[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.
Emotional 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.