Ever wonder why we associate feeling with the heart? Blame the Egyptians.
The Egyptians were big into doing weird things with human organs, and made up special meanings for them. They decided that the heart – presumably since it was in the middle of the body – was the ‘center’ of us, the source of our soul and emotion.
It isn’t, of course. The heart is simply a muscle that pumps blood around the body. Yet thousands of years later we still associate it with our soul, feeling, and emotion. And while it may be quaint and poetic to think that way, it’s actually a self-delusion that causes real problems.
The biggest issue with the idea the we “think up here” and “feel down here” is that it implies a separation between emotion and reason. It surfaces in statements like:
“I know this is bad for me, but I do it/eat it because I love it”
“I know there’s a better way, but I just feel like doing it my way”
“I know I should be more (patient/forgiving/organized/healthy/relaxed), but I never feel like I can”
…and a million other incantations of the idea that there’s a chasm between emotion and reason that cannot be bridged.
This sets up emotion and reason as opposing forces, as if the two are not generated from the same place. But of course they are. Emotions, calculations, feelings, logic, impulses, and willpower all come from the same place and live together, using the same physical cells. It’s all in the brain.
Our brain creates the feeling of love, AND also calculates 6 x 10. The thinking we use to struggle with hard emotional choices is the same thinking we use to work through the tougher math of 6 x 14. I’ll wait.
Isn’t it interesting that the brain that ‘loves’ chocolate is the same brain that physically coordinates the muscles to bring our hand to our mouth.
Think about that for a moment.
It’s so important and eye-opening when we accept that emotion and reason are interlocked, and even the same. The brain is where we’ll find our impulses AND our to-do-list. It generates anger AND dictates calm action. That’s so powerful to realize. Luckily for us – uniquely as human beings – we have the ability to control these interlocked forces.
But most people find it easier to cling to the idea/story that these parts of our life are independently governed and located in centers far from eachother. That way we can just let the two warring factions fight it out and wait for a winner to emerge. More importantly, we get to avoid the world’s hardest work – becoming fully accountable for our lives by gaining mastery over our thinking. How convenient!
But doing that – continuing to live with that flawed and silly view of a separation of emotion and reason – is not only wrought with problems, it surrenders our greatest gift as humans – our ability to change our lives through thinking.
Left Brain, Right Brain
Now you might be saying “Sure, but what about the two sides of the brain, one is logical and the other is feeling, so they are technically disconnected”. Nope. Not technically or otherwise true. That’s a myth long since debunked by neuroscience.
The two hemispheres of the brain DO in fact control and regulate different things, but not always on the same sides or same locations in everyone, and never acting separately or independently. And as we learn more about the brain, we realize that it works amazingly holistically, and things like creativity require a complex mix of imagination, reason, logic, sequencing, feeling, and of course physical coordination. They are all interrelated, and the brain is incredibly holistic in its function.
The balance between emotion and reason is not some 50/50 ratio, not even close. Or at least it shouldn’t be if we want to live well and get good results in life. Reason should be far more dominant than emotion, perhaps 80/20. But it’s really not about maintaining some set ratio, and instead is more about timing and flow. To explain:
Emotions Yell The Headline
Emotions rise quickly, leading the way with a headline. Whether it’s anger as someone cuts us off, the pride of an accomplishment, an impulse, or the anxiety of an uncomfortable situation, we can be sure that our first thought is always emotional. Fear in its various forms (running from something scary, or to something familiar) is by far the most common driver behind that first thought. Emotion always leads the way, and often arises fast and with force. An impulse is good example.
Emotion is highly based in fear, assumption, bias, and misconception. This is because emotions don’t think – that’s reason’s job (we’ll get to that in a minute). And since emotion cannot think, it assumes, expects, judges, and reacts. It tells a quick story, often yelling to get our attention. Sometimes this can be useful, but allowing emotion to frame our thinking and action beyond the initial feeling is a serious error.
Reason Tells The Whole Story
Reason arrives later. It can come almost instantly, or sometimes years later (sometimes never). This is highly dependent on our skill in this area. But regardless of the timing, when reason does arrive, it takes over. Emotion is moved to the side and the room is cleared for logical thought, which is much more effective, efficient, and produces far better results immediately and in the long run.
The initial emotional reaction itself is often examined by reason. Often times we realize the initial emotional headline was wrong, unproductive, and even harmful.
Reason always follows emotion. It directs us to move forward with a longer time frame in mind, and a properly thought-out course of action that serves us, and others, best. BUT, we have to know it always arrives after emotion, so we need to look for it and encourage it.
How To Improve
It takes practice to get skilled at allowing emotion to rise and fade, and not to move forward based on impulses and emotional thoughts. At mastery levels, first thoughts/impulses/reactions are never acted upon, and reason rushes in instantly, especially with negative and fear-based emotion which tends to make up the vast majority of our thinking.
It’s all about remembering that our first thought is emotion. Eventually it becomes second nature to wait for reason to come in, examine the situation, and take over before moving forward with thought. And while we certainly still value our emotions, we no longer allow them to control our thinking or actions.
The changes can be dramatic. Before you know it, emotional headlines like “Oh no, what if that happens”, “I should be doing this”, “I hate this”, “I can’t do that”, etc are not allowed to go unchecked and direct our thinking and actions. They are EXAMINED THOROUGHLY by reason as it arrives on scene quickly. Like an expert FBI agent taking over the investigation from a bumbling local sheriff’s deputy, the expert slows things down, looks at the bigger picture, questions assumptions, and lays out a logical course of action. That produces outstanding results, and vastly different outcomes compared with allowing emotion to run the show.
Emotions are of course natural, often enjoyable, and sometimes helpful in terms of guiding the course of our lives – but only when we have control. Their nature is to rise quickly and speak loudly. Once we know that, and understand the limited role they play in our thinking, we can simply allow them to rise and fade (and still feel them fully – that’s perfectly okay!), but not to dominate our thinking or decisions. Reason is encouraged to enter and direct our thinking instead.
“Thanks for the heads up emotion – we’ll take it from here.”