In nature, the monarch butterfly has shifted its migration patterns due to climate change. The butterflies didn’t wait for 100% of the scientific community to declare that climate change was happening. They also didn’t wait for Congress to declare that humans were impacting the environment and all species needed to adapt to these changes. Butterflies, like all plants and species in nature, run on instinct. This kind of instinct doesn’t have emotions screening information. Instinct is open to feedback loops and information. Instinct allows for change without questions or doubts.

Darwin’s research is often misquoted. People say his research proved that in nature survival went to those who were the fittest. This led to several behaviors that justified competition and self-interest. However, an accurate summation of his research proved that survival went to the species that was the best fit for the larger environment. The power of instinct and accepting feedback and information about the ecosystem cause species to adapt to what is changing. It is instinct that helps plants and species adapt to their environmental changes and survive into the future.

Nature and people have many similarities, but they are different in two significant ways. Nature runs on instinct and human beings have consciousness, emotions and can express their ideas in language. This consciousness can serve us well if we cultivate mindfulness and emotional intelligence. If we don’t our consciousness can cause us to be closed to ideas and facts that don’t agree with our worldview or trigger emotions that generate fear or distrust of information and feedback.

Introducing the amygdala

Neuroscience now understands that the cognitive side of the brain that resides in the frontal lobe is directly tied to the amygdala which rests in the temporal lobe. The amygdala operates like an emotional memory chip and all information that comes through our senses goes through the amygdala first before it is routed to the frontal lobe for rational thought. Therefore, if we are unaware of emotions that are anchored by past experiences, we will be highjacked by our amygdala and those emotions will shape and color the data we are receiving when it gets to our processing center. This hijacking of our emotions can hinder our rational thought.

This is why emotional intelligence is so important to listening to feedback coming from the external environment. If we are unaware of when our emotions are triggered and can’t manage our emotions, then we will discount information because of our emotions not because of the value of the information. This is what makes mindfulness so important today. It is through mindfulness that we can learn to spot when our emotions are triggered and learn to manage them, so they don’t hinder our understanding of what is occurring.

Leadership, consciousness, and emotional intelligence

In today’s complex and dynamic environment, the ability to make meaning of the larger patterns of what is changing is essential. Leadership, when it is done right, helps others make meaning of what is going on and how we can strategically respond. If a leader doesn’t grow his or her consciousness and emotional intelligence, they are prone to being hijacked by their personal emotions and put the organization they are leading in jeopardy.

Here are some ways to tell when your emotions are interfering with your conscious thought.

  • If you are still thinking of a situation 20 minutes after it happened, it usually means that your emotions are hijacking your rational thought process. Create a simple trigger in your mind when this happens to reflect on why you are still giving energy to this conversation or event. Usually, we can find something in our background experience that is giving situations in the present an emotional signature. If you can name the emotions and the situation in the past that is like the one in the present, you can usually disconnect the two and move through the hijack.
  • Establish a meditation practice that trains your mind to think more clearly. This helps develop your own awareness which in turn helps you be aware of your emotions, and then learn to manage them.
  • Notice your eye movements. If you start looking down and to the right it means you are accessing your emotions. If you notice you are doing this, ask an internal question about which emotions are surfacing and what is being triggered in the conversation. It will increase your awareness of your emotions and you begin to manage them.