Emotional Intelligence

Grow inner strengths

Hanson_thI’ve hiked a lot and have often had to depend on what was in my pack. Inner strengths are the supplies you’ve got in your pack as you make your way down the twisting and often hard road of life. They include a positive mood, common sense, integrity, inner peace, determination, and a warm heart. Researchers have identified other strengths as well, such as self-compassion, secure attachment, emotional intelligence, learned optimism, the relaxation response, self-esteem, distress tolerance, self-regulation, resilience, and executive functions.

I’m using the word strength broadly to include positive feelings such as calm, contentment, and caring, as well as skills, useful perspectives and inclinations, and embodied qualities such as vitality or relaxation. Unlike fleeting mental states, inner strengths are stable traits, an enduring source of well-being, wise and effective action, and contributions to others.

The idea of inner strengths might seem abstract at first. Let’s bring it down to earth with some concrete examples. The alarm goes off and you’d rather snooze-so you find the will to get up. Let’s say you have kids and they’re squabbling and it’s frustrating-so instead of yelling, you get in touch with that place inside that’s firm but not angry. You’re embarrassed about making a mistake at work-so you call up a sense of worth from past accomplishments. You get stressed racing around-so you find some welcome calm in several long exhalations. You feel sad about not having a partner-so you find some comfort in thinking about the friends you do have. Throughout your day, other inner strengths are operating automatically in the back of your mind, such as a sense of perspective, faith, or self-awareness.

A well-known idea in medicine and psychology is that how you feel and act-both over the course of your life and in specific relationships and situations-is determined by three factors: the challenges you face, the vulnerabilities these challenges grind on, and the strengths you have for meeting your challenges and protecting your vulnerabilities. For example, the challenge of a critical boss would be intensified by a person’s vulnerability to anxiety, but he or she could cope by calling on inner strengths of self-soothing and feeling respected by others.

We all have vulnerabilities. Personally, I wish it were not so easy for me to become worried and self-critical. And life has no end of challenges, from minor hassles like dropped cell phone calls to old age, disease, and death. You need strengths to deal with challenges and vulnerabilities, and as either or both of these grow, so must your strengths to match them. If you want to feel less stressed, anxious, frustrated, irritable, depressed, disappointed, lonely, guilty, hurt, or inadequate, having more inner strengths will help you.

Inner strengths are fundamental to a happy, productive, and loving life. For example, research on just one strength, positive emotions, shows that these reduce reactivity and stress, help heal psychological wounds, and improve resilience, well-being, and life satisfaction. Positive emotions encourage the pursuit of opportunities, create positive cycles, and promote success. They also strengthen your immune system, protect your heart, and foster a healthier and longer life.

On average, about a third of a person’s strengths are innate, built into his or her genetically based temperament, talents, mood, and personality. The other two-thirds are developed over time. You get them by growing them. To me this is wonderful news, since it means that we can develop the happiness and other inner strengths that foster fulfillment, love, effectiveness, wisdom, and inner peace. Finding out how to grow these strengths inside you could be the most important thing you ever learn.


Your experiences matter. Not just for how they feel in the moment but for the lasting traces they leave in your brain. Your experiences of happiness, worry, love, and anxiety can make real changes in your neural networks. The structure-building processes of the nervous system are turbocharged by conscious experience, and especially by what’s in the foreground of your awareness. Your attention is like a combination spotlight and vacuum cleaner: It highlights what it lands on and then sucks it into your brain-for better or worse.

There’s a traditional saying that the mind takes its shape from what it rests upon. Based on what we’ve learned about experience-dependent neuroplasticity, a modern version would be to say that the brain takes its shape from what the mind rests upon.

If you keep resting your mind on self-criticism, worries, grumbling about others, hurts, and stress, then your brain will be shaped into greater reactivity, vulnerability to anxiety and depressed mood, a narrow focus on threats and losses, and inclinations toward anger, sadness, and guilt. On the other hand, if you keep resting your mind on good events and conditions (someone was nice to you, there’s a roof over your head), pleasant feelings, the things you do get done, physical pleasures, and your good intentions and qualities, then over time your brain will take a different shape, one with strength and resilience hardwired into it, as well as a realistically optimistic outlook, a positive mood, and a sense of worth.

Looking back over the past week or so, where has your mind been mainly resting?

In effect, what you pay attention to-what you rest your mind on-is the primary shaper of your brain. While some things naturally grab a person’s attention-such as a problem at work, a physical pain, or a serious worry-on the whole you have a lot of influence over where your mind rests. This means that you can deliberately prolong and even create the experiences that will shape your brain for the better.
This practice of growing inner strengths is both simple and authentic. First, look for opportunities to have an experience of the strength. For example, if you are trying to feel more cared about, keep your eyes open for those little moments in a day when someone else is friendly, attentive, including, appreciative, warm, caring, or loving toward you – and let your recognition of these good facts become an experience of feeling cared about, even in small ways. Second, help this experience actually sink into your brain – the good that lasts – by staying with it a dozen seconds or more in a row, helping it fill your body, and getting a sense of it sinking into you as you sink into it. (Hardwiring Happiness gets into the details of this process.)

In essence, growing inner strengths boils down to just four words, applied to a positive experience: have it, enjoy it. And see for yourself what happens when you do.

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Breaking bad habits: Interview with Dan Goleman and Tara Bennett-Goleman

Elisha Goldstein, PsychCentral: We all have habits that we want to break and that is why I’m thrilled to bring to today Daniel Goleman and Tara Bennett-Goleman who . Daniel Goleman is an internationally known psychologist who lectures around the world and has many classic books including Emotional Intelligence which has over 5,000,000 copies in print. Tara is author of The New York Times bestseller Emotional Alchemy and her new book Mind Whispering: A New Map to Freedom from Self-Defeating Emotional Habits that can help us transform our emotions, improve our relationships and connect us to the inner wisdom that has always been there…

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Multitasking loses its cool; Mindfulness is now in

Victor Reklaitis, Investor’s Business Daily: As you read this article, you might at the same time pretend to listen to a co-worker’s latest gripe or skim through your emails.

No problem, right? After all, the ability to multitask is critical if you want to succeed in the 21st century.

Well, the pendulum actually has swung in the other direction, at least if you talk to a new breed of leadership training providers.

For them, mindfulness — not multitasking — is the key to success. But what exactly is mindfulness?

“The simplest definition is it’s a way of being in the moment, seeing things …

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Meditators’ acceptance of emotions key to self-control

We know that people who meditate do better on tasks that require self-control. It turns out that meditators’ openness to their own emotions is the reason, according to new research from the University of Toronto Scarborough.

“These results suggest that willpower or self-control may be sharpest in people who are sensitive and open to their own emotional experiences. Willpower, in other words, may relate to ‘emotional intelligence’,” said Michael Inzlicht, associate professor of psychology at UTSC. He co-authored the paper with PhD student Rimma Teper.

For psychologists, self-control or “executive control” is the ability to pay attention to appropriate stimuli and to initiate appropriate behavior while inhibiting inappropriate behavior. It’s what keeps you studying when you’d rather be watching TV, or lets you force yourself outside for a morning run rather than turn over and go back to sleep.

Previous work has found that people who engage in meditation show higher levels of executive control on laboratory tasks. But it’s never been clear why, says Teper.

Most meditation traditions emphasize two major practices: awareness of the present moment, and acceptance of emotional states. It was possible that the practice of maintaining awareness of the moment strengthened executive control. But Teper and Inzlicht suspected emotional acceptance played a bigger role.

In a paper scheduled for publication in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, they looked at something called the Error Related Negativity (ERN). ERN is an electrical signal that shows up in the brain within 100 ms of an error being committed, well before our conscious minds are aware of the error.

“It’s kind of like an ‘uh-oh’ response, or a cortical alarm bell,” Teper says.

For the study, the researchers asked participants about their experience meditating, and gave tests that measured how mindful they were of the present moment, and also how aware and accepting they were of their emotions.

The researchers then hooked up participants to an electroencephalograph and gave them something called the Stroop test. In the test, participants are shown the name of a colour written in letters of a different colour – for instance, the word “red” spelled in green letters. Participants are asked to say the colour of the letters. The test requires them to suppress the tendency to read the word, and instead to concentrate on actual colours.

Meditators were generally better than non-meditators at the test, and also had generally stronger ERN responses. Looking further, the researchers found that the best performers were those who scored highest on emotional acceptance, and that mindful awareness – the more cognitive aspect of mindfulness ­– had less to do with success on the test.

Teper says that the ERN may have a motivational or affective component – in other words, it gives you a bad feeling about failing at a task, and the feeling may motivate you to do better. Because meditators are more aware of their feelings, they may pick up on that feeling more quickly and use it to improve their behavior.

“Meditators are attuned to their emotions. They’re also good at regulating their emotions. It fits well with our results,” Teper says.

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Search Inside Yourself, by Chade-Meng Tan

The cover of Search Inside Yourself is a clever riff on Google’s famous multicolored logo, and this is appropriate given that the author is a long-term Google employee and that the material is based on a course developed for Google’s staff.

Meng, as he is called, is a long-term meditator. Quite how long I’m not sure, but he refers to meditating before he joined Google (which was in 1999). Google’s workers are allowed to spend 20% of their time on personal projects, and so Meng and some of his colleagues spent that time developing a personal-development course which had meditation and mindfulness at its core.The course was jokingly called Search Inside Yourself, and the name stuck. This book is the result. SIY (the course) has been taught at Google since 2007, and has been taken by hundreds of people.

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Search Inside Yourself is in some ways an odd book, no doubt because it’s written by an eccentric person. Meng seems irrepressibly jokey. (His Google business card describes his job title as “Jolly Good Fellow.”) The book is peppered with goofy cartoons and constant quips. At times these provoked chuckles, but mostly I found it all a little wearying. Quite literally I found my energy to be drained by Meng’s jokes, which I think is to do with the jokes taking my attention away from Meng’s more serious points, and thus requiring me to have to re-engage. I’ve had a similar sense of weariness overcome me at times when talking with people who can’t stop joking.

Which is not to say that the book is not valuable — in many ways it is, and I’ll come to that shortly. But at one point I almost put the book down for good. One of Meng’s traits is constant name-dropping and a lack of modesty that some might find refreshing but which to me is distasteful. Here is the point at while I nearly abandoned my reading:

[E]ven though I am very shy, I find myself able to project a quiet but unmistakable self-confidence, whether I am meeting world leaders like Barack Obama, speaking to a large audience, or dealing with a traffic police officer. I watched the video of myself speaking at the United Nations, and I was amazed how confident I appeared.

In the very next paragraph Meng mentions “interacting” with Natalie Portman and Bill Clinton. It was several days after reading that particular passage before I could persuade myself to pick up SIY again.

What kind of book is this? It’s a guide to achieving success and happiness, according to the subtitle. Inside we learn that we do this by developing greater emotional intelligence. It’s therefore not just a meditation book. Meditation here is just one tool to develop emotional intelligence. As the book went on I became increasingly enthusiastic and interested in Meng’s approach. The later material is more connected with empathy, lovingkindness, and compassion, which is for me inherently more interesting than the earlier material on mindfulness.

Who is the book aimed at? At times it seems that the target market consists of managers and CEOs, and often it’s reminiscent of Stephen Covey’s “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” There’s nothing wrong with that, of course — and in fact Covey’s book had a big influence on me. But some may find the recurring references to the corporate world a little off-putting if that’s not part of their experience.

I present what I didn’t like first, because my experience of reading the book was of being tripped up on the way to reading about an interesting program of personal development. And there is a lot of useful material in the book, and Meng has a number of strengths as a guide.

One strength Meng has is that he is an engineer and likes to know what works and what’s the science behind what works. And so there’s a lot of scientific backing for the meditative methods he outlines. For a meditation geek like me this was a delight. He’s also keen on taking systems to pieces and putting the back together again. So he breaks down the skills of mindfulness, empathy, compassionate communication, motivation, etc., and presents them very clearly.

I found myself looking forward to the gray boxes that contained the actual exercises. These were very stimulating and sometimes suggested exercises that I’d never thought of, such as the “meditation circuit training” on page 73. There’s an exercise on dealing with memories of “success” and “failure” (pp. 149–151) that’s similar to exercises I’ve taught in dealing with painful memories generally, but never with regard to that particular topic. His lovingkindness meditation (pp. 169–170) is very brief, and very familiar, but laid out in a very clear and concise way.

(As an aside, talking of familiarity, Meng uses a diagram on page 36 of his book that’s almost identical to one I devised for my own teaching twenty years ago, and use on this site. He referenced this to researcher Philippe Goldin, who used the diagram in a lecture he gave at Google, and I’m intrigued to know whether Goldin read my book, saw this site, or maybe happened to come up with the same schema independently.)

Another of Meng’s strengths is that he is not shackled to a particular ideology. The very common, almost standard, mindfulness-based stress reduction model, for example, that tends to downplay lovingkindness and compassion meditation (although it integrates those qualities into the meditation it teaches). Meng is prepared to take whatever works and to go with it. And so his approach is refreshingly varied and creative, including mindfulness, compassion, tonglen, communication exercises, etc.

One of the other things I admire about Meng is that he is a big thinker. In discussing motivation and “higher purpose” he says,

If you find yourself inspired by your ideal future, I highly recommend talking about it a lot to other people. There are two important benefits. First, the more you talk about it, the more real it becomes to you … The second important benefit is the more you talk to people about your ideal future, the more likely you can find people to help you.

This is something practical I’ll certainly take away from Meng’s book, and for that teaching alone I felt deep gratitude for having spent time with his writings. I realized how much I keep my vision to myself, as I work on from day to day trying to bring the benefits of meditation to more people. How sad! And how limiting! I’ll be spending more time reflecting on this.

The conclusion to SIY is in fact an outline of how Meng plans to make meditation accessible to the world. He wants to get to the point where everybody knows as a matter of course that meditation is good for them (just as they know that exercise is good for them), where everyone who wants to meditate can find a way to learn it, where companies value meditation and encourage their employees to do it, and where, in short, meditation is taken for granted. Or as Meng says, people will get to the point where they think, “Of course you should meditate, duh.”

SIY (both the course and the book) is part of Meng’s strategy for achieving these goals. He wants to make the SIY course “open source,” and to “give it away as one of Google’s gifts to the world,” although it’s not clear what he means by this. The book itself is not free. Even the Google Books preview limits how many pages can be read, which is rather ironic. And given that the book is under traditional copyright, it’s not strictly legal for people to copy and possibly even teach verbatim the exercises in it without permission. I wonder if Meng could have published the book under a Creative Commons license rather than traditional copyright, making the material freely available on a non-commercial basis, so encouraging others to spread the word?

Still, I wish Meng well. He’s a crazy dreamer, but when has anyone but a crazy dreamer ever pulled off anything big?

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Meditating behind bars: How yoga in prisons could cut overcrowding

wildmind meditation news

Rachel Signer, Christian Science Monitor: Earlier this year the Supreme Court ruled that state of California prisons were so bad as to be inhumane, violating the 8th amendment prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment.

The reason? Overcrowding. California must to reduce its prison population by 30,000 prisoners, according to the ruling.

Overcrowding is a perennial issue in US prisons in no small part because the recidivism rate is remarkably high. In 1994 the largest study of prisoner recidivism ever done in the United States showed that, of nearly 300,000 adult prisoners who were released in 15 different states, 67.5 percent were re-arrested within three years.

James Fox, who founded the nonprofit Prison Yoga Project, has been working with incarcerated youth and adults for more than 10 years and has some ideas on what keeps the recidivism rate above 50 percent. In his opinion, the prison system overly emphasizes retributive justice – that punishment alone is a sufficient response to a crime. Fox is an advocate for restorative justice, an approach that focuses on criminals as individuals with needs and seeks to find ways to empower them to meet those needs, and thinks an emphasis on restorative justice could lower the recidivism rate.

Fox teaches yoga to male prisoners as a form of restorative justice. Criminals, and especially repeat offenders, he told Dowser, are suffering from unresolved trauma from their early years, and stunted …

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Emotional Intelligence and the Brain: an interview with Daniel Goleman

Daniel Goleman’s new book, The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New Insights, is a fascinating round-up of the latest cutting-edge research into how emotions are processed in the brain, and how we can better regulate our emotional responses in order to be happier, less stressed, and more creative. This week Bodhipaksa had an opportunity to interview Goleman about the cross-over between Emotional Intelligence and meditative practice.

Bodhipaksa: When I was trying to think of who “The Brain and Emotional Intelligence” would be useful for, I found I couldn’t think of anyone who wouldn’t benefit from reading it. Did you have a particular audience in mind when you wrote the book?

Title: The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New Insights
Author: Daniel Goleman
Publisher: More Than Sound
ISBN: 978-1-934441-11-4
Available from Amazon.com Kindle Store and Amazon.co.uk Kindle Store.

Daniel Goleman: Anyone with a brain.

B: Well, I guess it would be good if everyone with a brain buys your book. Since you first started writing about emotional intelligence the workings of the brain have become much better understood. What research has most surprised you?

The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New Insights

DG: I was delighted to discover the emerging field of social neuroscience, the new understanding of what happens in two brains while people interact rather than just in one brain alone. That ongoing surprise was why I went on to write Social Intelligence, and now “The Brain and Emotional Intelligence.” I’m particularly intrigued by the new findings on the different role the right and left hemispheres play in an “Aha!” moment of creative insight.

B: That was an especially interesting aspect of your book, especially in terms of insights arising when we’ve intensely focused on a problem and then let go of it and relaxed. A lot of meditators, of course, find that their meditation sessions become creative-thinking sessions. And the tradition doesn’t have much to say about this; I don’t think Buddhism offers any advice on how to think creatively or how to deal with creative thoughts that arise in meditation beyond “let them pass.” Do you have any advice — from your own practice or from your studies — of how to deal with creative thoughts arising in meditation?

DG: As a writer, I’ve long wondered about this. Especially because I like to have a period of writing just after my morning meditation session – I find the writing comes most easily then. And, of course, I get lots of good ideas while meditating – after all, the data suggests greater brain coherence during a session, and that fosters making new connections. This was pretty much settled for me by Anagarika Munindra, my first vipassana teacher, who advised me that when I got a great idea during a session, I just jot it down and let go of it. Over the years that pretty much has been a fall back – most often I just trust that the juicy ideas will come back to me after the session.

B: As a meditation teacher I now find I talk much more in terms of the brain, neural pathways, the relationship of the frontal cortex to the amygdala, etc, than I ever did before. Have you see that happening widely, and if you have can you give some examples?

DG: You’re not alone. Jack Kornfield now teaches each year with Daniel Siegel, the UCLA neuroscientist who wrote The Mindful Brain. And as dharma teachers learn more about brain science, it will be natural to weave these findings into talks. The principle of teaching in the terms that people understand – as the Buddha urged – suggests that in the West this integration of science and Buddhism will strengthen.

B: I actually find myself wanting traditional Buddhist models for discussing mental states — the hindrances, jhanas, etc — to be better understood in terms of their neural correlates. Is anyone working on that kind of investigation, or has work been done that can help elucidate those Buddhist models?

DG: This, I hope will be part of the program in the new field of contemplative neuroscience being spearheaded by scientists like Richard Davidson at Wisconsin and contemplatives like Matthieu Ricard of Sechen Monastery, who work in close collaboration.

B: Do you know what kind of things they’re working on at the moment?

DG: I believe they are continuing to add to their database of meditation adepts –- people with more than 15,000 lifetime retreat hours — and also creating a large sample of longtime Western meditators, whose experience totals are lower that the adepts. I also hear Davidson has some neat new methods for tracking changes in neuroplasticity.

B: One of the things you point out in your new book is that some parts of the brain communicate with each other through ganglia in the gastro-intestinal tract. I found that particularly interesting because in my own teaching I emphasize the relationship between feelings (or vedanas, which are really gut feelings) and the whole complex of thought and emotion that follows from those feelings. Can you comment on that aspect of research a bit more?

DG: In sensing the feelings throughout the body, the insula is another structure of real importance. This nodule allows us to scan for gut feelings, or to sense what’s up with our big toe, for that matter. Such sub-cortical circuitry knows more than we can say –- our life wisdom is embodied, cognitive scientists now tell us –- and so vedana vipassana may be one way to tune up our inner sensing ability.

B: Vedana vipassana meaning clearly sensing our feelings?

DG: Yes –- as taught, for example, by Goenka-ji, who was an early teacher of mine.

B: Do you think that at some point scientific studies of meditation might be changing how we meditate, for example by showing that some techniques are more effective than others, or perhaps by incorporating new techniques, such as combining fMRI with visual feedback, as in a recent study at the University of British Columbia?

DG: If meditation starts to be determined by what a machine tells us rather than by a qualified teacher, I suspect we may start to veer off the path.

B: I’d be wary of that as well, although I’d imagine that for some people with low self-awareness who have difficulty being objective about their feelings these methods could be useful, at least initially.

DG: These mechanical aids may prove useful for people with trouble concentrating –- for example, those with ADHD.

B: I was taking the UBC study as an extreme example, though, and was wondering if there might be more subtle factors at play. After all, as you’ve said, the neuroscience is already changing how we talk about and teach meditation, and in your book you tie an understanding of neuroscience into the art of learning new habits — so is it possible that neuroscience might change how we do meditation?

DG: Perhaps.

B: So far the research has been quite validating for those of us who practice and teach meditation. Have there been any studies done that you think might make meditators look more deeply at their assumptions? For example, you point out that it can be beneficial to be in a bad mood because you look at things more critically. I think some Buddhists might be reluctant to see “negative mental states” as having a useful role to play; the ultimate goal after all is to get rid of them entirely!

DG: Buddhist practitioners would probably make bad bill collectors –- that’s one profession where people actually put themselves in foul moods to be more effective.

B: It’s probably not an example of Right Livelihood! Which leads me to my next question. Some people are concerned because meditation is often being studied — and taught —  detached from its traditional context of ethics. To what extent do you share this concern?

DG: I remember voicing this very question to my first dharma teacher, Anagarika Munindra, in Bodh Gaya in 1970. He said,” Whatever gets people to meditate is beneficial.” The Dalai Lama seems to share this outlook, when he has encouraged neuroscientists to study dharma methods outside the context of Buddhism, rigorously evaluate their benefits, and if they prove helpful, to share them widely.

B: I tend to think the same way, and I assume that an interest in meditation will lead to an interest in living with mindfulness and compassion. Besides I’m already noticing that science is showing that some traditional notions of what constitutes ethical behavior — giving, expressing gratitude, having loving relationships with friends and family — bring about happiness. Is the neuroscience of ethical behavior something you’ve looked into?

DG: Not yet. But Sam Harris has done a good job in his book, “The Moral Landscape.”

B: Lastly (a big question, I know) neurologically speaking, can you see any way the traditional conception of enlightenment as a state entirely free from craving and ill will could actually work? Is the brain that plastic? Can the parts of the brain governing fear, anger, etc go permanently offline or be permanently kept in a state of regulation? Or do you think that Enlightenment is simply an extraordinarily well-regulated brain, but not a state of complete freedom from negative emotional states?

DG: A wonderful question –- the big question, really. The short answer is, We don’t know yet. I love what the Dalai Lama once told me: “Some day the brain scientist and the meditator whose brain is being studied will be one and the same person.” Maybe then we’ll get your answer.

B: Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. Good luck with your book.

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“The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New Insights,” by Daniel Goleman

The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New Insights

Although Daniel Goleman’s breakthrough book was the classic Emotional Intelligence, it is his Destructive Emotions that has most impressed me. Destructive Emotions provides the edited highlights of one of the Dalai Lama’s periodic interdisciplinary conferences, and it was the first book to reveal to me the serious scientific work that was being done investigating how the the meditating mind works.

Destructive Emotions kicks off by describing an extraordinary study conducted on a western-born Tibetan monk, who agreed to meditate while having his brain’s functioning studied by functional MRI and EEG. These studies revealed the the monk had developed an extraordinary ability to remain focused in a distracting environment, that he was able to generate compassion at will, and that his experiences of compassion were accompanied by extraordinary shifts in brain activity that are known to accompany positive emotion.

Title: The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New Insights
Author: Daniel Goleman
Publisher: More Than Sound
ISBN: 978-1-934441-11-4
Available from Amazon.com Kindle Store and Amazon.co.uk Kindle Store.

This was my first introduction to these kinds of studies, and so I was delighted to hear that Goleman has a new book coming out that explores the implications of these, and more recent, studies on the brain and emotional regulation.

The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New Insights is a short work, and it’s Goleman’s first digital-only book. It “provides updates on the key findings that further inform our understanding of emotional intelligence and how to apply this skill set.” It’s aimed at those working in the emotional intelligence field, and who need to apply the concept in effective action — leaders, coaches, human resources officers, managers, and educators — but I believe it’s also a must-read for anyone interested in the overlap of science and spirituality.

In The Brain and Emotional Intelligence Goleman convincingly cites studies that support his contention that emotional intelligence is a phenomenon separate from IQ. As Goleman observes, echoing Howard Gardner,

“For an intelligence to be recognized as a distance set of capacities there has to be a unique underlying set of brain areas that govern and regulate that intelligence.”

Using the work of Reuven Bar-On, Goleman shows that it is in fact the case that there are distinct circuits in the brain for emotions and emotional regulation, and these are duly outlined, along with accompanying diagrams (which are unfortunately in black and white on the Kindle).

In highlighting the importance of self-awareness in emotional intelligence, Goleman recounts the fascinating case of a brain-damaged lawyer whose intellect was unaffected, but who was unable to make even simple decisions. Unable to connect his thoughts with his emotions, he was rendered unable to tell good decisions from bad. “In order to make a good decision, we need to have feelings about our thoughts.”

The most important decisions we make are those laden with ethical significance, and the mechanisms of these kinds of decisions are explored. One of the most extraordinary things I learned here was that some parts of the brain are unable to communicate directly with each other, and that they use nerve clusters in the gastrointestinal tract as a relay. It appears that “gut feelings” have a scientific basis. As someone who both relies on gut feelings and who teaches others their importance, this was an important validation.

I was fascinated to learn, in the chapter “Self-Mastery: The Right Brain State for the Job,” about the pros and cons of various positive and negative mental states. In positive states of mind we are more creative, but may also be less discriminating. In negative moods we may be unpleasant to be around, but we also pay more attention to detail, are more able to stick with boring tasks, and are more inclined to think for ourselves.

A chapter on “The Creative Brain” discusses the neurophysiology of creativity, and gives important suggestions about how to make creative insights more likely to arise.

The chapter on “Self Mastery” explores the territory of emotional regulation, and how the amygdala, responsible for the “fight or flight” reflex can hijack the entire brain, leading to stress and panic. Goleman identifies the top five “amygdala triggers” in the workplace: Condescension and lack of respect; being treated unfairly; lack of appreciation; believing that you’re not being listened to; and being held to unrealistic deadlines. Simply being aware of these is helpful, but Goleman goes on to suggest strategies and tools that make an amygdala hijack less likely. These include self-awareness, self-talk, empathy, and (naturally enough) meditation.

Goleman goes on to summarize important research on various topics such as motivation, stress (including how much stress is the right amount), how rapport emerges, why it is that online interactions can be so much more contentious than real-life encounters, gender differences in the brain regarding empathy (and here Goleman rightly stresses that the differences may be true in general, but do not apply to every individual), and sociopathy (a condition suffered by those who do not care about the effects of their actions on others). In most cases the approach is not merely theoretical. The theory is fascinating, but Goleman’s drawing out of the implications for all this on our lives and for practice are, for me, the key element.

Very appropriately, for such a practical book, The Brain and Emotional Intelligence ends with chapters on “Developing Emotional Intelligence,” and on how Emotional Intelligence practices are being used to reduce misbehavior in schools.

The chapter on schools is fascinating, and left this reader with a warm glow. That on developing emotional intelligence emphasizes that the brain grows new cells throughout life, and that the brain is plastic. It also walks us through the difficult task of learning new skill and, more importantly, of unlearning old skills, by looking at the underlying changes in circuitry that take place during learning. Here Goleman draws together lessons from his own book, stressing how we can generate commitment, use self-awareness to develop detailed learning plans, and tap into the brain’s capacity for mental rehearsal.

In a way I thought that the order of the final two chapters should have been reversed, leaving us with practical advice rather than with the discussion of how emotional intelligence techniques are being used in schools, but I’m sure that there is research somewhere showing that books are more effective when they leave you with the pleasant feelings that result from a human interest story that is also a success story. And I’m sure Daniel Goleman knows about that research!

The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New Insights is a book I’ll be returning to over and over. I’d highly recommend it for anyone, and not just the businesspeople and trainers at whom it seems to be primarily aimed.

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