In her TED talk titled Why Some Students Fail and Other Students Succeed, teacher turned psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth reveals the one factor that determines whether a student will succeed or fail. She suggests that, in general, IQ has been the easiest factor to measure to predict success. And while other factors such as social intelligence, good looks, socio-economic status, physical health and talent are also considered in predicting success, her conclusion from the research suggests that the one factor that stands out more than any other factor is what we call “grit.” But what is grit?
When Americans get a flat tire, we call the American Automobile Association (AAA). When something unexpected happens to us in life, we would be wise to call on AAA as well. That is, the AAA of self-awareness: Accept what is. Allow what you feel. Act if you can. This is a practical manifestation of mindfulness: one of the key tools at our disposal for developing emotional intelligence.
In my book The Three Dimensions of Emotions: Finding the Balance of Power, Heart and Mindfulness, I refer to an idea that I heard when listening to a lecture by Eckhart Tolle (most known for his best-selling book, The Power of Now). I would summarize it like this: Accept what is externally real, just as it is. Honestly allow what you feel internally about the situation. Then take action if and when you can.
If you or I could practice this in response to the inevitable (if not daily) things that “go wrong,” we would have a categorically better life. These things could be on any scale from something small (a traffic jam or dropping your favorite mug) to something large (having a serious disease or grieving the loss of a loved one). And these things can go wrong in any life space, whether at home with a spouse, at work leading a difficult team on a challenging project, or in any other sphere. So how can we take practical steps to apply this mindful approach?
In an article published by Scientific American titled “The Dark Side of the Brain: Too Much Emotional Intelligence Is a Bad Thing,” the author suggests that “profound empathy” sometimes comes “at a price.” The suggestion is made that people with too much empathy are likely to be sidelined by stress more than those who do not have as much empathy. The author points to a Frankfurt study where students who were rated as having higher emotional intelligence (as determined by an empathy measure) also had higher levels of stress during an experiment (as measured by the level of cortisol in their saliva). While the study itself may be perfectly valid as far as it goes, there is a notable problem with the magazine article’s conclusion: the author equates emotional intelligence (EI) with empathy. This is a rather common mistake.
I am always in search of people who exemplify the convergence, synergy, balance, or integration of Power, Heart and Mindfulness—the three dimensions of emotionally intelligent people. These are the people who bring positive energy and productivity to every relationship they touch, whether the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, the janitor at a local high school, your (favorite) uncle—or the First Lady of the United States. As a case in point, Michelle Obama’s emotional intelligence shines through admirably in her public speaking.
While watching the First Lady speak at the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia, I saw a woman who had the dynamic balance of Power, Heart and Mindfulness. I was not just listening to a good speech, but a good woman as well. Whether you are Democrat, Independent, or Republican, if you were listening, you had to know this in your gut. You might disagree with her politics, but she represents a minority of people who can find the relational sweet-spot at the intersection of power, heart and mindfulness. Continue reading “Michelle Obama’s Emotional Intelligence”