Nov 182008

There’s fascinating data out there suggesting that you don’t actually have most of the emotions you feel you do. You have a response in your body and later call that response an emotion. This is called the Singer-Schachter theory of emotion. I’ve written about an experiment about it here. In the same blog entry, I talked about Tim Ferriss‘ reattribution of certain physiological states. In my memory, there’s two he does, the first is about eustress (positive stress that helps you grow) vs distress (negative stress that weakens you), and the second is when he’s fidgety before a big dance competition. Most people would look at his behaviour think about how we’d be feeling in that situation and say that he’s nervous, but he asserts that he’s not nervous, he’s excited. And he’s perfectly right, because if I recall correctly both nervousness and excitement feel the same way, but I’ve been trained to act, think and feel a certain way about each that’s very different. If I attribute my physiological state to nervousness, I’m supposed to be worried, however if I attribute it to excitement, I’m suppose to be happy and at my best.

Steve Pavlina recently did the same sort of thing in a recent blog entry called Fanatical About Growth. He wrote:

The goals that interest me most are the ones that cause me to say to myself, “Wow… I’m really not sure if I’m cut out for this. This looks pretty damned tough. I’m going to have to push myself to a whole new level in order to make it to the end. I honestly don’t know if I’ll be able to pull this off.”

But then I think to myself, “What if I fail? No big deal. At least I’ll know where my limits are. But what if I succeed? How awesome would that be? I’d gain an incredible new reference experience for the rest of my life. I’d have an amazing experience to share with others. And what new challenges might I tackle beyond this one?” That’s the kind of thinking that excites me.

I find this interesting because if I was in the same position, I’d have very different self-talk. It would be more along the lines of, “What if I can’t do it? What if I don’t measure up? What if I’m not good enough? I’m not sure I can handle that.” Notice, oddly enough, my self-talk isn’t specific, it’s universal about all of me rather than, say my level of self-discipline, and it doesn’t include anything about being able to improve things, as if failing this once means that’s the end of the game and that’s only as good as I can ever be. That’s the epitome of taking it personally. Additionally, I wanted to point out that I asked “what if I don’t measure up? What if I’m not good enough?” while Pavlina said “I’ll know where my limits are.”

According to Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, at the bottom of every one of your fears is that you can’t handle what life throws at you, or what you throw at yourself. In the above example, Steve Pavlina has turned a physiological state of arousal into an exciting challenge. I might have seen it as a fear of the unknown, but he sees it as excitement and discovering and mapping out new territory.

I’ve been exposed to a new theory of what emotions might be. They may be a way to size up a situation or a problem quickly, formulate the problem and then try to solve it. However, you can obviously size up things differently and your emotional gut reaction might be different from the one that you might choose consciously. So, I suggest you question your initial gut assumptions and sizing up of a situation, perhaps you will find that what you interpret as a fear or failure or a fear of the unknown into excitement over discovery or exploring new territory, knowing that as you explore, the territory actually grows bigger and there’s more to explore.

What I want to emphasize with all of this is that your emotions are not just your emotions and they’re not all-knowing and always “right”, you can have some conscious control over them. You can see things not as fear inducing, but as exciting, and they’re both “right”. I would choose exciting because that is simply more empowering for me. I hope this helps, and I’d really appreciate your thoughts in the comments to let me know someone’s reading. :-p

  8 Responses to “Your Emotions and How You Think About Them”

  1. I know you’re sort of instigating the notion of “half-full glass of water” vs. “half-empty glass of water” herer. But what you are talking about with the stories vs. theories remind me of chronicle writing vs. humanism writing during the Renaissance. Check it out if you wish, it’s quite interesting to see how one city consider re-telling history as to entail causal explanations, while the other city judge that as being too contrived and just try to lay out as many minute details as possible.

  2. That sounds interesting. How do I find out more about it? Can you point me to a website or article or book or something? Google gave me not very interesting results.

    Thanks for commenting!

  3. Oh, and I wouldn’t put what I’m talking about as a half full/empty situation. I don’t think of this as half-baked optimism, but a fundamental change in the way we think of things in a way that empowers us rather than disempowering, especially considering that one is as “true” as the next.

  4. […] might help: Your Emotions and How You Think About Them | Mind-Manual We’re Not All That Different From Chimps | Mind-Manual this one’s about heirarchies and how […]

  5. […] and your cognition attaches a meaning to it based on context. I wrote more about it here: Your Emotions and How You Think About Them | Mind-Manual Reframe it. You’re not nervous, you’re excited cause you’re in a new environment learning a new […]

  6. […] from other parts of the brain. Some are labelled as x or y after the fact by your conscious mind: Your Emotions and How You Think About Them | Mind-Manual __________________ Mind-Manual New: Battlestar Galactica = The […]

  7. […] measure up? What if I’m not good enough?” while Pavlina said “I’ll know where my limits are.” Your Emotions and How You Think About Them | Mind-Manual I hope this helps. If you’d like to know more, feel free to ask. __________________ Mind-Manual […]

  8. Hmm, I dunno about this. Thinking of all the times I’ve been nervous and excited, the two have been pretty separated as far as physiological states go. When I’m nervous, my hands shake and my heart tries to jump out of my chest. When I’m excited, I don’t fidget because I’m shaking but because I have so much energy that I want to expend it all in a short amount of time. Adrenaline is a fight-or-flight response that I don’t think I get when I’m just excited.

    I can’t say if it’s possible to turn adrenaline into just excitement… that’s an interesting idea that I’d like to try. The important thing is to change your mindset. It doesn’t really matter to me where my body is if I’ve got the right mindset.

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