Name it to tame it. The first step in improving your EQ is being able to accurately label and identify how you’re feeling in the present moment. For instance, in the midst of an argument with a colleague, saying to yourself, “I am feeling frustrated right now”, affords you better data to work with. The key here though is not only accurate labeling, but also using the phrase “I am feeling” vs. “I am”. By saying “I am feeling”, you’re acknowledging the experience as temporary, helping your brain understand that it will pass. By saying “I am”, you’re identifying yourself as that emotion, increasing the odds that you will play the part.
As a part of our series about “Emotional Intelligence, I had the pleasure of interviewing Bryce Tully.
Bryce is the co-founder and CEO of innerlogic, a platform devoted to helping organizations optimize their culture, leadership, and emotional intelligence. He’s also a Mental Performance Coach with the Canadian Olympic Team, specializing in team dynamics, self-regulation, and environmental design. Bryce is regarded as one of Canada’s top up and coming mindset and culture experts, as well as a key innovator in the space of the social-emotional measurement.
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?
I’m from Halifax, Nova Scotia, a Maritime city on east coast of Canada. I grew up obsessing over two main things: sports and music. In the winter I would plan my weeks around skating and playing hockey on whatever lakes and ponds were in the best condition at the time. Sometimes I would even go and maintain a few of them to ensure there was a good sheet of ice ready to go for the weekend. In the summer I would travel around the Maritimes with my family playing in soccer tournaments and attending training camps. I’m also a self-taught musician (piano and guitar), and once opened for Sloan (iconic Canadian band).
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
In short, I pursued a career in sport psychology because it was the perfect intersection of three disciplines that really interested me: coaching, psychology, and leadership. The story goes like this: in my 3rd year at Acadia University I took an applied sport psychology course which was the origin of my interest in the sport psychology field. We learned how things like self-awareness, attentional control, and team dynamics impacted behaviors and performance. At this time, I was playing varsity soccer and could feel the positive impact this information was having on my mindset, and saw the value it would have if teams integrated it as a normal aspect of the training environment. In my 4th year I embarked on an internship with the Acadia Athletics department as a mental performance coach. I ended staying in that role for 4 years with the men’s basketball program, helping them win a conference championship and clinch a spot at 3 national championship tournaments. Simultaneously, I was completing my MSc in sport psychology at Dalhousie University and working with the Canada Games Program.
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?
Steve Baur, the Senior Manager of Analytics and Assistant Coach for the Canadian Women’s National Basketball Team. Steve was the head coach of the men’s basketball team at Acadia during my internship, and he was the most empowering and transformational leader I’ve ever worked with. He empowered me to fundamentally shift their environment to one that valued and integrated mental training in virtually all circumstances (in the locker room, in meetings, during practice, on the team bus, etc.). I remember one season the team was struggling from the free throw line, and Steve tasked me with creating a plan to improve their percentage. I showed Steve a video of biathletes using strategies to train and regulate their breathing to improve their shooting accuracy. Steve insisted that we show it to the players during our technical video slot instead of the game clips he had planned, and further, asked if I could lead similar training sessions in our practices moving forward. After the first day of leading an on-court breathing session, Steve looked at me as said, “I know this seems weird right now, but what you’re doing here will be as normal as lifting weights in the next 10 years”. Steve was right.
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?
The first time I was asked to give a keynote at a conference, I went out and bought a fancy sweater that I had been eyeing for a while. It looked professional and casual all at once, and I could picture myself giving a keynote in it. I wore it for the talk and felt amazing. Unfortunately, when I went to my hotel room to change for the informal part of the evening, I realized it was inside out! Key lesson: stick your habits and practiced routines when performing under pressure. A “big” performance isn’t the ideal time to be trying out new things.
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?
I would give 3 key pieces of advice:
- Connections always precede commitments. People rarely commit to things that they don’t feel genuinely connected to, whether it be a mission, a person, or a team. Building strong human connections is the strongest lever of change I have encountered because it fosters almost unbreakable levels of commitment.
- Not everything is a competition. I’m about as competitive as they come (ask my wife about our family dart games), but it’s impossible to be a world-class collaborator if you’re always distracted by winning the conversation. People will quickly question your intentions if you focus all your energy on one-upping ideas. Be strategic with your competitiveness.
- Optimism is a skill that improves with practice. If you want to accomplish great things, you’re going to have to take on significant risks at some point, and with risk comes fear and doubt. The best antidote for fear and doubt is optimism, a deliberate thought process that goes something like “the future will be great because I have the power to make it so”. Execute that power in the present moment, and then repeat.
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?
A film called Avicii: True Stories, which documents both the amazing career and ultimately fatal mental health challenges of Swedish musician Tim Bergling. This documentary was another fascinating intersection of three core passions for me: mental health, performance, and music. In short, the film captures the journey of Tim’s music exploding into a world-wide success at a rate much faster than his emotional coping mechanisms can handle. And with his success came massive live performances, unrelenting travel, media and studio pressures, and extreme exposure to recreational substances. This film resonated with me as mental performance coach because Tim openly experiences performance anxiety throughout his career, and the film does an excellent job profiling the many difficulties this creates for him, as well as the many strategies he employs to tame it along the way. It really made me reflect on the cost of greatness and the increased role mental health needs to play in performance disciplines moving forward.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
“If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?” John Wooden.
To me, this is a masterful way to frame the importance of embracing opportunities, bringing your best self to every situation, and being fully present in each moment. Time is precious! Don’t waste it.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
Elevating the emotional intelligence process and design within innerlogic has been the most exciting project of the past few months. The goal is to create a safe and effective digital space for team members to build both personal and team EQ simultaneously. I think this will help people by creating psychologically safer team environments, which in turn will have positive effects on the wellness of individual team members. Many teams take the approach of avoiding or suppressing group emotions because they don’t know how to properly manage them, and this approach is unhealthy and ineffective.
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 a Mental Performance lead with the National Team, I’ve spent the last 5 years applying the science of emotional intelligence in our daily training environment to ensure we are in full control of our emotions in the heat of Olympic level pressure. This includes daily self-regulation training using biofeedback sensors, mindfulness sessions, and emotion “labs” where we fully explore the experience of specific emotions. Further, I’ve recently designed and developed a digital emotional intelligence platform for teams.
For the benefit of our readers, can you help to define what Emotional Intelligence is?
Although there’s a wide range of emotional intelligence (EQ) definitions and frameworks in popular press and research, it can be reliably thought of as the ability to accurately recognize and regulate emotions in both yourself (inward personal competence) and others (outward social competence). In essence, people high in EQ tend to better understand their emotional tendencies and triggers, they manage and direct their emotional impulses toward desired outcomes, and they relate to the emotional experiences of others more vividly. To truly understand EQ however, it’s also important to appreciate how primal and innate our emotional systems really are. The amygdala, often referred to as our “lizard brain” because of its primal origins, drives our emotional responses and is strategically positioned at the top our spinal cord so it can spring our physiology into action as quickly as possible when a threat is sensed. This is what makes EQ so challenging to develop — we are wrestling with the very systems and biological structures that ensure our survival!
How is Emotional Intelligence different from what we normally refer to as intelligence?
IQ, or the intelligence quotient, is focused on measuring more cognitive skills like reasoning, logic, problem solving, math, and memory. A common shortcoming of IQ is that it doesn’t properly account for flexible skills learned and developed over time, but rather more fixed cognitive “gifts”. And although there are certain aspects of someone’s emotional wiring that are also linked to biological and genetic factors, emotional intelligence is well proven to be not only a learnable skill, but also a more impactful performance factor than IQ. As highlighted in Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves, people high in IQ outperform those with average IQ only 20% of the time, while people with average IQ outperform those with high IQ 70% of the time. How could this be? The main factor causing this paradoxical link between IQ and performance is EQ, which accounts for up to 58% of performance in the workplace.
Can you help explain a few reasons why Emotional Intelligence is such an important characteristic? Can you share a story or give some examples?
I want to share a relatable anecdote to highlight the importance of EQ here. A few weeks back my wife was telling me about a confrontation she had at work. At one point during her passionate rendition of the interaction she said, “so I said to Sarah, that’s not how our digital assessment system works! We have to follow the proper pathways”. I interjected and asked her if that’s exactly what she said to Sarah, and she replied with, “well not exactly like that. Actually, not at all like that. I didn’t think of the best thing to say until now”. This is the importance of EQ. If we are unable to manage our emotions in the heat of challenging situations, we have very little chance of accessing the full potential of our thinking brain — that is, the part of our brain that solves more complex problems and controls our communication centers. And this is mainly a physiological problem: the amygdala (emotion center) uses up too much of the brain’s resources when unmanaged, leaving little for other systems. As my wife “cooled off” from this exchange, the blood pumped back up to her thinking brain and she was far more capable of accessing the right solutions and words.
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.
I can’t share a singular instance or situation that stands out from the rest, but rather a series of moments, thoughts, and micro decisions over a long period of time. For me, EQ is a fundamental component of my resilience, which allows me to tolerate very high levels of uncertainty, to cope with setbacks and plateaus in progress, and to keep my focus on long-term goals. And I think this is true in most cases — it’s not as much about surviving one big challenge, but more so using EQ to better stay the course through small moments of discouragement, conflict, and failure. You have to find your focus through the feelings that come with these moments. Without EQ, little moments of imbalance add up and cause a full derailment. You have to manage the micro-moments to prevent a macro melt down.
Can you share some specific examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help a person become more successful in the business world?
The business world is full of emotional land mines, and without EQ, it’s near impossible to navigate successfully. I think the most important EQ skill for succeeding in the business world is pressure management. There’s a lot of high-pressure conversations, meetings, and presentations that come with climbing the proverbial business ladder, and managing this pressure can be a difference maker. For me, it’s all about accessing my best self when my best self is needed, and do that I lean on EQ. I work toward understanding exactly how certain emotional states influence my communication and my body language, and using that self-awareness, I am better able to regulate those factors in high pressure situations. I also accept the fact that feelings (i.e., fear, frustration, etc.) are just subjective interpretations of my raw emotional reactions, are therefore I can influence them through my self-talk. What’s left over from my emotions is simply physiological (i.e., energy)!
Can you share a few examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help people have better relationships?
This is a great question because it gets to core of why EQ really matters for us as social beings. Increasing your EQ allows you better connect with and understand the emotional experiences of others, which in turn allows you to calibrate your behavior in service of their experience. This is a critical aspect of any relationship, whether it be romantic and simply professional. If you want to improve the relationships in your life, I would recommend you focus on two primary EQ skills: empathy and compassion. Increasing empathy allows you to better understand what others are feeling, whereas increasing compassion allows you to experience genuine care for those feelings. If we don’t understand the experience of people we are in relationships with, we seriously limit our ability to enhance their experience. Further, if don’t show genuine care for their feelings, they will interpret that as not show care for them as a whole, because how we feel is often akin to who we are.
Can you share a few examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help people have more optimal mental health?
Maintaining optimal mental health is certainly connected EQ. What comes to mind here is the skill of acceptance, which comes from both EQ research and mindfulness theory. In essence, acceptance is about developing an awareness of your emotional experiences without adding good or bad judgements to them, and without an intense desire to change them. It’s about building up a tolerance to the full spectrum of emotional experiences, rather than avoiding or suppressing the uncomfortable ones. To maintain optimal mental health, I think it’s important to develop a relationship with unpleasant emotions, to be present with them despite feelings of distress and impulses to run the other way, and to gain confidence in your ability to come out the other side of those internal confrontations.
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.
- Name it to tame it. The first step in improving your EQ is being able to accurately label and identify how you’re feeling in the present moment. For instance, in the midst of an argument with a colleague, saying to yourself, “I am feeling frustrated right now”, affords you better data to work with. The key here though is not only accurate labeling, but also using the phrase “I am feeling” vs. “I am”. By saying “I am feeling”, you’re acknowledging the experience as temporary, helping your brain understand that it will pass. By saying “I am”, you’re identifying yourself as that emotion, increasing the odds that you will play the part.
- Find focus through feelings. Trying to prevent or eliminate certain emotions is a big mistake, as is hoping to feel a particular way before a performance. Emotions are innate systems designed to engage as quickly as possible, they are very complex, and they aren’t perfect. Being able to access your best-self through a wide range of feelings is a critical skill for high performers. The best way to do this is by prioritizing your attention over everything else. Attention is the currency of performance, not emotions, and you always have a high level of influence over your what you pay attention to!
- Be more mindful. Speaking of attention management, mindfulness is a great way to improve both the quality of your focus and your ability to self-regulate emotions. Simply put, mindfulness is the practice of being consciously aware of moment to moment thoughts and emotions. It can be practiced in just a few minutes a day by simply paying specific attention to some aspect of your breathing (or another present moment experience) and then taking non-judgmental stock of when you drift away from that point. When teaching this practice to teams or groups, I often simplify it down to this: aim, sustain, regain. Aim your attention where you want it to be, sustain it there until it drifts, notice where it drifted to without judgement, and then regain it. This cycle helps our brain build the self-awareness muscle, and snaps us out of our unconscious, default modes of operating. As a result, it allows us to be more aware of when our emotional state shifts from one place to another.
- Get regular feedback. There aren’t many better ways to become expert at something than deliberate feedback. That is, practice that involves not just the repetition of a skill or behavior, but repetitions with specific, detailed feedback on how each repetition measures up against a known standard. When it comes to building your EQ, you will need to get regular, accurate feedback in order to improve. The best source of feedback here comes from those you work and collaborate with most closely. For instance, after a heated meeting or difficult conversation, reach out and gather feedback on how you handled your emotions. Did your body language look the way you thought it did? Did your tone of voice change? Did your facial expressions shift without your awareness?
- Do your ABC’s. Last but not least, use a mental model, like ABC, to anchor yourself no matter the situation. “A” stands for accept. Accept the present circumstances and accept the way you’re feeling about them. Wanting things to be different than they are is called self-pity, and self-pity isn’t a high-performance habit. “B” stands for breathe. Breathe to direct your attention inwardly, away from the external stressors for a moment. This engages your thinking brain. And finally, “C” stands for choose. Choose how you want to proceed thoughtfully, not as a reaction, but as a response.
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?
Absolutely! I think the educational system largely neglects the significance that EQ has on success and wellbeing. A simple step forward would be including EQ as a core topic and element within school. For instance, my wife is a kindergarten teacher and she puts the 5 primary emotions on every child’s desk as a sticker with a little stone for them place on the one that represents how they’re feeling throughout the day! This allows the children to represent their emotions as an important part of their day to day experience and teaches them to accurately identify how they’re feeling in the present moment.
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.
MUCH stronger regulations on social media.
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 🙂
Eddie Jones! England Rugby Coach.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Twitter: @bryce_tully and @innerlogicteam
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.