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Maximizing Brain Functioning: The Link to EQ

September 25, 2012

D&B Consulting

How does brain functioning affect how you perform on the job, and specifically, how does it affect emotional intelligence?

I recently attended a workshop by Jackie Sherman entitled, ‘Working with the Brain in Mind.”  Here is what I learned about how the brain can affect your emotional intelligence and ability to think at a higher level.

The hierarchy of paying attention means that  thoughts first go through the survival part of the brain. That is the fight, flight or freeze mentality we may  experience  in a crisis situation. In Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs”  he explains that  the needs for security ,  food, clothing and shelter  must be met before you can move to higher levels of autonomy and self-actualization.  But after going through the survival part of the brain, thoughts then go through  the limbic, or emotional part  of the brain.  The limbic system can automatically  interpret events as negative, and can keep the brain from thinking at higher levels.   Emotional pain is seen the same as physical pain in this  part of the brain.  Our perception of how we are treated by others can have the same impact on our brain  as those thoughts that have us in a flight or fight scenario. In our emotional brain it is difficult to redirect or control our responses, and keep the brain from functioning at higher levels.

The brain  functions to minimize danger and maximize reward.  It also takes additional oxygen and glucose to deal with a threat.


Working memory has limited capacity, requires cognitive thinking  and more attention and energy.  Long-term memory has unlimited capacity, allows us to function on auto-pilot, and processes many tasks in parallel.  So this is why we may automatically take the same  route we normally take to get to work, instead of making the correct turn to run an  errand. It explains why we may not remember doing things that we do on auto-pilot.  It  also explains why we may not detect nuances in situations that require a higher level of thinking for an emotionally intelligent response, especially  if we are under stress.

The more stress we are under, the more difficult it is for us to function at a higher level  of thinking.  We are not designed for constant stress. 

 Stress affects our ability to function and think at higher levels, and to respond with higher levels of emotional intelligence.  One way to deal with stress is to take in more oxygen by deep breathing.

“You can teach a dog new tricks, but it won’t forget the old ones.”   It takes six months to develop a new habit, but the old ones are stored in memory.

For those of us who want to function at a higher level at work and in our personal lives, it is imperative that we reduce our stress as much as possible, and finds ways to deal with  it such as those I mentioned in  an earlier post;  meditating, yoga, tai chi,  and reading scripture,  are some of these methods. Glasser refers to these as  a “Positive Addiction” in  a book of the same name.

It is critical that we identify the stresses in our lives,and how they affect our ability to think clearly.   That is the first step.  Pay attention.  Look for your triggers.  Identfy what you need to do to keep yourself functioning at an optimum level.  Then find a method to to keep you centered that you can practice regularly .

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