October 2012 | EditorSpeak

EditorSpeakRetrain Your Brain

If you want to be successful, says Chade-Meng Tan, retrain your brain.

It’s as simple as this: if we let our emotions rule us, we are, Meng (as he’s called) says, letting the horse drag us instead of being in command. Meng, an engineer and the author of Search Inside Yourself, is now Google’s official “Jolly Good Fellow,” and the book is an evolution of a course he taught there. (Look for him on YouTube, giving talks at Google and TED on this topic.)

By developing self-awareness and confidence, learning to remain calm, and creating optimism and resilience, we will be more successful in any of life’s arenas, personal or professional. Meng equates these qualities with emotional intelligence, and getting there, he says, isn’t all that difficult. “What we do and what we think and what we pay attention to changes the function and structure of the brain,” he says. Those changes come about through mindfulness, which Meng defines as “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, nonjudgmentally.”

Of the three steps to achieving emotional intelligence—attention training, self-knowledge and self-mastery, and creating useful mental habits—let’s look at what step two can do. Here’s Meng, mostly quoted and sometimes paraphrased:

Mindfulness training makes your attention sharp and calm. You become able to see changes in the emotional process and to recognize an emotion as it’s arising. You begin to see yourself and your emotions objectively.

This creates two possibilities: one, being able to see an emotion the moment it arises gives you the power to turn it off (if you want to). You have a choice.

Two, emotional awareness translates into self-assessment. Once you know your deepest values and motivations, then you can recognize opportunities.

We like to think that our emotions are existential experiences, that the emotion is us (“I am happy; I am sad”). But as the power of your mind increases, you go from existential to experiential. This emotional experience is not you; it’s an experience in your body. This change in perceptions can change your life.

And now it’s back to me: it’s certainly something to think about. —Cheryl A. Ossola, Editor in Chief

Elephants Are Easier

There they were, tiny tykes in fluff and sequins, spread across the stage at awkward intervals and not sure what to do. Their teacher was gesturing discreetly, and a few of the tots, at least, seemed to understand her frantic sign language and tapped their toes or wiggled their rears appropriately. Others, lost in toddler-land, caught every third step or so. One just stood, immobile but adorable.

Oh, I thought along with the audience, aren’t they just the cutest? And when one refused to take her partner’s hand and caused a pileup of pink tutus, I laughed out loud and realized—this is entertainment!

It was a light-dawning, fog-lifting moment for me. For years I had been responsible for my own sets of babies, a responsibility I took very seriously. Every lesson was 45 minutes of eyes-in-the-back-of-your-head stress, sweating through frog hops with crossed fingers and burning thighs, relieved when we made it to stickers without tears or trauma.

And when it came to choreography, Balanchine with his circus elephants had it easier. Skip, turn, hop, wave your hands, blow a kiss. Forget about counts—can we get from entrance to bow without Sarah taking off her shoes? Will Hailey stop on the line or fall off the stage? A two-minute dance with 3-year-olds was a landmine-strewn nightmare, and I was the general responsible for seeing them safely home.

So at recital’s end, if some well-meaning grandma commented on how funny it was when all the bumblebees buzzed in the wrong direction, I would fume. Teaching babies is damned hard work, I thought, and it’s no laughing matter!

But it’s both. It is a lot of work, but it’s also OK that the audience enjoys the delightful unpredictability of a babies dance. More important, it’s fine for the teacher who cared about them and their educational growth all year long to let go and enjoy it as well. After all, they’re babies for such a short time. —Karen White, Associate Editor