We have been hit by two viruses, not one: the Coronavirus and the virus of fear. In a very short time, we are working from home, or have lost our job, or are home schooling our kids, or are feeling the effects of isolating alone. If this isn’t bad enough, we also are facing the virus of fear that comes with uncertainty. Are things going to get worse? Are our loved ones going to be OK? Is it OK to end social distancing now? These strong emotions make it difficult to form an effective response.
For 20 years, the Institute for Health and Human Potential’s (IHHP) vision has been to create a world where everyone can skillfully manage their emotions, especially in their most difficult situations, what we call Last 8% situations. These are the situations that are more difficult than the ones we usually face in a day, a week, a month—or with the Coronavirus, a lifetime. Think of the last difficult conversation you had: We find most people are good at discussing 92% of what they want to say, but when it comes to the more difficult part—the last 8%—many people struggle, either avoiding it or making a mess of it.
We are facing many Last 8% moments with the Coronavirus. Think of how our politicians, health care experts, and economists are struggling to make difficult decisions about when to open the economy. Managers at organizations are having tough conversations about who to keep and who to let go. These are not easy decisions or conversations, but that is what is required today.
To make these tough decisions and have these difficult conversations requires a balance of compassion, empathy, and the ability to be decisive and use clear thinking. We have found that only leaders with sufficient Emotional Intelligence (EI) are able to do this. They can manage the strong emotions and fear that comes with disappointing or upsetting people when making tough decisions. They are empathetic, but they don’t wilt when the pressure increases.
Think of the leader who is unable to do this, who gets paralyzed by fear or anxiety and fails to act. Not only do these leaders lose the respect of their people, but internally, they know they took an “off-ramp,” were not courageous, and end up feeling shame and regret, diminishing their confidence. It is only well-developed skills of Emotional Intelligence that allow these difficult choices to be made and challenging conversation to be had.
In order to manage this second virus of fear and show up as an exceptional leader, spouse, partner, or parent, we need to learn to manage our emotions in our Last 8% moments. One option is attending an Emotional Intelligence training program, such as the one IHHP offers, where you gain insights about how your brain responds to fear and learn strategies you can use to manage yours and others’ emotions.
Another approach to managing emotions and the second virus of fear is free: It’s the Last 8% Morning Podcast.
How to Develop EI Skills: Last 8% Morning
One thing we have learned helping Olympic athletes, NFL and NBA teams, Navy Seals, and individuals in organizations around the world build these skills is that repetition is required. It takes time and a constant application of ideas for the skills to take hold. For this reason, we have developed a morning routine (it also can be done at other times of the day) over the last 24 years that we have found makes an enormous difference for EI skill acquisition.
The Last 8% Morning Podcast is a 15-minute routine that helps you grow your Emotional Intelligence by engaging in repetition of the key EI building blocks of self-awareness, emotional management, and emotional connection. It is a form of “drip” learning.
If you use it first thing in the morning, it also helps you set the tone for the day. You decide—purposefully—what to first expose your brain and body to, rather than whatever happens to come up in your social media or newsfeed or random e-mail. Next, it helps you build your focus for the day. You stop and reflect on what matters most and how those priorities fit within your bigger goals. It achieves this by integrating Movement (walking) + Mindfulness + Mental training exercises:
Moving our bodies has become even more important now that people are stuck at home. Recent research has shown that when we move, even on a short 15- to 20-minute walk, our muscles release Myokines into the bloodstream, which because of its size, crosses the blood brain barrier. Myokines have three positive effects:
1. It engages in neurogenesis of key brain areas making us more stress resilient.
2. It turns on our pleasure centers and allows us to enjoy our moments more.
3. It increases our level of trust and collaboration with others, so critical in Last 8% Moments.
Scientists are calling Myokines the “hope molecule” because of the incredible positive effect that moving our bodies has on our brain and behavior.
Mindfulness is paying attention on purpose in the present moment, non-judgmentally. It is foundational to managing emotions because our minds are prone to race from one topic to another, usually focusing on something negative (sometimes called “monkey brain”), which then triggers our emotional responses. If we are not mindful, our racing thoughts can overwhelm us and make us less balanced and less courageous in our Last 8% Moments.
What preceded Emotional Intelligence in the performance literature was mental training for athletes and the military. IHHP’s founder, Dr. JP Pawliw-Fry, has been at the forefront of working with individuals in many high-pressure environments where they face extremely stressful Last 8% moments: Olympic athletes, U.S. Marines, Navy and Army, as well as organizations such as Goldman Sachs and The Federal Reserve Bank during the financial crisis. In this podcast, you will get a step-by-step approach to building the important performance-enhancing EI skills that will help you show up more courageously at your best in these difficult moments.
Developing EI Will Help You in Your Last 8% Moments
While the Coronavirus has been heartbreaking on so many levels, it also presents an opportunity for each of us to learn how to manage the second virus of fear and anxiety and still perform—which is not limited to a COVID-19 time. Our ability to be effective as leaders and grow our careers depends on how well we manage these strong emotions that show up in our pressure-filled Last 8% moments. This is also an opportunity to show up at our best for our families.
The Last 8% Podcast is available for free on Apple, Spotify, and other podcast platforms.
Bill Benjamin is a training and leadership expert; a partner at the Institute for Health and Human Potential (www.ihhp.com); and a contributor to The New York Times best-selling book, “Performing Under Pressure.”