Actually, Emotions are Awesome
There’s a lot of talk these days about how we should all subjugate our emotions.
Keep them in line.
Make them work for us.
They way they’re talked about, you’d think emotions were some kind of alien parasite hell-bent on controlling our thoughts.
Like we'd be better off without them.
That's crap. I’m going to say something, even though it’s unpopular.
Your emotions are you.
Physically, actually you.
They’re not some foreign, independent craziness off in some nebulous part of an ill-defined "psyche".
They're not some brain-sickness that can be cured with proper medication or a pithy perspective.
Your emotions are a mix of your brain, your nervous system, your hormones and every touch receptor in your entire body.
Your emotions are your body, thinking.
They're not the logical, let-me-explain stuff we tend to conceptualize as thought. Instead, they're another kind of thinking - non-linear and non-logical.
But they're definitely thought, and they’re powerful. Our emotions are capable of processing far more information, far more quickly than our logical brains.
Which leads me to the other shoe I have to drop:
Your emotions are awesome.
Your emotions are what tell you not to head down that sketchy alley. Your emotions are what lets you pick out the person who’s interested from a room full of people. Your emotions are what tells you you're at a moment of huge opportunity. Your emotions are some of the best indicators you have about what you care about in life, and how you should spend your time.
They are a massive, fantastic, non-linear way of thinking, baked into the very way we experience the world.
We each have an amazing well of insight and power, and these days, it’s largely untapped.
Imagine if we treated our legs the same way. “Oh, sure I have legs, but they aren’t to be trusted. My arms are in charge. In fact, I only try to use my legs when they're being wiggled by my arms.”
Ridiculous, right? Of course. It's crazy to disregard, insult, and denigrate something that's a core part of who we are.
We need something better. Better stories that give us ways to engage with our emotions, and get the most out of what they give us.
Here are two.
Story One: Your emotions are like watchdogs.
Amazing, never-sleeping, hyper-aware watchdogs.
Imagine for a minute that you had an awesome watchdog that knew exactly what you valued, and was always vigilant.
Now, imagine that late one night, your watchdog starts barking. You don’t hear anything weird, but the dog is barking loud, insistent.
Which of the following three actions would you choose to do?
- Yell out the window for your watchdog to shut up, and to only bark when you tell it to bark.
- Go outside and start barking along.
- Go outside and pay attention to what the dog’s barking at.
Number three, right? Of course. Anything else is stupid.
Our emotions are just like that awesome watchdog.
They’re hyper-aware, able to pick up on things we’d never notice consciously, and bring them to our attention.
But just like that dog, they can’t think or talk.
Just like it’d be ridiculous to ask the watchdog to write a little note about what’s bothering it, it’s ridiculous to ask our emotions to explain themselves logically. They can't. They don’t work that way.
But - just like the dog - we can go see what they’re barking at.
Emotions have a great track record for spotting things early - most opportunities are picked up and relayed as fear. Most violations of our core values show up as anger. Most genuine successes show up as relief.
Our emotions are trying to tell us valuable things.
We just have to listen.
Story Two: Your emotions are like waves.
If you've ever been out in a strong, crashing surf, you know there are basically two options. You can either go along with the waves, or you can fight them.
If you fight them, you’re mostly going to get tossed about, battered, and generally not get anywhere.
If you go with them - you can surf.
Our emotions, like waves, are full of power. They're capable of pushing us further than almost anything else, and powering us to do and see things we can't get to any other way.
The list of things in human history done for love, anger, and fear boggles the mind. These are our greatest hours and our darkest moments.
There's no denying their power - but just like powerful waves, they can't tell us anything about which way we should go. They're going the way they're going - it's up to us to figure out if we can surf them safely, and get somewhere that jives with the things we value.
Just like waves, emotions also have a rhythm that we can get to know.
Each kind of emotion builds, crests, and fades differently. Each has to be surfed differently. Anger moves differently than love. Fear moves differently than joy.
But for each of us, each emotion rolls in consistently - the same shape, with the same characteristics. If we pay attention over time, we can see them coming, get ready, and ride them to where we want to go.
We can’t beat ‘em. Join ‘em.
The one comfort I take in the rationalizing push against emotions is that it’s ultimately doomed to fail. Emotions are just as much a part of our biology as having two legs and two arms. They're baked into our DNA, and they're not going anywhere.
Every one of us - no matter who we are, or where we live in the world - will feel fear, love, excitement, anger, sadness, and joy.
Emotions are an essential part of being human, and they’ve served us well over millennia.
In today’s modern existence, obsessed with rational thought and pure-computer-logic, they may not be in vogue. But they’re here to stay.
That's good. And for those of us who have learned how to listen, and how to ride their power - they're something more.
They're a huge advantage.