The Model — the series

Here is The Model — my model for the human emotional system designed for use in leadership, self-awareness, and general purpose professional and personal development — in series form. Click in the table of contents to the left for each page.

I find this Model the most effective and valuable foundation for understanding yourself and others and improving your life.

Why?

A model’s value comes not from its accuracy but how well it serves its purpose, which improves from effective filtering of information. Street maps, for example, are more useful for driving for having less detail than, say, a satellite picture. Subway maps are more useful for their purposes for having yet less detail. For leadership, self-awareness, and general purpose professional and personal development, I find this model has an optimal amount and choice of information.

Combined with the Method, whose series I’ll post shortly, I find it the most effective and valuable foundation for understanding yourself and others and improving your life.

The Model -- introducing my model for the human emotional system

[This post is part of a series on The Model — my model for the human emotional system designed for use in leadership, self-awareness, and general purpose professional and personal development — which I find the most effective and valuable foundation for understanding yourself and others and improving your life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

I will be posting an extended series on the Model — my model of the human emotional system, which is at the foundation of most of my posts here on self-awareness, emotional intelligence, and improving your life. It will cover the most useful and valuable ideas you will ever read on the matters. I’ve meant to get to it since I started posting daily.

Knowing this material and putting it into practice will put you at the level of any self-improvement guru. You’ll give as useful and helpful advice as they do, to others or yourself.

So the next couple weeks will cover the core of my seminars as well as the foundation for how I live my life. I will be writing and publishing this material for the first time, so it may be raw, but I will cover the major topics. Later series will cover applying the Model to your life, which I call the Method.

The Model

[This post is part of a series on The Model — my model for the human emotional system designed for use in leadership, self-awareness, and general purpose professional and personal development — which I find the most effective and valuable foundation for understanding yourself and others and improving your life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

What goals do we have in life if not to understand what makes life good and how to make our own better? By good I mean by the values of the person living that life — not by some abstract standard.

I want to distinguish the following from so-called positive thinking. The phrase “the power of positive thinking” makes me bristle. It sounds like putting lipstick on a pig. My recent posts have discussed how counterproductive to a better life for a person I consider judgmental terminology. I don’t like the idea of someone living a life they don’t like, forcing a smile, and calling it good.

The following posts cover something different.

What makes a life good for a person is not abstract positivity or smiling or labeling it as good. Life is better to the extent a person likes it — that is, by how it fits that person’s values and brings about emotions they want. We will return to this core concept that values, importance, and meaning derive from your emotions from different directions

The next several posts will cover the core model grounding the seminars I lead and executive and life coaching I do, based on a model of the human emotional and evaluative system — how you perceive your environment, evaluate it, and react to it. I call it the Model. I know, I should come up with a catchier name than just capitalizing the word.

I believe this Model will enable you to understand and improve your life as much as anything you’ll learn. I believe understanding it, followed by practice (I’ll cover implementation in later series) will put you on a level with any coach or guru.

Why in a discussion on values and improvement — a good life, making it better — do we talk about emotions? As we will see, your emotional system evaluates your world and determines how to react to it. To evaluate means to give value to — your emotional system creates value in your life. Things that change your life change your motivations, which your emotions are.

If you want to understand your values, you have to understand your emotional system. To react means to act or behave based on your environment. Again, your behavior — for that matter, your life and lifestyle — derives from your emotional system’s perception and evaluation of your environment.

The concepts of environment, perception, belief, and behavior will return over and over on your life and how to improve it.

Tomorrow: models in general.

The Model

[This post is part of a series on The Model — my model for the human emotional system designed for use in leadership, self-awareness, and general purpose professional and personal development — which I find the most effective and valuable foundation for understanding yourself and others and improving your life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

What goals do we have in life if not to understand what makes life good and how to make our own better? By good I mean by the values of the person living that life — not by some abstract standard.

I want to distinguish the following from so-called positive thinking. The phrase “the power of positive thinking” makes me bristle. It sounds like putting lipstick on a pig. My recent posts have discussed how counterproductive to a better life for a person I consider judgmental terminology. I don’t like the idea of someone living a life they don’t like, forcing a smile, and calling it good.

The following posts cover something different.

What makes a life good for a person is not abstract positivity or smiling or labeling it as good. Life is better to the extent a person likes it — that is, by how it fits that person’s values and brings about emotions they want. We will return to this core concept that values, importance, and meaning derive from your emotions from different directions

The next several posts will cover the core model grounding the seminars I lead and executive and life coaching I do, based on a model of the human emotional and evaluative system — how you perceive your environment, evaluate it, and react to it. I call it the Model. I know, I should come up with a catchier name than just capitalizing the word.

I believe this Model will enable you to understand and improve your life as much as anything you’ll learn. I believe understanding it, followed by practice (I’ll cover implementation in later series) will put you on a level with any coach or guru.

Why in a discussion on values and improvement — a good life, making it better — do we talk about emotions? As we will see, your emotional system evaluates your world and determines how to react to it. To evaluate means to give value to — your emotional system creates value in your life. Things that change your life change your motivations, which your emotions are.

If you want to understand your values, you have to understand your emotional system. To react means to act or behave based on your environment. Again, your behavior — for that matter, your life and lifestyle — derives from your emotional system’s perception and evaluation of your environment.

The concepts of environment, perception, belief, and behavior will return over and over on your life and how to improve it.

Tomorrow: models in general.

The Model: models in general

[This post is part of a series on The Model — my model for the human emotional system designed for use in leadership, self-awareness, and general purpose professional and personal development — which I find the most effective and valuable foundation for understanding yourself and others and improving your life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Before talking about the Model in particular, let’s talk about models in general, a fundamental and incredibly useful concept in its own right. I’ve covered them before in this blog from several perspectives.

Models are simplified representations of something for a purpose

Models are simplified representations of something for a purpose.

Every word in that description counts.

Simplified means they remove information. Our limited senses can’t perceive nor can our limited minds contain or understand the infinite complexity of the world. So we deal with simplifications only. For one example, other people are as complex as ourselves, yet we model them with a handful of adjectives — “Oh Jim? He’s a great guy. Gets the job done and always makes you laugh” or “Jane is weird. I don’t understand her” — as if a few words could capture the richness of whole person. Yet we do, as do people with us, and life goes on just fine.

Life doesn’t require us to know everything or even that much.

Many people feel sorry that they can’t avoid simplifying things. You’ll come to appreciate the incredible valuable in not needing all that information when you know how to use them. As we’ll see, the flexibility in modeling creates our greatest path to perceiving the world as we want and living the lifestyles we want. No one who ever lived a great life had greater ability to perceive or process information and they did great.

Another major point about simplifications is that they introduce biases by what we throw out and what we retain. Someone with different information than you might think of your “great guy” Jim as a jerk and “weird” Jane as a great singer.

That models represent something means that they are not the thing itself. A helpful phrase to remember that representations are not the things they represent is “the map is not the territory.” People confuse the two readily, but you benefit yourself to distinguish them. You have more control over your representation than the thing it represents, a major benefit in life.

How do we evaluate models?

A model’s value comes from how well it serves its purpose. For example, maps are models. The purpose of a road map is to show roads and help navigate trips by road. A subway map helps you find subway routes. Neither is good or bad objectively. Their value derives only from how well they serve their purposes.

I cannot state this point enough: models’ value comes not from accuracy, but how well they serve their function. A road map that shows too much detail, like every tree along I-95, serves its purpose less, and therefore is less valuable. Subway maps leaving out the whole surface make them *more* valuable, not less.

Most people find evaluating models based only on their functions difficult.

The Model on the human emotional system in the next few posts has a function — to enable to you to understand your emotions and emotional system. This purpose will help you understand your values and bring meaning to your life. It does not have a purpose to describe your emotions or emotional system perfectly.

A sub-purpose is ease of communication. It throws out information for this purpose. With experience, you’ll find you’ll add more information and make a model that works better for you.

Tomorrow: motivation for our Model

The Model

[This post is part of a series on The Model — my model for the human emotional system designed for use in leadership, self-awareness, and general purpose professional and personal development — which I find the most effective and valuable foundation for understanding yourself and others and improving your life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

What goals do we have in life if not to understand what makes life good and how to make our own better? By good I mean by the values of the person living that life — not by some abstract standard.

I want to distinguish the following from so-called positive thinking. The phrase “the power of positive thinking” makes me bristle. It sounds like putting lipstick on a pig. My recent posts have discussed how counterproductive to a better life for a person I consider judgmental terminology. I don’t like the idea of someone living a life they don’t like, forcing a smile, and calling it good.

The following posts cover something different.

What makes a life good for a person is not abstract positivity or smiling or labeling it as good. Life is better to the extent a person likes it — that is, by how it fits that person’s values and brings about emotions they want. We will return to this core concept that values, importance, and meaning derive from your emotions from different directions

The next several posts will cover the core model grounding the seminars I lead and executive and life coaching I do, based on a model of the human emotional and evaluative system — how you perceive your environment, evaluate it, and react to it. I call it the Model. I know, I should come up with a catchier name than just capitalizing the word.

I believe this Model will enable you to understand and improve your life as much as anything you’ll learn. I believe understanding it, followed by practice (I’ll cover implementation in later series) will put you on a level with any coach or guru.

Why in a discussion on values and improvement — a good life, making it better — do we talk about emotions? As we will see, your emotional system evaluates your world and determines how to react to it. To evaluate means to give value to — your emotional system creates value in your life. Things that change your life change your motivations, which your emotions are.

If you want to understand your values, you have to understand your emotional system. To react means to act or behave based on your environment. Again, your behavior — for that matter, your life and lifestyle — derives from your emotional system’s perception and evaluation of your environment.

The concepts of environment, perception, belief, and behavior will return over and over on your life and how to improve it.

Tomorrow: models in general.

The Model: why

[This post is part of a series on The Model — my model for the human emotional system designed for use in leadership, self-awareness, and general purpose professional and personal development — which I find the most effective and valuable foundation for understanding yourself and others and improving your life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Why create a model?

To know yourself better despite your complexity.

Every system of self-improvement, at least that I know of, has some concept of increasing your self-awareness, your knowledge of yourself. “Know thyself.”

Modeling the part of you that creates value, importance, and meaning helps you understand what you value, what you find important, and what means what. Not knowing where value, importance, and meaning come from complicates understanding them.

If the complexity of the self you want to know exceeds your capacity to understand, you don’t benefit from trying to know it. The human brain being perhaps the most complex system in existence, you likely won’t succeed at understanding its full complexity. A simplified model helps.

Every philosopher, psychologist, guru, or whoever taught how to improve your life, from Aristotle, Buddha, and before to Anthony Robbins and later, worked from some model, whether they stated it or not.

The more you understand your model, its applications, and its limitations, the better you can apply it to your life. Leaving it implicit makes distinguishing it from what it represents harder. As we will see, the more you confuse your model with reality or the more you confuse your map with the territory, the more you will imprison yourself in patterns of beliefs and behaviors that restrict your ability to bring about emotions you want.

In contrast, the more you understand your model and distinguish it from any concept of objective reality, the more freedom you have in creating the emotions and therefore lifestyle you want. As we will see, emotional freedom gives you more opportunity for emotional reward and happiness than anything else, at least that I know of.

I try to make my Model simple to communicate and understand. I try to communicate it in plain English. Let me know if I’ve succeeded or could improve.

Tomorrow: the beginning of the Model

Examples of models: maps

[This post is part of a series on The Model — my model for the human emotional system designed for use in leadership, self-awareness, and general purpose professional and personal development — which I find the most effective and valuable foundation for understanding yourself and others and improving your life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

My series on the Model covered models in general but didn’t give examples. My seminars cover examples, so the next few posts will cover some examples to illustrate some common models we all use. I have two goals: first to help expose how fundamental they are to our perception and understanding of our worlds and second, to start building how you can manage and change them to improve your life.

Recall a model is a simplified representation of something for a purpose. We can’t comprehend everything all at once — the amount of information in the universe is infinite and we don’t have the brain power to process it all — so we evolved to represent some relevant part of our environments.

Some people wish they knew more and try to learn as much as they can to overcome not knowing everything. Infinite information makes that pursuit futile. Much more useful is to use the information you have to improve your life. The Method does that.

The first example of a model is maps. Maps represent something for a purpose.

Three Manhattan mapsThese three maps all simplify Manhattan. Each throws out information to achieve a purpose. Each is more useful for having less information. If you wanted to choose a neighborhood to live in, the left one might serve your purposes best. If you want to get around by subway, the middle one would serve you best.

Note that only Manhattan itself is Manhattan. No representation of it could ever represent it perfectly. Nonetheless, each of these representations is more useful for its purposes. To find a subway route using only Manhattan itself wouldn’t make sense. You use a subway map.

As obvious as that sounds, many people don’t get how much more useful models can be than the things themselves.

They also confuse their mental representation of something with the thing. How many times have you been mad at someone only to learn you misunderstood them or something about the situation? You were mad at your model of them, until evidence forced you to change your model.

In any case, I will return to maps as the archetypal model over and over. People rarely confuse maps with the territory they represent so they make a natural and effective reminder that models are not what they represent.

Examples of models: the Earth from several perspectives

[This post is part of a series on The Model — my model for the human emotional system designed for use in leadership, self-awareness, and general purpose professional and personal development — which I find the most effective and valuable foundation for understanding yourself and others and improving your life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Yesterday I started with one of the simplest examples of models — maps. Today we’ll look at other models.

The image below includes a model of the Earth.

A representation of the EarthYou might remember seeing models like this from school. It throws out a lot of information — it’s two-dimensional, showing only half of that, shows no properties of the surface, etc.

But if you want to calculate gravity, this model may serve you best. I would bet the people who sent men to the moon — arguably the greatest engineering feat ever — used models like it daily.

Here is another model of the Earth

A model of the EarthThis model throws out even more information, representing the Earth as a point. Yet for other purposes more useful than the earlier model.

Here is a model with more information, drastically different than the above.

A model of the EarthThis model has more information but would be useless for launching a rocket to the moon. But great for illustrating plate tectonics.

Even for understanding properties inside the Earth, for some purposes, again, less information might help more, as in the following model.

A model of the EarthThis one even contradicts itself internally between the left and right halves. That inconsistency doesn’t hurt it, though, in part for how blatant the inconsistency. We’ll see later that all models have internal conflict and inconsistency. Since only the thing itself is the thing itself, any model will have such inconsistencies. Inconsistencies don’t mean the model doesn’t achieve its purposes.

I stress this point because people routinely reject other people’s models that might serve their purposes best by pointing out flaws in their models. Their own models are just as flawed.

You probably get the idea by now. You can represent the same thing in many ways for different purposes. Hopefully you’re seeing that the purpose for the representation determines its value, not its consistency, the amount of information it shows, who created it, if it looks pretty, and so on.

So far we’ve looked at visual models. Tomorrow we’ll start looking at mental models.

Examples of models: beliefs and mental models

[This post is part of a series on The Model — my model for the human emotional system designed for use in leadership, self-awareness, and general purpose professional and personal development — which I find the most effective and valuable foundation for understanding yourself and others and improving your life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

My past two posts on examples of models showed visual models — maps and representations of the Earth. Such examples illustrate how models work because they are easy to see, but don’t capture the subtlety of distinguishing models from what they represent. Mental models tend to be more subtle.

Think about the following belief or mental model. You’ve heard it before. Think about what it means and how having it affects your life. Mental model: life is like chessIf you believe life is like chess, you may see it as strategic, following set rules, and with winners and losers. You may feel that to win you should learn the rules better and practice. You might feel you can see the whole game right in front of you. You may have the goal of winning.

Now look at this belief or mental model.

Mental model: life is like surfingIf you believe life is like surfing, you may see life as more fun, with no winners or losers, with no set rules. You might expect that huge forces beyond your control influence you, like an ocean wave, but that you can use them to have more fun or joy.

You may still feel experience will help you improve your life. You probably wouldn’t try to win.

Quite a contrast. Note that nothing changes about life or the world when one person switches their model, but you can imagine behaving differently in the same situation with one model compared to the other.

Do you consider either better or worse? I don’t consider either better or worse in the abstract or in any absolute sense. As usual for any model, its value depends on its purpose. One may serve you best in one situation, another in another.

Now let’s look at another model in another area.

Mental model: carbohydrates are healthyYou’ve heard models like this before. You’ve also heard its opposite.

Mental model: carbohydrates are unhealthyI brought up this pair of models because usually when I hear them, people back them up with what they claim as scientific evidence. The value of a model doesn’t have to depend on accuracy and supporting evidence. Yesterday’s examples, specifically used in sciences, had blatant scientific errors all over them. Yet they fulfilled their purposes, so scientists use them.

Personally, I’ve heard evidence in both directions on carbohydrates and my science training finds the evidence nowhere near conclusive in any direction. I mean you need them to live and usually the dose of something you eat determines its toxicity. For that matter, healthiness is a vague term that depends on context.

When people evaluate other people’s beliefs and models they tend to do so skeptically and critically, while their own they simply act on without a second thought.

In any case, I raised these to models to point out that the evidence backing up one model or other doesn’t determine its value. Large numbers of people disagreeing implies there is no absolute right answer.

As always, how well a model serves its function determines its value. It rarely helps to get bogged down in details or justification beyond that it works for you and your purpose for creating the model.

A common decision people have to make in discussing conflicting models is a) do I want to be right and annoying or b) accept my model’s flaws and not be annoying.

One of the great benefits of recognizing that all models have flaws, including each of yours, is that you get into fewer arguments.

Consider this model. You have felt it before.

Mental model: I'm right. You're wrongPeople rarely express this belief or model out loud, but you’ve felt it. If you feel it in an argument you may dig your heels in and continue to argue. It’s the heart of positional negotiation. At times you feel it you probably sense that if you stated your belief outright you would sound stupid, so you don’t say it, but you still act on it, extending the argument. You may not sense that the other person likely feels the same way.

You may sense you would sound stupid to say it because you know your model is wrong. You know the situation is not as simple as you being right and them being wrong.

Yet you act that way.

That’s part of the insidiousness of models when you don’t recognize them. They influence you anyway.

On the other hand, when you recognize them you can manage and change them. For example, I’ve learned when I find myself arguing, feeling I’m right and they’re wrong to realize they must see things from another point of view.

I’ve learned in those cases to try out this model or belief.

Mental model: I have something to learn from everyoneAdopting this model tends to reduce my arguments and, perhaps counterintuitively, increase my ability to influence the person I disagree with. Even when I am right and the other person is wrong, conversations based on “I’m right. You’re wrong” tend to persuade people less than ones based on “I have something to learn from everyone.” I suspect making my dominant emotion curiosity influences theirs to become so too.

Here is another belief or model you’ve often felt.

Mental model: I can't do x. I'm just not the type.where x could be anything the person wants to do, but hasn’t yet: losing weight, quitting smoking, asking someone out, switching jobs, dressing better, etc.

Hearing someone express such a belief makes me sad. Often, the simple belief you can’t do something makes you unable to do it. You may feel you are right, but perhaps for no other reason than you killed your motivation. Creating your own justification that you control in such absolute terms may stop you from trying.

Just because you can’t do something now doesn’t mean you won’t be able to later. You could equally believe “I can’t do x yet,” which, though equally accurate now, motivates you differently.

You can make the belief “I can’t do x yet” crowd out the belief “I can’t do x” by actively thinking it.

Or how about this belief?

Mental model: If he can do x, so can I!I adopted it some time ago and use it to crowd out the belief that I can’t do something when I know someone somewhere once did.

Examples of models: how a slight change in your model can create big changes in behavior

[This post is part of a series on The Model — my model for the human emotional system designed for use in leadership, self-awareness, and general purpose professional and personal development — which I find the most effective and valuable foundation for understanding yourself and others and improving your life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

A famous parable in business literature describes how two competing shoe companies considering expanding into a new market each sent a salesperson to research the market to figure out if they should enter it and how.

The first, upon arriving, found that in this market, nobody wore shoes. They had some custom to walk barefoot everywhere. The salesperson concluded the market not worth entering since nobody wanted shoes.

We could illustrate the belief like this.

Mental model: no shoes, no marketThe second salesperson saw the same people in the same market. Despite the same data, this person saw every shoe-less person as someone who could use shoes and evidence of no competition, yielding the opposite strategy.

Mental model: no shoes, huge marketWhich shoe company do you think entered the market and do you think it profited?

Data and information alone has no meaning. The beliefs we attach or evaluate with give them meaning. This case illustrates how a slight change in belief can lead to dramatically different behavior.

Examples of models: why he or she didn't call

[This post is part of a series on The Model — my model for the human emotional system designed for use in leadership, self-awareness, and general purpose professional and personal development — which I find the most effective and valuable foundation for understanding yourself and others and improving your life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

For the next three or four posts, let’s look at examples of how we use models in more depth. After each example I’ll describe the lessons it teaches.

We’ll start with an example we’re all familiar with: someone told you they’d call Monday. By Friday, no call. It’s happened in your professional and personal life — maybe to schedule a sales pitch, maybe for a date.

As the days pass without word, you wonder why they haven’t called. With no new information explaining their behavior, you create a model that could apply. That model leads to a strategy. By strategy i don’t mean something as formal as, say, chess strategy where you plot your actions based on their actions. I mean you plan to do what you think best — the same as ever — but what you think best depends on your model.

Here are three of many possible models you might conceive, the strategies they lead to, and how you might behave when you finally do talk to them.

Model/belief Strategy Behavior
They don’t care about you Not to care about them either
If you don’t like me, I don’t like you!
They care but are busy with unavoidable emergencies Empathize Sounds like you’re busy too. Tell me about it.
You’re too busy to worry Handle your affairs Oh, that’s right, I forgot. What’s up?

You’ve probably picked one of these beliefs on occasion, consciously or not. People who don’t realize we create models often confuse their beliefs with reality, leading them to act on their strategies without thinking about it.

Note that these models can reinforce themselves, erroneously making them seem correct afterward. Say you believed the person didn’t care about you, but unknown to you they did. Your communicating “If you don’t like me I don’t like you!” may prompt them to switch from caring about you to resenting you, perhaps responding, “Well let’s not get together then, jerk.”

Likewise, if they intended to blow you off but you believed they cared and, unexpectedly for them, graciously and patiently responded thoughtfully, they might find you someone they like, change their tune, and start caring about you.

In both cases you might feel justified in your belief, however unfounded. But feeling right doesn’t mean being right. It just meant your strategy, in that case, perpetuated itself.

I don’t mean to imply using models is good, bad, right, or wrong. We can’t help using them. For now I’m demonstrating how they work. Knowing how they work lets you use them to improve your life, which the Method shows how to do consistently, reliably, and predictably.

Anyway, let’s look at what this example showed us about models in general.

Lessons learned

Models and beliefs

  • influence our perception and decisions whether we evaluate them or not
  • they do so inevitably
  • they lead to strategies
  • we often have little justification for them.

Examples of models: "beliefs and expectations filter your perception"

[This post is part of a series on The Model — my model for the human emotional system designed for use in leadership, self-awareness, and general purpose professional and personal development — which I find the most effective and valuable foundation for understanding yourself and others and improving your life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Let’s look at another example of how we use models in more depth. As with yesterday, after treating the example I’ll describe the lessons it teaches.

Imagine you grew up with a pet pit bull. You might see it as an adorable pet.

Dog model -- cute, friendlySomeone else who never grew up with one but only heard sensationalist stories about them might see them as dangerous animals.

Dog model -- mean, dangerousSame animals, different models, different perceptions of the world. Personally, I know people with both sets of models.

We don’t usually notice our beliefs, we just believe the world is how we perceive it. No one looks at a dog and thinks, “It looks one way to me but I wonder how another person’s experiences and beliefs might lead them to see it differently.” We tend to forget how our beliefs and expectations filter what we see.

As with yesterday, one’s model could create self-reinforcing behavior in one’s environment. That is, you behaving calmly could lead a mean dog to behave calmly. Someone else’s nervousness could lead a calm dog to growl menacingly.

Today I’ll point out that if we can affect our environments through our models and their resulting behavior and we can choose our models consciously, we can choose them based on the outcome we want, at least in part. Why wouldn’t we?

This model results in the strategy, for me,

Always interpret everything positively.

Words to live by!

The strategy to always interpret everything positively rewards and motivates me so I adopt the model as “true” and implement the strategy without thinking about it. I’m not saying the model is true because it leads to a strategy I like. I’m saying it feels true. I’ll further say many beliefs you feel are true, you feel are true because of the strategies they lead to.

Though today I’m mainly writing to illustrate properties of models, I will add that I use the strategy “always interpret everything positively” every day. I don’t apply it blindly and try to pet every pit bull I see, but when I recognize a choice of models, I think of the consequences of adopting them. Then I choose among them mainly by how positive their consequences are — or, more precisely, how they meet my values.

We can’t predict outcomes perfectly accurately, so we often have to guess as best we can, but this strategy brings about desired outcomes better than any other I know of.

People often prefer to stick with whatever model they hit on first. They consider changing models something like revising history. But being first doesn’t make a model special or any less flawed than any other.

I call not changing models or even considering changing them “reactive.” It means you abdicate a major part of your motivation. I consider the practice of considering changing them and doing so is a major part of self-awareness and emotional intelligence. Leaders do so. Followers don’t, which motivates them to follow those who do.

Lessons learned

Besides repeating yesterday’s lesson on models, we see

  • since we can predict outcomes and choose models, we can choose models based on their outcomes
  • choosing based on what outcome best meets your values best improves your life, as far as I can tell, at least
  • we tend to feel models are true when the outcomes they lead to reward us

Another lesson, or at least a recommendation:

Always interpret everything positively.

Examples of models: “Everybody does their best according to their abilities and perception of their environment”

[This post is part of a series on The Model — my model for the human emotional system designed for use in leadership, self-awareness, and general purpose professional and personal development — which I find the most effective and valuable foundation for understanding yourself and others and improving your life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

I tend to believe that everybody does their best according to their abilities and perception of their environment. Sure, I know counterexamples, but in general I believe that at every moment, everyone observes their surroundings and, based on their perception and abilities (more precisely, their beliefs about their abilities), they choose to do what they think is best.

For example, as I’m writing, I can’t think of anything I’d rather do than keep writing for you. If I had a better option, I’d do it. Likewise, you prefer reading this now to any other option. Otherwise you’d do it.

(Maybe you just started reevaluating your options. If you keep reading, it means my writing stood up to greater scrutiny.)

(Still here? Great! Let’s continue.)

Of course I can’t prove the model in general. On the contrary, I can find many counterexamples that disprove the general case. But I know I can find flaws in any other model too so no alternative will be better by that criteria. I already know not to measure a model’s value from its accuracy.

Many people disagree with the model. When I describe it, people often give counterexamples: people at their jobs who cut corners or some other person whose performance they don’t like. They say many people don’t do their bests.

Yet I’ve never heard anyone tell me that they cut corners and do crappy jobs. On the contrary, when people do something that appears below their ability, they tend to give reasons why circumstances beyond their control prevented them from doing the job they could have.

Funny they don’t give others the benefit of the doubt they give themselves.

I used to think that double standard was funny. Then I started assuming, no matter how much someone appeared incapable or that they did their job poorly, that something prevented them from doing a great job — the same consideration I would hope people would afford me if the situation were reversed.

I found people tended to live up to my new expectations, just like I know I would live up to theirs if they gave me the same benefit of the doubt when appropriate.

The change in perspective, a move from reactivity to thoughtfulness, led to fewer arguments, disappointment, and anger. People tended to rise to the level I expected of them. When they didn’t, instead of feeling disappointed or angry, I tended to wonder what about their perception of their environment or belief about their abilities differed from mine that would lead them to different conclusions.

In other words, I replaced disappointment and anger with curiosity, which tended to lead to discovery and understanding. This change improved my life. I tended to get more out of people and they seemed to want to spend more time and other resources on me. I stopped labeling people and started trying to understand their perspective. I also had to decrease how much I saw the world from my perspective, since things I knew and they didn’t affect their decisions.

As in my earlier model examples, the model led to a strategy, which I phrase as

Don’t look for blame, but take responsibility for improving things to the extent you can.

As with yesterday’s strategy

Always interpret everything positively

this strategy is rewarding, so I tend to feel the model is true. Again, I haven’t proved the model true. I just feel it is true. I point this out today to reinforce a point I alluded to yesterday, that when you believe a model is true, you act on it automatically.

Incidentally, the model and strategy underscore the best-selling book, Freakonomics, which stated this model as,

People are people, and they respond to incentives

which I find equally useful.

Lessons learned

Lessons about models in general

  • believing a model makes following its strategy automatic
  • after finding strategies for many things in life we believe the models that led to them uncritically

Examples of models: Mexico city, lack of awareness, and leadership

[This post is part of a series on The Model — my model for the human emotional system designed for use in leadership, self-awareness, and general purpose professional and personal development — which I find the most effective and valuable foundation for understanding yourself and others and improving your life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Leadership depends on understanding that other people have different models. A leader who doesn’t recognize people can have different models will create discord and confusion, as today’s example will illustrate. I draw this example from my life.

After business school a friend told me her consulting job was taking her to Mexico City. This made her happy because she was learning Spanish and looked forward to practicing it.

A few months later I ran into her again and, thinking she had already returned, asked her how the trip went.

“I haven’t gone yet,” she said.

“Why not? I thought you were about to go last time.”

“I don’t know. Things keep coming up. I don’t understand. There’s never a good reason, but we keep postponing.”

A few months later — by now six months after she originally hoped to go — I saw her again and asked if she’d gone yet. She explained.

She was going in a team of two. Her teammate’s mother, it turns out, thought Mexico City was dangerous. Her teammate didn’t want to tell people she was scared or that her mother overly protected her, so she didn’t reveal her model.

So my friend’s team had two conflicting models

  • Mexico City is a great opportunity
  • Mexico City is dangerous

but no one exposed the conflict. Two people don’t have to view the same thing identically.

This case implies to me poor leadership on the part of the two teammates’ manager, but I don’t have enough information to say. I can say that exposing the conflict earlier probably would have helped the team meet its client’s interests sooner. Once you see the conflict, how to solve it becomes clear.

Exposing the conflict requires awareness of how we use models. If you do know how we use models, you almost can’t help check for differences like the Mexico City one.

I call this basic awareness the passive view of models, which I’ll describe in more depth tomorrow, summarizing the lessons of the past few posts. Then I’ll continue to the active view.

Models: the passive view

[This post is part of a series on The Model — my model for the human emotional system designed for use in leadership, self-awareness, and general purpose professional and personal development — which I find the most effective and valuable foundation for understanding yourself and others and improving your life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Today I’ll review the main points arising from simply knowing about that we create models that mediate our interactions with our worlds — what I call the passive view. Merely knowing about models passively, not what to do with them but just the following points, will help you understand people, avoid pointless argument and debate, and influence others more effectively.

  • Using models and beliefs is inevitable and necessary: your environment is too complex to understand without them.
  • Because they are simplifications, they are all flawed, including yours. They leave out information, are subject to your biases, and contradict each other.
  • “Truth” and “rightness” are not so well-defined generally. Within a model they may have clear meaning, but not everyone uses the same models, so what seems right or true to one person may not to another.
  • Your goal in life is likely not to be right, but to live a better life by your standards. Models are more valuable for how they achieve their purpose than how right or accurate they seem. You often have to choose between being right (and arguing self-righteously) and accepting other people have different models (and communicating meaningfully).
  • We tend to accept evidence supporting models and ignore contrary evidence.
  • Beliefs result in strategies. You behave consistently with what you believe more than with what you say. So does everyone else.
  • It can be difficult to differentiate between objective reality (if there is such a thing and you can observe it) and your beliefs.

Models: why I stress that they all have flaws

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If I stress one thing about models and beliefs, I stress that they all have flaws. None are internally consistent. All contradict something in the world.

To recognize that you can’t prove most of the basic ideas you hold as truths can be mind blowing. I’m not trying to say something post-modern here. I’m not saying nothing means anything or that you can’t know or prove anything. I’m saying that any idea you have only represents things in the world that you don’t know everything about.

If you think you have perfect knowledge of something, remember your brain only holds so much information. I predict you’ll experience surprise and, if you’re lucky, humility.

Anyway, I dwell on the point because when I tell people the first time, they nod along approvingly. Then later they share some idea that they believe objectively, yet that they know other people disagree with. Either they’re right and many others are wrong or they missed the point. They resist seeing their models’ flaws.

The flaws in one’s own models usually show up as objections or explanations why you can’t achieve the model’s goal, like improving your life or enjoying yourself, even as others with no better resources do improve their lives. If you feel indignancy, outrage, that you deserve better but never get it, or such feelings, you probably have a model that isn’t working for you but you don’t think you can change it because you confuse it with absolute reality or consider it absolutely right.

We call that perspective self-righteous. How do you feel when someone behaves self-righteously with you? What do you think of them?

As I write these I words I recognize the flaws in my writing, but I also recognize I can’t avoid these flaws. Whatever you believe instead has flaws too.

If you have a better model than this one — that all models have flaws, including this one — please share it.

Models: flaws from experts

[This post is part of a series on The Model — my model for the human emotional system designed for use in leadership, self-awareness, and general purpose professional and personal development — which I find the most effective and valuable foundation for understanding yourself and others and improving your life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Do you think you have some great models and beliefs that no one can prove wrong? Let’s look at some examples of experts declaring things most people at the time probably agreed with.

I think you’ll find many funny today. Imagine trying to argue with the authority who said it at the time.

Not all the statements clearly state a model, but with some thought you can discern the model that led to the statement.

  • I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” Thomas  Watson, Chair, IBM, 1943.
  • Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons.” Popular Mechanics, 1949.
  • I can assure you that data processing is a fad that won’t last out the year.” Business books editor, Prentice-Hall, 1957.
  • So we went to Atari and said, …’We’ll give it to you. We just want to do it. Pay our salary, we’ll come work for you.’ And they said no. So then we went to HP, and they said ‘We don’t need you, you haven’t got through college yet.’” Steve Jobs, co-founder, Apple Computers.
  • 640K of RAM ought to be enough for anybody.” Bill Gates, Microsoft, 1981.
  • Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?” H.M. Warner, Warner Bros., 1927.
  • Stocks have reached what look to be a permanently high plateau.” I. Fisher, Prof. of Economics, Yale, 1929.
  • We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out.” M. Smith, Decca Records, rejecting the Beatles’ demo tape, 1962.
  • This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication [and] is inherently of no value to us.” Western Union, 1876.
  • Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible.” Lord Kelvin, President, Royal Society, 1895.
  • Everything that can be invented has been invented.” C. H. Duell Commissioner, U.S. Office of Patents, 1899.

Anyone can point out counterexamples to these models everywhere today. Yet the authorities stating them at the time probably had the best knowledge of the relevant information.

Though the following sentiment applies to all the points, I’ll pick one. I find it hard to imagine how Lord Kelvin, one of the great physicists of all time, could have predicted heavier-than-air flying machines impossible when heavier-than-air birds, insects, and bats fly all the time. He seems so wrong as to sound silly from our perspective, knowing so many counterexamples.

But more to the point, when I feel too sure of myself, I imagine how silly I must look from someone else’s perspective who has so many counterexamples.

Do you think no one has a perspective with counterexamples to your beliefs?

Models: the active view, part 1

[This post is part of a series on The Model — my model for the human emotional system designed for use in leadership, self-awareness, and general purpose professional and personal development — which I find the most effective and valuable foundation for understanding yourself and others and improving your life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Actively choosing and managing your models — what I call the active view of models — changes how you experience your world. Since you only know your world through your beliefs and models, changing your models effectively changes your world.

You need to know about models — the passive view — to enable doing things with them — the active view. We’ll use the active view extensively in the Method, which shows you how to improve your life predictably, reliably, and consistently.

Let’s start with an overview of some high level points about the active view of beliefs and models.

At the most basic level, you can choose your own beliefs, which means influencing how you perceive your world.

The ability to choose models is immediately useful. If you and I are both in the same situation, but you’re happy and I’m miserable, probably my beliefs are causing my misery. Other factors may influence our moods, but differing beliefs often play a role. If I don’t know I can change my beliefs, I won’t know I can change one of the main things contributing to my misery.

Say we go to a bar, I wanted to talk, you wanted to dance, and the music is too loud for talking. I know plenty of people who would wallow in their misery at being unable to talk, unaware they could change their perspective. I used to be like that.

When you think your models are right, you can’t change them. So not dwelling on your beliefs’ rightness or accuracy gives you freedom. Choosing them instead for how they meet your values help yields incredible freedom. (Again, I am not talking post-modern nothing-means-anything talk here. I’m not saying anything about reality, just how you perceive and understand things.)

Recognizing you can choose your models also means recognizing you have to take responsibility for your life. If someone’s life looks better than yours, you can do something about it. If you don’t, whom can you blame?

More pointedly, anyone anywhere with less resources, or whatever you complain keeps you from what you want, living a life you wish you had means you can attain that life too.

So recognizing you can choose your models results in you taking more responsibility for how well your life goes. You give up the palliative but complacent fallback of blaming others for your problems. For many people, newly recognizing the active view is big. At first it feels like you lose the foundation for many things until you learn you never had it. You just thought you did.

Anyway, back to the freedom you get from choosing beliefs and models based on your values, the complement happens too. Dwelling in rightness or wrongness results in the opposite of freedom — mental confinement. You end up blaming others, which is to say, complacent.

Models: the active view, part 2

[This post is part of a series on The Model — my model for the human emotional system designed for use in leadership, self-awareness, and general purpose professional and personal development — which I find the most effective and valuable foundation for understanding yourself and others and improving your life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Having seen an overview of the active view, let’s look at it in practice. Let’s take a passive view from a post a few days ago — how you perceive a dog based on your beliefs and expectations — and make it active.

Example 1

First let’s look at the usual way of seeing something in your environment, a dog. Say you grew up with a pet bulldog. When you see another, you might consider it cuddly, adorable, playful, and friendly. I illustrate the situation here by grouping those properties with the dog.

Active model (1)
Note that if someone else thinks the dog is mean you disagree with each other on what you think of as objective reality. But if you disagree it can’t be objective, or you both think “I’m right and you’re wrong” — a recipe for argument.

Now let’s look at the situation with the passive view of models, that says that those properties aren’t properties of the dog, but are independent of it. This view gives you more flexibility if, for example, someone disagrees with you.

Active model (2)
Since you don’t think the dog itself is adorable, if someone disagrees with you, you can agree on objective reality while disagreeing on your opinions of it.

Now let’s look at the active view, which credits you with the opinions and perceptions. As with the passive view, if someone disagrees with you on the dog’s cuddliness, you don’t disagree on objective reality.

Moreover, by taking responsibility for how you perceive the world, you enable yourself to do something about your perception. If you want to change how you perceive the world, you can, which you couldn’t if you ascribed those properties to the dog.

Active model (3)Example 2

Let’s look at another case, this time making things more active and adding a twist. Say you go to a party and it doesn’t seem fun. In the traditional view, you might say the party is lame, as illustrated here.

Active model (4)The passive view might say the party just is, leaving aside value judgments. As illustrated below, you don’t trap yourself into believing the party is inherently lame. At least if you couldn’t leave the party, your self-talk wouldn’t sabotage your potential for enjoyment.

Active model (5)We can go one step further. By taking responsibility for your perception, you group the properties with yourself, as illustrated below. This time I added a twist beyond the dog example. I didn’t just illustrate you thinking the party was lame. I had you actively change your thoughts about the party to improve your life.

Active model (6)Note that I didn’t just change the thoughts to the opposite, like “this party is fun” or “this party is not lame.” I’ll write more about how to choose effective self-talk to improve your life in a later post. For now I’ll mention that when you don’t like a thought, choosing a new thought exactly opposite to the old one often creates too much internal conflict to displace it. I recommend choosing a new thought based on the principle “don’t look for blame but take responsibility for making things better to the extent you can.”

In this case, that principle gives you a belief that empowers yourself to do something about your situation.

Models: examples of the active view

[This post is part of a series on The Model — my model for the human emotional system designed for use in leadership, self-awareness, and general purpose professional and personal development — which I find the most effective and valuable foundation for understanding yourself and others and improving your life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Today let’s look at some examples of applying the active view of models to models you may know or from life. That is, the following examples show how someone created a model specifically not what most people see when they look at the object of the modeling.

Jack Welch’s gardening model of leadership

One of my business school leadership professors ascribed the following model of leadership to Jack Welch. I haven’t found it independently of that professor, so I’m not sure of its accuracy. Maybe it’s just my professor’s gardening model of leadership. I’ll write it as best I understand it and assume Jack Welch used it.

The model points out that a gardener doesn’t sprout vegetables themself. A gardener creates the environment and provides the resources for the plants to grow the vegetables. The gardener’s role is to choose what plants to grow; find a suitable plot of land; plant the seeds; provide water, sun, and protection from the elements; and keeps weeds from choking off the plants’ ability to grow.

Likewise, leaders don’t build the products to sell. Leaders choose what products to sell, choose what markets to enter, hire the staff, provide resources, and keep bureaucracy from choking of the employees’ ability to grow.

I only presented part of the model, but you get the idea. This model differs from other common leadership models, like command-and-control or leadership-by-example.

Let’s note first its blatant inaccuracies. People aren’t plants. Plots of land aren’t business markets. Weeds aren’t bureaucratic rules. If you measure a model by its accuracy or rightness, this model falls hopelessly short.

If you measure a model by how well it meets its purpose, the model succeeds tremendously, assuming my professor correctly ascribed it to Jack Welch. He led his company to tremendous success by the standards of the shareholders he was accountable to. Others with different models didn’t succeed as much as him.

In any case, for today’s post I point out that someone created this model actively. He created it to replace other ways of looking at the same thing.

Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus

This model comes from the title and content of a book that said that at times men and women think and communicate so differently they might as well come from different planets.

Again, this model is hopelessly inaccurate. All people come from Earth.

Yet the model helps some people understand and communicate with each other. You don’t have to adopt it if you don’t want to, but many people did and likely still do. Doubtless many people didn’t adopt it who, if they had, could have had relationships more fulfilling and understanding.

Again, someone actively created this model and chose it not for its accuracy or right-ness, but for its utility. When people use it, they crowd out whatever models they used to have.

Maps

I wrote about maps as models a few posts ago. They bear repeating as quintessential active models.

Someone actively creates a map based on a purpose. The cartographer throws out information that hinders that purpose and stylizes the information that they keep, each time making it less accurate to the place being mapped. A map is good if its useful, not if it has more detail. Only the mapped terrain has all its detail.

Politics and religion

Politicians and religions create models to influence and lead people.

For example, most countries have creation stories that select which parts of their histories they want to stress. Most religions have creation stories.

Politicians motivate their populations by creating and acting on models. Examples include the domino theory, “the war on poverty,” and “you are either with us or you are against us.”

They create these beliefs and models because they work. The ones that work best endure.

Reality

No matter how objective it seems to you, your concept of reality differs from everyone else’s. What you call your reality is the collection of your beliefs about a universe you have only limited knowledge of.

People think of their concept of reality as objective, but others have different concepts, so they must be subjective.

If you consider your reality objective, you take a passive or standard view of that model. To the extent you choose your models, you take an active view of your model of reality.

Models: an exercise in evaluating models

[This post is part of a series on The Model — my model for the human emotional system designed for use in leadership, self-awareness, and general purpose professional and personal development — which I find the most effective and valuable foundation for understanding yourself and others and improving your life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

I’ve harped on how the only meaningful value of a model or belief is in how well it helps achieve its goal, not accuracy or if you had it first or anything else.

Today’s question will illustrate the difference. I’ll give you a situation to consider, then a question to answer.

The situation

Say you wanted to improve your public speaking and that you had poor skills and experience now. You have a range of beliefs and models you could hold.

The question

Which of the following models which you prefer, given you didn’t speak publicly well but wanted to?

  1. I’m terrible at public speaking.
  2. I’ll never be good at public speaking.
  3. Public speaking doesn’t matter.
  4. Others were as bad as me at public speaking yet still developed excellence in it.
  5. I’m going to be an excellent public speaker.

Before going to the discussion, choose which of the five you’d prefer.

Discussion

In my seminars, nearly everyone chooses 5.

Now let’s evaluate them on accuracy.

Model 1 is the most accurate. Model 2 is nearly so, and you can make it as accurate as you like. Model 3 is sometimes accurate. The accuracy of Model 4 is unknown without research. Model 5 is speculative and least accurate.

Interesting, huh? The least accurate can help you the most.

This example clearly distinguishes between helpfulness and accuracy. In some cases accuracy and helpfulness overlap. The concepts are orthogonal.

Models: an exercise in spotting the model

[This post is part of a series on The Model — my model for the human emotional system designed for use in leadership, self-awareness, and general purpose professional and personal development — which I find the most effective and valuable foundation for understanding yourself and others and improving your life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Let’s do another exercise in beliefs and models.

One of the challenges in models is that people act on them without realizing them. If someone else acts on one without realizing it, they will stick with it strongly and may influence you to seeing it from their perspective, probably unintentionally.

As an entrepreneur, I often interacted with people who saw innovation and change as difficult or impossible, so they made it difficult for others, often without realizing it. Even when they meant to help, their latent models undermined their intent.

Look at this list of common responses to innovation. See if you can state the model or models motivating them. If you act in a field other than entrepreneurship, see if you can translate these responses to some equivalent in your field.

  • It’s just not right; I can’t tell you why.
  • Here’s my idea, now execute it.
  • It shouldn’t take more than an hour to do.
  • Put it in writing.
  • Don’t ask questions; just follow the rules.
  • You need the approval of five unit heads.
  • I personally wouldn’t do it, but you can try.
  • Why say thank you? It’s his job, isn’t it?
  • What will the boss think?
  • Don’t rock the boat.
  • We’ve never done it this way before.

If you don’t recognize other people’s models and you disagree, you often have to butt heads with them, but you end up doing it in an area different than where you disagree. If you recognize the underlying source of disagreement, you can face the conflict directly, giving you a better chance to resolve it.

The Model: environment and behavior

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Today we’ll see the first part of the Model. It comes from evolution in general and the burgeoning forefront scientific field of evolutionary psychology.

Let’s start with your behavior and environment. Like all life, you exist in an environment and you behave in certain ways within it. You move toward food and away from predators. You maintain your temperature and humidity away from extremes. You seek a mate. The following diagram is the starting point for the full Model to come.

environment and behaviorNote the arrow points in both directions: your environment affects you and you change your environment. In other words, you react to it and you act on it.

I start the Model simply and I’ll keep it simple the whole way. As a model, it simplifies to fulfill its purpose, ease in communication and understanding. As we’ll see, the simplicity belies its applicability. As with any model, holding off on judging the Model until you have the whole thing, helps you understand it.

We will add elements to the Model until we’ve presented them all. Once we have a complete picture of the Model we will go into more depth for each element as well as the Model as a whole, after which we’ll see how to apply understanding it to improve our lives.

Tomorrow: adding emotions and motivation to the Model

The Model

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What goals do we have in life if not to understand what makes life good and how to make our own better? By good I mean by the values of the person living that life — not by some abstract standard.

I want to distinguish the following from so-called positive thinking. The phrase “the power of positive thinking” makes me bristle. It sounds like putting lipstick on a pig. My recent posts have discussed how counterproductive to a better life for a person I consider judgmental terminology. I don’t like the idea of someone living a life they don’t like, forcing a smile, and calling it good.

The following posts cover something different.

What makes a life good for a person is not abstract positivity or smiling or labeling it as good. Life is better to the extent a person likes it — that is, by how it fits that person’s values and brings about emotions they want. We will return to this core concept that values, importance, and meaning derive from your emotions from different directions

The next several posts will cover the core model grounding the seminars I lead and executive and life coaching I do, based on a model of the human emotional and evaluative system — how you perceive your environment, evaluate it, and react to it. I call it the Model. I know, I should come up with a catchier name than just capitalizing the word.

I believe this Model will enable you to understand and improve your life as much as anything you’ll learn. I believe understanding it, followed by practice (I’ll cover implementation in later series) will put you on a level with any coach or guru.

Why in a discussion on values and improvement — a good life, making it better — do we talk about emotions? As we will see, your emotional system evaluates your world and determines how to react to it. To evaluate means to give value to — your emotional system creates value in your life. Things that change your life change your motivations, which your emotions are.

If you want to understand your values, you have to understand your emotional system. To react means to act or behave based on your environment. Again, your behavior — for that matter, your life and lifestyle — derives from your emotional system’s perception and evaluation of your environment.

The concepts of environment, perception, belief, and behavior will return over and over on your life and how to improve it.

Tomorrow: models in general.

The Model: adding emotions

[This post is part of a series on The Model — my model for the human emotional system designed for use in leadership, self-awareness, and general purpose professional and personal development — which I find the most effective and valuable foundation for understanding yourself and others and improving your life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Yesterday began the Model with the foundation of understanding yourself as someone who exists in an environment and behaves within it.

Unlike many simpler life forms, people don’t merely react reflexively. I don’t know how bugs and lizards live, but they don’t seem to reflect much on their behavior, let alone plants and bacteria. They seem just to react reflexively with the first motivations that comes to them, without contemplation.

People, on the other hand, behave more complexly than merely reflexively. We often have a range of motivations and emotions, as well as the ability to choose between them, including postponing that choice. We may simultaneously feel hunger, the need to go to the bathroom, pressure to act on an upcoming deadline, and so on. We can consider and weigh among those options which to act on.

The following diagram illustrates how our emotions and motivations fit in with our environment and behavior, still not the whole Model yet.

environment emotions behaviorI drew the arrows one-directionally to call out one particular cycle in your emotional system. This simplification leaves out other parts of the system — for example that your behavior affects your emotions. That’s part of this Model’s simplification for its function.

Speaking of that function, I should mention a few words on looking at emotions functionally.

I grew up thinking of emotions as presented in art, literature, music, and so on — ineffable, mysterious, amazing, but difficult-to-understand parts of us. Much of culture revolves around expressing parts of us difficult to express. We fill museums with art, mp3 players with music, and libraries with books to express emotions and feelings. The arts express emotion in ways words can’t. (By contrast, by the way, mental chatter often feels spoken in words in our own heads, making it easier to express).

The Model looks at emotions functionally, following its goal to enable you to use them to improve your life. Functionally, emotions evaluate and give meaning to our perceptions of our environments and motivate behavior. This perspective presents emotions less romantically than the usual one, but more useful for our purpose.

As illustrated, in the model, your emotional system evaluates its perception of the environment and motivates your behavior.

It makes you feel the emotion that motivates the behavior most appropriate to that perception. A later post (I’ll link to it here when I post it) will cover what I mean by appropriate, but, briefly, your emotional system chooses emotions based on what helped your ancestors live and pass their genes on to you. You inherited what worked for them.

When we feel emotions — that is, motivation to act — we don’t have to act on them. I don’t know if that ability makes us unique among life, but it is an essential element of our motivational system.

As a model, it simplifies to fulfill its purpose, ease in communication and understanding. As we’ll see, the simplicity belies its applicability. As before, holding off on judging the Model until you have the whole thing will help you understand it.

Tomorrow: adding perception and belief to the Model

The Model: adding belief and perception

[This post is part of a series on The Model — my model for the human emotional system designed for use in leadership, self-awareness, and general purpose professional and personal development — which I find the most effective and valuable foundation for understanding yourself and others and improving your life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Our Model so far comprised a cycle of your environment, emotions, and behavior. We’re still building.

We don’t develop motivations based on our environments directly. The limitations of our senses mean we never know the full story of anything. The limitations of our memory and mental processing power mean we couldn’t comprehend it all anyway, and whatever we do comprehend we forget.

Our limited memories and minds filter what we perceive of the world. At the most basic level, we don’t know what our senses don’t sense. The universe stretches on for billions of light years in every direction, yet most of our lives we only see and hear a few meters from us. We taste, smell, and touch things in our immediate vicinity.

More relevant to our behavior, we only react to things in our environment we sense. If we don’t sense a tiger sneaking up behind us, we don’t run away from it. We only observe other people’s behavior, not their intent, which we can only guess at.

How we interpret the signals from our senses depends on our beliefs. If we believe someone is a jerk, for example, we tend to interpret their behavior as reinforcing that their jerkiness. If we believe someone else an upstanding person, we might interpret the same behavior as reinforcing how upstanding they are. Psychologists call this effect confirmation bias, only one of many so-called cognitive biases.

More blatant than mere bias are entire beliefs, whether based in observation and evidence or not. If we believe a tiger is sneaking up on us, we’ll feel fear, even if no tiger is there.

We now have most of the Model in this cycle

environment beliefs emotions behavior

Again, I’ve simplified the Model to simplify communicating and understanding it. I’ve separated elements that interact. As we work with the model, we’ll see more richness within it. Even in its current simplicity, the Model displays great complexity.

Tomorrow: adding reward to complete the Model

The Model

[This post is part of a series on The Model — my model for the human emotional system designed for use in leadership, self-awareness, and general purpose professional and personal development — which I find the most effective and valuable foundation for understanding yourself and others and improving your life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

What goals do we have in life if not to understand what makes life good and how to make our own better? By good I mean by the values of the person living that life — not by some abstract standard.

I want to distinguish the following from so-called positive thinking. The phrase “the power of positive thinking” makes me bristle. It sounds like putting lipstick on a pig. My recent posts have discussed how counterproductive to a better life for a person I consider judgmental terminology. I don’t like the idea of someone living a life they don’t like, forcing a smile, and calling it good.

The following posts cover something different.

What makes a life good for a person is not abstract positivity or smiling or labeling it as good. Life is better to the extent a person likes it — that is, by how it fits that person’s values and brings about emotions they want. We will return to this core concept that values, importance, and meaning derive from your emotions from different directions

The next several posts will cover the core model grounding the seminars I lead and executive and life coaching I do, based on a model of the human emotional and evaluative system — how you perceive your environment, evaluate it, and react to it. I call it the Model. I know, I should come up with a catchier name than just capitalizing the word.

I believe this Model will enable you to understand and improve your life as much as anything you’ll learn. I believe understanding it, followed by practice (I’ll cover implementation in later series) will put you on a level with any coach or guru.

Why in a discussion on values and improvement — a good life, making it better — do we talk about emotions? As we will see, your emotional system evaluates your world and determines how to react to it. To evaluate means to give value to — your emotional system creates value in your life. Things that change your life change your motivations, which your emotions are.

If you want to understand your values, you have to understand your emotional system. To react means to act or behave based on your environment. Again, your behavior — for that matter, your life and lifestyle — derives from your emotional system’s perception and evaluation of your environment.

The concepts of environment, perception, belief, and behavior will return over and over on your life and how to improve it.

Tomorrow: models in general.

The Model: adding reward

[This post is part of a series on The Model — my model for the human emotional system designed for use in leadership, self-awareness, and general purpose professional and personal development — which I find the most effective and valuable foundation for understanding yourself and others and improving your life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

So far the Model comprises cycle of environment, perception (subject to belief), emotions, and behavior.

Its last element represents how it regulates itself: reward. When this Model refers to reward, it means emotional reward, not something like financial reward, treats for dogs, or food pellets for lab animals.

reward environment beliefs emotions behaviorEmotional reward is the feeling that things related to that cycle are right, you want them to continue, and you want what brought the reward about to happen again. You feel reward when your environment, beliefs, emotions, and behavior are in sync. That internal feeling motivates you.

External things — money, power, fame, etc — can at best contribute to that feeling, but they aren’t that feeling. They do not motivate you. Only your emotions do. If you think something external will bring you reward and motivate you but your emotional system doesn’t agree, it won’t motivate you, no matter how much you think it will, someone else says it will, or you want it to.

By contrast, emotional punishment, the opposite of emotional reward, occurs when at least one of your environment, beliefs, emotions, and behavior clash with the others. When you experience emotional punishment you feel like things are wrong, you want them to stop, and you want to keep what brought the punishment about from happening again.

Between emotional reward and punishment lie a range of emotions arising from conflict between your environment, beliefs, and behaviors. I call them emotions of conflict. They include anxiety, impatience, frustration, stress, disappointment, confusion, and the like. We will see that those emotions help us improve our lives tremendously. We may not like feeling them, but when a conflict causes them, being aware of them will help us act to resolve that conflict. In other words, awareness of them helps us improve our lives. Lack of awareness of them condemns us to misery and miserable lives.

Recalling that we’ve simplified the Model for ease of communication and understanding, the Model treats reward as distinct from emotions. Having worked with the Model, I tend to think of reward as a higher level emotion than most others. I expect your understanding will change with experience too.

Most emotions react to the outside environment as perceived by the usual five senses to motivate behavior. Reward reacts to your perception of the other elements of your emotional cycle. Not that labels matter, but I consider reward an emotion, just a high-level one.

The diagram above illustrates the complete Model, designed to be simple enough to communicate and remember easily and complex enough to model the essentials of the human emotional system. Its function is to enable you to understand yourself, your motivations, and how you evaluate your world.

Next, we’ll begin discussing it and seeing how to apply it to improve your life.

The Model: reward, happiness, and pleasure

[This post is part of a series on The Model — my model for the human emotional system designed for use in leadership, self-awareness, and general purpose professional and personal development — which I find the most effective and valuable foundation for understanding yourself and others and improving your life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Two days ago we first saw the complete Model. Now we’ll begin discussing it. First let’s clarify the central points of pleasure, happiness, and reward.

At this level of simplification, the Model distinguishes between pleasure, happiness, and reward, though outside the Model they overlap more than in the Model. Different people define each term differently, so I’ll clarify mine.

You feel pleasure based on direct stimulation of your senses. Pleasure motivates you to bring about the thing in the environment that created the pleasure — things like foods that taste good and materials that feel good.

You feel happiness not at merely something feeling good. You feel happiness when your beliefs and expectations resonate with your environment. Happiness motivates you to maintain that cycle — things like being with friends. You can feel happy even when you aren’t feeling pleasure and vice versa.

You feel reward not at merely being in a situation that seems right. You feel reward when all of your environment, beliefs, and behavior resonate with your emotions. Moreover, you can feel reward even in situations where you wouldn’t feel pleasure or happiness. For example, I feel reward when I run a marathon, though I feel the opposite of pleasure and happiness while running it.

My rule of thumb is you feel happy when you find a dollar on the ground. You feel reward when you earn it.

We have presented all the elements of the cycle, though we have barely scratched the surface of its meaning or what we can do with it

Tomorrow: the evolutionary origins of our emotions

The Model: where emotional cycles came from

[This post is part of a series on The Model — my model for the human emotional system designed for use in leadership, self-awareness, and general purpose professional and personal development — which I find the most effective and valuable foundation for understanding yourself and others and improving your life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

We’ve presented all the elements of the Model, barely scratching the surface of what it all means or how to use it. Let’s start by understanding where our emotions come from.

We don’t have our emotions for the fun of it. Our emotions motivate our behavior. Each emotion has a function. Natural selection makes the system efficient. We descended from ancestors whose emotional systems motivated behavior that helped them survive in their environments.

For every environmental need our ancestors developed an inheritable behavior for, we inherited the motivation for it, though they can evolve away if they become useless or counterproductive from environmental change. Some are obvious, like the motivations to drink when low on water, to eat when low on energy, and to flee when a predator approaches. Those motivations exist in nearly all animals.

Some emotions and motivations exist perhaps only in humans, for example to listen and dance to music or to speak in language. Whatever emotion, it originated through the same process.

Likewise, we didn’t inherit emotions for things not in our ancestors environments, no matter how helpful they would be. For example, babies react fearfully to a piece of string made to move like a snake, but have no fear of electrical outlets, despite the negligible danger in our world of snakes and a huge danger from electrical outlets. Our ancestors’ environments had snakes but no electrical outlets so our ancestors evolved behaviors for snakes but not outlets.

Everything you do all the time results from your emotional system motivating you. Even things you don’t do, but feel like doing, result from your emotional system. Every emotion you can name originated from some behavioral reaction to your ancestors’ environments.

Tomorrow: examples of emotional cycles

The Model: examples of emotional cycles

[This post is part of a series on The Model — my model for the human emotional system designed for use in leadership, self-awareness, and general purpose professional and personal development — which I find the most effective and valuable foundation for understanding yourself and others and improving your life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

In our Model, each emotion you experience manifests itself in the emotional cycle of the model.

reward environment beliefs emotions behavior

Example 1: let’s consider an example of hunger in the Model.

Say someone puts a mango in front of you (environment). You see it and expect it to taste good (perception/belief). Since you evolved to eat healthy foods and mangoes provide nutrition (and mangoes evolved to motivate you to eat them), you feel motivated to eat them (emotions/motivations). If you then eat it (behavior), you’ll feel reward for completing the cycle, motivating you to complete similar cycles in the future.

This example illustrates one of many ways you can feel hunger. You can feel hunger from other perceptions and beliefs of your environment.

Example 2: friendliness

Say you are with your friends (environment). If you see them and believe they are your friends (perception/belief), you’ll feel friendly emotions. If you act on the emotions, say to joke around with them (behavior), all the cycles will be in sync and you’ll feel reward.

If for some reason you felt one of them was angry with you (belief), you might be motivated to have fun with some but motivated to resolve your dispute with the angry one. If you can’t figure out how to have fun with all and resolve the issue with that one (behavior), all the elements in the cycle won’t resonate and you won’t feel reward. You’ll feel instead emotions of conflict like suspicion or frustration.

Example 3: loneliness

Say you are alone (environment). You may perceive no one being around (perception). Depending on your belief in the moment, you may feel different emotions. If you believe your friends shunned you, you may feel lonely and want to find them and fix whatever led them to shun you (emotions/motivation). If you believe you have work to do alone, you may be glad for the time alone and want to get to work (emotions/motivation). You may have any of many other beliefs. Depending on the belief and resulting motivation, you will behave differently — to find your friends if lonely, to work if relieved, and so on. If you act on the motivation you’ll feel reward when you start acting, knowing you’re improving your situation, even while you feel the loneliness.

Try seeing how any emotion fits into cycles you feel, for example whatever emotions you feel now. Or that you felt yesterday or years ago or when you were bored or excited.

With practice you start noticing all your emotions in the context of their cycles. This functional, system-based view makes bringing about the emotions you want and resilience to those you don’t much easier. We’ll return to acting on the Model after we cover it in more depth.

The Model: emotional reward differs from the emotion that brought it about

[This post is part of a series on The Model — my model for the human emotional system designed for use in leadership, self-awareness, and general purpose professional and personal development — which I find the most effective and valuable foundation for understanding yourself and others and improving your life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Yesterday’s last example illustrated an important distinction I left implicit so far: the feeling of reward or punishment is independent of the emotion that brought it about.

This distinction helps you understand the Model and bring about the emotions and reward you want independent of the situation you’re in. I’ll explain what I mean, give an example, then show you how to use it to improve your life.

If you want to feel good all the time — only pleasant or happy emotions — you lose the ability to do things that help build your life but aren’t necessarily fun or enjoyable in the moment. As everyone knows, many things that improve your life the most aren’t pleasant in the moment. Many are painful, even when we know they help us.

The distinction between reward and other emotions overcomes what otherwise looks like a hindrance. You can feel emotional reward — an overall feeling that everything is right in your life, that you’re on the right track, and that you want situations like this to happen more — even when the specific dominant emotions you feel aren’t pleasant.

I do this when I run marathons. Running a marathon doesn’t feel good, emotionally or physically. In fact, I usually feel physical and emotional pain. As I’m writing this post, I have scabs on my knee, shin, and thigh from playing ultimate. The pain from the physical play enhanced my reward from playing.

The effect works the other way too. You can feel emotional punishment from emotions you enjoy. You might enjoy eating a piece of chocolate cake. If you later find out your friend was saving that piece for themselves, you might feel more emotional punishment for having enjoyed it than if it tasted terrible.

Physical or emotional pain can heighten emotional reward — often called sacrifice. And physical or emotional pleasure can heighten emotional punishment.

You use this effect to improve your life by not looking for mere joy, happiness, or other pleasant emotion. Nor do unpleasant emotions deter you. You recognize that the reward you feel from all the elements of your emotional cycle resonating determines the value something has for you.

reward environment beliefs emotions behaviorThe big picture: look for the emotional reward of a whole cycle over mere pleasure or pleasant or happy emotions. And look beyond physical pain and painful emotions to the reward from the whole emotional cycle to attain resilience to them.

The Model

[This post is part of a series on The Model — my model for the human emotional system designed for use in leadership, self-awareness, and general purpose professional and personal development — which I find the most effective and valuable foundation for understanding yourself and others and improving your life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

What goals do we have in life if not to understand what makes life good and how to make our own better? By good I mean by the values of the person living that life — not by some abstract standard.

I want to distinguish the following from so-called positive thinking. The phrase “the power of positive thinking” makes me bristle. It sounds like putting lipstick on a pig. My recent posts have discussed how counterproductive to a better life for a person I consider judgmental terminology. I don’t like the idea of someone living a life they don’t like, forcing a smile, and calling it good.

The following posts cover something different.

What makes a life good for a person is not abstract positivity or smiling or labeling it as good. Life is better to the extent a person likes it — that is, by how it fits that person’s values and brings about emotions they want. We will return to this core concept that values, importance, and meaning derive from your emotions from different directions

The next several posts will cover the core model grounding the seminars I lead and executive and life coaching I do, based on a model of the human emotional and evaluative system — how you perceive your environment, evaluate it, and react to it. I call it the Model. I know, I should come up with a catchier name than just capitalizing the word.

I believe this Model will enable you to understand and improve your life as much as anything you’ll learn. I believe understanding it, followed by practice (I’ll cover implementation in later series) will put you on a level with any coach or guru.

Why in a discussion on values and improvement — a good life, making it better — do we talk about emotions? As we will see, your emotional system evaluates your world and determines how to react to it. To evaluate means to give value to — your emotional system creates value in your life. Things that change your life change your motivations, which your emotions are.

If you want to understand your values, you have to understand your emotional system. To react means to act or behave based on your environment. Again, your behavior — for that matter, your life and lifestyle — derives from your emotional system’s perception and evaluation of your environment.

The concepts of environment, perception, belief, and behavior will return over and over on your life and how to improve it.

Tomorrow: models in general.

The Model: our emotions transcend "nature red in tooth and claw"

[This post is part of a series on The Model — my model for the human emotional system designed for use in leadership, self-awareness, and general purpose professional and personal development — which I find the most effective and valuable foundation for understanding yourself and others and improving your life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Two days ago we covered a few examples of emotional cycles. Some are obvious, like hunger when low on food and thirst when low on water.

Other motivations and emotions aren’t as obvious, like to avoid being shunned by a group or other social behaviors. Some are complex, like the anxiety before speaking or performing in front of a crowd. How do we make sense and understand them?

A century ago, people understood motivations like fight-or-flight and various competitive ones, seeing them as necessary in the struggle for scarce resources. They also understood why fathers and mothers would feel motivation to help their children even risking their own safety, as helping them helped pass on their genes, an evolutionary advantage. Until recently, why people would help non-family members mystified people. How could sacrifice help others?

The burgeoning field of evolutionary psychology is clarifying this mystery and stands at the core of our Model. Without it, the Model would predict only a subset of the behaviors we exhibit. In particular, it would only predict selfish, competitive emotions. Instead, it predicts all the emotions that make us human, all the emotions on which people base their ethics and morality. In other words, it lets us trust in the Model that if we follow our emotions, we’ll help and give to our communities, not just compete with everyone around us.

As people understood genetics, observed behavior in other social animals, game theory, and other advances of the past half-century or so, we’ve come to understand how reciprocity, sacrifice, and altruism offered our ancestors evolutionary advantages.

The upshot of these recent developments is that we understand how many more emotions likely evolved in our ancestors, who passed them on to us. Popular misconceptions of “nature red in tooth and claw” predict we’d be vicious. Current evolutionary psychology theory can explain the human behavior you practice and observe in others every day, including kindness, reciprocity, self-sacrifice, altruism, and the like.

Another upshot of this Model is to expect that our human emotional system to apply across all cultures, which it does, as far as I can tell. We all share a common past for about a billion years, diverging in perhaps the last fifty thousand years, which is to say, hardly at all. People in different cultures may have different environments and beliefs, leading us to react differently to the same environments. We share the same systems, they just give different outputs to different inputs.

The Model: your emotional system is consistent and predictable

[This post is part of a series on The Model — my model for the human emotional system designed for use in leadership, self-awareness, and general purpose professional and personal development — which I find the most effective and valuable foundation for understanding yourself and others and improving your life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

The Model predicts the human emotional system to be consistent and predictable. How so?

People often contrast emotions with reason, which they consider systematic and predictable. By contrast, they consider emotions illogical, unpredictable, and unsystematic. People are used to understanding how someone reasons from one point to another. They see occasions when someone else shows emotions different than they would and consider emotions random.

The Model says otherwise.

First, we all see when others show emotions the same as we would: an athlete pumps their fist after making a great play, a mother coddles her baby, a child proudly displays something they made by themselves for the first time. People take these consistent and predictable behaviors and emotions for granted. People also ignore many non-dramatic emotions, like calmness or satisfaction, yet they tend to motivate consistent and predictable behavior.

Second, the Model says that everyone has the same system, not its inputs. Since you and I have different histories, abilities, beliefs, and so on, the same environment may lead to different behavior. People see that difference and unpredictability as evidence of inconsistency. On the contrary, people should behave differently, even in the same situation — they’re different, they perceive their situations differently, and they have different abilities to respond to their situations.

The Model: our emotional system is outdated

[This post is part of a series on The Model — my model for the human emotional system designed for use in leadership, self-awareness, and general purpose professional and personal development — which I find the most effective and valuable foundation for understanding yourself and others and improving your life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

I think everybody knows the following, but I have to say it anyway just in case.

The human emotional system evolves at the rate evolution acts, whereas our environment over the past few tens of thousands of years has changed faster than evolution can act. This difference results in your emotional system lagging behind the environment in which it acts in some areas.

For example, because our emotional system developed in environments where calories were harder to find relative to other nutrients than today, we evolved motivations to eat calories out of proportion to other nutrients. The same goes for fat and salt.

Since the bulk of the past few million years saw our ancestors outdoors in Africa, our emotional system evolved to keep us alive and passing on our genes in environments you’d find there. To understand your motivations, you have to recognize your emotional system sees today’s world through that lens. No matter how much you consciously know you hurt your health by eating too much sweets, you still feel the motivation to eat them because your ancestors who acted on that motivation passed on more genes than those who didn’t, in particular to you.

I find it interesting to think of what differences our worlds have compared to our ancestors’. We live in worlds with buildings, cities of millions of people, agriculture-based food, privacy, and laws, for example. They had trees, groups of perhaps dozens, hunting and gathering, no privacy, and they had to defend themselves. I try to imagine how these differences skew my motivations from optimal and don’t hold myself or others to overly exacting standards in the face of these differences. It helps build empathy and compassion.

These differences contribute to why people think of emotions as unpredictable and inconsistent. They do lead to counterproductive behavior in today’s world — or perhaps suggests we’re changing our worlds in counterproductive ways, it depends on how you look at it — but at least make sense. Our goal is to improve our lives and that understanding helps.

The Model and cognitive behavioral therapy

[This post is part of a series on The Model — my model for the human emotional system designed for use in leadership, self-awareness, and general purpose professional and personal development — which I find the most effective and valuable foundation for understanding yourself and others and improving your life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

If you want to improve your life, you should know about cognitive behavioral therapy. CBT has a lot going for it, but if, like me, you don’t have mental problems and diseases you should know its shortcomings too. I’ll describe them after describing it.

What is it? The web site of one of its core practitioners describes it as follows

Q: What is cognitive behavior therapy?

Cognitive behavior therapy is one of the few forms of psychotherapy that has been scientifically tested and found to be effective in hundreds of clinical trials for many different disorders….

and

Q: What is the theory behind cognitive behavior therapy?

Cognitive behavior therapy is based on the cognitive model: the way we perceive situations influences how we feel emotionally…

I’m no psychotherapist, but I know cbt has been shown in tests to improve the lives of people with some mental problems. Even if you don’t have mental problems, knowing about cbt can help you improve your life.

For now, let’s look at “the cognitive model” mentioned above, comparing it to our Model:

reward environment beliefs emotions behavior

I looked up the cognitive behavioral therapy model online and found a few representations. Here’s one:
Cognitive behavioral therapy model -- blocksLook familiar? Just slight differences in the words and no reward. Here’s another:

Cognitive behavioral therapy model -- blocks

Look familiar? It will even more in a few days when I post about the connection between environment and body. I think I mentioned before how I simplified the arrows to ease communicating the Model. This person increased the connectivity between elements — not a big difference.

Cognitive behavioral therapy model -- blocks2You get the idea. I’m not sure how cbt’s originators developed their model. I developed mine before hearing about cbt, so I was pleasantly surprised to find people had reached so much success with such similar models.

Tomorrow I’ll write about shortcomings of cognitive behavioral therapy.

By the way, to learn more about cbt and its practice, I’ve found the Wikipedia page and Beck Institute’s page helpful. Aaron Beck played a major role founding cbt and his daughter Judith Beck worked closely with him.

Shortcomings of cognitive behavioral therapy and remedies to them

[This post is part of a series on The Model — my model for the human emotional system designed for use in leadership, self-awareness, and general purpose professional and personal development — which I find the most effective and valuable foundation for understanding yourself and others and improving your life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Yesterday we looked at cognitive behavioral therapy. Today we’ll consider some of its shortcomings and why those shortcomings excite me about my Model.

Shortcoming 1: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy doesn’t motivate its model

I believe the therapy will help best to the extent people understand why and how it works. If the underlying model works, I support using it whether the therapist or patient understands why, but it will work more effectively the more they understand how and why.

I haven’t taken formal training in cbt so I may have missed something, but I’ve never seen the motivation for its model. I believe explaining its origin will help therapist and patient alike.

Remedy 1: explain the model

My explanation motivates the Model. I recommend starting here. Give the patient a reason for the Model so they don’t have to memorize it or wonder where it came from.

Shortcoming 2: Cognitive Behavioral Therapists don’t apply cbt to healthy people

Healthy people want to improve their lives, not just unhealthy people. Just because you’re happy sometimes or partly happy doesn’t mean you don’t, can’t, or shouldn’t want more happiness. If you ask me, everyone should improve their lives. The U.S. Declaration of Independence ranks the pursuit of happiness along with life itself. We all want resilience from unhappiness and unrewarding emotions.

Cognitive behavioral therapists apply their model to unhealthy people, ignoring healthy people who want more happiness, rewarding emotion, leadership skills, resilience to their opposites, and more.

This shortcoming applies to its practice, not necessarily the underlying theory. Let’s look at some sources on cbt for where they apply it.

Wikipedia mentions applying it to

a variety of problems, including mood, anxiety, personality, eating, substance abuse, and psychotic disorders”, “a number of mental health difficulties, including post-traumatic stress disorder, OCD, bulimia nervosa, and clinical depression“, anxiety disorders, mood disorders, insomnia, severe mental disorders, stuttering, and complex trauma

I like the idea of helping people with these problems, but what about healthy people?

Beck’s page mentions applying it to

psychiatric disorders such as

  • depression,
  • the full range of anxiety disorders,
  • eating disorders,
  • substance abuse,
  • personality disorders,
  • and (along with medication) bipolar disorder and schizophrenia;

medical disorders with a psychological component, including

  • several conditions involving chronic or acute pain,
  • chronic fatigue syndrome,
  • pre-menstrual syndrome,
  • colitis,
  • sleep disorders,
  • obesity,
  • Gulf War syndrome, and
  • somatoform disorders;

and psychological problems such as

  • anger,
  • relationship difficulties, and
  • compulsive gambling…Draft

CBT is also used to address

  • stress,
  • low self-esteem,
  • grief and loss,
  • work-related problems and
  • problems associated with aging.

Again, what about healthy people? Don’t we want to help them (us)?

Another Beck page gives a more comprehensive list of “treatable conditions.” Scour the list. See if it helps someone who doesn’t have a disease or mental problem.

What about healthy people?

Remedy 2

As positive psychologists who noted that for the half century clinical psychology “has been consumed by a single topic only – mental illness” applied their science to increasing wellness and resilience, I believe we should do the same with cbt and not restrict its application to unhealthy people.

It turns out I was doing that before I’d heard of cbt at all. I recommend doing the same. Use the techniques to improve your life. Just because a psychologist somewhere studied a technique somewhere doesn’t mean you can’t use your common sense to derive techniques on your own that work. Yours may be similar to theirs, but don’t let their white lab coats let you think you need their training to improve your life or that because their techniques resemble theirs that they imply you’re unhealthy.

The Model: environment in more depth

[This post is part of a series on The Model — my model for the human emotional system designed for use in leadership, self-awareness, and general purpose professional and personal development — which I find the most effective and valuable foundation for understanding yourself and others and improving your life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Continuing the series on the Model from last time, let’s look at elements of the Model in more depth. The elements are environment, perception/belief, emotions/motivation, behavior, and reward.

reward environment beliefs emotions behaviorWe’ll start with environment today.

An emotional cycle’s environment includes everything outside the cycle that affects it. The most obvious part of the environment is your physical environment — dogs, cats, trees, air, and so on.

Other people are part of an emotional cycle’s environment too. I presume you already figured that out, but I draw specific attention to other people’s role in the environment because other people tend to evoke greater emotion than, say, trees (depending on one’s priorities).

More subtle a part of a cycle’s environment, but no less important, is your body, most of which lies outside your emotional system. For example, when your body runs low on water, a cycle regulating your water level perceives the lack and motivates you to drink, which we call thirst. Your body lies outside the emotional cycle — that is, in its environment. I don’t know how you sense the lack of water, but some mechanism causes you to perceive that you need more.

More subtle still a part of a cycle’s environment, but again no less important, are other cycles. Cycles that regulate your need to go to the bathroom are in the environment of the thirst cycle. When you have to go to the bathroom and are thirsty, the cycles can conflict as elements in each others’ environments.

Tomorrow we’ll look at perception and belief in the Model in more depth.

The Model: perception and belief in more depth

[This post is part of a series on The Model — my model for the human emotional system designed for use in leadership, self-awareness, and general purpose professional and personal development — which I find the most effective and valuable foundation for understanding yourself and others and improving your life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Let’s look at the next element in the cycle after the environment — perception and belief.

Perception means how you look at or become aware of your world. I include belief in the same cycle element as perception because belief and perception influence each other so closely, whether you realize it or not. Belief means what models you have for it. I often refer to beliefs as models or mental models. Your beliefs create expectations that filter your perceptions.

Perceptions consists mainly of the senses of touch, taste, smell, hearing, and sight. It turns out we have more than the five senses I learned about in school, so perception  also includes more subtle senses of the environment.

No less important, perception includes sensing your thoughts and emotions. You can sense the emotions you feel, even if you can’t put them into words, as well as your self talk, which you often can put into words.

People tend to have varying levels of conscious awareness of their thoughts and emotions. A main goal of this blog (as well as for me in my life) is to raise the level of awareness of your mental activity.

Next time we’ll look at emotions in more depth.

The Model: emotions in more depth

[This post is part of a series on The Model — my model for the human emotional system designed for use in leadership, self-awareness, and general purpose professional and personal development — which I find the most effective and valuable foundation for understanding yourself and others and improving your life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Continuing to look at elements of the Model in more depth, after perception and belief comes emotion.

Emotions lie at the core of the Model, as they should, since emotions, awareness of them, and the ability to bring about the ones you want lie at the core of the life you want.

The Model simplifies emotions to include all motivations — anything that influences your behavior. You can find many lists of emotions online — Wikipedia lists a few, for example. I include simple motivations and feelings like hunger, thirst, and fatigue as emotions for consistency, since they motivate. As far as I know, all languages and cultures have words for similar motivations with limited variations and exceptions.

I often refer to emotions as wiring, as if how your neurons connect determined all your motivations. The computer metaphor generally works, but misses some points. Unlike a computer’s circuitry, for example, your wiring changes, and for several reasons. It changes as you grow from baby to child to adult. This change, of course, happens whether you want it to or not. Your wiring also changes from external things like trauma and diet, again, whether you want it to or not.

Most importantly, your wiring changes with experience — what we call learning. This blog is most concerned about this change, especially when you voluntarily choose what you learn.

That your brain changes and that you can choose to change it amazes some people. I prefer to look at it less romantically. When people say things like doing X or Y rewires your brain — you can almost hear them oohing and aahing as if they’re saying something deep or incredible — they miss that everything you do rewires your brain. You inevitably rewire it all the time.

Also, emotions include not just ones that motivate animated or prominent behavior, like anger, love, and rage, but also those that motivate subtle behavior, like calmness, satisfaction, and comfort. People who say someone excited is “emotional” miss that someone sitting still is acting just as much on their emotions. We are always acting on our emotions.

Emotions have characteristics, like how they feel, whether they last a long time or not, their intensity, and so forth. I’ve noted before how calling emotions positive or negative tends to hurt your ability to manage them, which lowers your ability to live the life you want. referring to their characteristics instead is more precise and doesn’t activate the problems that evaluation does.

Emotions’ characteristics stem from the origins of emotions, so tomorrow’s post will cover the origins of your emotions.

The Model

[This post is part of a series on The Model — my model for the human emotional system designed for use in leadership, self-awareness, and general purpose professional and personal development — which I find the most effective and valuable foundation for understanding yourself and others and improving your life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

What goals do we have in life if not to understand what makes life good and how to make our own better? By good I mean by the values of the person living that life — not by some abstract standard.

I want to distinguish the following from so-called positive thinking. The phrase “the power of positive thinking” makes me bristle. It sounds like putting lipstick on a pig. My recent posts have discussed how counterproductive to a better life for a person I consider judgmental terminology. I don’t like the idea of someone living a life they don’t like, forcing a smile, and calling it good.

The following posts cover something different.

What makes a life good for a person is not abstract positivity or smiling or labeling it as good. Life is better to the extent a person likes it — that is, by how it fits that person’s values and brings about emotions they want. We will return to this core concept that values, importance, and meaning derive from your emotions from different directions

The next several posts will cover the core model grounding the seminars I lead and executive and life coaching I do, based on a model of the human emotional and evaluative system — how you perceive your environment, evaluate it, and react to it. I call it the Model. I know, I should come up with a catchier name than just capitalizing the word.

I believe this Model will enable you to understand and improve your life as much as anything you’ll learn. I believe understanding it, followed by practice (I’ll cover implementation in later series) will put you on a level with any coach or guru.

Why in a discussion on values and improvement — a good life, making it better — do we talk about emotions? As we will see, your emotional system evaluates your world and determines how to react to it. To evaluate means to give value to — your emotional system creates value in your life. Things that change your life change your motivations, which your emotions are.

If you want to understand your values, you have to understand your emotional system. To react means to act or behave based on your environment. Again, your behavior — for that matter, your life and lifestyle — derives from your emotional system’s perception and evaluation of your environment.

The concepts of environment, perception, belief, and behavior will return over and over on your life and how to improve it.

Tomorrow: models in general.

The Model: the origins of your emotions and emotional system

[This post is part of a series on The Model — my model for the human emotional system designed for use in leadership, self-awareness, and general purpose professional and personal development — which I find the most effective and valuable foundation for understanding yourself and others and improving your life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Know thyself.

As with every system to improve your life I know, I consider knowing yourself fundamental. Today’s post shows how recent science — evolutionary psychology — lets us know ourselves better than any humans could before. Evolution tells us our roots beyond our childhood another billion years. Learning about our ancestors and relatives lets us understand why and how our bodies and all our emotions came to exist.

As great as ancient thinkers and philosophers like, say, Aristotle, Buddha, and Lao Tzu were, they didn’t have the perspective that only came about after Darwin. And even Darwin didn’t know about genetics, game theory, and other twentieth and twenty-first century discoveries that show how life on earth interrelates and evolves.

I don’t think I’m being melodramatic to say we live in one of the first times we can meaningfully advance our understanding of ourselves in the past few thousand years. Those ancients covered so much, few could advance past them. To advance past what they wrote you need information they didn’t have, which science brought.

The point of this blog is to apply those advances to improve our lives.

Why do we have emotions? Insects seem successful scurrying around apparently without emotions, just reflex. The question sounds simple. The answer helps you understand yourself more than you’d expect. If you know why you have them, you can manage them better, to bring about more of what you want, like happiness and other rewarding emotions.

Consider an ancestor of ours back when our emotional system was evolving into place. When, precisely? It’s hard to say, since dogs and cats seem to have some sort of emotions and our lines diverged from theirs hundreds of millions of years ago. So let’s consider when our emotions started diverging from our closest relatives, a few million years ago.

Now think of that ancestor in his environment (arbitrarily choosing a male ancestor). He needs to eat and protect himself. Compared to his predators and prey, though he has some physical advantages, like thumbs that can grasp tools, he has more significant physical disadvantages. He has no claws or sharp teeth. He can’t run as fast as many. He has no venom or camouflage. He isn’t big like lions and hippopotamuses, who can beat him in a fight, nor small like mice, who can hide. He has nowhere near the strength of a bear. He doesn’t even have fur to keep warm.

In short, he is physically vulnerable.

Yet in the last few tens of thousands of years — incredibly fast in evolutionary time scales — current evidence says our ancestors went from a group of a few thousand — an endangered species! — to populating every part of the planet that can support them.

How do we reconcile such incredible evolutionary success (so far… who knows what the future will bring?) with an ancestor so physically incapable?

Our ancestors’ behavior gave our ancestors their advantage. Their behavior meant they lived in social groups, so they didn’t face predators and prey alone. They also mastered complex behavior and could outwit their better-armed opponents.

While behavior gave the advantage, behavior depends on the environment. Evolution selects what we inherit and we inherited the emotions motivating the behavior. Our genes encode the wiring that gives our emotions. Complex and social behavior comes from complex and social emotions.

That emotions functioned critically imply the first property of our emotional system — that it will be consistent and reliable. Evolution makes functional traits consistent, weeding out what doesn’t work. Non-functional things like, say, eye color, which, as far as I know, doesn’t play an evolutionary role, vary widely. Irises can be blue, brown, green, black… But something functional, like the shape of an eye or an eardrum, evolution finds ways to make very consistent. Even bad eyesight comes from very small deviations from ideal, implying our genes get eyes right consistently. Eardrums are incredibly precise and nature gets them right almost every time.

Next: characteristics of emotions

 

The Model: characteristics of emotions

[This post is part of a series on The Model — my model for the human emotional system designed for use in leadership, self-awareness, and general purpose professional and personal development — which I find the most effective and valuable foundation for understanding yourself and others and improving your life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Besides your emotional system’s consistency and reliability, each emotion you feel has several characteristics relevant to its function. I have found four characteristics particularly relevant. Each emotion has characteristics of

  • Pleasure, from pleasurable to painful
  • Intensity, from intense to subtle
  • Richness, from complex to simple
  • Duration, of long or short-term

Pleasure describes the feeling that something is right, motivating you to do it again. Pain describes the opposite. Pleasure isn’t good and pain bad. As with emotions themselves, the Model treats their characteristics functionally and both are functional. Pleasure generally corresponds with healthy things, at least what was healthy for our ancestors, but not always. You would rather feel pain than, say, suffer the debilitation of a bad burn.

Intensity describes how strong and immediate an emotion’s cause and behavior it motivates. If you haven’t seen a friend in a while, the motivation to see them may be subtle. If you are drowning, getting air will immediately become your most intense and important motivation.

Richness describes how complex the causes and possible behaviors you might respond with. Again, an emotion’s richness and complexity or subtlety comes from its functionality. If your body is low on water, you get thirst — a simple motivation to drink water. If you are considering performing in front of an audience, with a high risk of humiliation and being ostracized if you perform poorly but also a high risk of gaining status among your peers if you succeed, you’ll experience complex emotions. Emotions related to social situations and behaviors tend to be more complex. Those related to basic needs tend to be simple.

I like to think of complex emotions like fine wine or food and simple ones like candy. I like both in my life — different ones for different times.

Duration describes how long an emotion lasts. When you finish eating, the feeling of satisfaction should only last until you need more food — a few hours — so feeling full tends to be a short-term emotion. If it lasted a week you would die of malnutrition. If you have a baby, the emotions to take care of it have to endure how long a baby depends on you — years.

We will see that understanding an emotions’ characteristics helps us understand and manage the emotion, which helps us bring about the emotions we want and avoid those we don’t — the foundation to a lifestyle we want.

Tomorrow: the next element of the Model: behavior in more depth.

The Model: behavior in more depth

[This post is part of a series on The Model — my model for the human emotional system designed for use in leadership, self-awareness, and general purpose professional and personal development — which I find the most effective and valuable foundation for understanding yourself and others and improving your life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Continuing looking at elements of the Model in more depth, after emotions and their origins over the past two days comes behavior.

Of all the elements, behavior is probably the simplest. Behavior includes the obvious — your gross movements like moving around, eating, sleeping, running, and what you observe of others.

Behavior in the Model also includes communication, which includes talking and writing, as well as nonverbal communication like facial expressions, posture, vocal tonality, and so on. Emotions motivate this communication as much as any other behavior. Likewise, your or anyone else’s nonverbal communication can reveal as much about your or their emotional state as anything else, an effective tool to raise your self-awareness and emotional intelligence.

Just as subtle or mild emotions are still emotions, subtle or mild behavior is still behavior. The Model treats sitting still or resting as behavior because emotions motivate it and it interacts with your environment. Someone calm motivates others to behave differently than someone excited. In stressful times, you often benefit from behaving calmly. People who think decisive action always requires bold or dramatic emotions and behavior may miss how experienced calmness can often most effectively lead teams or relationships through challenges.

The Model also treats mental activity as behavior, even when others can’t observe it directly. For example, reading a mystery thriller will create different mental activity than reading a how-to book, even if people watching the reader don’t see an immediate difference. That mental activity triggers other emotional cycles, which are part of your emotional system’s environment.

Your choices of behavior — what you know or believe what you can and can’t do or will or won’t do — affects what emotions your emotional system will conjure up. This point illustrates a simplification of the Model: I treat behavior and belief as separate to help communicate the Model and to make it easier to understand. As you use the Model and make your own, you’ll probably make it richer, more complex, and more helpful for yourself.

Tomorrow: more on the Model’s elements in more depth: reward.

The Model: reward in more depth

[This post is part of a series on The Model — my model for the human emotional system designed for use in leadership, self-awareness, and general purpose professional and personal development — which I find the most effective and valuable foundation for understanding yourself and others and improving your life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Continuing looking at elements of the Model in more depth, after behavior yesterday comes reward.

Past posts clarified that reward differs from the emotions that bring it about — so you know you can get reward from any emotion, not just so-called “positive” ones — and the differences between reward, happiness, and pleasure in the Model. I’ll clarify again a common language challenge in talking about these things, that what I call reward some people may call happiness. I hope terminology doesn’t get in the way of meaning.

In the Model, reward is both physically central, as in the diagram, and perhaps the central concept driving what we do with the Model. As an emotion, it lies at the root of our self-awareness and understanding. As the central element that only occurs when everything else aligns, reward becomes what we want in life.

reward environment beliefs emotions behavior

We feel reward when our environment, beliefs, emotions, and behavior all align. When one doesn’t align, we don’t feel reward. We feel emotions of conflict, like impatience, disappointment, stress, confusion, etc.

Personally, I’m only slightly simplifying things to say my main goal in life is to bring about reward (what some call the pursuit of happiness) and developing resilience to punishment. I use my awareness to understand where my life lacks reward or could have more, then I use the Method to bring about more reward, which amounts to adjusting my environments, beliefs, and behaviors. A future series of posts will cover the Method, like this series on the Model.

The result of adjusting your environments, beliefs, and behaviors is your lifestyle.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, which happens when I talk about reward. Reward is rewarding — it motivates you to do more of it.

Another important concept about reward is that, as an emotion, it also has characteristics like emotions do — the same relevant ones: pleasure/pain, intensity/subtlety, complexity/simplicity, and short/long duration.

If each characteristic could have only one of two values, the four values could give sixteen types of reward. For example, eating a fine meal may have reward that is pleasurable, subtle, complex, and short-term. Finishing a marathon may have reward that is painful, intense, complex, and long-term. The reward of drinking water when you’re thirsty may be pleasurable, intense, simple, and short-term. If you work out the number of combinations, you get 2^4, or sixteen.

Given all these combinations of characteristics, to say my goal in life is to bring about reward through creating a rewarding lifestyle says more than you might think. I want reward of all these different combinations. I want long-term reward and short-term reward. Reward that comes with pleasure as well as reward that comes through pain.

Since each characteristic can take on any value, not just two, reward can come in an infinite variety of ways, making this goal in life infinitely rich, satisfying, and rewarding.

Also, since reward comes from harmony between environment, belief, and behavior, not completing things, you can get reward all the time, not just when you complete tasks or cross finish lines. Reward being part of the process means using the Model and Method can make your life rewarding all the time. You don’t have to wait or hope for something in the future. In fact, you want the opposite — to improve your life all the time, an inherently rewarding process.

These last two paragraphs contain some of the most important parts of the Model — that you can get reward all the time, including now, and that reward comes in infinite variety. I’ll have to repeat them again somewhere.

Now that we’ve covered each element in more depth, tomorrow we’ll return to the concepts of awareness, self-awareness, and emotional intelligence, which we can treat more clearly and precisely now.

The Model: how your emotional system chooses your emotions

[This post is part of a series on The Model — my model for the human emotional system designed for use in leadership, self-awareness, and general purpose professional and personal development — which I find the most effective and valuable foundation for understanding yourself and others and improving your life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Why do you feel the emotions you do?

People who think their emotions are irrational and follow no pattern can’t understand why they feel the emotions they do. Worse, they make themselves unable to manage their emotions. They become easy to manipulate. Perhaps they make good consumers for advertisers and voting blocks for politicians, but they won’t likely live rewarding lives.

Knowing why you feel the emotions you do is an important step in learning to bring about the ones you want.

I’ve said before that your emotional system chooses your emotions based on what the wiring you inherited from your ancestors says is appropriate. So what determines “appropriate?”

I’ll answer within the Model. Your emotional system reacts to your perception of your environment, including your beliefs of what you can and can’t do, as well as your beliefs about your needs and interests.

Your emotional system then chooses among the abilities you believe you have the optimal one for its perception of your environment. It’s simple if you are aware of your perception and your abilities. It’s complex if you don’t look at your emotions functionally as motivations but only focus on their feelings once you have them.

For example, when you are with people you believe to be your friends, since our ancestors evolved group behavior, you feel motivation to team up with them and do fun things. We call the feeling friendliness. It motivates us to interact.

When you touch a hot stove, your emotional system chooses to motivate you to remove your hand. We call the sensation pain. It motivates you to remove your hand.

Note that your emotional system doesn’t react to your environment directly, nor does it motivate you on your objective capabilities. It motivates you on your perceptions and beliefs about your environments and beliefs. If you don’t believe you can do something, you won’t feel motivated to do it, even if everyone else believes you can.

People readily see this pattern in others when others feel unmotivated or helpless but for some reason don’t notice it in themselves when they say “I just can’t do it.” Saying they can’t reinforces a belief that may have no basis except that it reinforces itself. Saying you can’t can be its own self-fulfilling prophecy.

On the flip side, by changing your beliefs, you can change your emotions. Changing your emotions has a couple of effects. First, you change how you feel. I like feeling good. Everybody does. Second, different emotions motivate you differently, which causes you to behave differently, change your environment, and so on. Changing your beliefs leads you to change the rest of your life (and vice versa).

How can you use this information?

Any time you feel an emotion, you can use this information to realize why you feel it. If you like the emotion, you can use it to increase the emotion. For example, when enjoying time with a couple friends, you could invite others to join.

More usefully, if you are feeling an emotion you don’t like, you can use this information to bring about other emotions. For example, if you ever feel helpless to do an important task or to overcome a challenge you know others overcame, you can think back to a time you felt especially capable and recreate the environment, beliefs, and behaviors that prompted feeling capable. Once you feel more capable, you will be more likely to achieve your goal. Often rationally knowing you could do something doesn’t give you the motivation to do it, but bringing about the right emotions does.

The Model: a single cycle is simple. Many cycles get complex.

[This post is part of a series on The Model — my model for the human emotional system designed for use in leadership, self-awareness, and general purpose professional and personal development — which I find the most effective and valuable foundation for understanding yourself and others and improving your life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Do you consider emotions complex and bewildering?

I wouldn’t surprise me if you did. Many people present them that way, what I call romanticizing them. Making them seem complex and bewildering sells movie tickets, magazines, and books, unfortunately at the cost of making people misunderstand themselves.

I hope this series on the Model simplified and demystified your understanding of your emotions and emotional system. Just because emotions differ from reason doesn’t mean they don’t make sense. The Model helps you realize how each emotion makes sense in the context of its environment, beliefs, and behaviors.

Though each cycle is simple, because they depend on and interact with each other and there are so many of them, all your emotions together can become complex.

Imagine, for example, the simple act of choosing food from a menu (I was sitting at a café when I started writing this passage). You might open the menu with the simple question of what you want to eat, feeling curiosity and anticipation. When you start looking at the items, you might start feeling more hunger. If you see several items you might want you may start feeling indecision or frustration. You might start thinking about what you had last time, how much each costs, what you had last time at this restaurant, what other people might have, what you ate recently, and so on to help you choose, perhaps raising more emotions of confusion, impatience, and so on.

You may also thinking about your diet and exercise, if you are in shape or trying to get their. Suddenly you raise thoughts on your identity, maybe your childhood or habits you can’t break. New emotions arise, interacting with the ones already in your mind.

You may also think about your budget, how much you’re spending, whether you should ask your boss for a raise, bringing up new emotions.

Each emotion and its cycle is part of the environment of every other emotion. When one simple emotion dominates your thoughts, you can focus on it. When two or three occupy your mind they may interact, but you’ll generally understand them.

Rock-paper-scissors diagrams don’t represent how emotions interact precisely, but they illustrate how the complexity of interactions grows with the number of emotions on your mind.

Three interacting thoughts

Three interacting thoughts

By the time you have four or five emotions, you have ten of pairs of interactions, meaning you can’t make sense of all of them at once.

Five interacting thoughts

Five interacting thoughts

When you have fifteen interacting emotions, you can’t possibly keep track of everything.

Fifteen interacting thoughts

Fifteen interacting thoughts

Despite the apparent complexity, you can still understand each emotion.

The Model: what are awareness, self-awareness, and emotional intelligence?

[This post is part of a series on The Model — my model for the human emotional system designed for use in leadership, self-awareness, and general purpose professional and personal development — which I find the most effective and valuable foundation for understanding yourself and others and improving your life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Do you also find people talk about awareness, self-awareness, emotional intelligence and related topics loosely, without knowing precisely what they mean?

The Model lets us circle back, discuss, and clarify these concepts.

Perhaps ironically, people with low awareness would tend to benefit most from increasing theirs. Without a meaningful definition, they end up the least able to help themselves. People with low awareness often consider themselves most aware, if they care about their awareness, figuring they know they about their physical selves, like that they have two arms and legs, etc. I call that a low level of awareness — important, but just a beginning.

Self-awareness beyond the obvious knowledge of your physical self means knowing that you have a motivational system, how it works, and its state at any given time. In our Model, that means knowing that you can have a model, knowing the Model (or your version), and knowing the beliefs you’re operating under and the emotions motivating you.

Self-awareness is tremendously useful for leading yourself and creating the life you want for yourself.

Awareness besides self-awareness means knowing the same concepts apply to others. High awareness and self-awareness help you connect with people about things like intent and meaning — what people generally call depth in a relationship.

Awareness in general is tremendously useful for leading others.

I use the term emotional intelligence almost synonymously with awareness, perhaps also implying skills in managing emotions.

I designed the Model to clarify and demystify these concepts to ease their understanding and, most importantly, to help you raise yours. I believe simply having a model, whether my Model or your version, immensely increases your self-awareness, especially in cultures, like mine, that romanticize emotions, mystifying them in the process, making them seem irrational. They do differ from rational thought, but they still follow a logic based in their system, modeled by the Model.

A main goal of many posts in this blog is to help you raise your awareness — or at least share things that helped me raise mine, hoping you can benefit from them like I did. Whatever my level of self-awareness now relative to yours or anyone else’s — I’m sure some ten-year-olds have more self-awareness than I do — mine is higher now than it was before.

You can raise yours too, which can only improve your life.

The Model

[This post is part of a series on The Model — my model for the human emotional system designed for use in leadership, self-awareness, and general purpose professional and personal development — which I find the most effective and valuable foundation for understanding yourself and others and improving your life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

What goals do we have in life if not to understand what makes life good and how to make our own better? By good I mean by the values of the person living that life — not by some abstract standard.

I want to distinguish the following from so-called positive thinking. The phrase “the power of positive thinking” makes me bristle. It sounds like putting lipstick on a pig. My recent posts have discussed how counterproductive to a better life for a person I consider judgmental terminology. I don’t like the idea of someone living a life they don’t like, forcing a smile, and calling it good.

The following posts cover something different.

What makes a life good for a person is not abstract positivity or smiling or labeling it as good. Life is better to the extent a person likes it — that is, by how it fits that person’s values and brings about emotions they want. We will return to this core concept that values, importance, and meaning derive from your emotions from different directions

The next several posts will cover the core model grounding the seminars I lead and executive and life coaching I do, based on a model of the human emotional and evaluative system — how you perceive your environment, evaluate it, and react to it. I call it the Model. I know, I should come up with a catchier name than just capitalizing the word.

I believe this Model will enable you to understand and improve your life as much as anything you’ll learn. I believe understanding it, followed by practice (I’ll cover implementation in later series) will put you on a level with any coach or guru.

Why in a discussion on values and improvement — a good life, making it better — do we talk about emotions? As we will see, your emotional system evaluates your world and determines how to react to it. To evaluate means to give value to — your emotional system creates value in your life. Things that change your life change your motivations, which your emotions are.

If you want to understand your values, you have to understand your emotional system. To react means to act or behave based on your environment. Again, your behavior — for that matter, your life and lifestyle — derives from your emotional system’s perception and evaluation of your environment.

The concepts of environment, perception, belief, and behavior will return over and over on your life and how to improve it.

Tomorrow: models in general.

The Model: more functional views of emotions

[This post is part of a series on The Model — my model for the human emotional system designed for use in leadership, self-awareness, and general purpose professional and personal development — which I find the most effective and valuable foundation for understanding yourself and others and improving your life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Our society cripples us by presenting too narrow a view of emotions. Today let’s consider other views that let us be more free.

Our culture romanticizes emotions for their feelings, characterizing them as irrational. That romanticization sells movie tickets and books, but complicates your ability to manage your emotions. Being able to manage your emotions — to bring about the ones you want and avoid ones you don’t — helps you improve your life perhaps more than anything else (perhaps after awareness).

So let’s look at your motivations functionally. A functional view is less romantic, but gives you handles to manage your emotions.

Unlike animals that work on pure reflex, like bugs and worms I believe, you weren’t born with all the behavioral patterns you need to know to survive. You learn the patterns from your interaction with your environment. You can learn about yourself by looking at animals of complexity between you and bugs.

I understand ducks aren’t born knowing how to identify their parents. They have a pattern that has them imprint on whatever of a certain size moves in a certain way. The pattern usually works to imprint ducklings to their parents. People have learned they can move things near ducklings at the right time to get them to imprint on those things. Sometimes their inherited motivations steer them wrong, but mostly they work.

Ducks learn to respond to their environments to calibrate a behavioral pattern they inherited. We behave with more complexity, but we also learn based on our environment. Your emotional system trains you to behave successfully with pleasure and pain based on patterns that helped your ancestors. Your emotional system gives you physical pain to motivate you to avoid damaging your body. It gives you emotional pain and punishment to avoid counterproductive environments, beliefs, and behaviors.

To speak more accurately: your emotional system motivates you to avoid behaviors that in your ancestors increased their chances of surviving. That training helps you to the extent your environment here today resembles theirs then, or that you’re lucky or can improve on your emotional motivations with rational thought.

Likewise, your emotional system gives you physical pleasure to motivate you to repeat things that help your body and emotional pleasure and reward to repeat productive environments, beliefs, and behaviors.

The above — a function view of emotions — combined with your rationality is incredibly powerful. Your rationality allows you to choose the things that motivate you — your environments, beliefs, and behaviors — to motivate you how you want. In other words, to bring about the emotions you want.

The Model: more on the difference between "positive" and rewarding emotions

[This post is part of a series on The Model — my model for the human emotional system designed for use in leadership, self-awareness, and general purpose professional and personal development — which I find the most effective and valuable foundation for understanding yourself and others and improving your life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

People usually say they want to feel positive emotions. I’ve already discussed how calling emotions positive doesn’t help. They may feel good, but even ones that feel bad are useful. We have them for a reason. Treating them functionally helps you manage them better.

The following examples illustrate how reward comes about, or doesn’t, independent of which emotions brings it about. I’ll refer to the Model:

reward environment beliefs emotions behavior

Consider the following two sets of scenarios.

Set 1 – Friendliness

I picked friendliness as an emotion everyone would call positive. We’ll consider different cases involving friendliness and how various combinations of environments, beliefs, and behaviors affect friendly feelings.

Scenario 1 – Harmony and reward
  • Environment: You’re with friends
  • Belief: You believe them to be your friends
  • Behavior: You are doing friendly things

No matter how you felt before that situation, eventually your emotional system will create in you friendly emotions. Recall, it reacts to your environment, beliefs, and behavior to motivate you to behave appropriately, based on the wiring you inherited from your ancestors.

Once your emotions become friendly, the circuit completes and you will feel emotional reward. I call a closed circuit harmonious because all the elements resonate with each other. Friendliness feels good, but the feeling of reward is different, as we’ll illustrate below.

For the next three scenarios we’ll vary one of the elements of the

Scenario 2 – behavior clashes
  • Environment: You’re with friends
  • Belief: You believe them to be your friends
  • Behavior: Instead of doing friendly things, you are arguing with one friend

Like the previous situation, your emotional system will give you some feelings of friendliness, but since your behavior clashes with your environment and beliefs, you’ll also feel some emotions of conflict — maybe impatience or frustration.

Since the circuit doesn’t close, you won’t feel reward, meaning you won’t feel motivation to recreate this situation.

This scenario illustrates that positive emotions alone don’t guarantee feeling good. If your environments, beliefs, and behavior don’t resonate, you won’t feel deeper feelings of emotional reward.

Scenario 3 – beliefs clash
  • Environment: You’re with friends
  • Belief: You believe one of them is angry at you
  • Behavior: You are doing friendly things

Like scenario 1, you’ll feel some friendliness, but like scenario 2, because the three voluntary elements of your emotional cycle don’t all resonate, you won’t feel reward. Like scenario 2, you’ll feel some emotions of conflict, maybe suspicion or anxiety.

Like scenario 2, this situation illustrates that positive emotions alone, without environments, beliefs, and behaviors to match, don’t suffice.

Scenario 4 – environment clashes
  • Environment: You’re not with your friends
  • Belief: You believe them to be your friends
  • Behavior: You are doing friendly things

This situation may happen when you plan to meet your friends to do something fun together — maybe watch a movie. They don’t show up but you do it anyway.

Like scenarios 2 and 3, you’ll feel some friendliness, but again emotions of conflict too, maybe confusion or futility.

These four examples illustrate two things: that reward differs from positive emotions and the importance of all the elements in your emotional cycle resonating to get that feeling of reward.

Now let’s see how your emotional system still provides reward, even if the emotional cycle isn’t what most people would call positive.

Set 2 – Anger

I chose anger as an emotion many people call negative. If you don’t, but call other emotions negative, you can substitute that emotion and adjust the scenarios appropriately.

Scenario 1 – behavior clashes
  • Environment: Someone is antagonizing you, provoking a fight
  • Belief: You believe you should teach this person a lesson, maybe even punch them
  • Behavior: You hold back from teaching them a lesson or punching them

Because of your environment and belief, you’ll feel some anger. However, your behavior doesn’t resonate, you’ll also feel emotions of conflict, maybe frustration.

Scenario 2 – harmony and reward

Environment: Someone is antagonizing you, provoking a fight

Belief: You believe you should teach this person a lesson, maybe even punch them

Behavior: You yell at them or even punch them in anger

Since all the elements resonate, you’ll feel reward when you act on your anger. The feeling of reward may be fleeting if they other person punches you back or you come to regret your actions, but for at least a moment, you’ll feel reward.

This scenario illustrates that you can feel deep reward from any emotional cycle, even if the emotional cycle involves so-called negative emotions.

The point

Emotions within a cycle, while important, are generally less important than the potential reward the whole cycle can bring. Moreover, any emotion can bring reward.

No matter where you are in life, even if everything around you sucks, you can bring about feelings of reward. Likewise, even if you’re healthy, rich, and surrounded by happy people, you can bring about feelings of punishment.

This control over your most profound emotions — reward and punishment — despite the vagaries of your momentary emotions, is the foundation of living as rewarding a life as you want. It enables you to feel reward even when situations keep you from joy or happiness or other emotions people call positive.

It lets you create meaning and purpose in your life no matter what your circumstances — the same meaning Victor Frankl wrote about finding in Man’s Search For Meaning, which showed how people could find and create meaning in their lives even in the most punishing environments people have ever created for each other.

I strive to bring happiness, joy, friendliness, and all the emotions people call positive to my life, but I recognize sometimes they can be out of my control. Reward, on the other hand, I know I can always bring about, no matter what my environment, because I can control my beliefs and behavior. And it turns out reward can be the most profound emotion — capable of all emotional characteristics.

The Method, which I’ll cover in future posts, builds on that control to bring about reward, meaning, and purpose according to your values.

The Model

[This post is part of a series on The Model — my model for the human emotional system designed for use in leadership, self-awareness, and general purpose professional and personal development — which I find the most effective and valuable foundation for understanding yourself and others and improving your life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

What goals do we have in life if not to understand what makes life good and how to make our own better? By good I mean by the values of the person living that life — not by some abstract standard.

I want to distinguish the following from so-called positive thinking. The phrase “the power of positive thinking” makes me bristle. It sounds like putting lipstick on a pig. My recent posts have discussed how counterproductive to a better life for a person I consider judgmental terminology. I don’t like the idea of someone living a life they don’t like, forcing a smile, and calling it good.

The following posts cover something different.

What makes a life good for a person is not abstract positivity or smiling or labeling it as good. Life is better to the extent a person likes it — that is, by how it fits that person’s values and brings about emotions they want. We will return to this core concept that values, importance, and meaning derive from your emotions from different directions

The next several posts will cover the core model grounding the seminars I lead and executive and life coaching I do, based on a model of the human emotional and evaluative system — how you perceive your environment, evaluate it, and react to it. I call it the Model. I know, I should come up with a catchier name than just capitalizing the word.

I believe this Model will enable you to understand and improve your life as much as anything you’ll learn. I believe understanding it, followed by practice (I’ll cover implementation in later series) will put you on a level with any coach or guru.

Why in a discussion on values and improvement — a good life, making it better — do we talk about emotions? As we will see, your emotional system evaluates your world and determines how to react to it. To evaluate means to give value to — your emotional system creates value in your life. Things that change your life change your motivations, which your emotions are.

If you want to understand your values, you have to understand your emotional system. To react means to act or behave based on your environment. Again, your behavior — for that matter, your life and lifestyle — derives from your emotional system’s perception and evaluation of your environment.

The concepts of environment, perception, belief, and behavior will return over and over on your life and how to improve it.

Tomorrow: models in general.

The Model: the source of all meaning, value, purpose, and importance

[This post is part of a series on The Model — my model for the human emotional system designed for use in leadership, self-awareness, and general purpose professional and personal development — which I find the most effective and valuable foundation for understanding yourself and others and improving your life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Most of our greatest life questions and quests involve meaning and values. What things are meaningful and why? What are our values? What is important and why?

Looking up words like meaning, values, and importance in the dictionary or Wikipedia doesn’t help. At least one dictionary online gave me back “What is the meaning of life?” as an example use of the word meaning, hardly helping.

Meaning Definition

Let’s talk about value, meaning, etc for a moment, then I’ll answer where they come from.

We usually have a general feel for what has meaning — things like family, community, and health, for example.

But why do some things have meaning and others don’t? You could say because those things are important, but that answer just substitutes one mysterious word for another. Some say those things make life worth living or something about what those things do for you, but that answer doesn’t explain why those things. If all you need is something to have value to give life meaning, you could choose to give anything meaning. Besides, we feel like things have value for reasons prior to us — that is, they don’t have value for our sakes.

Value and meaning keep generally consistent, but the values and meanings of some things do change — over time, in different cultures, for different people. Something’s value seems intrinsic to the thing, but its value can differ. How much you value something seems not a matter of choice, but sometimes it does change. For example, if you decide not to value a friend as much anymore, you can stop spending time with them and after enough time you will value them less.

So where do value, meaning, and importance come from? It turns out understanding these concepts comes from another direction. Understanding emotions and your emotional system illuminates them.

The Model greatly helps us understand meaning, as well as value, purpose, importance, and related concepts. Recalling the Model,

reward environment beliefs emotions behavior

I’ll explain how emotions and your emotional system determine what in life has meaning, value, and importance. They give you purpose.

If you perceive something but it doesn’t affect your life it has no meaning to you. It may have meaning to others, but we know that different things have different meanings to different people. If something does affect your life beyond you merely perceiving it, it affects your motivation. In other words, it affects your emotions. To understand meaning, value, and importance, learn to understand your emotional system.

Your emotional system evaluates your environment and decides what to do about it based on metrics you inherited from your ancestors in the form of your mind’s wiring.

According to the Model, things themselves have no inherent or absolute value. They have the value of the emotions they evoke in you. In the Model saying something has value or meaning only makes sense from someone’s perspective, never in an absolute sense.

In other words, describing its value describes a property of your mental state, not the thing, so value changes from person to person and in the same person over time. When you were born little meant anything to you beyond your mother. Now many things do. Their meaning changes as you change.

For example, a dog you barely notice while you hurry to a meeting has little to no value to you. To its owner, it may have great value. If you stop to pet it and realize how cute it is it takes on new value to you. If it bites you its value changes to you. Same dog. Your interaction changes and therefore you evaluate it differently. The owner has different beliefs and behaviors with the dog and therefore different emotions. So the dog means something different or has different value to them.

The dog remained the same dog, yet its value and meaning changed. Why? Because the interaction with people changed the emotions they felt.

If you think about it, the connection between emotions and value, meaning, purpose, and importance explains the properties of those things described above. Emotions change, but mostly not through your direct choice. But if you change your environment, beliefs, or behavior, things’ values will change too. Things that have long-term value tend to evoke long-term emotions; the same for any other characteristic. a thing’s value depends strongly on how you perceive it, which is subject to your beliefs.

Also, the feeling that value, meaning, etc seem outside of you makes sense as you inherited your emotional system and it evolved specific purposes related to keeping you alive and passing on your genes. Moreover, we all have similar emotional systems — they evolved the same for about a billion years, diverging only in the past few tens of thousands of years. All cultures value family, community, health, learning, good food, … things that helped our ancestors survive.

Drilling down to greater detail, a thing’s meaning and value take on the characteristics of the emotions affecting it. Your child’s value will be long-term, intense, complex, and pleasurable to you most of the time because your child evokes emotions with those characteristics most of the time. At any given moment your child may evoke emotions with other characteristics, in which case you’ll value your child differently at that moment.

Tonight’s dessert, by comparison, will likely have a short-term, intense, simple, and pleasurable value because it evokes emotions of those characteristics. The same dessert may have different characteristics to the chef who made them.

All things take on value the same way — through your perception of them and the rest of your environment, subject to your beliefs, evaluated by your inherited metrics, calibrated through your life experiences and growth, subject to your (beliefs about your) abilities, influenced by what you think you can achieve through your behavior.

As I’ve said before, the Model, like any model, simplifies things. Today’s post describes meaning, value, importance, and so on within the framework of the Model. As you change my Model for your purposes, your understanding of the concepts may change, but I expect they’ll retain emotions and your emotional system at their core.

So if you want to understand the most important things in life you have to understand why things are important and how, which leads you to understanding emotions and your emotional system.

The greater your self-awareness, the more clearly you understand why and how something has the meaning it does.

The Model: "What is the meaning of life" is a needlessly and counterproductively complicated question

[This post is part of a series on The Model — my model for the human emotional system designed for use in leadership, self-awareness, and general purpose professional and personal development — which I find the most effective and valuable foundation for understanding yourself and others and improving your life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

The past two day’s posts on meaning and complexity in emotions helps us understand the age-old, often asked but never answered question, “What is the meaning of life?”. More importantly, it helps us make sense of a question that doesn’t make much sense. Unfortunately, the question’s complexity makes it harder to understand things about life and meaning that, when you get them, help you improve your life.

Everyone has heard the question “What is the meaning of life” but I’ve never heard of a satisfying answer. The question is too broad to make sense. Does it refer to your life, life in general, just human life, or something else? By “meaning?” does the question mean a purpose, an explanation, or something else? Does it refer to what you do, who you are, both, neither? You can’t answer a question you can’t understand. Perhaps the question endures for that reason — it’s mysterious and complex enough to provoke wonder and invokes important words, yet remains unanswerable.

The Model helps you disentangle what the question gets at, ask questions that make more sense, and understand your life and meaning within it better.

While I can’t answer the meaning of something so big and complex as life, the Model helps me understand each individual part that brings meaning. Yesterday we described how meaning comes from emotions. Even if emotions are collectively too complex to understand all at once, each one makes sense on its own — we inherited each from our ancestors who evolved them based on their environments.

So while the question of all of life’s meaning may be too meaningless and complex to make sense, to ask the meaning of any single emotion makes sense. Since the value, meaning, and importance of anything derives from the emotions it evokes, understanding those emotions tells you its value, meaning, and importance.

For example, you know why you feel hunger, so the meaning and purpose of hunger makes sense. Same with the value and meaning of thirst, so the value of water makes sense. When you are very thirsty, water has a lot of value. When you aren’t thirsty it loses its value because you don’t feel the motivation.

You value your pet dog highly because its been in your environments, beliefs, and behaviors for a long time and has evoked long-term complex emotions. Another dog that’s just as cute, loyal, etc doesn’t have that value to you because it never evoked those emotions and you don’t expect it to. The emotions create the value and meaning. What does the dog mean to you? It means fun, loyalty, playfulness, anticipation or whatever emotions you shared with your dog. And how would you characterize that meaning? It has the same characteristics of that emotion, probably long-term and complex.

Of billions of people in the world, all equally worthy of you considering them valuable, the ones you interact with are the ones that mean most to you not for things intrinsic to them, but because they evoked the most emotions in you and you expect them to continue to.

When you understand the meaning of every part of your life, which the Model helps bring, you know better how to allocate your resources (time, attention, energy, money, etc) to improve your life and you stop wasting resources on things that don’t improve your life.

In my experience asking “what is the meaning of life” doesn’t help you understand or improve your life, whereas understanding your emotions and emotional system does, and effectively answers the broad question anyway.

The Model: bring about emotions you want and enjoy them, don't dwell on them

[This post is part of a series on The Model — my model for the human emotional system designed for use in leadership, self-awareness, and general purpose professional and personal development — which I find the most effective and valuable foundation for understanding yourself and others and improving your life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Creating a lifestyle you want by bringing about the emotions you want is an art. I’ve written a lot about the craft — the functional view of emotions, which is useful for bringing about emotions you want. Let’s talk about the art today.

The functional view may sound more analytical and less fun and less emotional than the romanticized view, but it’s the starting point, like playing scales for musicians or learning basic footwork for musicians.

Have you learned a partner dance like a tango, salsa, or swing? Classes begin with where to put your hands, where to move your feet, what to listen to in the music. To a beginner it sounds analytical and formulaic, the opposite of dancing as an art. But artistic expression and freedom come through practice. As Martha Graham put it

[Dance] requires discipline, not drill, not something imposed from without, but discipline imposed by you yourself upon yourself. … Your goal is freedom. But freedom may only be achieved through discipline. In the studio you learn to conform, to submit yourself to the demands of your craft, so that you may finally be free.

You begin with practice and discipline of conforming. But your result is freedom and joy. I believe no other way exists to reach that goal, which is, I think, what Martha Graham said.

Managing your emotions works the same way. You start with drills and exercises and end with freedom and joy.

So for all my talk of the functional view, the goal is freedom, which brings joy. Understanding the Model and therefore myself (and implementing the Method) has brought me more freedom and joy than anything else in life. It has also made me resilient to manipulation by others — often the opposite of freedom.

Great dancers still think about their footwork — more than their fancy spin moves. Great musicians play scales. I’ve found people who are the best at things focus the most on simple basics that intermediates eschew to appear fancy. In fact, experts tend to say the fancy stuff is just extensions of the basics. But while the greats do focus on basic details, what they do is dance. They express their emotions through their craft. They are free from the details because they’ve mastered them.

However analytical and functional my description of your emotions and how to use them now, you will use them to get freedom to express and feel your emotions through your greater facility. You’ll be free from the details by mastering them.

The Model: strategize, then enjoy

[This post is part of a series on The Model — my model for the human emotional system designed for use in leadership, self-awareness, and general purpose professional and personal development — which I find the most effective and valuable foundation for understanding yourself and others and improving your life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

A quick followup to yesterday’s post on first learning to manage your emotions, then enjoying the freedom mastery brings you.

Here is some general advice for anything that requires planning. You probably already know it, but it bears repeating.

First strategize, then act (and enjoy).

In other words, don’t skip either and don’t do both at once or in the other order.

Acting before you create your strategy or while creating it generally leads to not acting optimally. Likewise, once you create your strategy, not acting on it means you did it for nothing. Continuing to strategize while you act will detract from whatever you act on.

So be open to recognizing problems in your strategy once you start acting so you don’t continue when you should stop or change course. And recognize sometimes you have to act spontaneously before you have time to create your strategy.

But in general, dividing your tasks into strategy and action helps. My extended series on the Model is about strategy — how to create the lifestyle you want through bringing about the emotions you want, based on self-awareness and the skills to act on it. Learning the Model and the Method don’t take long.

Once you get the awareness and skills, you can act on them the rest of your life, living the lifestyle you want, without wasting resources on doing things you don’t want. Without second-guessing yourself.

The Model

[This post is part of a series on The Model — my model for the human emotional system designed for use in leadership, self-awareness, and general purpose professional and personal development — which I find the most effective and valuable foundation for understanding yourself and others and improving your life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

What goals do we have in life if not to understand what makes life good and how to make our own better? By good I mean by the values of the person living that life — not by some abstract standard.

I want to distinguish the following from so-called positive thinking. The phrase “the power of positive thinking” makes me bristle. It sounds like putting lipstick on a pig. My recent posts have discussed how counterproductive to a better life for a person I consider judgmental terminology. I don’t like the idea of someone living a life they don’t like, forcing a smile, and calling it good.

The following posts cover something different.

What makes a life good for a person is not abstract positivity or smiling or labeling it as good. Life is better to the extent a person likes it — that is, by how it fits that person’s values and brings about emotions they want. We will return to this core concept that values, importance, and meaning derive from your emotions from different directions

The next several posts will cover the core model grounding the seminars I lead and executive and life coaching I do, based on a model of the human emotional and evaluative system — how you perceive your environment, evaluate it, and react to it. I call it the Model. I know, I should come up with a catchier name than just capitalizing the word.

I believe this Model will enable you to understand and improve your life as much as anything you’ll learn. I believe understanding it, followed by practice (I’ll cover implementation in later series) will put you on a level with any coach or guru.

Why in a discussion on values and improvement — a good life, making it better — do we talk about emotions? As we will see, your emotional system evaluates your world and determines how to react to it. To evaluate means to give value to — your emotional system creates value in your life. Things that change your life change your motivations, which your emotions are.

If you want to understand your values, you have to understand your emotional system. To react means to act or behave based on your environment. Again, your behavior — for that matter, your life and lifestyle — derives from your emotional system’s perception and evaluation of your environment.

The concepts of environment, perception, belief, and behavior will return over and over on your life and how to improve it.

Tomorrow: models in general.

The Model: what is freedom?

[This post is part of a series on The Model — my model for the human emotional system designed for use in leadership, self-awareness, and general purpose professional and personal development — which I find the most effective and valuable foundation for understanding yourself and others and improving your life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Ask people — yourself! — what they value and freedom will rank near the top. What do they mean by freedom? I bet you don’t know and that this post will show you can have more.

The better you know what freedom means, the more you can bring about. If you’re vague about what it means, you won’t have as much. You probably have potential for far more than you exercise.

People can be jailed or have their freedom constrained by others. Sometimes even those jailed or otherwise constrained agree they deserve their constraint. Other times their constraints feel unfair to others.

I consider physical constraints and addressing feelings of unfairness important, but I’d like to look at other types of freedom. I also assume everyone reading this blog has enough freedom to move about and pursue happiness. By “enough freedom” I mean that if an ordinary person somewhere sometime with less physical freedom and material resources was able to achieve happiness, you have enough.

(If you believe you don’t have enough freedom by that definition, please let me know. For everyone else, I’ll continue assuming you do.)

Physical freedom and material resources are important to achieve happiness and other emotions. I’ve never been so deprived of them to know how necessary they are. Nor have I met anyone who has. So while they are important, I’m going to speak to everyone else about their lives. Doubtless readers will say, Josh, you aren’t thinking about people starving and being tortured in the world. I am, but I’m talking about freedom for people in other conditions. I’m not opposed to helping others, but I don’t believe not helping yourself helps anyone else.

Once you have physical freedom and material resources, why do so many people not achieve the happiness they pursue? Forget what they pursue, why don’t more people live the lives they want, even when not constrained from doing so?

Here we get to a mental freedom, especially in your beliefs and emotions, which seems to me largely independent of physical freedom for those who have enough, as defined above. Since your emotions are largely outside your conscious control but react to your environments, beliefs, and behavior, freedom in your environment, beliefs, and behavior determine your mental freedom.

Since I assumed we have enough freedom in our environments and behavior, the only thing left — freedom to choose our beliefs — plays a critical role in determining what freedom we have mentally.

In my experience coaching, leading seminars, and living myself, I have found inflexibility in changing one’s beliefs the critical piece for people to change and improve their lives. Psychologists have told me flexibility plays a major role in intelligence. For people with more than anyone who has been able to find happiness with less — you and me — freedom is the ability to choose your beliefs.

The crazy thing is that we all have complete control to choose our beliefs. I don’t know how people can take that from us. George Orwell speculated in Nineteen Eighty-Four, a classic work on freedom, that torture could take it away — if betraying Winston’s deepest love that kept him from feeling he was rotting away is a close enough concept — but it was the last thing taken and required inexplicably knowing and implementing a person’s deepest fears. Nobody reading this blog is in such a situation.

1984 was fiction. Victor Frankl wrote in Man’s Seach for Meaning of his experiences in Auschwitz, a situation I can’t imagine and doubt anyone who didn’t experience it could either,

We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

… everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.” According to Frankl even Auschwitz could not take away one’s ability to choose one’s beliefs.

You can choose how you view things no matter what your situation, meaning you can bring about the emotions you want, at least according to someone who lived through Auschwitz. Needless to say, Frankl was not unique in this view. Thoreau, Gandhi, King, and Mandela come to mind, though I am no expert on their lives.

But you can take away that ability from yourself. You can do what no one else can to remove your own freedom. Or let’s look at things more positively: You can maintain all the freedom you need to experience the emotions you want by maintaining your ability to choose your beliefs.

Some call this mental freedom a luxury. Yet it costs nothing in time or any other resource. I believe they call it a luxury to excuse themselves their misery, convincing themselves they are victims unable to change themselves. But I’m getting too far afield from the point of this post:

For people with more than anyone who has been able to find happiness with less — you and me — freedom is the ability to choose your beliefs.