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How our instinct can deceive us

In this blog I explore why it’s so important to slow down and examine our emotions, and those of people around us.

Making decisions based on gut instinct

Research over the last 20 years increasingly suggests we perceive our decision making processes to be dominated by logic, when in fact the way we tend to problem solve and reach conclusions is firstly out of instinct, and then through engaging our analytical side to justify our decisions. Malcolm Gladwell turned this topic into a whole book called ‘Blink’

The problem with this decision making process, is that our gut instinct is primed by our ancestral reptilian brain, our upbringing, current stress levels and how we are primed at every moment by environmental factors. Once we have made a decision based on gut instinct and backed it up with thought it’s very difficult for us to change our attitudes – they become entrenched. In order to win friends and influence people it’s vital to appeal to their emotional side to have half a chance of getting them to see your point of view. It’s even better if you can train yourself to be dispassionate about your view point and strive to see things from theirs – in this way, through dialogue, we often find there is a view of the world that lies between us which is a more perfect representation of truth.

How reasoning can be tricked

As small children, we explore the world through our likes and dislikes. In Yoga and Buddhism these early likes and dislikes are described as seeds, or samskaras. According to these traditions, samskaras are embedded experiences that we are born with from past lives. Western psychology agrees that we are born with tendencies or personality types – for example a tendency to be open or closed, agreeable or not etc. We are not born blank slates. As we develop these seeds ripen according to the environment that we grow up in. They are watered with love or hatred, kindness or cruelty.

In the eastern traditions, there are infinite seeds of possibility but we have tendencies to develop in one way or another. In addition to these seeds children adopt the traditions and morals of their parents and peers. We have a tendency to quickly assimilate information from our surroundings about the way society accepts is the “right” way to proceed in life. These samskaras and later learned social behaviours are often buried deeply within our subconscious. At a basic primal level they direct many (if not all) of our behaviours. We bury this stuff deep because in order to function in a fast moving, information packed world, we simply don’t have time to reflect on every decision that we are faced with. Automatic processing is a vital part of being human. We have to rely on gut instincts, but sometimes these gut instincts lead us in a direction that if we stopped and thought for a while, make little sense.

The psychologist Jonathan Haidt uses the analogy of the rider and the elephant to explore this idea. Simplistically (although it is obviously way more complex than this), the elephant is the intuitive/emotional response part of our reasoning processes and the rider the analytical part.

The following fascinating bits of research demonstrate how easily how instinct can be influenced :

What the elephant eats and drinks changes the way we think and act – In 2011 participants in a study were asked a series of moral dilemma type questions – for example, should cousins be allowed to marry? What are good time limits for abortions? etc. Prior to being asked the questions, half the group were given a bitter tasting drink and half, a sweet tasting drink – you guessed it! The bitter drink tasters responded to the questions in a more moralistic manner. The elephant was primed to react in a certain way through drink – bitter, don’t like, shouldn’t, don’t do that (Eskine, Kacinic, Prinz 2011) and the others, responded in a more thoughtful and analytic way.

What the elephant touches, changes the way we think and act – In one study participants who were asked to wash their hands prior to the study gave answers which were more moralistic. – I’m clean, you should be too, behave in a morally upstanding way. (Chenbo Zhong at uni of Toronto 2010) .

What the elephant smells changes the way we think and act – In another study participants who were exposed to fart smells also gave answers which indicated “higher” or more conservative moral standards – that’s disgusting, I’m experiencing disgust, I’m expecting to be disgusted, that moral dilemma scenario disgusts me, this is my reaction……….

What the elephant sees changes the way we think and act – In trials, juries are more likely to acquit attractive people and judges give leaner sentences – you look cute, I like you, I’m expecting good things from you, there must be a reason you did what you did. In US elections to the Senate and House of Representatives, those judged most competent according to their pictures won their elections in two thirds of cases – You look dependable, I trust you to do the right thing, You have my vote…. In his research Todorov, found that these gut decisions about looks and competency are made in about 1/10th of a second

What the elephant hears changes the way we think and act – Priming words set expectations that can confuse us! For example, if you link of a series of words in pairs such as sunshine, prolife, happiness, cancer, love, slug etc certain pairings lead us to confusion. For example we read sunshine and then read slug and feel disgust. It takes us a while to compute this conflicting information. It also depends on our deeply held political views. For example, conservatives view ‘prolife’ as a positive term, liberals, a negative infringement of the right of the mother. Link these words for a conservative and they quickly decide whether they like or dislike the pairing. For a liberal the pairing leads to a different type of thinking ie. ‘I like sunshine but I don’t like the word prolife’ – the rider of the elephant becomes engaged because of confusion ! (Morries et al 2003)

In a complex world, where we often have to make difficult decisions, we should try to get the elephant and the rider considering issues together. In the early part of my career at KPMG, we were often instructed to be logical and analytical. An “emotional” response to a situation was frowned upon. There is nothing more irritating than been told to stop being emotional! But in reality, most of us, most of the time, are making little (and big) decisions based purely on gut feel – simple like/dislike triggers – These are the samskaras which have been watered with love or hate throughout our lives.

Dale Carnegie, in his book “How to win friends and influence people” was totally aware that people tend to make decisions based on these primal like/dislike urges. The elephant makes up his mind and then the rider comes up with the logic to back up that gut feel. Once we have made up a story to back up our gut feel it’s really hard to change our point of view. His advice when trying to influence someone was to “begin in a friendly way, smile, be a good listener, never directly contradict” . He was aware that you need to talk to the elephant, to understand where they are coming from. In this way, with an open heart you may also be in a position to appreciate that the truth lies through dialogue and that is probably somewhere between your points of view.

Friendly dialogue primes the elephant – he’s nice and friendly, I’m expecting to hear nice things, I’m relaxed and open to share ideas.

For those of you thinking that it would be a good idea to somehow train the mind to just be analytical – for the rider to take control and analyse each situation, Antonio Damasio’s research gives the strongest business case for emotional intelligence coaching there is. He studied people with damage to the ventromedial prefrontal cortex . People damaged in this area are unable to feel emotions such as joy from beautiful images or horror when shown pictures of gruesome murders. Without feeling, these people were paralysed by indecision. Each of the thousands of choices they had to make every day had to be analytically reviewed. These people made terrible life choices.

Research in this area suggests that although we make very quick gut decisions. These decisions can be reversed if we alternate view points from other people. However we need to absorb and reflect on these alternatives. Participants in a study who were provided with arguments against their decision were more likely to change their minds about a topic if they were given a couple of minutes to consider alternatives – so occasionally we need to sit down and reappraise what our default view of the world is.

 Emotional intelligence and yoga

This is what emotional intelligence coaching and yoga does. The practices help you slow the world down and observe your habitual patterns. Yoga also helps you maintain a calm balanced view of the world – Its hard to listen to what your gut is telling you if you are so stressed that your flight or fight mechanism is making every part of your body ache and grumble.

In the next blog I’m going to explore how yoga helps you re-appraise your habitual responses to situations. In the meantime, at work consider your interactions with colleagues and how in order to persuade and influence, you need to have a chat with the elephant in the room.

Emotional intelligence development – engaging the rider and the elephant

To take the MSCEIT emotional intelligence test and take part in our 30 day programme to develop your emotional intelligence email me back and I will send you login and payment details. The programme includes two online psychometric tests (a month a part) , two private and confidential feedback sessions, two group sessions and a 30 day programme to develop skills. 250 (UK pounds) or approximately 370 (Australian dollars) per person



Can you measure emotional intelligence?

About five years ago I trained to administer a psychometric test called MSCEIT. This aims to measure a person’s emotional intelligence level. It does this by using an online questionnaire which takes about 30 minutes. The psychologists behind the test spent many years investigating what makes up and defines emotional intelligence. They suggest that it’s the degree to which a person remains open to information provided by emotions (both yours and the people around you) and your ability to incorporate this successfully into your decision making process. Making good decisions which are well communicated, and in tune with those around you, is at the heart of emotional intelligence.

The designers of the test divided an assessment of a persons emotional intelligence into four areas:

Recognising emotions – the ability to observe the physical manifestation of emotions in yourself, others and in your general environment – for example you are shown faces and asked to say which emotion the person is probably experiencing

Using emotions – the ability to match an appropriate emotion to a thought task – for example when the task at hand is creative, perhaps the emotion should be fun and upbeat . Where analysis and concentration is required, perhaps more focused, vigilant emotions are required

Understanding – the ability to see cause and effect relationships as emotions come to the surface – you are able to understand why someone is feeling in a particular way and how the situation may develop based on past and current information

Managing emotions – the ability to use the information that has been observed and incorporate it into successful decision making – this is the ability to blend analytical information with what your emotions and those around you are telling you. In the short term this may be the ability to handle stress – perhaps by counting to 4 or going for a run. In the longer term it means understanding what the emotions in yourself and others mean, changing behaviours in yourself, and facilitating change in those around you.

The test results are back in a few days and give your overall assessment score compared to the average population. It also divides the test results into layers so that you also receive test results on each of the four areas. It is this pattern of results which is of most interest. For example one can imagine a situation where someone is great at recognising emotions in other peoples faces but have no idea how to use, understand or manage this information. Or another situation where a person is great at recognising, using, understanding and managing emotions, but very poor at managing their own emotions to create positive work and lifestyle changes. The permutations are endless!

The good news about emotional intelligence is that unlike a personality type (for example how agreeable you are, or how open) which is difficult to budge, emotional intelligence levels can be increased with training. For example, teachers get better at being able to recognise emotions as they spend their careers observing children (often through the backs of their heads!). We all have these abilities, but to develop them it takes effort and focus. I have given feedback for this test many times and have found it very useful in my own life. You obtain feedback from a coach and are then given a program for developing these skills.

“If there is one secret of success it lies in the ability to get the other persons point of view and see things from their angle as well as your own”

Henry Ford

Developing your emotional intelligence – I need volunteers!

All you need to do is:

– take the test once initially, and then again in a months time

– after the first test I will give you private and confidential feedback on your results

– I will then get all the participants together to discuss a program for improving your ability to recognise, use, understand and manage emotions

– Over the next 30 days I will ask you to put the training into practice once a day, and to record your experience. This means deliberately using a model of recognising emotions, using appropriate ones, understanding where they came from and managing emotions. There will be just one task or challenge per day

– If you wish I’ll also get you into a buddy system so that each week you can have a telephone chat with your partner or meet up to discuss how each situation developed and what you have learnt

– during the 30 days you’ll be given online tools to help you recognise emotions – for example there are lots of emotional recognition tools out there

– After 30 days you will take the test again, receive confidential feedback and we’ll get together as a group to share experiences

I will also take the test and do the 30 day challenge with a friend. And hopefully we will all be more emotionally intelligent!

The cost for two psychometric tests plus two group workshops and two one to one feedback sessions is £250. If you can persuade work to pay for it that would be wonderful! If you have friends or colleagues who may be interested in improving their emotional intelligence levels in 30 days please forward this email.

To register interest just email me back and I’ll send back payment methods and organise start times.

Next week I’ll set out the business case for why developing emotional intelligence is a good idea. You might think this is a strange order for things – surely its a good idea to set out the argument for something before trying to sell a test measurement and program for change. Not in this case. Its a no brainer for two reasons. Firstly most people have a gut instinct that getting along with people and understanding what they are about is a key component of success at work, in life and for health reasons. Secondly, most of us like to know how we compare to others. The thing about emotional intelligence or any “skill” is that we are notoriously bad at judging our abilities. For example on average most people who drive a car rate themselves as being above average at driving – obviously this can’t be true. And so it is with emotional intelligence skills. If we have poor skills in at recognising, using, understanding and managing emotions we don’t tend to recognise the fact.


Hope you found this useful




Developing emotional intelligence

Recently I did a series of Wellbeing workshops for staff at the House of Commons.  In most of the workshops I introduced myself as a former Corporate Finance manager
who retrained by taking a Masters degree in Positive Psychology and then spent years investigating the parallels between Western Psychology, Buddhism and Yoga.
In one of the workshops I introduced myself as a Yoga teacher who used to work in finance.  In general the feedback from the staff was excellent. From the group where I described myself as a Yoga teacher the feedback was decidedly mixed! For example , “why are we taking  wellbeing advice in the workplace from a yoga teacher?”
It was an important lesson for me.  If you have knowledge and experience, let people know about your expertise. I know it sounds obvious but it really brought home to me
the importance of how you project yourself and the power of first impressions. People’s impressions of who they think you are dominate your future relationship.
We need to train our mind to overcome this initial priming and learn to listen with depth – not just to new people but to the colleagues and loved ones that we have had
relationships with for many years.  Our past experiences can drown out the fresh information that people may be trying to give us.
The most emotionally intelligent amongst us stay open to new ideas and fresh signals and use conversations with both old and new acquaintances to better understand
their place in the world.
I started this newsletter by setting out my expertise but my knowledge does not equate to mastery.  As we become more expert in a subject we need to strive to develop the strength
of humility.  Experts need to be confident in their ability to absorb information but not be consumed by their subject and aloof from the rest of us.  Masters in a subject acknowledge
that the more they learn, the more there is to learn and the less certain they can be in their views.  They have confidence in not knowing and seek out the views of others.
The same applies to all of us.  We need to keep listening with fresh ears and eyes.
If you’re interested in learning a model for developing emotional intelligence I’m running an intro course on Saturday s 19 th January

New Saturday clinic

Sports,Deep Tissue and Holisic Massage all day with Zoe and Claudia
One to one Yoga OR Deep Tissue Massage and Reiki with Andy 1 to 5pm
Acupuncture and Chinese medicine with Simon 1 to 5pm
Call 0207 261 1658 to book
Hope you found this useful Andy 🙂

Developing emotional intelligence

In the last few weeks I’ve introduced some of the concepts behind emotional intelligence coaching.  The key idea is that we should begin to think of emotions as packets of information which in conjunction with out intelligence, experience and personality enable us to make great decisions.  I’m going to introduce a four step approach for getting the most out of the information that comes with emotions

Recognising emotions

Emotions have a physiological response.  The first step in harnessing the power of emotional information is therefore to recognise how we are feeling inside and how others appear (for example through their tone of voice and body language).  In order to do this it’s useful to imagine that you are a third party observing yourself.  Get into the habit of doing this in a non judgmental way.  There is no goal, no perfect emotional state.  Just observe how you are now without forming a view of how you should be or someone else should be.

To observe you need to step back from for a moment and breathe.

Using emotions

Recognising the emotional state that you or a colleague is in is a product of a complex series of preceding events.  You also recognise that this state is a rich source of information about how we and others perceive the world.  You may feel miserable because the weather is poor or your football team has lost.  Or it may relate to a deeper sense of frustration about work or home life.  At this stage it may be useful to park this emotion and your thoughts about the underlying cause/causes.  Parking it does not mean suppression or ignoring the reality of an emotional state.  It means noting it and dealing with it an appropriate point in a mindful manner in a measured way.

“Anyone can become angry – that is easy, but to be angry with the right person at the right time, and for the right purpose and in the right way – that is not within everyone’s power and that is not easy.” Aristotle

 Acting as though you are a third party observer allows you to take the time to act in a measured way.  It doesn’t mean not living the emotion or becoming emotionless it means to allow the emotion to flow through you without destroying your positive inner sense of self

Armed with the tool of awareness it’s then possible to identify what emotion best suits the task at hand.  For example upbeat and positive to facilitate creativity OR serious and focussed when fine attention to detail is required.  The key is to find a way to tune into the emotion in the room and some how flick a switch to help build a new theme of emotions appropriate to the task at hand.  The challenge is to blend the existing emotions in the room with the emotion that you feel best suits the style of thinking that’s required.  We need to find a way to evolve into a new emotional state with a smooth transition.  For example it may be appropriate to identify the problem behind the current emotional state and discuss whether its appropriate to deal with now or better suited to deal with at a later stage.

It’s important to continue to observe the emotional state of yourself and others as you explore the using emotions stage.  If messages are confusing seek confirmation about how people are feeling.  We often get emotional signals wrong and by gently asking our colleagues and friends about how they feel we do an important reality check on the situation.

Understanding emotions

Having the self awareness to step back and observe how you and others act in the world allows calm contemplation of some the factors behind the emotional state.  It is always a complex web of causes however calm reflection sometimes allows us to pick out major factors.  It also allows us to weed out background noise and underlying mood. There may be deep causes such as the illness of a loved one over which we have none or little control.  In these (and in fact in all circumstances) the only thing that we can control is how we choose to react to events that swirl around us.  Part of understanding emotions is to understand that there is often little we can control.  This awareness can be a surprising source of comfort. Ultimately we are all in the same boat.

As with recognising emotions it’s useful to do a reality check with others before you assume the reason you’ve assigned to the emotional state to be the truth. As we’ve discussed in the last four newsletters truth can only evolve from dialogue between people with different perspectives.  Without this third party discussion we can make mistakes when managing our own and other peoples emotions.

Managing emotions

This is a vital bit of the emotional intelligence change model.  Without it useful emotional intelligence information is lost and there is a lack of growth in decision making patterns and behaviours.  Quite often once we have parked emotional information, in order to get on with the task at hand, we don’t return to it and the opportunity for change is lost.

The key here is to cultivate positive intention for yourself, others and the wider community.  The challenge is to marry this positive intention with accurate knowledge.  This is why its so important to do the reality check and discuss with others what their understanding of underlying causes may be.  Misdirected positive intention is not necessarily a source of positive change.

A summary

The next time you have an important moment or event at work practice being the observer of emotions and use the Recognising, Using, Understanding and Managing 4 step approach to enable positive change and growth.  Observe how the model works and observe what the change is.

The 4 facets of emotional intelligence can be measured using an online psychometric tool.  You get an overall score and a score for each area. To learn how to do the emotional intelligence test drop me a mail.  The good news about emotional intelligence is that its not a personality test.  Once we know how good we are at it we can practice being the observer and making more informed decisions from the emotional states around us and within.


How emotions spread at work

Emotions at work
In a recent study by Andrew Oswald at Warwick Business School it was concluded that there was a positive link between workers happiness and productivity. The team conducted a range of exercises in their research. In one, students were asked to add a series of two digit numbers in ten minutes. The subjects were paid an attendance fee, and a performance fee based on how they performed. Some were then shown a ten minute film based on comedy routines. The film apparently led to an increase in the self reported happiness levels of participants compared to those who did not see it or who watched placebo film clips.

For those that reported higher levels of happiness, after seeing the film, productivity in a subsequent test was significantly higher. They noted, “happier workers were 12% more productive”. They also noted that those participants who watched the film but did not feel any happier did not demonstrate improved productivity. They also concluded that if happiness in the workplace was associated with increased productivity then the human resource departments would need to consider these implications.
This was reported in the media as groundbreaking research, however it merely adds to the body of findings from the field of Positive Psychology, which has a far more nuanced understanding of the role of emotions in the workplace. Emotions, both “negative” and “positive” have a vital role at work. They are a call to action to help change behaviours. There is a danger in that this type of research might suggest that positive emotions are appropriate in all workplace settings. One of the major points of Emotional intelligence training is to impress on people that different situations, tasks at work and types of thinking require different types of emotions to be generated. For example, research indicates that where fine attention to detail is required, eg when studying the findings of a report, it’s more useful to foster serious, almost downbeat emotions. Where creative, blue sky thinking is required it’s more useful to engender a fun, light hearted approach. So clearly before HR departments rush out and hire comedians its worthwhile understanding that context and task are at least as important as creating a fun place to work.
However most of the research to date suggests that happier, more engaged staff perform better overall. We need to learn skills to help us switch between emotions in a calm manner and have the ability to return to the default position, within the organization, of happy and upbeat.

Contagious emotions
I am fascinated by the research about how we transfer emotions between each other. For example Ebling & Levenson, in their 2003 study, suggest that people have a simplistic system of attract vs. repulse and these prime directives are expressed in signals on our faces. When one group of individuals are asked to remember a stressful event they produce identifiable, common facial patterns. When a second group is asked to mimic some of these expressions, without being asked to consider a stressful event, both groups suffer similar physiological effects. This implies that the face not only mimics inner thoughts and feelings but also drives these processes. The face may be both display cabinet and creator of authentic emotions.

In Mullen’s 1986 study of the influential effects of Newscaster expressions on presidential elections, the conclusion is that, micro facial expressions have a significant impact on peoples attract/repulse mechanism. A newscaster’s clear positive favouritism towards one candidate was shown to influence voting patterns. The study noted that this was in spite of the tendency of the news channel in question to run negative stories about the candidate. The positive micro expressions seemed to be more influential than the negative words expressed. As far back as 1980 Wells & Petty illustrated how facial impression and movement of the head (nodding agreement) can be influenced by “senders” of energy and this in turn influences decision making and mood. Positive and negative emotions are as much an outside in as an inside out mechanism.

In 2005 Losada studied a number of management teams formulating business plans. He observed the relationship between the volume of positive expressions to negative expressions between team members (both verbal and non verbal). He then looked at the performance of the teams in the following period and found that the transmission of positive and negative energy, through words and non verbal expression, was shown to lead to a state of flourishing, if the ratio was greater than 2.9. In that study flourishing was defined as the profitability of the team as well as customer and staff satisfaction. In a 2004 study Shelly found that when there is a supportive network of people, to share positive events with, it is the sharing and rejoicing of an event that leads to greater wellbeing than the event itself. The degree to which positive, affirming words and body language are used in relation to sharing an event predicts the level to which wellbeing is raised.
Barbara Fredrickson has spent many years investigating the effects of positive emotions such as joy, interest, contentment and love and has concluded the following:
– They allow us to think in a broad expansive manner
– They undo the effects of negative emotions on physiology, the way you think and the way you act
– They build intellectual, physical, social and psychological resources; and
– They create a virtuous spiral of emotions leading to increasing levels of wellbeing.

The Losada research also looked at teams where there was a ratio of positive to negative expressions in excess of 8 to 1 and found that these teams were also languishing rather than flourishing. This points to the obvious conclusion that we need some bite in the workplace as well as nurturing.  I think that the key points that HR departments need to draw from this research are as follows:
– Ensure that staff have a clear understanding of how to use emotions at work, in particular how to match the appropriate emotion to the task in hand
– Be aware that because emotions are easily transferable and escalate its easy for the mood of an organization to tilt into a downward spiral (below the magic number of 2.9)
– Get into the habit of celebrating the strengths and achievements of individuals and teams
– Find authentic, fun ways to raise the overall mood of the organization
If you are interested in how we measure happiness and engagement at work, or to find out more about our Emotional Intelligence courses and Positive Psychology at work programs go

Also use the Mayers Salovey model to measure your emotional intelligence