The Self Control Quotient
By Chelse Benham
"Most powerful is he who has himself in his own power." Seneca, Roman
philosopher in the 1st century AD
In the early 1990s, Dr. John Mayer and Dr. Peter Salovey, behavioral
psychologists, introduced the term "emotional intelligence" (EI) in the Journal of
Personality Assessment. They used this term to describe a person's ability to
understand his or her own emotions and the emotions of others and to act
appropriately based on this understanding. In 1995, psychologist Daniel
Goleman popularized this term with his book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can
Matter More Than IQ.
Goldman reported, "In navigating our lives, it is our fears and envies, our rages
and depressions, our worries and anxieties that steer us day to day. Even the
most academically brilliant among us are vulnerable to being undone by unruly
emotions. The price we pay for emotional illiteracy is in failed marriages and
troubled families, in stunted social and work lives, in deteriorating physical health
and mental anguish and, as a society, in tragedies such as killings."
Therefore, it is critical to understand EI and how it affects our ability to interact
with people and situations and its impact on career success.
“Emotions are clearly constructed by our perceptions and our interpretations,
although some events are powerful enough to elicit very similar interpretations
and emotional responses from many people (such as traumas),” said Dr. Kristin
Croyle, assistant professor in the Psychology and Anthropology Department at
The University of Texas-Pan American. “People often don’t realize the emotion
they assign to people and events as illustrated in everyday terminology. The
terminology reinforces the idea that things act upon and cause our emotional
response. ‘He made me so mad.’ ‘She really brings me down.’ Both are
examples of displacing ownership or control and further validate our indulgence
to express our emotions instead of controlling them.”
Exactly what is Emotional Intelligence or self-control quotient? According to
Rutgers University’s The Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in
Organizations, the term encompasses the following five characteristics and
1. Self-awareness – knowing your emotions, recognizing feelings as they
occur and discriminating between them
2. Mood management – handling feelings so they are relevant to the current
situation to allow you to react appropriately
3. Self-motivation – "gathering up" your feelings and directing yourself
towards a goal, despite self-doubt, inertia and impulsiveness
4. Empathy – recognizing feelings in others and tuning into their verbal and
5. Managing relationships – handling interpersonal interaction, conflict
resolution, and negotiations
Research in brain-based learning suggests that emotional health is fundamental
to effective learning. According to a report from the National Center for Clinical
Infant Programs, found in the book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter
More Than IQ, the most critical element for a student's success in school is an
understanding of how to learn. The key ingredients for this understanding are:
• Being self-assured
• Being interested in activities
• Knowing the expected behavior for a given situation
• Declining the impulse to misbehave
• Being able to follow directions
• Turning to authority for help
• Good communication skills
• Good social skills
Such behavioral determinants are necessary at all ages in life. Assigning some
causality, in a person’s disposition, to genetics is essential to understanding how
to become more self-actualized and aware of your own behavior.
Dr. Jerome Kagan, director of the Mind/Brain Behavior Interfaculty Initiative and
developmental psychologist at Harvard University, posits that there are four basic
temperaments; timid, bold, upbeat and melancholy. Each one obtains its
difference from diverse brain patterns in the frontal lobe.
For example, Dr. Richard Davidson, psychologist at the University of Wisconsin,
reported that people with greater activity in the left frontal lobe, compared to the
right, “are by temperament cheerful; they typically take delight in people and in
what life presents them.”
Although brain activity has an impact on temperament, a person can tame their
“amygdala” – the area of the brain that triggers emotion – by training the brain in
new responses to emotional stimuli.
According to Kagan, scientists and people think of abstract processes – like
intelligence or fear – as measurable entities or “fixed.” Thinking about emotions
as fixed, ignores the power of context and the great variability of emotional
response among individuals to similar situations.
Among the many myths perpetuated about human temperament, "infant
determinism" is widespread and a dearly held conviction that Kagan contests. He
believes this theory – with its claim that early relationships determine lifelong
patterns – underestimates human resiliency and adaptability, both emotional and
cognitive and fails to account for the happy products of miserable childhoods and
Broken down in its basic terms, infant determinism, according to Kagan,
misleadingly postulates that, once your formative years (one to seven years of
age) have happened, you are ultimately at the mercy of that past to the exclusion
of “free will” for your future. Therefore, based on this theory, if you were
neglected and/or abused you are destined to repeat the abuse and also, more
likely to make poor choices that lead to negative consequences. Fortunately,
things are not black and white. A grey area does exist. According to Kagan, there
is good news.
You can change the way you perceive life and your reactions without being
ensnared by behavioral precursors created by previous life experiences. In other
words, life isn’t determined solely by your formative years. The old cliché “you
can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” just doesn’t hold up. Taking charge of your
emotions is possible, but not always easy.
How emotionally in tune are you? Emotional intelligence has a number of
components. Goleman outlines these components in his chapter “The Self
Science Curriculum.” In it, he identifies areas a person should improve for self-
control over one’s emotions. They include the following:
• Self-awareness: observing yourself and recognizing your feelings;
building a vocabulary to articulate how you feel and understanding the
relationship between thoughts, feelings and reactions
• Personal decision making: examining your actions and knowing their
consequences; knowing if a feeling is ruling a decision; applying these
insights to issues in real life situations
• Managing feelings: monitoring “self-talk” to catch negative messages
such as internal put-downs; realizing what is behind a feeling; finding ways
to handle fears and anxieties, anger and sadness
• Handling stress: learning the value of exercise, guided imagery and
• Empathy: understanding other’s feelings and concerns; appreciating the
differences in how people feel
• Communication: talking about feelings effectively; becoming a good
listener; distinguishing between what someone does or says and your own
reactions or judgments about it
• Self-disclosure: valuing openness and building trust in a relationship;
knowing when it is safe to risk talking about your private feelings
• Insight: identifying patterns in your emotional life and identifying reasons
for them and recognizing similar patterns in others
• Self-acceptance: feeling pride and seeing yourself in a positive light;
recognizing your strengths and weaknesses; being able to laugh at
• Personal responsibility: taking responsibility; recognizing the
consequences of your decisions and actions, accepting your feelings and
moods, following through on commitments
• Assertiveness: stating your concerns and feelings without anger or
• Group dynamics: cooperation; knowing when and how to lead, when to
• Conflict resolution: learning how to negotiate with others
Upon reading this list, how well do you handle the fore mentioned areas? Any
significant improvement, in emotional intelligence, requires continuous effort with
intensive individual coaching, reliable feedback and a strong desire for personal
development. In the end however, the effort is well worth it.
Research, developed by such experts as Daniel Goleman, Jack Mayer, Peter
Salovey and David Caruso, supports the idea that people with a high level of
emotional intelligence can solve complex problems, make effective and wise
decisions, manage their time, manage crises and adapt their behavior to their
benefit providing them with greater success.
If you are beginning the journey of self improvement, there are strategies that
help develop strong emotional constitutions.
The Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations, at
Rutgers University, suggests visualizing your “ideal self” and creating positive
self talk. In the last twenty years, research literature has proven the power of
positive visioning and its effects in sports psychology, meditation, biofeedback
and other psycho-physiological research. According to Goleman, the potency of
focusing one's thoughts on the desired result is supported by emotional areas of
the brain, thus making more real the desired result and eventual outcome.
Along with visualization, you must have a sense of what you value and want to
keep as part of yourself. Likewise, to consider what you want to preserve about
yourself involves admitting aspects of yourself that you wish to change or adapt
in some manner.
Insight into your “ideal self” can come from performing exercises such as:
• making explicit goals for self improvement.
• talking with close friends or mentors about your goals.
• working with a personal improvement coach or consultant.
• taking personality tests for self evaluation.
• thinking about your “desired self.”
• surrounding yourself with positive and productive people that reflect your
values and support your goals.
EI is based on research in personality and social psychology. These areas of
study have helped people reevaluate the significance of a person’s EI or EQ
(emotional quotient) and its correlation to professional success. EQ has proven
to be a better predictor for “success” than traditional measures of cognitive
intelligence or the intelligence quotient (IQ) once used.
Fortunately, for many of us, the workplace provides many opportunities to
improve our EI. It is an ideal environment for people to develop their social and
emotional skills when interacting with others. Individuals motivated to develop
their EI, in pursuit of professional heights, will make greater strides than
someone who simply relies on “gut reaction” to maneuver through the complex
"What you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and
magic in it!" – Goethe