The Model: what you can and can’t control

September 25, 2011 by Joshua
in Awareness, Blog, Evolutionary Psychology, Nature

Of the five elements in the Model — environment, beliefs, emotions, behavior, and reward — you can voluntarily choose and act on your environment, belief, and behavior. Except to a limited degree, you can’t voluntarily choose your emotions. They react to the other elements. Reward, being a special emotion, also reacts to the other elements.

It may seem a cruel twist that the most important parts of the cycle are the parts we can’t control. After all, the Declaration of Independence doesn’t say “life, liberty and the pursuit of environment” or “… of perception” or “… of belief.” It recognizes happiness — your emotions — as the highest value.

From an evolutionary perspective, for your emotions to be involuntary makes sense. If you felt hungry, didn’t like the feeling, and could just choose not to feel it, you wouldn’t eat when your body needed the nutrition, and you’d die of malnutrition or hunger. Sure you’d die happy, or whatever emotion you chose over hunger, but you would not have had any children. We descended from ancestors who evolved useful motivations they generally couldn’t override.

When you understand how systematic your emotional system is — not chaotic, irrational, or random — you realize that you have all the tools you need to bring about the emotions you want even if you can’t control them directly. Since you can control your environment, beliefs, and behavior, you can change them to cause them to bring about the emotions you want.

You just have to understand what combination of the elements you can control will bring about those emotions.

People often think they can’t adjust their levels of happiness or reward. Yet they get that they can manage their emotions immediately with emotions they don’t want — that is, they recognize they can make their lives worse easily. If you want to feel lonely, put yourself in a room by yourself and, for good measure, have your friends call you periodically to tell you how much fun they’re having without you. You can bring about fear by teasing dobermans, which is a choice of your environment and behavior.

Well, you can also bring about reward and other emotions the same way. Choosing combinations of environments, beliefs, and behavior for which the emotions you want are appropriate makes your emotional system bring about those emotions.

I call this method of bringing about the emotions you want the Method, which I’ll write about after this series on the Model.

Do it once — choose your environment, beliefs, and behavior to bring about a desired emotion — and you change your life for the moment. Do it consistently to bring about emotions of a range of characteristics  — pleasure/pain, complexity/simplicity, intensity/subtlety, and short-/long-term — and you create a whole lifestyle consistent with your emotions and values. The Method gives you the tools and knowledge to use them to create the life you want for yourself. It may take time and effort, but since it shows you how to do it by bringing about reward, the process will be rewarding from the start.

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