Myth #1 – Emotions are useless
Most recently, scientists mapped out our brain evolution and they found that our limbic system (responsible for emotions) – is significantly older than our neocortex (responsible for thinking). The limbic system is thought to have evolved about 250 million years ago, at the back of our reptilian system – approximately 360 million years ago, which included mostly instincts. The neocortex is considered to be the most advanced, sophisticated, and new part of the brain.
And yet even today, the neocortex can be overridden by emotions within milliseconds if the limbic system deems it necessary. For example, seeing a shade in a dark on your way home would see you automatically change your route without you thinking about it to ensure your safety.
In other words, our emotions are older and more powerful in some ways, but it is our minds that are responsible for the most sophisticated action of ours, including our abilities to reflect and create.
Emotions evolved to help you. All of them.
They evolved to protect you and increase your chances of survival. Your fear saves your life, your anger helps you energize your effort when somebody tries to undermine you, your disgust is helping you stay away from things that could make you sick, and your sadness signals everyone around you to help. The same goes for positive emotions.
There is no question that things can go wrong with emotions. There is a lot of disagreement about both – the causes and the ways to address – the challenges of mind, but there is one thing clear – modern life requires us to evolve even further to address the astonishing speed in change that humanity is experiencing. For a very short window in evolutionary history, a huge number of our species (home sapiens) don’t have to be concerned about survival which makes us quite confused about how to handle such freedom. Emotions are an important part of the big puzzle as they have not evolved to adapt to dizzying change. Your anger can be disproportionate, your sadness can be chronic and your chasing of happiness can land you using stimulants to experience the same level of elation and joy.
Disregarding your emotions is like taking 250 millions years of learning and saying ‘no thanks – I know better’.Myth #2 – Emotions are less important than our your thoughts or behaviours.
The argument about what’s more important – our emotions or our thoughts – is quite prevalent in many contexts, including medical professionals, science researchers as well as our spiritual leaders.
Some suggest that emotions are nothing but a disturbance of mind – in particular in buddhist context – noting to instead focus on mind. And indeed, the whole process of emotional regulation includes taking our emotions from subconscious to conscious and working with them mindfully and rationally. What’s arguable, however, that our thoughts or behaviours are more important – in fact all of those elements are so closely interconnected that it’s next to impossible to completely separate them and therefore put the value on them.
The way we play out our behaviour is a complex intersection between various external and internal elements – our life experiences, our expectations, our cultural and family context, our beliefs and perceptions.
Just think about the last happy experience you had. Laughing with your best friend, holding your newborn baby, petting a dog, skydiving or successful meeting at work. All of these experiences, no matter how small or big, as facts are nearly meaningless – it is your emotions that gave you the enjoyment (warm feeling of having your baby in your arms) and excitement (when you skydived) and sense of achievement (successful meeting or task completed).
Without your emotions, your life experiences would be mostly meaningless.Myth #3 – Emotions makes you weak
This myth persists, sadly, partially due to the fact that our emotions are often used that against us. Showing emotions at work is a ‘no-no’, but showing your emotions in relationships can hurt either more – the people closest to us know all our vulnerabilities and can trigger, willingly or not, some of the most powerful emotions.
But here is the fun part – people can only use your emotions against you because you have given them that information. This often happens because you did not handle that information yourself. Emotions need to be validated and we often deny, avoid, ignore or forcefully control them their power.
By learning to tap into this valuable information inside yourself, you will be able to use that information for yourself instead of giving it away to others.
Being able to understand what triggers you, will be able to avoid or manage those events or people better.
By leaning to describe what you feel, you dig deeper and undestand the what’s and the why’s behind those feelings.
By learning to challenge those emotions, you separate truths from myths and find better solution
Whatever you do, you are much better off listening to them and learning to cope with them.
Emotions are neither making your strong or weak. It is how you handle them that makes you one or the other.Myth #4 – Emotions are irrational
Emotions and mind are continuously being pitched as two opposites, with many debates which one is the most important in our lives.
In fact, every decision we make has a lot of components to it and it is also well established that emotions are an important part of the mix (some studies show that emotions participate in 96% of our purchasing decisions). Over the last few decades, scientists have come to realise that emotions are a big and important part of our cognitive process.
Whether it’s rational or irrational is less of a scientific question and more a philosophical one. From an evolutionary perspective, emotions have evolved to warn us about the dangers, help us to establish ourselves in the communities and encourage us to be more creative. Not sure about you, but that sounds very rational to me!
However, since emotions often operate at a subconscious level and are often quite fast, emotionally driven behaviour can feel erratic and irrational. Emotions sometimes kick in without knowing all the information, adding to the mistakes and the sense of ‘irrationality’.
Emotions are designed to act fast for your survival. Sometimes this means they act without having all information, looking irrational in hindsight.Myth #5 – Emotions are too complex to stand to reason
Well, so is general relativity theory and yet quantum computers are already being developed across the world.
Even the most complex things can be simplified and explained in a way that is useful and has practical real life implications.
Our inner worlds can be indeed messy and hard to grasp. And to be honest, we are better off leaving some of those emotions to it’s devices – if the car is nearing you at high speed, you don’t want to overthink it, you just want to jump out of its way.
But working through the emotions that linger too long, poisoning or overtaking your life – like being continuously stressed at work despite the fact that none of the situations are life or death – in fact, sometimes, it’s not even that important for your or your families survival!
Once you get to know your emotions and learn to filter through things that undermine your life, you will be surprised to see how much of the inner world is repetitive and can be attended through structure. And structure means ability to achieve outcomes – whether to deliver a project or make sense of our internal world.
It is the most difficult lessons that make you strongest.