[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.
Learn to make Meaningful Connections
with a simple, effective exercise from my book, Leadership Step by Step.
- Step by step instructions
- Video examples of me and Marshall Goldsmith
- An excerpt from my book