Push. Focus. Tough things out.
This is what endurance has come to mean to us: the power to perform under pressure. To step up our game no matter the odds.
Motivation and determination are often symbols of success. We prove ourselves by running marathons, taking risky leaps, and stretching ourselves beyond what we think is possible, but what allows us to harness all this energy?
According to journalist and runner, Alex Hutchinson, our emotional intelligence has just as much to do with our ability to perform as our training. He writes:
“During the long, lonely middle miles of a race, you make a thousand microdecisions about whether to press on or ease up. These decisions are mostly invisible to everyone else, but collectively they are the difference between a good race and a bad one.”
Hutchinson theorizes that part of our success in withstanding the pressure comes from how we manage our emotions during the long haul. In other words, how we talk ourselves out of slowing down or quitting. He points to a recent study published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences that explored the link between emotional regulation and race performance.
The gist being: athletes who could manage their emotions when the going got tough had greater overall endurance.
So, how do we cultivate this for ourselves?
The first step is in recognizing the following:
Emotions aren’t the enemy
“Emotional intelligence” was first coined in 1990 by researchers Peter Salovey and John Mayer who described it as “the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions.”
The term has since been popularized into a buzzword when psychologist Daniel Goleman published his bestselling book “Emotional Intelligence” in 1995. He proposed that fostering this emotional learning was vital for success.
Society often teaches us to push aside any bad feelings that arise, as showing fear or insecurity is often seen as a sign of weakness. But it’s not sustainable in the long-run.
Failing to acknowledge our emotions only serves to limit our potential, and to be truly resilient, we need to recognize their impact so that we don’t become hijacked by them.
When I first started building my company, JotForm, I was working as a programmer for a New York-based media company and trying to juggle my full-time job with scaling a startup. This meant having to make an endless amount of micro-decisions every day — everything from email responses to coming up with creative solutions for high stakes decisions.
To grow my business to over 140 employees and 5 million users, I’ve had to learn to control my anxieties over the years.
During that time, I struggled with perfectionism and bouts of self-doubt. Teaching myself to observe these difficult emotions, even when they felt overwhelmingly powerful, allowed me to stretch myself and gain greater insight. It also made me realize that I needed to start being more gentle with myself whenever the fear of failure crept in.
Like those runners in the study referenced above, managing my emotions allowed me to press on without burning out.
How owning your emotions helps you communicate
Being able to understand and manage our feelings helps us become more conscious of their influence in every aspect of our lives — from our capacity to run a marathon to our relationships in and outside of the workplace.
But being able to manage your self is only the first step.
The next is learning to maintain healthy relationships with others by communicating effectively and being able to be open and honest without offending.
Founders often confuse the act of clearly conveying a message with being unemotional robots. But being supportive of your team means knowing when and how to express your concerns, exchange information, and listen meaningfully. All of this is involves some level of emotional intelligence.
For ages, I thought willpower and discipline were all I needed to run my company. But somewhere along the way, it dawned on me that building a sustainable workplace environment was more than just growth or conversion rates.
I knew I wanted to create a place that allowed for connection. And part of that means sparking dialogue through empathy and compassion. According to Daniel Goleman, there are five core elements of emotional intelligence. Below are ways that have been helpful to me in fostering them.
5 ways for building emotional intelligence
1. Be self-aware
Self-awareness is in short supply these days, according to research, which found that while 95 percent of people think they possess this trait, only 10 to 15 percent actually do. What this means is that we’re much more likely to hone in on a colleague’s shortcomings instead of focusing on our own. But more often than not, our criticism toward them is usually a reflection of our negative self-talk.
There is a Japanese proverb that says:
“Only he who knows his own weaknesses can endure those of others.”
In other words, being aware of our imperfections reminds us that we’re all human and prone to mistakes.
2. Practice self-regulation
Understanding when and why you feel angry or insecure, for instance, helps you keep your impulses in check so that you resist lashing out at a coworker or spouse. The more you learn to breathe and collect yourself, the better you’ll get at responding to stress. This means going out for a walk or calling up a friend when you find yourself ready to explode.
3. Stay motivated
In the words of Confucius:
“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.”
Part of this involves a commitment to optimism and persisting in your goals despite obstacles or setbacks. Instead of relying on outside validation to motivate you (like compliments from others), focus on your inner aspirations — or purpose — to keep you going. For me, the goal of building a business I can feel proud of has helped me stay the course during rough patches.
4. Exercise empathy
When we regularly practice self-kindness, we’re more willing to extend that same thoughtfulness and compassion toward a colleague or employee. Try to remember a time when you found yourself in the same place or try to understand things from their point of view.
By exercising your empathy, you’ll find it easier to relate to someone who just lost a loved one, for instance, or be able to respond to criticism appropriately.
As author Stephen Covey wisely notes “when you show deep empathy toward others, their defensive energy goes down, and positive energy replaces it. That’s when you can get more creative in solving problems.”
5. Build your social skills
Understanding your emotions is nothing without focusing on values like genuinely caring and respecting others. The aim of being emotionally intelligent should continuously move us forward in both our work and personal relationships. This is what allows us to connect on a deeper level and leads to a healthier and happier life. As Covey reminds,
“Your most important work is always ahead of you, never behind you.”