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.
The 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.
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