[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.]
Why do you feel the emotions you do?
People who think their emotions are irrational and follow no pattern can’t understand why they feel the emotions they do. Worse, they make themselves unable to manage their emotions. They become easy to manipulate. Perhaps they make good consumers for advertisers and voting blocks for politicians, but they won’t likely live rewarding lives.
Knowing why you feel the emotions you do is an important step in learning to bring about the ones you want.
I’ve said before that your emotional system chooses your emotions based on what the wiring you inherited from your ancestors says is appropriate. So what determines “appropriate?”
I’ll answer within the Model. Your emotional system reacts to your perception of your environment, including your beliefs of what you can and can’t do, as well as your beliefs about your needs and interests.
Your emotional system then chooses among the abilities you believe you have the optimal one for its perception of your environment. It’s simple if you are aware of your perception and your abilities. It’s complex if you don’t look at your emotions functionally as motivations but only focus on their feelings once you have them.
For example, when you are with people you believe to be your friends, since our ancestors evolved group behavior, you feel motivation to team up with them and do fun things. We call the feeling friendliness. It motivates us to interact.
When you touch a hot stove, your emotional system chooses to motivate you to remove your hand. We call the sensation pain. It motivates you to remove your hand.
Note that your emotional system doesn’t react to your environment directly, nor does it motivate you on your objective capabilities. It motivates you on your perceptions and beliefs about your environments and beliefs. If you don’t believe you can do something, you won’t feel motivated to do it, even if everyone else believes you can.
People readily see this pattern in others when others feel unmotivated or helpless but for some reason don’t notice it in themselves when they say “I just can’t do it.” Saying they can’t reinforces a belief that may have no basis except that it reinforces itself. Saying you can’t can be its own self-fulfilling prophecy.
On the flip side, by changing your beliefs, you can change your emotions. Changing your emotions has a couple of effects. First, you change how you feel. I like feeling good. Everybody does. Second, different emotions motivate you differently, which causes you to behave differently, change your environment, and so on. Changing your beliefs leads you to change the rest of your life (and vice versa).
How can you use this information?
Any time you feel an emotion, you can use this information to realize why you feel it. If you like the emotion, you can use it to increase the emotion. For example, when enjoying time with a couple friends, you could invite others to join.
More usefully, if you are feeling an emotion you don’t like, you can use this information to bring about other emotions. For example, if you ever feel helpless to do an important task or to overcome a challenge you know others overcame, you can think back to a time you felt especially capable and recreate the environment, beliefs, and behaviors that prompted feeling capable. Once you feel more capable, you will be more likely to achieve your goal. Often rationally knowing you could do something doesn’t give you the motivation to do it, but bringing about the right emotions does.
Read my weekly newsletter
On initiative, leadership, the environment, and burpees