In last week’s post, I shared my personal 6.6/10 rating on self-care. Over the course of this past work week, anytime someone asked how I was doing, I responded with “I’m a 6.6/10 — striving for 7.5 by the end of March.” For the most part, my friends and colleagues responded with their own self-ratings, but the most thought provoking response came late Friday afternoon, when one colleague asked:
“David, can you realistically improve from 6.6/10?”
I paused for a moment, thought about the question and said, “The only thing I can guarantee is I can find reasons not to improve, just as easily as I can find reasons to improve.”
Self-justification refers to “the act of making excuses to justify one’s actions or behaviours.” If I’m being honest with myself, self-justification is something I’m all too familiar with. For one, the impetus of EQ Improved was how I used to explain my non-emotionally intelligent behaviours.
A story I frequently share in workshops is a time back in 2016, when I was rude and belligerent with a client over the phone. Rather than listening to why she objected to a proposal I brought forward, I raised my voice and challenged her perspective. In my mind, as long as she got the message, the ends justified the means. What actually happened: I made her cry and she asked that I be removed from that account.
While I’ve made changes in my life that have improved my emotional intelligence, I’m far from perfect. I have moments while driving where I have some less-than-empathetic words for drivers who cut me off. What I try to do now is remind myself that this person is a human being, who has feelings and I shouldn’t say things that I don’t really mean. Simply put, I try as hard as I can to break that visceral reaction.
I played the piano as a child and was a 7/10 at best. Despite what my parents and teachers told me, the fact that it took me multiple weeks to learn a piece was a clear indicator that I wasn’t going to be a concert pianist. That said, when I developed the muscle memory to remember the finger positioning required to play a piece from start to finish, my playing actually sounded quite good.
Twenty-five years later, around the start of the pandemic, my wife bought me a new electric piano because we agreed that I needed an indoor hobby. Our goal was to start a band.
What started as a great idea turned into a realization that playing the piano is not like riding a bike. My playing was abysmal. I couldn’t make it through more than a few bars and I was ready to quit after two days. After gentle encouragement from my wife, I continued playing and before I knew it, I was playing Led Zeppelin’s iconic Stairway to Heaven. Several months later, Leora and I performed our interpretation of Leona Lewis’s ‘Better in Time’ in a virtual open mic party with my teammates.
Whether it’s personal well-being, a hobby or even your emotional intelligence, there will always be two paths you can take: Self-Justification or Self-Improvement. What’s important to remember is the learning never stops. Like me, you will likely have moments where you’ll have to catch yourself but each experience will inevitably strengthen the skill set you’re trying to improve.
To my colleague who asked that question earlier, my new answer is:
“Yes, I can realistically improve from 6.6/10 because I choose to make the necessary changes to achieve that goal.”