No matter how rich or famous you become, life will always be unpredictable. Things will happen in life that you could not perceive or plan for. Things will happen that you have no control over. As such, you need to be flexible and able to go with the flow of life.
I found that people who have majored in English in college tend to be inflexible about the language. They believe that there are set, unwavering laws that govern the way English can be spoken or written.
But the truth is that English, or any language for that matter, is very fluid and flexible. Centuries ago the word “awful” meant to be full of awe, to be inspired. Now it means the complete opposite, to be repulsed, to dread. In the early 20th Century words like “imbecile,” “stupid,” and “moron” were scientific terms used to describe a person’s IQ. Now they are degrading terms used by kids as taunts.
Modern technology has given us texting and tweeting that have spawned new ways of writing and abbreviating. For the uninitiated, texting can seem to be a foreign language. Teachers have seen these new forms of writing migrate into essays and term papers.
Here in Hawaii there is a form of English called “Pidgin English.” It is a Creole language, meaning it is a combination of many languages, English being the most predominant. Hawaii has a history of migrant workers coming together to work in the sugar cane and pineapple fields of Hawaii. Japanese, Chinese, Filipinos, Portuguese, Hawaiians, and Europeans communicated through the common language of English but added their own words.
For example, there is the Hawaiian word “hana” which means “work.” There is also the Japanese word “hana” which means “nose.” The two have found their places in the Pidgin language. “Pau hana” is Hawaiian for “done working.” “Hana butta” is a combination of the Japanese word for nose and a corruption of the word butter so that hana butta literally means “nose butter,” or “snot.”
Those English majors I wrote about earlier do not think that Pidgin English is “Proper English” or “Standard English.” Such people will always be unhappy and frustrated when English is not spoken or written up to their standards.
Flexibility is a key Emotional Intelligence skill. The ability to adjust one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors to changing situations and conditions is necessary in today’s fast-paced, ever-changing world. New technology, new scientific research, new ideas, new ways of doing things – all affect us. We need to be able to change our minds, and our way of thinking, when new evidence suggests that we are mistaken.
To be flexible we must accept change as a part of life. Change requires us to get out of our comfort zones; to do, to think, and to act in ways that we’re not used to. Humans are creatures of habit. There is a sense of comfort and security in having a routine, in having things in the same place every time, in having the same kind of food every day, in not having any surprises.
But change is a part of life. We can accept change and flow with it, riding the wave of change instead of being slammed into the shore by the wave.
More than just accepting change we must be proactive and activity seek out change. Be an agent of change, be the one who makes the change. The old axiom “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” doesn’t fit into today’s fast-changing world.
Besides accepting change we must overcome our fear of change. There are many fears associated with change: The fear of embarrassment, the fear of failure, the fear of financial loss, the fear of being criticized, etc. You must constantly challenge your fears and overcome your irrational beliefs. If you don’t overcome your fears you could be missing out on lots of opportunities.
Once you learn to be more flexible, when you learn to go with the flow, you will be less bothered by those things that don’t meet your standards or way of thinking. Such flexibility will allow you to be more at peace and happier.
I went to elementary school not far from Stanford University. Occasionally students from the university would come to our school and use the students as guinea pigs for psychology research. I remember one of the experiments consisted of showing me two photos of kids and asking which one I would like to be friends with (“Because he looks more interesting” was my reply when one time I was asked why I picked one kid over another).
Other experiments included having us brush our teeth with very gritty toothpaste and recording our reactions. Another had us watch a segment of a movie then answering questions afterwards. The most famous Stanford psychology test was the Marshmallow Test, done in the 1970s (I wasn’t part of this experiment).
The Marshmallow Test consisted of presenting a child with a marshmallow and telling the child that if they didn’t eat the marshmallow that later they would get two marshmallows. Whether or not the child ate the first marshmallow determined the child’s impulse control/delayed gratification.
Follow up studies found that children who were able to delay gratification and wait for the second marshmallow were described to be more competent as teenagers and had higher SAT scores. (Recent studies have refuted these findings. Read Reinterpreting the Marshmallow Test here.
Impulse Control is an important Emotional Intelligence skill that helps us to resist or delay our impulses, drives, and temptations to act. It is our ability to accept our aggressive impulses, being composed, and controlling our irresponsible behavior.
When we lack impulse control we may have low frustration tolerance, anger management problems, abusiveness, and explosive or unpredictable behavior. Impulsive people have interpersonal relationships marked by shallowness, volatility, fickleness, impatience, fear, and intimidation. When under pressure, these people make poor decisions.
Having Impulse Control doesn’t mean that we’re “anal”; that is, being compulsive or rigid. We still need to be flexible and spontaneous. What Impulse Control does mean is that we resist or delay our impulses, drives, or temptation until we’ve had time to think things through.
One way to control our impulses is to use the ABCDE process (see more about this process here
). Our drives, impulses, and temptations are the Activating event (the “A” in the process). Consequences (the “C”) is acting impulsively because we have failed to stop, think, and check our Beliefs (the “B”).
For example, if we have the temptation to eat junk food (the “A” – Activating Event) we may have the Belief that we deserve it, that it’s okay just this one time, or that we will burn it off by spending more time exercising. Such beliefs will lead us to giving in to our temptation and eating the junk food (the “C” – Consequence).
But we can rewire our thinking and change our Belief to another such as eating junk food will adversely affect our health, that eating one piece of junk food will snowball into eating lots of junk food, or that eating junk food will make us fat. By changing our Beliefs we change the Consequences.
Other Emotional Intelligence skills help us in controlling our impulses. Reality Testing lets us see when we are being impulsive or giving in to our temptations. Emotional Self-Awareness allows us to examine the underlying emotions that drive our impulses.
Empathy also plays an important role in Impulse Control, especially in regards to violence, abuse, frustration, and impatience. If you are first able to put yourself in another’s shoes, you are better able to see and care about how your impulses affect others.
It doesn’t matter if you were able to control your impulses as a preschooler and not eat the marshmallow since you can still learn the skill now. Use the ABCDE process to examine your impulses and work on developing your other Emotional Intelligence skills. Remember, success is not a final destination but a continuing journey.
Several years ago I wrote a book called The Economy of Emotions. In the book’s preface I explained unusual juxtaposition of the words “economy” and “emotions” in the title.
Usually when we think of the word “economy” we think of money, finances, or the stock market. A Google search of the news finds headlines such as, “As China's Economy Revives, So Do Fears of Inflation,” “Euro Leaders Declaring Worst Is Over Turn to Economy Woes,” and “Wyoming's Boom Economy Offers Jobs, but Little Chance for Housing.”
The New American Heritage Dictionary defines economy as “the careful or thrifty use or management of resources . . . .” Our emotions are an important resource. Emotions, or more precisely, the economical use of our emotions, are a capability, an asset, and a basis for success.
But often emotions are looked upon negatively. Emotions can get us into trouble when we lose our temper at the wrong time, in the wrong place, or at the wrong person. Falling in love with the wrong person can get us into trouble. We have stereotypes about emotions such as that they are not “business-like;” that it’s “unmanly to cry;” or that “only the simple-minded are happy all the time.”
The United States seems to be a nation where emotions have run amok: Road rage, school shootings, domestic violence, workplace violence, violence on TV and in the movies, violent video games . . . the list is endless!
Opposite violence, on the other end of the spectrum, is America’s relentless pursuit of pleasure through sex, drugs, alcohol, entertainment, etc. Bringing pleasure to Americans is a trillion dollar business.
But when we use our emotions “economically,” that is constructively, they can be an asset instead of a liability. By effectively communicating our feelings and thoughts to others, we can achieve our goals and desires. By dealing with stress effectively, we are more relaxed and more capable to deal with the situation at hand. By using proven problem solving techniques, we can overcome obstacles to our success.
“Emotional Intelligence” is the term given to the set of skills that address the emotional, personal, social, and survival dimensions of intelligence. Contrast these skills to the cognitive aspects of intelligence, what we think of as IQ (Intelligence Quotient, a measure of our cognitive abilities). While cognitive intelligence determines our ability and capacity to learn, emotional intelligence determines what we do with what we have learned. Also, while our IQs are basically stagnant and will not change over the course of our life, EQs (Emotional Quotient) can be increased by learning new skills and with practice.
An interesting note: The word “intelligence” did not appear before the 20th Century; it did not appear in the best accredited books on psychology until 1927. Also of worthy note: The words “moron,” “imbecile,” and “idiot” were originally scientific terms to describe one’s IQ.
For myself the areas of Emotional Intelligence that I have worked on include Interpersonal Relationships, Stress Tolerance, and Happiness. Having grown up shy and introverted, I have needed to learn how to share and communicate my thoughts and feelings. In the beginning I overcame my shyness just by saying “Hi,” to strangers. As a hippy hitchhiking, I was put into situations where I had to converse with those who would give me a ride. Later I took classes on communications and public speaking.
Daily I work on Stress Tolerance by using meditation and constantly reminding myself to live in the present moment. To have more happiness in my life I use the technique of focusing on an imaginary ball of energy and concentrating on the feeling of happiness inside me.
Just as the financial economy is the constant effort of managing resources and making adjustments, so is the economy of emotions. We must manage our emotions by controlling our tempers or not showing our happiness when it comes at the expense of another. We must adjust our stress tolerance in response to changing situations and struggle to maintain our happiness in response to our changing moods.
I hope that my blog helps you to manage your important resource of Emotional Intelligence.
Growing up in the 1960s and 70s we didn’t have all the media outlets that we have today. Back then we just had the basic radio, TV, magazines, and books. The first time I remember any of them being an influence on me was November 22, 1963, the day President John Kennedy was assassinated.
I was four years old and had just arrived at the grocery store with my mom. My mom had just pulled the car into a parking space and I turned off the radio. Anxiously my mom said to turn it back on. I didn’t understand what the man on the radio was saying, but I could see that my mom was visibly upset. She didn’t answer when I asked her what was wrong. Later I overheard her and the grocery store checkout clerk talking and then I understood.
TV was also a big influence on me. Back then we didn’t have cable, just antenna. TV’s had VHF channels, which went from channel one to thirteen, and UHF channels, that went from channel 14 to 70. Not all channels were full of programming like today’s cable TV; we had a total of seven or eight channels.
The influence I remember TV having on me was mostly from the news. As a young kid my friends and I used to play war. The TV news brought the reality of war into our home as it showed the war in Vietnam. I saw soldiers, tired and worn, trudging through rice paddies and mud. I saw the agony of the faces of wounded men.
When we visited my grandparents I would look through their copies of Life and Look magazines. I remember the photos of American soldiers making Vietnamese villages dig their own mass grave then shooting them. I vividly remember the bodies strewn in the trench grave. I kept on reading and re-reading the story to make sense of it—these were Americans, the “good guys;” how was it that they did such a terrible thing?
At home, the news showed the anti-war and peace movements. Also the civil rights and feminists movements. On hearing that women wanted equal rights, I imagined that one day the boys and girls would use the same bathroom at school.
TV movies were another big influence on me. A San Francisco station had a program called Dialing for Dollars that showed old movies. One particular movie that had an impact on me was Nine Hours to Rama, the fictionalized account of Gandhi’s assassination. I was taken aback when, at the end, the dying Gandhi forgave his assassin. That was the first time I had ever heard of Gandhi and it prompted me to learn more about him. (In reality Gandhi had no last words.)
Now I’m a TV-holic; I watch too much TV. Sometimes I just lie and vegetate in front of the TV. Other times I’ll have it as background noise as I do other things. Often I will turn on the TV first thing when I come home.
I have beaten my TV addiction on other occasions in the past, such as when I was going through college. At these times I simply got rid of the TV so there was no temptation. Now I live with others who want a TV so I don’t have that option.
I try to be conscious of my habits and regulate my TV watching to only programs I truly want to watch. But sometimes I’m lazy or tired (mentally and physically) and TV is a nice distraction that takes me away from it all—just like the drug that it is.
In the end I try not to be too hard on myself. One of my goals is to be happy, beating myself up doesn’t help me achieve that goal. Nor does watching so much TV that I feel guilty and that I’ve wasted my time. It’s a constant battle as is any addiction. As the old cliché goes, “Take it one day at a time.” I try to embrace the present moment, change bad habits into good ones, and focus on being happy.
I was a late bloomer when it came to both love and sex—but not by choice.
During high school I was shy and introverted. I remember I used to stand on the upper landing of the outdoor staircase as I waited for my next class to start. At the base of the staircase used to stand a pretty blond girl and her friend. The pretty girl would look up at me and smile, beckoning me to come talk to her. I never did.
I was nervous and anxious; What would I say to her? What would she think of me? What would others think if they saw me trying to pick up on her? Stupid, baseless worries.
After graduating from high school I ventured on a journey to find love, lust, and looking to get laid. Eventually my journeys took me to a Caribbean beach where I saw a vision: A dark-skinned beauty from Colombia. She was in a volleyball game I had joined. We were on the same team, but I spent all my time talking to her, ignoring the game.
Soon we fell in love and got married. She was my first love and the first woman I had sex with. The marriage didn’t last; we were both so young. But over 30 years later we still remain friends because of our love (companionate not romantic or Eros), respect and friendship.
There were more women as I fell in love quickly and easily. I loved to fall in love. What a great feeling, a great rush of adrenaline and pleasure. But that feeling is fleeting and I fell just as easily out of love.
I met another woman with whom I had a long term relationship, but that didn’t last as I was unsure of what I wanted in life and thus set off to “find myself.” Some 25 years later we still remain friends.
Needless to say, I had overcome my shyness with women. It came with experience, practice, and sometimes alcohol. I learned that beautiful women were people, too, and sometimes, because they were beautiful, they were more fragile and had more emotional baggage.
In due course I learned to distinguish between love and lust. True lasting love is selfless, giving, and unconditional. Lust is pleasure, fleeting, and external. That’s not to say that I still didn’t want both of those things in my life—I did!
Eventually I met my current wife. Lust is what attracted me to her—her physical beauty, her beautiful eyes. But true love, loving to be with her and being her best friend is what has kept us together.
It took me a long time to figure out what I wanted and then to find it. Lust and sexual drive are powerful and often times override good judgment, logic, and common sense. They trap us, brainwash us, and leave us feeling used and empty.
On the other hand is the romance of love, of fantasy, and storybook dreams. We wish for the “right” person who will sweep us off our feet. We dream of the fairytale wedding, the ideal life and family, and the “happily ever after.”
The reality is that true happiness comes from inside us, we create it. We could be in the best relationship but not be happy. We could be single and alone, even though we wish for a meaningful relationship, and still be happy. Happiness, or the lack thereof, is based on our thoughts not outside forces.
I’ve come a long way from the nervous and anxious high school kid afraid to talk to girls. My journeys and experience have taught me the difference between love and lust. My worldly relationship advice to you is that you work on yourself and your own happiness first. When you are able to establish an indestructible happiness within you, then this will attract others to you.
Fear and confidence can be looked upon as being opposite ends of a continuum or scale. On one end is fear which is characterized by worry, pessimism, depression, uncertainty, dullness, and weakness. On the opposite end of the continuum we have confidence, characterized by faith, optimism, conviction, passion, and strength (see table of characterizations here
Throughout my life I have conquered fear and moved progressively towards the confidence end of the continuum. At one time I had a fear of talking to others, not just on public speaking occasions, but in one-on-one situations. I feared rejection and being embarrassed.
I have an accent that has been characterized as British, Australian, or a German speaking English. I don’t know how I developed this accent as I was born and raised in California by native born parents; closest thing I ever came to was my grandmother’s French accent.
Growing up I was told that I had a speech impediment and I was sent to see specialists. Fellow kids made fun of me. As an adult my face would redden with embarrassment if someone asked me if I was from England. Eventually I accepted my accent as a part of the unique character that I am.
My fear of talking to others decreased with study, practice, and successes (which helped change my belief system). One technique I used was the ABCDE process where limiting beliefs are challenged and replaced with constructive beliefs (read more about the ABCDE process here
Another effective technique for overcoming fear is the belief that you are control. In academic terms it’s known as the Locus of control
is Latin for location). There are four factors that determine control: Is it controllable or uncontrollable? Is it outside ourselves or inside? (See table below.)
If we see something as being uncontrollable and outside ourselves then we feel helpless, hopeless, and fearful. If we see something as being controllable and inside ourselves then we feel empowered, strong, and confident.
As a Buddhist I believe that I am part of a greater, omniscient power. The Buddhist analogy is that this power is an ocean and an individual is a drop of water in this ocean—the two are inseparable. This belief of being part of a limitless power gives me great confidence. Compare that concept to one where people feel that power lies outside themselves and is uncontrollable, such as with an indifferent god or ruthless dictator.
I am not saying that I feel as if I am a god or that I am all powerful—that would be foolish and insane. But I do feel that I have the ability to affect change. One way is through prayer. It’s been said that you’re prayers are always answered, but sometimes the answer is “No.” We may want something, but the greater, wiser power sees that we are not ready or has something better planned for us.
Another great technique for overcoming fear and gaining confidence is to act as if you ARE confident. Just like an actor in a movie, play the part of a confident person. How does a confident person act? They stand up tall and straight; they talk clearly and loudly; they walk with purpose. Who’s the most confident person that you know? Act like them, pretend that you are them.
Your sense of power and confidence will grow with study, faith, and practice (also the three fundamentals of Buddhist practice). Study techniques such as the ABCDE process that teach you how to change your limiting beliefs. Gain faith in yourself and your abilities by going out and trying the things you have learned; each success will make you stronger and each failure will make you wiser. “Practice” is just going out and doing it, trying things out, and experiencing life.
I am confident that you can change because I have changed. Human history is full of examples of people who have overcome great obstacles to become great successes.
Dictionary.com defines “culture” as “The behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic, or age group.” The “American Culture” has its characteristic behaviors and beliefs, namely capitalism, democracy, eating fast food, watching reality TV, etc. The culture of Hawaii is one that is characterized by the “Aloha Spirit” (a spirit of acceptance and friendliness), Pidgin English, surfing, hula, etc.
There are many distinctive cultures throughout the world. Even within one country, or even within one state or province, there are cultures that differ from one another. Cultural distinctions can be further broken down into towns, clubs, groups, families, and individuals.
For example, in my own family I have a distinct culture from my older siblings. Part of this is due to the timeframe in which we grew up. When I was about five years old my father was an energetic man active in coaching baseball, basketball, and football. My older brothers played each of these sports and my sister was a cheerleader.
A couple years later my dad took a promotion at work and we moved to a new city. My dad’s new position drained him of energy and he would come home after work depressed and depleted. He no longer had the energy or interest to coach and instead he sat and read the newspaper, watched the TV news, and occasionally toiled in the yard.
Whereas my siblings grew up in a culture of participating in sports, I did not. My father didn’t encourage me to participate in sports nor did he teach me how to play. So I ended up the kid picked last for teams, along with my pigeon-toed friend, Mikey. The couple of times I did try out for team sports the other kids said, “What are you doing here? You don’t know how to play!” I knew they were right, so I gave up before I even started.
My athletic talent didn’t show up until the seventh grade when we were instructed to run a race around the school blacktop for PE (Physical Education). As the race began, I shot ahead. Soon I look to my left and right but I didn’t see my competition. Then I looked back and saw that I was ahead of everyone else by 10 yards! It turned out that I was the fastest kid in my class. (Think Forrest Gump; “Run Forrest, run!)
The cultures of me and my siblings differ in other ways also—so much so that it’s hard to believe that we even grew up in the same family. How we developed such diverse and sometimes contradicting beliefs is beyond my comprehension.
So it is with the wider world—we are often confused and sometimes repulsed by the customs of another culture. For example, in some cultures it’s acceptable to eat beef; in other cultures cattle are considered sacred. We may ask ourselves how someone can believe something that is so totally opposite to what is so ingrained in ourselves, something we believe in wholeheartedly, religiously, and fervently.
It is this lack of understanding and the inability to accept other cultures that starts wars. Is it possible to accept or to even allow a culture that has beliefs that we believe to be inhuman, unjust, or insane? How can we get along with different, contradictory cultures?
That is a question for the ages as we try to live in peace with one another. We are making progress. According to Fareed Zakaria, in his commencement address to the 2012 Harvard University graduating class, “The number of people who have died as a result of war, civil war, and, yes, terrorism, is down 50 percent this decade from the 1990s. It is down 75 percent from the preceding five decades, the decades of the Cold War, and it is, of course, down 99 percent from the decade before that, which is World War II.”
So it seems that we are making progress, at least for now. But the evolutionary process is long and arduous. In the whole of human existence it seems as if we have barely moved forward. It might take an alien visit or a computer chip implant in our brains for us to gain the wisdom to live in peace. Maybe we’ll have some kind of group enlightenment—the light of realization will come on for all of us at the same time.
But for now all we can do is scratch our head in puzzlement at what another might do; take a deep breath, relax our muscles and suppress our anger as it goes against everything in our own culture. We can value peace above all else and by finding peace in ourselves, we can move us further down the evolutionary path.