In this post, I am suggesting that you view your emotions and logic as mutually reinforcing and use them both to help you make better decisions and engage in behavior that is beneficial to you and those close to you.
An explanatory note:
I am not saying that these suggestions would have stopped a school shooter or the Las Vegas shooter as the action of these (and other folks in the news) were well planned and executed actions. However, teaching cops and boyfriends/spouses and co-workers to master their emotions, could very possibly result in more appropriate behavior. And eliminate some of the negative myths that people use to judge their emotions.
Back to the post…
When you get into your car, you are aware that you need to manage the power of the car, be aware of your surroundings and other drivers, and compensate for outside factors such as weather, visibility, and momentum. If you fail to consider these factors, you and your car may be “out of control”.
One example involves excessive speed (given your physical status, traffic, the road surface or the weather). If you are going too fast, when you step on the brake, your car may be out of control and slam into the car in front of you.
- Maybe, you are tired or impaired and you misjudge the required stopping distance.
- Maybe, you are driving during the winter and fail to consider various road conditions. You may lose contact with the road (friction), your car becomes out of control and you slip and slide.
- Maybe, fog is restricting your vision more than you believe and you don’t see the car in front of you.
In all these cases, the information is available to you that, if you paid attention to, and heeded, the message this information (about yourself, driving conditions, etc) was providing, you would be both prepared and motivated to take corrective action which could have helped you avoid the accident. Even in a multi-car pile up, some cars were able to avoid a collision.
While the analogy is not perfect, think of the car as an emotion. It is very powerful and can be used very positively to speed you to the hospital for emergency care, very negatively as a weapon, or neutrally to drive you to the grocery store.
The feedback you get from your surroundings is information available to you as you decide how to manage and take advantage of the power in your car. This information is similar to the message of an emotion that you are experiencing.
When my wife was pregnant with our first child, she went into labor, I got anxious, and we rushed to the hospital in our car. While I was speeding, I was not reckless. When I ran through a red light after briefly stopping, a cop pulled me over. I stopped the car and informed the policeman that I was headed to the hospital (which was a few blocks away). I told him that he was welcome to follow me to the hospital and that, once my wife was safe, I would show him my licence and do whatever I was instructed to do. He followed me to the hospital, checked my license and insurance, gave me an obligatory “lecture” about safe driving, and wished me luck for a successful birth. He did not give me a ticket.
In this example, I was highly motivated to get to the hospital. My anxiety, manifested as eustress, led me to go as far over the “limit” as I could go and to ignore traffic signs if it was safe to do so. The car was my powerful vehicle. Road and traffic conditions and the policeman were bits of information I needed to take into consideration.
The emotional part of my brain (the Limbic System) pushed my behavior and the thinking, or logical, part of my brain (the cerebral cortex), analyzed my situation, considered all the available information including both the need to get safely to the hospital as quickly as possible and to acknowledge the cop, and gave me the solution I needed to both validate my emotion and get my wife the care she needed.
Whether I did the right thing is certainly arguable and whether you agree with what I did is not the point. I give this example only to illustrate how emotions and logic can reinforce each other.
This is how emotions and logic should work together.
While you can download a copy of the Anger Mastery Cycle above (the same cycle basically applies to most emotions), here is a quick review of how emotions work.
- You constantly, automatically and subconsciously scan your surroundings for possible threats.
- When a threat is perceived, a fast track signal is sent to the Limbic System which prepares you for fight or flight. This is your emotional reaction and is the message of the emotion.
- Simultaneously, a slower signal goes to the Cerebral Cortex which allows you to validate and assess the nature of the threat.
- If a threat exists, you have the opportunity to choose how you want to respond.
- Emotional mastery involves matching your response to the actual nature of the perceived threat.
Emotional Mastery: Emotion and Logic Together
You master your emotion when you understand the message of the emotion, add a “break” between the emotional reaction and your response, use this physical and psychological break to calm yourself and logically assess the nature of the threat to determine the extent to which your reality matches the threat and the alert message your emotion is giving you. Logic can then inform you about your response options so you can make an effective choice.
Here is the message of some well known emotions:
- Anger: There is a threat facing me that I can eliminate by attacking it. I am ready for battle.
- Anxiety: There may be a threat in the future that might hurt me. I am EITHER prepared to run away to avoid the threat while still consumed by it (anxiety as distress) OR take action to nullify the threat (anxiety as eustress).
- Jealousy: There is a threat to my relationship. Another person may be trying to take the affection of my significant other away from me.
- Guilt: I have done something wrong and violated my sense of right and wrong.
If you know the message of the emotion, you can logically assess your situation to see if you have correctly or incorrectly perceived what it going on. You can get feedback from others. Following this “assessment”, you can choose, and implement, your response.
This is how you validate your emotions and use their messages to inform you about your surroundings. From this perspective, you want more emotions. This is the same reasoning you use to put both a smoke detector and a Carbon Monoxide detector in your house. And, maybe, add a security system.
You deploy your logic to give you viable options to effective master your situation.
I welcome your comments.