell- We all know that you sort of create your own habits and then your habits create you, they define you, so how would you go about hard wiring a more healthy or positive habit? And is it possible to replace habits that may be hardwired into you?
Daniel Goleman- Well this is really the basis of improving leadership abilities, changing habits. Because one of the common colds of leadership is not listening, just saying what you think. You know, someone comes into the office, they start to speak, just like when you go to the physician. You start to say, well, “Doctor, I’m having this, and this, and this,” and you have three things you want to talk about. Well, in 18 seconds they’ll take over the conversation, steer it where they want it to go, and you’re out the door. And you asked one half of a question! And it’s the same with bosses, it’s the same with leaders.
So, how would you get over that bad habit? The answer is there are simple steps. The first is: notice it. Realize, “Oh, I do have this habit, and it would be better for me as a leader if I could change.” Second step: care about it. If you don’t care, you’re not going to get anywhere. Third step: think. “Well, how could I intentionally counter that habit?” I could have a contract with myself that when someone comes into my office I’m going to stop, pause, listen to them, and then say what I think. It’s that simple. But to do that you have to overcome years and years of another habit. And then the fourth step is to practice at every naturally occurring opportunity. And if you do that you’ll reach a neural landmark where you do it well without having to think about it.
Anthony Gell- Empathy, lets pick up on that for a second. Daniel, in your first book you mentioned about empathy and how important that is and obviously there’s different types of empathy. But talk about the spectrum, if you’ve got on one level of the spectrum you’ve got the sociopath and on the other one you’ve got somebody that’s just absolutely besotted by other people’s feelings, is it important to have a balance? Obviously you can be too far toward the sociopath spectrum, but can you be too far [the other] way?
Daniel Goleman- Yeah, you see that in people for example in the helping professions- nurses, say- who are taking care of people who are suffering, who are in pain, who are angry. Who pick up those emotions and can’t metabolize them. It changes their internal state instead of them changing the patients’ state, because of, you could say, this too empathic stance. What’s missing there is self-management, self-regulation as we say. That is to say, the people who are most effective don’t tune out in order to protect themselves, and turn off to other people. They stay open but they’re able to pass that through, to manage their own inner state at the same time as they’re being receptive. That’s the best.
AG- OK, that’s great. So you can be in an empathetic situation but not allow it to be to heavily on your shoulders, take it too personally.
DG- It’s more than that. It’s that you don’t let it change your state. You stay stable in the positive state you need.
AG- And therefore you wouldn’t be as stressed as you would be.
Anthony Gell- Everybody out there in the world has decisions to be made. And whether you’re managing yourself or whether you’re a subordinate and just managing your own day you’re still making decisions. All the way through to vc guys or ceos making massive multi billion pound decisions. Do you have any advice? In your book, The Brain And Emotional Intelligence, you talk about the neocortex and the subcortex. No matter how big the idea be, should you be making the decision with the gut? What’s your advice?
Daniel Goleman- My advice is both, actually. There’s some interesting data on that. There was a study done of California entrepreneurs who built businesses from nothing, into huge amounts. And they’re asked, “How do you make your decisions?” And they all said essentially the same thing. They were voracious gatherers of data. They had very broad nets, things that other people wouldn’t think might be relevant. They delve into the numbers, they look into everything, and then they’d check it against their gut feeling. And what that means is that the first swipe is cortical: the part of the brain that thinks in words and numbers. And then you check that against your gut feeling and the reason that’s a good idea is this:
There’s a primitive part of the brain, it’s actually in the brainstem, that as we go through life, gathers decision roles. “When I did that, that worked well. When I said that, that really didn’t work.” And as we face a decision point it summates your life experience relevant to the topic, and it sends you a message. The problem is it has no connection to the part of the brain that thinks in words. It sends the message to the gut. The GI tract. So when you say trust your gut, it’s actually literally true. Because you get a felt sense. Feels right. Doesn’t feel right. And all the entrepreneurs said “I check it against that. Even if the numbers look good. If it didn’t feel right I wouldn’t go ahead.”
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