TalentSmart has tested more than a million people and found that the upper echelons of top performance are filled with people who are high in emotional intelligence (90% of top performers, to be exact). The hallmark of emotional intelligence is self-control-a skill that unleashes massive productivity by keeping you focused and on track.
Self-control is an effort that's intended to help achieve a goal. Failing to control yourself is just that-a failure.
Emotionally intelligent people consciously apply these twelve behaviors because they know they work. Some are obvious, others counter-intuitive, but all will help you minimize those pesky failures to boost your productivity.
They forgive themselves.
When you slip up, it is critical that you forgive yourself and move on. Don't ignore how the mistake makes you feel; just don't wallow in it. Instead, shift your attention to what you're going to do to improve yourself in the future.
They don't say yes unless they really want to.
"No" is a powerful word that you should not be afraid to wield. When it's time to say no, emotionally intelligent people avoid phrases like "I don't think I can" or "I'm not certain." Saying no to a new commitment honors your existing commitments and gives you the opportunity to successfully fulfill them.
They don't seek perfection.
Emotionally intelligent people won't set perfection as their target because they know it doesn't exist. When perfection is your goal, you're always left with a nagging sense of failure that makes you want to give up or reduce your effort. You end up spending your time lamenting what you failed to accomplish and what you should have done differently instead of moving forward excited about what you've achieved and what you will accomplish in the future.
They focus on solutions.
Where you focus your attention determines your emotional state. When you fixate on the problems that you're facing, you create and prolong negative emotions which hinder self-control. Emotionally intelligent people won't dwell on problems because they know they're most effective when they focus on solutions.
They avoid asking "What If?"
"What if?" statements throw fuel on the fire of stress and worry, which are detrimental to self-control. Things can go in a million different directions, and the more time you spend worrying about the possibilities, the less time you'll spend taking action and staying productive. The key distinction here is to recognize the difference between worrying and strategic thinking.
They stay positive.
Positive thoughts help you exercise self-control by focusing your brain's attention onto the rewards you will receive for your effort. You have to give your wandering brain a little help by consciously selecting something positive to think about. When things are going well, and your mood is good, self-control is relatively easy.
Your brain burns heavily into your stores of glucose when attempting to exert self-control. Sugary foods spike your sugar levels quickly and leave you drained and vulnerable to impulsive behavior shortly thereafter. Eating something that provides a slow burn for your body, such as whole grain rice or meat, will give you a longer window of self-control.
When you sleep, your brain literally recharges, shuffling through the day's memories and storing or discarding them (which causes dreams), so that you wake up alert and clear-headed. Your self-control, attention, and memory are all reduced when you don't get enough-or the right kind-of sleep. Sleep deprivation raises stress hormone levels on its own, even without a stressor present, which are a major productivity killer.
Getting your body moving for as little as 10 minutes releases GABA, a neurotransmitter that makes your brain feel soothed and keeps you in control of your impulses. If you're having trouble resisting the impulse to walk over to the office next door to let somebody have it, just keep on walking. You should have the impulse under control by the time you get back.
Meditation actually trains your brain to become a self-control machine. Even simple techniques like mindfulness, which involves taking as little as five minutes a day to focus on nothing more than your breathing and your senses, improves your self-awareness and your brain's ability to resist destructive impulses. Buddhist monks appear calm and in control for a reason. Give it a try.
They ride the wave.
Desire and distraction have the tendency to ebb and flow like the tide. When the impulse you need to control is strong, waiting out this wave of desire is usually enough to keep yourself in control. When you feel as if you must give in, the rule of thumb here is to wait at least 10 minutes before succumbing to temptation.
They squash negative self-talk.
A big final step in exercising self-control involves stopping negative self-talk in its tracks. The more you ruminate on negative thoughts, the more power you give them. When you find yourself believing the negative and pessimistic things your inner voice says, it's time to stop and write them down. Once you've taken a moment to slow down the negative momentum of your thoughts, you will be more rational and clear-headed in evaluating their veracity.
Putting these strategies to work.
The important thing to remember is you have to give these strategies the opportunity to work. This means recognizing the moments where you are struggling with self-control and, rather than giving in to impulse, taking a look at these strategies and giving them a go before you give in.
A version of this article first appeared on TalentSmart.com.
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