Emotional intelligence takes a scientific look at emotions and how we respond to stressful situations. We have long known that we have an ingrained response to extreme stress (fight or flight). The problem is that the extreme stress has shifted from life-threatening danger (such as a saber-tooth tiger about to eat us) to exaggerated danger (such as our boss being upset with us).
In the saber tooth tiger days, it was necessary for us to react quickly in order to survive. We had two choices, to fight or to run away. Our mental decision-making was not extensive in these situations as fight or flight was the best way to stay alive during extreme danger.
Today, when our boss yells at us, we will likely resort to the same response. We want to fight or we want to avoid the situation. Even though we have the ability to process the situation and decide how to act, most people react based on their emotion rather than what they determined was the best response.
Last night I watched a football game that was very interesting to me. The Houston Texans were playing a critical game and played at a very high level during the first half. It looked like they were the supreme team and that the outcome of the game was determined. They used their emotions to “rise up” to this level of play and the score reflected that.
But then, going into halftime, their coach felt dizzy and collapsed on the field. This changed the dynamic of the team in such a way that their emotions went from helping them play, to interfering with their play. They wound up losing the game.
Is there a way to control our emotions in order to perform optimally?
Emotional intelligence says that there are ways to improve performance in the face of extreme pressure. Soldiers in the military are able to put their extreme emotions aside and perform. Certain athletes perform at a high level regardless of the level of stress they have, yet some shrink at the slightest sign of pressure.
How can we learn to perform at a high level in stressful situations?
The way to learn how to control this fight or flight response is to rely on systems. Examples of systems that the military uses includes extreme training, teamwork, and repeated exposure to stressful situations.
Football teams practice and prepare in order to control the emotional aspects of the game. Athletes may even rely on pre-game routines that have been effective in the past.
What we have to understand is that sitting back and hoping to improve is not enough. In order to truly improve we must modify our current systems and create new ones that will take us in the direction that we want to go. If we do this, we can overcome the knee-jerk reaction of fight or flight whenever we are faced with stress and adversity.