…Try to CONNECT with what’s coming up for you as psychological sensations within your body. Are you experiencing tightness in your chest, or feeling a heaviness in your stomach, or perhaps a lightness in your head … whatever it may be, it can be used as important data to understand what you are truly feeling and how it’s exhibited moment by moment. As you continue to connect, you will be able to use all of your emotional data (awareness) to further develop your emotional management and regulation.
As a part of our series about “Emotional Intelligence, I had the pleasure of interviewingAlex Echols.
A lifelong creator at heart, Alex’s work and passions lie at the intersection of emotional intelligence-based leadership, mindfulness and wealth building helping people develop greater capacities within their lives. He is the best-selling author of The Two-Week Notice, an advisor and investor for disruptive companies, and a Certified Teacher for Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute (SIYLI) which was incubated at Google HQ. Alex is a cancer survivorship and prevention advocate, lobbying on Capitol Hill for greater support, care and funding for those directly impacted by cancer and he also enjoys DJing and producing music as @wiildlife.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
Before we jump into this interview, I’d just like to note that while others may see me as an expert within the field of emotional intelligence, I am very much on my journey of continuing to learn and develop the skill that we will talk more about today. With that said, I invite you to see me, yourself and those around us as works in progress. With this perspective, we give ourselves and others more room to grow. Now, let’s get into it!
A quote I really appreciate when thinking about your first question is ‘nothing about me is self made because I owe everything to where I come from and to the people & experiences that helped me become who I am today.’ Now this isn’t to say that I’ve been able to get to where I am in my life and career without hard work and effort. At times, that’s exactly what’s required of young boys and girls who want to escape environments that are not conducive to their long-term growth. You see, I grew up in a household with two loving parents and a sister along with some equally supportive neighbors. That’s something I’ll always be grateful for, but when you looked at my neighborhood on the Southside of Chicago on a more macro level, you’d see that it was a very intense environment at times due to the ongoing violence and lack of resources available to us.
But even with that, my parents worked their butts off to ensure that my sister and I had the best education and access to experiences that would open our eyes to what existed outside of where we grew up. As I got older, many of my summers went from water fights with friends to me being enrolled into mentoring and enrichment programs. And while all of this was to provide me with an education & skillset to create a good life for myself outside of the Southside of Chicago, I still owe so much to where I come from. It laid the foundation and path to where and who I am today. Growing up there, I was able to start learning basic human nature at a very young age.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
I had a lot of mentors from the inner-city enrichment programs I was a part of and because many of them followed traditional paths, they encouraged me to do the same. But here’s the thing: human beings are just like fingerprints and zebras in that no two are exactly the same and ultimately shouldn’t be forced to fit into the same box. So after casting a wider net, I discovered my greatest mentor growing up was a distant mentor by the name of Walt Disney.
I can recall sitting in the fourth grade in my Junior Achievement class and there was a question that I needed to answer in my workbook: who do you want to be like when you grow up? For me, it was Walt Disney because of how many people he helped bring joy to throughout the world. I knew that was something that I also wanted to do and so I began to walk that path.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
I don’t think it’s really a question of whether people in my life encouraged me to be who I am today or not. The way I’d approach it is that there were key people in my life growing up who had my back no matter what and one of those individuals was my mom. Even when going through her own challenges, she was still there for me as a guide and perspective giver. One of the biggest reasons I had the confidence to become a published author at such a young age was because my mom always reminded me of how talented of a writer I was. The reason I had the will to lose nearly 100 pounds in high school was because of the tough love question she asked me: are you ready to actually do something about it or not? The reason I’ve traveled the world so much is because my mom encouraged me to take advantage of study abroad opportunities amidst my fears as a high school senior. Even today, her support and perspective giving continues, even when I sometimes don’t want to hear it haha.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
Honestly, the biggest recurring mistake was me thinking that I knew everything and not always being receptive to the wisdom of those around me. It’s something that burned a lot of bridges for me in my early 20s and caused rifts in my relationships. These days, I try to recognize that there’s something to be learned from everyone if I allow it and most times, I employ the tools of emotional intelligence and discernment to check in with myself to see if it’s something I’d be interested in also integrating into my life.
The road to success is hard and requires tremendous dedication. This question is obviously a big one, but what advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?
Yes, the road to success requires tremendous dedication but just as much as it’s about doing ‘hard’ work, it’s also about knowing what’s the right work to be doing. As you’ll recall in one of the earlier questions, I talked about how the environment I grew up in was partly the way it was due to the lack of resources. It’s like that old story of the expert who was called in to fix a broken boiler system. When he arrived, he carefully examined the machine for a few minutes, then called for a hammer. After tapping here and there on the boiler system for about ten minutes, he announced that the machine was working again, and it did. Two days later, the management company received a bill from the expert in the sum of 1,000 dollars. As you can imagine, the director of the company was quite peeved and requested an itemized statement. The expert agreed and provided the report that read: ‘1 dollar for tapping the machine with the hammer and 999 dollars for knowing where to tap.’
You see, this is probably one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned thus far in my life and would like to offer to younger people. Yes, creating a good life for yourself requires years of hard work, but if you resource yourself with knowing where to tap and how to leverage yourself, then you will be able to attract more opportunities and success to you. Another piece of advice I’d like to share is ‘do the work,’ internally & externally, just as much as you may talk about it and share it on social media platforms. Nothing replaces embodiment and you can only get there by experience. That’s something no one can take away from you.
Is there a particular book, film, or podcast that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Luckily, I’ve been able to get inspiration from a lot of sources throughout my life. Whether it was from a movie like Disney’s ‘Meet the Robinsons’ which is a story of a young boy’s search for his identity to the book ‘The Alchemist,’ which is the tale of a young man going on adventure in search of something that he would later discover was always a part of himself. Stories like this have helped and encouraged me to find my own way throughout this world.
With all of this said though, a book that did have a significant impact on me, which led to my work with Emotional Intelligence is ‘Know Yourself, Forget Yourself’ by Marc Lesser. It’s an incredibly profound book that talks about paradoxical ways of being and how to cultivate the right emotional skills and strategies. This book had such a great impact on my life because I began to read it during a time when I was fighting to overcome my own battle with late-stage cancer. During such a difficult chapter in my life, this book helped me to see the importance of fully accepting where I was and how to honor my emotions, as I still envisioned where I wanted to be. Using the tool of equanimity that I first learned about at a previous Vipassana meditation retreat, I was reminded that I possessed the capacity to not only fully hold what I was experiencing, but to also get through it.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
My favorite quote has always been: ‘the future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams,’ because it’s been such a great reminder for me to trust in my own path and follow my dreams.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
I have a lot of cool projects in the pipeline, but here are a few things I am really excited about right now: continuing my work with Emotional Intelligence and bringing more leadership programs to companies around the world while also paying it forward to underestimated communities, continuing to explore and enjoy my journey with DJing and producing music as @wiildlife (www.wiildlife.com), and soon to be releasing my first ever novel partially based on my life, about a young boy’s journey growing up in the inner city and discovering his identity & innate power amidst the many challenges he faces.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. Can you briefly tell our readers a bit about why you are an authority about Emotional Intelligence?
As you’ve probably noticed by now, I’ve had several experiences in my life that have required a tremendous amount of focus, will and the right strategies to overcome. What sets me apart from most emotional intelligence experts is that I live my work and was afforded the opportunities to be able to embody everything I teach. In addition, I’ve been blessed to study under some of the greatest minds in human transformation and performance like Tony Robbins and Vishen Lakhiani. Finally, I am also certified with the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute (SIYLI) which was cofounded by the father of emotional intelligence, Dan Goleman and incubated at Google HQ, focusing on offering in-person and digital experiences backed by cutting-edge neuroscience research and practices in emotional intelligence, mindfulness, adaptive resilience and flow. Together, we hold the vision of impacting 1 Billion or more lives with this work. That’s part of the reason why I’ve established a ‘1:1 Impact Model’ of offering the same EQ trainings to people from underestimated communities around the country each time I host a program with a partner company. All of this is because I believe these tools should be available to everyone and not just those who have the resources to access them.
For the benefit of our readers, can you help to define what Emotional Intelligence is?
The way I look at emotional intelligence is similar to a tool box. It is comprised of several tools that we can use to show up greater in the moment and even overcome challenges with. In fact, I honestly don’t understand why EQ (emotional intelligence) skills are considered to be soft skills when they can help us get through some of the toughest times in our lives. I know this because they’ve helped me several times throughout my own. Emotional Intelligence helps us become more skillful & present leaders, lovers and professionals by resourcing ourselves with more acute self-awareness, regulation, social skills and empathy for others. The more we use these tools, the sharper and more supportive they become.
How is Emotional Intelligence different from what we normally refer to as intelligence?
Intelligence in traditional terms is a benchmark within a hierarchal society that tries to separate those who have access to resources and those who don’t. If you recall me sharing my gratitude for my ‘street smarts’ earlier in this interview, it was never something that I received a gold star or A+ for, which is generally a result of having a perceived high IQ. On the other hand, I would offer that Emotional Intelligence is actually quite like ‘street smarts’ and critical thinking in that it helps us become more aware of the behavior and human nature of those around us by first becoming more acutely aware of it within ourselves. Emotional intelligence is not something that can simply be learned by reading books and taking classes. It requires each and every one of us to do the work. We must not only learn the skills, we also have to apply them. And at all times, we have the opportunity to keep building our emotional intelligence because our emotions make up a big part of who we are.
Can you help explain a few reasons why Emotional Intelligence is such an important characteristic? Can you share a story or give some examples?
Emotional Intelligence is such an important skill because it can help us do everything in our lives, better. When we have greater self-awareness and can regulate ourselves to show up more fully in each moment, then it spills over into the other parts of our lives. It goes on to help fathers & mothers be more present with their children after busy work days, it helps lovers to understand each other better and connect on a deeper level, it helps people become more empathetic with their family & friends, and it can resource each of us to overcome many of the challenges we face.
Take my story for instance, emotional intelligence along with gratitude were two of the most important tools that helped me while I was battling cancer. It helped me connect with my emotions, it helped me stay grounded and it reminded me of the bigger picture and to listen at a deeper level.
Emotional intelligence is what ultimately resources us with the ability to hold the things that once tried to break us. For example: since my battle with cancer, I’ve moved forward to become a survivorship and prevention advocate, lobbying on Capitol Hill for greater support, care and funding for those directly impacted by cancer including recently helping to get the bill for the Henrietta Lacks Enhancing Cancer Research Act passed to provide more equitable access to clinical trials for women and men from underrepresented communities. I don’t know if I would have been able to do any of this without first cultivating the skill of emotional intelligence and giving gratitude for the fullness of my journey.
Would you feel comfortable sharing a story or anecdote about how Emotional Intelligence has helped you in your life? We would love to hear about it.
After I learned of the diagnosis years ago and was told that I needed to start treatments right away to help me overcome late-stage cancer, sure I had some anxiety and fears. But on the other hand, I also had the perspective of seeing the bigger picture and knowing that I would be able to make it through to the other side. By that time, I had done enough personal development to know that this was going to be the ultimate test to embody everything that I had been learning. I stayed focused, I cried, I released and most importantly of all, I kept moving forward. This, unexpectedly, began to cement for me after watching Disney’s Meet the Robinsons several times and later discovering that Walt Disney himself said these words: ‘we keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.’ And you know what, curiosity has always helped me keep moving forward and ironically, it’s a key driver towards emotional intelligence because it helps us gain more receptivity to different perspectives.
Can you share some specific examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help a person become more successful in the business world?
With my work that I’ve done with unicorn tech companies in Silicon Valley to state departments to entertainment companies, much of the feedback and data shows that emotional intelligence helps leaders and employees cultivate greater synergy, reliability, resilience and flow within their organizations.
Similar to organisms at their most basic atomic structure, when you have symbiosis and coherence, it supports the organism as a whole. The same can be said about companies and brands throughout the world. When individuals are more emotionally intelligent, it helps their teams function more effectively too, which ultimately leads to a well-oiled, coherent organization. As professionals, emotional intelligence helps us move through simple and complex environments more skillfully by developing the right mental and emotional habits.
Can you share a few examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help people have better relationships?
Well, let’s reverse engineer this one. According to an article in Psychology Today1, some of the biggest reasons relationships fail is because of communication issues, trust issues and having different expectations. Now, if we were to group all of these together, we could infer that most of our relationship problems come down to a lack of communication.
With emotional intelligence, we not only equip ourselves with greater self-awareness which gives us a better understanding of our internal states and preferences, but it also helps us cultivate greater self-management to regulate our impulses, actions and responses better as well. With these two skills, we can move skillfully from the intrapersonal (self) to the interpersonal (others) which helps us become more empathetic, understanding and compassionate in our relationships. As a result, this can give way to better communication, more honesty and trust because you are effectively always on the same page and when you are not, that too is expressed.
Can you share a few examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help people have more optimal mental health?
When we think about why many of us may experience ongoing challenges with our mental health, it generally can come down to our perspective, our capacity to hold space for ourselves and the tools we employ to move through things with greater resilience. All of this together equals the skill of emotional intelligence. Unless there is some neurochemical or biological predisposition or massive trauma, it can consistently come down to this.
Let’s take this metaphor as an example: imagine you’re driving a rental car in a foreign land you’ve never been to before. To the locals, the direction you’re headed is widely known as a no-go zone, but you have no idea! And how could you? If you weren’t provided with a map, GPS or adequate support on where you should be headed, then how could you possibly know were to stop or when to turn your vehicle around and head into the right direction? You see, mental health is a lot like this. In this example, let’s call the no-go zone ‘depression’. Unless someone has struggled and managed to bounce forward, or has received professional support, it’s very tough to know how to pull yourself out of the challenges when you don’t have the skills, resources or will to do so.
This is where emotional intelligence comes in and can be very powerful. It helps us to see these things from a higher perspective by managing our focus and direction. It helps us to know when to turn things around when the signs are pointing in the wrong direction. And as we become more skilled, we resource ourselves with an internal guidance system (human GPS) to naturally know the better direction to take. It certainly is not easy, but if done consistently over time, it begins to rewire our brains for that greater perspective.
Ok. Wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. Can you recommend five things that anyone can do to develop a greater degree of Emotional Intelligence? Please share a story or example for each.
Let’s first start off by agreeing that emotional intelligence, like many other skills, is not something that can be mastered overnight. It requires time and effort. And for those of us, who have experienced deep trauma or conditioning, it may require additional time and effort to build up this skill. Imagine that the deep trauma and conditioning are layers of an onion that require some peeling off to get to its core. At your core is your internal guidance system, your human GPS. And to help you get started with developing your own greater EQ sense, here is a five step process you can begin using right now:
Whenever you feel yourself being triggered or excited, try your best to simply PAUSE and begin to see what’s coming up for you.
Next, begin to NOTICE where and how this is coming up for you in your body. The reason this skill is referred to as emotional intelligence is because our emotions tend to tell us exactly what’s going on for us.
Next, try to CONNECT with what’s coming up for you as psychological sensations within your body. Are you experiencing tightness in your chest, or feeling a heaviness in your stomach, or perhaps a lightness in your head … whatever it may be, it can be used as important data to understand what you are truly feeling and how it’s exhibited moment by moment. As you continue to connect, you will be able to use all of your emotional data (awareness) to further develop your emotional management and regulation.
As you begin to REFLECT on how you’re feeling and connecting with what’s coming up, you may also experience a shift from simply being able to connect with your emotions to embracing them because you’ll discover something quite fascinating: your emotions provide important clues that can help guide you. I encourage you to take the time to reflect on your experiences and notice how you react to things. This will set you up for getting the most out of the next and final step.
After you’ve gone through the first four steps of this process, figure out what works well for you and begin to INTEGRATE it into your everyday life so that they become habits which ultimately will become your way of being as you move forward.
With all of this though, be gentle with yourself and embrace this process with a sense of curiosity and openness. Your receptiveness will allow you to move through this process with less friction.
Do you think our educational system can do a better job at cultivating Emotional Intelligence? What specific recommendations would you make for schools to help students cultivate Emotional Intelligence?
Of course! Emotional intelligence is definitely something that should be taught in schools for children at very young ages. Even when they may not fully be able to understand it with the level of awareness that an adult has, I’m certain there are gamification mechanisms that can be used to make it more accessible and digestible to children in a more playful way. Imagine a world where adults are increasingly more emotionally intelligent because they learned these skills as children just as much as they did their ABCs and mathematics. I believe that would even lead to a lot of positive changes in our current world. My specific recommendations to schools would be to hire emotional intelligence experts alongside children learning experts to create fun curriculums for kids of ages and then begin to test, measure, iterate until something can be implemented at a national level.
Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
It’s not something I think about too often, but what comes to mind is this: to create a movement of highly self-aware human beings, I think, could effectively eradicate many of humanity’s problems including wars, racism, poverty and overusing the earth’s resources. With greater self-awareness, each of us would recognize that it all starts with us. It’s like the famous quote from Gandhi: “be the change you wish to see in the world.” That’s the only way we will ever see true positive global change and it should begin with our kids, the future leaders of this world.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂
It would be the investor Naval Ravikant and rapper Big Sean because both seem to really live their lives, their way and I think I do the same thing for the most part. I also really appreciate their personal philosophies and approaches to living. Similar to them, I believe the universe has my back and that there is always a better way to get things done with leverage. And it would definitely be breakfast because you can’t beat an egg scramble followed by pancakes!
How can our readers further follow your work online?
To stay in touch with me or my work, I’d recommend checking me out on Instagram & LinkedIn by searching my name: Alex Echols and also on Clubhouse: @thisonelife. If you have a hard time finding me or need support on anything, you can contact me on my website at www.alexechols.com. As I continue moving forward, I’d really appreciate your support as well! We’re in this together.
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.
Thank you as well! This has been an absolute pleasure.