Emotional Intelligence

Over the past several decades, scientists, philosophers, sports coaches, advocates of mindfulness, and many more have sought to undo the anomaly of a separate mind and body that Western society has created for itself. The difference between the material and immaterial is a notion that often goes unnoticed and unseen in our day-to-day living.

For decades scientists have studied neuroplasticity; the brain’s unique ability to switch functions from one area of grey matter to another, re-learn new synaptic pathways, and its general fluid like nature. Yet an even more amazing recent discovery is that our thoughts can almost have a nootropic effect, and significantly influence the physical brain and synaptic functions.

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A recent study conducted by the University of Padova showed that, in endurance conditions, the people who are adept at acknowledging and regulating their emotions were also the ones who were able to perform better (1).

What Is Emotional Intelligence?

Although the Italian study has garnered a lot of attention, its authors are far from being the only ones engaged with the topic. Emotional intelligence came into the view of the wider public due to the work of Mayer and Salovey throughout the 90s. In 2008, they redefined emotional intelligence as “the ability to engage in sophisticated information processing about one’s own and others’ emotions and the ability to use this information as a guide to thinking and behaviour.” (2)

David Goleman is also partly responsible for the ascension of this topic, but his definition of EI encompasses other, difficult to substantiate dimensions that Salovey and Mayer don’t. At its core, EI boils down to self-awareness and self-regulation, both of which can lead to better motivation, increased empathy, and heightened social skills.

Individuals with increased EI are better able to recognize their own, as well as others’ emotions when and as they happen. This makes them more adept at communicating and interacting with others, which is also the reason why EI is such a red-hot topic in the field of business and management. Everyone works with somebody and they all want to be better at it.

How Emotional Intelligence Changed the World of Sports

Some of the world’s most consistently successful athletes, such as Roger Federer (3), Tom Brady (4), and Lewis Hamilton (5) demonstrate exceptional levels of self-awareness. Don’t get me wrong: you still need exhaustive training to make it to the top, regardless of the sport – whether it’s pro cycling, running, tennis, motorsport, or any other form of competition.

However, once you’ve turned professional, it seems that the balance of physical vs. mental greatly turns in favour of the latter. For the most part, well-trained professionals have similar physical characteristics and levels of bio-mechanical expertise. It is at that point that EI’s impact is truly remarkable.

EI is not only about being cool-headed enough to manage those clutch versus choke situations but also about knowing exactly if and when you can push yourself, as well as precisely how to do so and for how long this can be done before you crash. Part of the reason why we fail to address these critical points on an instinctual level is that we’re grown into thinking our consciousness and figure are separate.

In fact, as neuroscientists argue, the body is the seat – the stage – that makes the mind come alive. Endurance sports, particularly marathon running and pro cycling, are brimming with examples of athletes using their emotional quotient (or EQ) to tend to their mood and self-esteem in order to harness increased motivation.

On the one hand, they often drive themselves towards unprecedented performance with the help of self-talk and imagery (6) while, on the other hand, they have the awareness to recognize and admit their faults, which is of tremendous importance when trying to improve and accomplish outstanding results.

There is a great deal of research on the way in which internal motivation, as well as verbal encouragements, boost our physical performance (7,8). As with EI, they have nothing to do with bio-mechanics, but with putting us in an optimum mental state for execution and achievement, which pretty much amounts to being present and mindful of what is going on both inside and outside of ourselves. This could be one of the reasons why meditation, prior to competition, has become an integral part of some top athletes regimes.

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 Take Your Path to Victory

Every tale of success has a great deal of mental imagery, self-talk, and mindful meditation behind it. We may be aching, sore, indisposed, and demoralized, but having the awareness to acknowledge what has caused these states and how they impact our thinking is often the decisive factor that makes us go back, persist, and do great things.

List of references:

1. Emotional intelligence impact on half marathon finish times

2. Mayer and Salovey Model of Emotional Intelligence

3. With a Few Heartfelt Words to a Struggling Competitor, Roger Federer Just Gave a Master Class in Emotional Intelligence

4. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick Just Role-Modeled Emotional Intelligence After the Craziest Loss of the Year

5. Toto Wolff discusses the reason Lewis Hamilton is so successful

6. How emotional intelligence can boost cycling endurance

7. Effects of verbal encouragement on force and electromyographic activations during handgrip exercise

8. Does verbal encouragement work? The effect of verbal encouragement on a muscular endurance task