A unique aspect of the human race is our ability to display emotions. Emotions aren’t hardwired, and our interpretations of situations and experiences may differ slightly or be opposites depending on the person. The reaction we may display is dependent on our self-awareness and level of emotional mastery.
Understanding how emotions form and how we develop immediate reactions is an area of neuroscience that sees significant attention, yet, will always be an area that can never be 100% objectively understood.
Even knowing this, neuroscience has come a long way in uncovering our brains’ methods to associate external influences with emotions.
One core idea is that emotions are concepts. Given that our brains are consistently overwhelmed with external stimuli, they need to find a way to compile the information into a core concept to deliver a quick response.
Concepts allow our brains to bridge the gap between instantaneous information and information overload. If it had to dissect each element of a stimulus, then it would get overwhelmed immediately.
Despite such a smart solution, if your brain had to do this every time you shifted your focus, it would be a disaster. The theory of constructed emotion shows that our brains create simple concepts alongside past experiences to combat this.
For example, if you think about the concept of a toothbrush. Your brain will find and retrieve its concept of a toothbrush and display it in your mind so you can see it. The colour might match the one you use; if you shift your focus to its use, you may be able to loosely ‘feel’ the texture of the bristles.
So, how does this work with emotions?
Building Emotions Through Experiences and Predictions
Our brain has to respond to and prepare us for experiences we are going to encounter. Failure to prepare in advance drastically worsens our chances of survival – If your brain doesn’t tell you not to stand on train tracks until you’ve been on them for 15 seconds is too dangerous for it to allow.
The same applies to emotions and how we ‘predict’ how to feel given a particular situation. If you are running a marathon, your brain will be interpreting the situation and deciding how best to react – does it pump more blood to your legs? Increase your breathing? Heighten your perception of tripping hazards on the floor?
Your brain then creates emotions to coincide with what it guesses we are about to experience; this is particularly interesting when you consider various mental illnesses that impact the way we perceive certain situations.
Going to see a friend might elicit happiness and excitement before you even see them. Emotions occur like this as our brains are pre-guessing what we will experience when we are there and gets us accustomed in advance.
Understanding Their Impact
Emotions, whether we recognise them or not, impact every aspect of our day. A simple shift in emotions can drastically alter our actions, decisions and our composure. It is not uncommon for a singular bad experience to ruin the rest of our day.
Such instances highlight our emotional mastery and how in control of our emotions we are.
Even without mastery, understanding how emotions work is a vital part of self-growth.
Emotions come in three stages:
1. Concepts and predictions
As aforementioned, our brain interprets the external stimulus and forms a core concept. Using these memories, our brain can immediately determine what we should be feeling in response.
While this concept is deeply embedded in neuroscience, it is also the foundation of self-awareness and improvement. We can learn how to adapt our responses to specific situations and emotions, but if we have deep roots stemming from a negative experience, our brains will always start the process with a negative prediction.
2. Psychological reaction
Once our brains have allocated a response & emotion, our bodies follow suit with a reaction. Experienced reactions depend once again on how similar experiences in the past panned out.
For example – Entering a team meeting for the first time might be a nerve-wracking experience; our brains haven’t experienced this specific situation before. If the meeting is enjoyable and successful, you might unconsciously be happier, more energetic, and have an open body language during the next meeting.
If it goes negatively, you may become reserved, anxious, and you may even shake as a reaction.
3. Expressive reaction
Finally, how do you react in response to the emotion? Many of us experience anger, happiness, fear and distress differently. Anger can lead to violent behaviour, or it could lead to isolation – we all react differently.
These responses stem can originate from our first experience in coping with them. These responses also further explain the concept of fight or flight reactions.
Emotions in Business, Relationships and Communication
While emotions are an exciting topic, their application in our daily lives is so expansive that covering all areas in a single blog post is impossible. Over the years of working as a neuroscience coach, I’ve seen business owners and professionals continuously hit a roadblock in their business.
We can attribute these problems to internal processes, lack of resources, skill level or otherwise. The most intriguing outcome is that these issues almost always originate from a lack of emotional mastery.
Understanding our own emotions gives us an unbelievable strength over those that don’t. That strength is the ability to understand other people better.
One would think that this would only be beneficial for relationship building. While that is correct, it also greatly influences how we communicate with others, build professional relationships and make important day to day decisions.
One of the communication barriers is trying to predict how others will react to what you say. While we can attempt to determine a response through past experiences with that person, we do not have access to their brain and how they think.
Their predictions, concepts and emotional mastery influence how they react, making it virtually impossible to determine their response accurately.
Emotions, however, have a unique tone. We can immediately tell when someone is angry, sad, happy or otherwise. Conversing with someone that is displaying a core emotion creates a particular atmosphere.
We can draw upon our own experiences of these emotions to understand how they’re feeling and respond accordingly.
Considering how people feel emotionally greatly aids us when building relationships. It prevents us from acting on our OWN responses and forces us to pause and consider how someone else may respond.
How Do We Focus on Emotional Mastery?
The core concept behind emotional mastery highlights our ability to influence and ‘control’ our emotional response to external sources. Instead of letting someone ruin our day and make us angry, we can stop and address these emotions.
Why do we feel like we do? What weight does this feeling have, and more importantly, do I have to remain feeling like this? By challenging your thoughts and emotions, you can begin to pick apart how illogical most of them are.
Similarly to negative thoughts, once you shine the spotlight on them, you begin to see them for what they truly are. Most of the time, they’re nuisances that we can quickly forget.
Understanding this on paper is simple, yet putting it into practice is easier said than done. Getting caught up in the moment is decisive for some people, while for others, it can be a fleeting moment that they can snap out of easily.
Unfortunately, emotional mastery is not something we can obtain through surface-level understanding. Many high-level executives invest in coaches to help them break through the various barriers preventing them from understanding their emotions.
Some people work consistently to analyse their emotions during the day through various methods like journaling and meditation.
Devotion to mastering our emotions may seem odd to some. Yet, the core concepts our brains create can impact your confidence, happiness, relationships, resilience, growth and how effective you are with your communication.
Neuroscience teaches us that we don’t have to accept what our brains default to, and we can influence the core concepts it creates.
Moving Forward with Emotional Mastery
Learning how emotions form is the first step in conquering our emotions. Next, we need to know how to embrace neuroplasticity and develop more robust, more positive neuro connections.
Self-awareness and self-regulation enable a greater understanding of oneself, the feelings associated with specific events or experiences, and ultimately, allow us to consistently keep our emotional mastery at the forefront of our mind.
If achieving fulfilment, direction, true success, and happiness are critical goals for you, stay tuned for my next post, where I’ll be discussing self-awareness, self-regulation and emotional mastery in greater depth.