Emotions Are Part Of Being Human
All of us live in a pool of subjective feelings that determine how we act. Not only do we let our emotions govern our actions, they also give us our motivation and understanding of our lives. Emotions control our lives, without an urge (emotion) to do something we wouldn’t even get out of bed in the morning, but most of us never try to question them, much less understand them – we just go along with pretty much whatever they tell us to do and therein lies the problem.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves and answer the question of:
What are emotions?
All primary emotions (anger, fear, disgust, sadness, surprise, happiness, lust, joy) come from our limbic system.
I’ve cover this extensively in PEAK, so I won’t ramble about this too much so here’s the gist of it.
This system evolved long before we did as a survival system. It operates using a simple instruction set in order to keep us alive in the context of a relatively simple range of threats, and it does this by taking over in situations that it deems appropriate, when that happens we either run from the situation, defend ourselves from something, or indulge more in it.
It’s important to understand that, although this system is pretty stupid in comparison to our rational and logic king in the brain (the cerebral cortex), it can take us over relatively easily.
The best way to explain primal emotions is in the form of modules that perform a single function. We employ two thinking systems in our brains. Type I is automated and requires no effort, compared to Type II which requires both substantial effort and resources.
So obviously we have a preference for automated, simpler solutions because it saves us both effort and fuel, it’s the easy way. Emotions are the ultimate Type I thinking they are fully automated processes that take no effort to run.
Because our primal emotions are so simple to execute and so easily available, it makes perfect sense not only that they would run in preference to more complex, resource-dependent processes, after all, they present a nice, simple solution that is effortless to come up with.
In other words, our primary emotions feel like just the right thing at just the right time because we’re so good at executing them; they feel like expertise, and they’re extremely beguiling. Of course, as I’ve mentioned before, this sort of automatic, effortless processing is absolutely brilliant in situations where we need to make survival-based decisions.
For running away from predators, our emotions are just THE thing. However, the problem is that the world we live in requires us to make more complex decisions than just running away from predators, so these emotions are mostly no longer up-to-date.
The fact that our emotions feel so compelling is the key point here. They “feel” right, and so a lot of the time we just go along with them, without any thought. Hence, many of our actions are out of our control – something that often gets us into trouble, because it makes us act in ways that we don’t really want to, and denies us access to the things that are meaningful in our lives.
That begs the question! What if we could learn to use our emotions as another way of evaluating the world around us? We have many ways of viewing the world and taking through absorbing information.
What if, instead of just acting on our emotions when they activate, we’re able to notice them, evaluate why they were activated, and integrate that information into our decision making?
We could view our emotions as very informative data points, especially if we understand the types of events that trigger them.
There are so many situations in which this approach can be applied, from relationships, to work interactions, to addictions. For instance, imagine you find yourself feeling extremely scared of an upcoming event. The anxiety acts as a data point based on your fear of failing. The result would be that your instinct will try to turn off the feeling by avoiding the event entirely.
This would have been fine were the event some sort of dangerous confrontation where your literal survival is at stake. The better use of this data (emotion) would be to become aware and realize that there is, in fact, a risk of failure, and to use that information as a warning i.e. “if I don’t prepare for this event, I will fail ” Thus, the data becomes a useful tool rather than an excuse to avoid something that is potentially good for you in the long-run.
We tend to act too quickly on our emotions. Viewing emotional output as data can help us make different sorts of attributions: using our feelings to help process what’s really going on, and coming up with an alternate action. Instead of trying to avoid, repress, or ignore our emotions, how about we learn to treat them as useful input that we can use to shape our decision making?
You can learn how your emotions affect your actions by writing down your experiences, like keeping some sort of record of how you felt and acted in specific situations. Our memory is poorer than you think and you can’t rely on it to provide an objective view of how you thought, felt, or acted at a given moment or in a particular situation.