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E.I. Part 11 | The Impact of Emotions on our Health and Performance

Pat Summitt is considered by many to be the best coach in women’s basketball history. She led the University of Tennessee to 8 National Championships; her 1,098 wins were the most by any college basketball coach when she retired in 2012.

In the clip below, Coach Summitt tells a story about her first loss. After the loss, she called her dad, and her dad said, “You don’t take donkeys to the Kentucky Derby; you better get you some racehorses.”

Coach Summitt then said, “You win in life with people. It’s not about me. I never scored a basket for the University of Tennessee. It's all about the people you surround yourself and what they bring to the court, the game, and understanding that it is a team concept and it has to be done together.”

Whenever you are working with people, you have to understand that emotions play a big part in creating the kind of culture and team where everyone is able to do their best work.

In sports, it’s easy to get caught up in performance, but the best coaches and leaders know that we have to also focus on the emotions of our athletes and teammates.

The medical field is also a space where the focus is on performance because performance is literally life and death.

In Chapter 11 of his book Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman writes about the impact our emotions have on our health and emotional intelligence on doctors' performance and their outcomes.

Emotions like anger, anxiety, and depression have adverse short-term and long-term effects on both our health and the health of the people we teach, coach, and lead.

Being angry can more than double the risk of cardiac arrest. Anxiety lowers your immune system response and negatively affects your cardiovascular system. Depression negatively affects your ability to make good life choices.


In the book, Goleman writes that studies show that your mental outlook - being optimistic or pessimistic - is a major predictor of your help and success.

Optimism and hope have healing powers. When studying people with health issues, people who have a great deal of hopefulness are better able to take on adversity and trying circumstances.

Joyce Meyer says hope is the confident expectation and belief that something good is going to happen to you and through you. A hopeful person refuses to be negative even when they deal with the storms of life, remaining hopeful in thought, attitude, and conversation.

Studies and research show that even in the most trying circumstances, people who suffered from even the most difficult health situations fare better in life if they have hope.


Having people in your life who you can turn to and talk to also has healing powers. James Pennebaker, a psychologist from SMU, has found that getting people to talk about the thoughts that trouble them most has a beneficial medical effect. His method is to have people write, for 15-20 minutes a day over 5 or so days, about the worries they are experiencing in life. This simple action has led to better health and performance over a 6-month span.

When express a high level of sadness, anxiety, anger, or fear, and then write about or vent about it, you can weave a narrative and find meaning in the trauma.

In another study, women with breast cancer who went to weekly meetings with others survived twice as long as women with the same disease who faced it on their own.

When you have an outlet that allows you to unburden yourself with others who understand what you are facing and others who are willing to listen, it has a real effect on your health.


Goleman ends the chapter by giving two pieces of advice for the medical field that could also be applicable to the sports world:

1 - Helping people better manage their upsetting feelings - anger, anxiety, depression, pessimism, and loneliness - is a form of disease prevention.

2 - Many patients can benefit measurably when their psychological needs are attended to along with their purely medical ones.

The final sentence of his chapter nails this. “Compassion,” as one patient put it in an open letter to his surgeon, “is not mere hand holding. It is good medicine.”


1 - What does compassion mean to you, and how can it show up in your life and world?

2 - How do you help the people you teach, coach, and lead better manage their upsetting feelings?

3 - How do you make sure that you are aware of the psychological needs of the people you teach coach and lead?

Much of this information was taken from the introduction of Daniel Goleman’s book, Emotional Intelligence. You can find more about the book here: Emotional Intelligence

Previous E.I. Posts

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