Build Emotional Literacy
Build Emotional Literacy
The human brain follows patterns, or neural pathways. Stimulus leads to response, and over time, the response becomes nearly automatic. On a neurological level the pathway becomes a road, the road a highway, and the highway a super expressway -- until it requires extraordinary measures to interrupt the automatic process.
On a behavioral level, the neural patterns lead to behavior patterns. At a young age, we learn lessons of how to cope, how to get our needs met, how to protect ourselves. These strategies reinforce one another, and we develop a complex structure of beliefs to support the validity of the behaviors.
As we become more conscious of the patterns we exhibit, it becomes possible to 1), analyze the beliefs and replace them if appropriate, and 2), interrupt the pattern and replace it with conscious behavior that moves us closer to our real goals. This is an enormously difficult task that requires commitment and vigilance -- but it is not difficult to begin. It can be as simple as a six second pause to allow the conscious brain to begin to intervene in the pattern.
Apply Consequential Thinking
People are often told to control their emotions, to suppress feelings like anger, joy, or fear, and cut them off from the decision-making process. This old paradigm suggests that emotions make us less effective; nothing could be farther from reality. Feelings provide insight, energy, and are the real basis for almost every decision. Instead of disconnecting our emotions, we need to control our actions so that we have time to make the most creative, insightful, and powerful decisions. Particularly when dealing with conflict or crisis, we need to slow down the process and apply carefully practiced strategies that lead to decisions informed by the fused powers of heart and mind.
This "habit of mind" stems from a clear understanding of the consequences of our choices and the ability to imagine the cause and effect relationships. This process allows us to be as impulsive as we truly want to be -- but is also forces us to limit impulsivity when the consequences are undesirable.
One key mechanism to
develop and monitor consequential thinking is "self-talk." Self-talk is a
mechanism to mentally explore multiple options and viewpoints; it provides a
system to balance the various aspects of our self. Just as in conversations
outside ourselves, sometimes the louder voice gets more attention; the issue in
both cases is to develop a process where listening is valued and all the voices
-- loud or soft -- are heard.
Evaluate and Re-choose
In our daily lives, we have countless opportunities to get feedback about our thoughts, feelings, and actions, and to then change if the feedback so warrants. Unfortunately, we also have a great capacity to ignore this feedback and blithely continue with a scarcity of useful information. In this unconscious state it is easy to become selfish, to sever connections with our humanity, and to subjugate ourselves to addictions or other compensations.
The alternative is to listen -- to listen to ourselves, to listen to others. When we become skilled at sensing our own emotions, we are able to tap into the energy that they provide and take action. Emotions are energy -- and one place where that energy most frequently erupts is in conflict.
Conflict is inherent in human interaction; you need only look at a group of preschoolers at play to see its significance. To manage this strife, we develop skills for evaluation, negotiation, and compromise. To socialize effectively you must recognize and gauge other peoples' thoughts, feelings, and actions just as you monitor your own. These skills are heavily dependent on interpreting paralanguage (body-language, tone, utterances, facial expression, and other forms of nonverbal communication). An effective socializer is able to turn conflict into a positive force. S/he creates compromise and makes sure needs are met. S/he can mobilize people, persuade, and inspire others.
The most critical step to teaching effective socialization is to provide positive role models and opportunities for children to practice what they've observed. Today, children often do not see their parents interacting socially, nor do they have as many opportunities to practice social skills with extended family. Thus, it is even more important that parents provide these mechanisms and opportunities.
Children also need to be responsible and accountable for their decisions and actions. With young children, it is important to intervene immediately and provide alternatives. You need to combine your actions with words, and you need to be consistent.
“Motivation” comes from Latin “to move;” it is a goal-oriented behavior. In essence, we take action because it feels good to do so. It feels right to take a break when we're on overload, then it feels right to go back to work. The challenge is to make it feel right to take action that does not have an immediate reward. To do so, we've got to tap into the part of ourselves that has a longer-view -- which also feels right. We each make countless decisions each hour. What should I eat for lunch? What clothes should I wear today? Which book should I read? Which person should I ask? In part, we make those decisions unconsciously based on our patterns and habits. In part, we make those decisions based on our personal priorities. So, if we want to redirect our decision to take a longer-term view, we need to both shape unconscious habits and examine priorities to make sure they match.
In addition to motivating
ourselves, it is important to learn how to motivate others. There are many ways
to do so; the most obvious are “extrinsic” motivations. For example, “If you
carry my bag, I'll give you a candy bar,” is a simple example of extrinsic
motivation -- it is a bribe or a type of commercial interaction. Quite useful at
times -- but it doesn't last. Building lasting motivation requires a more
complex strategy; one that employs both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation
(ideally 60-80% of the focus is on intrinsic motivation). Building motivation in
others begins with three elements:
1. They need to feel the benefit of the priority you are suggesting. If you want a child to use a more polite vocabulary, s/he needs to experience how such a decision would feel good. S/he will develop that experience by being spoken to with polite words -- at the same time, it might feel good to avoid the consequences of using impolite words -- and that will feel good.
2. Treat them as you want them to be. Josh's mother always treated him as if he were honest -- even when he wasn't. He internalized that value and struggled to improve his actions because it felt good to have his real behavior meet that high standard.
3. Give time. Motivation is a complex process and
a vital one. Like so many intrapersonal skills, it often takes years or decades
for the seeds to bloom.
Finally, it might be useful to recall some “anti-motivators.” These include: lack of control, repetitive tasks, inadequate feedback, and sarcasm.
Likewise, children are born optimistic, and tend to stay optimistic until they are six or seven. At that time, life's difficulties impinge enough that the door is opened for hopelessness. Research suggests that to avoid getting trapped in the negativity, people need at least one refuge. The refuge can be a person or a practice (such as reading) that provides positive input. It is remarkable to think that one source of kindness, one source of comfort, one source of hope is enough to combat the terrible perils that some children experience. Oprah Winfrey, for example, found refuge from abuse in books -- and grew to become a powerfully optimistic adult.
Optimism validates our long-term motivation because it lets us see the future as positive and worthwhile. Optimism allows us to see beyond the present and feel good about what may happen. It is closely tied to resiliency and to perseverance, which are two skills that most affect our ability to function despite the difficulties of day-to-day life.
Ayman Sawaf, Director of
the Foundation for Education in Emotional Literacy, believes, “the future
creates the present.” It is not the past which creates the present, but a
projection of the future which creates today.
Empathy is the ability to recognize and respond to other people's emotions. It is connected to optimism because it is through a sense of our connection to others that we see our own efficacy and importance. Together they govern a significant portion of our behavior; they are the gatekeepers of our emotional selves. When we are empathic, it hurts us to hurt others or to see them hurt. We actually experience for ourselves the emotions of others.
It is motivating, then, not only to do what makes us feel good, but what makes others feel good. Thus, empathy is the force which makes the golden rule true. Some parts of empathy are instinctive. Infants will reach out and touch others in distress; in maternity wards, one infant's tears will lead to a room full of crying babies. This mimicry is the first step towards forming empathy. Unfortunately, this unconscious or instinctive behavior does not automatically lead to conscious empathy. Instead, these flickering flames must be carefully banked and fueled through role-modeling, reinforcement, and practice. Once people develop empathy on a conscious level, it becomes self-reinforcing because it answers a deep-seated need to connect with others.
Commit to Noble Goals
Noble goals activate all of the other elements of E.Q. Through our missions, our callings, and our acts of human kindness, the commitment to emotional intelligence gains relevance and power. Just as our personal priorities shape our daily choices, our noble goals shape our long-term choices. They give us a sense of direction, they give us a spar to hold in the storm, they are the compass for our soul. All the “inside” aspects of emotional intelligence change your attitudes. They shape your own life; they help you become the person you want to be. Your noble goals touch the future.
Continue to: Emotional Literacy Model-In Depth
Continue to Part 4: Learning to Love
Back to Part 2: Emotional Literacy 2
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