This was a question posed by a friend on mine on Facebook. Some were under the impression that you can’t.
“You can develop emotional intelligence through mindfulness techniques, but that would have to be voluntary.
‘I tried to find a video I saw (I thought it was Samantha Bee) where they brought global warming deniers through a kind of fun house type of experience where they experience the devastating effects of climate change for themselves. The fear inspired by the special effects changed ~60% of their minds. [I still can’t find this, but I will continue to try. Maybe it was Tosh.O or Sarah Silverman.]
‘There are experiments going on right now with virtual reality. I believe this was either Jane McGonigal or her sister who did a VR experiment on compassion and conservation. [It was Jane who mentioned it, but it was not her experiment– here is the video.] Apparently, participants who cut down a sequoia tree in virtual reality were [more likely to recycle.] Fascinating! There is so much tremendous research going on right now and breakthroughs on the way.”
I also added a fun fact to the thread:
“Did you know under normal circumstances the part of our brain responsible for emotional intelligence doesn’t start to develop until our third decade of life?” [Correction: it doesn’t become fully functional until our 3rd decade of life.]
The insula and anterior cingulate are the parts associated with self-awareness and social awareness. You can absolutely accelerate development of these parts of your brain and the neural circuits through mindfulness techniques. [Cited from Neurowisdom: The New Brain Science of Money, Happiness, and Success by Mark Waldman and Chris Manning, PhD]
I should also point out that development of this part of the brain can also be inhibited. Those who grow up bullied, overly criticized, abused, neglected, etc. are likely to become the ones whose self-talk is overly critical.
Being overly self-critical increases your tendency to find error in everything and everyone. Adjusting your self-talk to be more compassionate stimulates neural circuits associated with empathy. [Also cited from Neurowisdom.] Just like building muscle through repetitive motion and skill through practice, the more you use these neural circuits, the more you will develop compassion for yourself, and others as a byproduct.
So, to follow that further, the people who are most critical of others are the ones who are hardest on themselves.
It seems quite hypocritical to vilify people who are not demonstrating compassion. Science tells us what they need is to love and accept themselves more. This is what I imagine Ghandi meant when he said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” It’s also why believers in the Law of Attraction advise you to “give what you are seeking” to shift your abundance.
If you want people to be more compassionate, show them more compassion. Show yourself more compassion!
That’s a big one! It’s why the fabulous Brené Brown’s research and teachings have been so embraced. We all crave and need more self-compassion.
There are also experiences, apps, virtual reality games, and exercises that have proven to help accelerate self-compassion as well as outward compassion. New studies are being done all the time. It’s important to note that not only can increases in neural activity associated with compassion be measured, but the neural activity DOES impact behavior.
Here are just a few options:
The Compassion Experience transports people into someone less fortunate’s life. It also is backed by research. It is created by a Christian organization and the events are held at churches over a several-day period. I found four in my local area over the summer, including one at my cousin’s church. It is intended to enhance gratitude and compassion in children and to inspire parents to donate to less fortunate children in different parts of the world. The events are free (at least the ones that I saw, but this could be church-specific.)
Ho’oponopono is an ancient Hawaiian prayer said to heal and release. There are four simple lines: I love you; I’m sorry; I forgive you; Thank you. That’s it. It’s the simplest prayer ever. It can be said over and over like a chant, or you can say it every time you look in a mirror. You can say it in the morning as you wake, or at night before you sleep, or both. You can say it out loud or in your head. You can say it with your eyes closed or open. You can say it as though you are talking to yourself, or someone else. It’s not really something you can do wrong.
Mindfulness has many different connotations, and not all of them are clinical or accurate. In fact, the word has been misapplied to mean being positive or meditating. There is no particular breathing technique that you have to learn – just NOTICE your breath. Then notice your thoughts. Notice your emotions. Notice your body. Notice the tiny details of things around you. Notice the vibrancy of colors. Notice the beauty of nature or people. That’s it! That’s all there is to mindfulness. It’s an important step toward accepting and allowing what is, including you, without judgment.
Maybe you think this is for someone else less compassionate than yourself. Well, statistically, people believe they are more compassionate than they are, so it stands to reason that anyone might as well become more compassionate.
Let me know if you have tried any of these methods. Let me know if you would like extra assistance with compassion for yourself or others.
“Give a Little Bit has a wonderful message that makes people light up and I get them to sing with me. It really has a message that is very eternal and is needed even more today than it was when I wrote it when I was 19.
Karen Huller, author of Laser-sharp Career Focus: Pinpoint your Purpose and Passion in 30 Days (bit.ly/GetFocusIn30), is founder of Epic Careering, a career management firm specializing in the income-optimizing power of social media and personal branding, as well as JoMo Rising, LLC, a workflow gamification company that turns work into productive play. While the bulk of her 20 years of professional experience has been within the recruiting and employment industry, her publications, presentations, and coaching also draw from experience in personal development, performance, broadcasting, marketing, and sales.
Karen was one of the first LinkedIn trainers and is known widely for her ability to identify new trends in hiring and personal marketing. She is a Certified Professional Résumé Writer and Certified Career Transition Consultant and Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist with a Bachelor of Art in Communication Studies and Theater from Ursinus College and a minor in Creative Writing. Her blog was recognized as a top 100 career blog worldwide by Feedspot.
She was an Adjunct Professor of Career Management and Professional Development at Drexel University’s LeBow College of Business and recently instructed for the Young Entrepreneurs Academy at Cabrini College, where her students won the national competition and were named America’s Top Young Entrepreneurs.