[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.
I 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.
Read my weekly newsletter
On initiative, leadership, the environment, and burpees