Sunday, September 24, 2017

EMOTIONS OVER INTELLECT?

Emotions over Intellect or intellect over emotions? When I heard this question raised on the radio, I stopped in my tracks. What?! This can’t be right. But the voice on the radio went on, extrapolating his belief that we have become a society with too much focus on emotions. According to him, we talk about them, revel in them, and use them as an excuse for unacceptable behaviour. This may occasionally be true, but it became clear that he viewed emotions as completely separate from intellect – in fact he claimed that a focus on emotions somehow dumbs us down, interferes with our intellectual progress and actually reduces logical thinking. In these last three words, I finally agreed he had a point, but not in the way he meant it!

If the question were ‘either emotion OR intellect’ – it would indicate that if we want to achieve intellectual prowess we need to get rid or reduce our emotions, not give them any attention – which is tantamount to stuffing our feelings in a bag. My first argument against this attitude is that we now have almost a century’s worth of evidence showing how stifling emotions damages both mental and physical health in all manner of ways. Secondly and more to the point, as far as the intellect is concerned our emotional state actually drives our thinking. When our feelings are positive, happy, engaged, enthused, purposeful, inspired, or passionate, our brain is fully ‘switched on’ and works at its highest potential. Emotions only dumb down our intelligent, reasonable thinking when they are negatively stress-producing and unmanaged, when they trigger signals sent between the brain and the body that prime us for defence.

We only have one system to deal with stress, and this system is designed to prepare us for self-defence against physical threat. When it is triggered, our energy needs to be diverted to our body, our heart beating faster so that blood and oxygen can be sent to our muscles and we become stronger and more able to fight or run away from a rabid animal or some other threat. In such cases, we also need our brain to be laser-focused, so any area of the brain that makes us empathic, creative, curious or otherwise ‘intellectually inclined, is of no use and so basically shuts down.  

Unfortunately, these days when our 'threat system' becomes triggered, we are usually experiencing a threat to our assumptions, expectations, pride or ego. So, when we are stuck in traffic and that all-important meeting may be missed or we feel offended or rejected by a text or email, our brain – if unmanaged – goes into its ‘threat response’. The result is that any logical, intelligent thinking is reduced to almost naught and in many cases is obliterated altogether. Anyone who has regretted their own actions or behaviour will likely recognise this experience!

Emotions and intellect are two parts of the same human brain, and both are needed for either to function well. In order for both to flourish, one cannot stifle the other, instead they must collaborate. We need to use the intellect to acknowledge, validate and learn what our emotions are telling us (yes, they all have something to tell us), and learn to manage our emotions so they support the intellect.

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This is all the work of attaining and applying emotional mastery - and although you could say this is all very relevant to the current state of world affairs(!), we can only really take charge of ourselves.


For information about coaching and resources go to www.AppliedEmotionalMastery.com or for tips and guided meditations to help build emotional mastery, go to www.youtube.com/EmotionRevolution

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Wednesday, June 7, 2017

LOVE POWER

Love increases endorphins – (you may know this). But that’s not all love does to us. Love also increases nitric oxide, (no, not laughing gas –that’s nitrous oxide – confusing I know!) Nitric oxide reduces blood pressure, improves blood circulation, and decreases clotting as it relaxes your arteries. In the brain, love activates areas associated with motivation, focused attention, making positive choices and taking care of yourself. 
Love also deactivates pathways in the brain responsible for negative emotions such as fear and social judgment. Aside from being an explanation for why we say 'love is blind', it also explains the many reported acts of heroism and kindness by ordinary people in recent terror attacks and disasters here in the UK. 

There are many different types of love (seven according to the ancient Greeks) but they all release chemicals and activate specific parts of the brain that propel us to connect, to care, and to take caring action. Of the different types of love studied over the centuries, the love of humanity, selfless love or what the Greeks call Agape, is often referred to as the highest form of love and I imagine that this is the type of love we see expressed in distressing times. It is the antidote to terror and facilitates clear and values-based thinking. Feeling such love gives us more clarity of mind and forward-thinking insights than any of the fear-based rhetoric we are also currently exposed to. Love in its highest form is not a touchy-feely approach, it actually makes us smarter. This is a biological fact*.

When I was seventeen, I read the first of what would become an endless array of books and papers on the subject of love, ‘The Art of Loving’ by psychologist Erich Fromm. It inspired a lifelong fascination with the subject in its many forms, a fascination which is just as strong today as it ever was, not least because of the one factor that has been present in every single book, study and paper: that loving is part of the inherent human condition. We are innately programmed to love in all its forms, whether physiologically, neurologically, or otherwise by some means we have yet to discover. Fromm famously claimed that love is not something that just happens to us, it is a decision we make.

So, in this time of hate and self-interest all around us, to feel love and compassion for the victims of horrendous acts of terror and violence is a no-brainer and for most people comes quite naturally, but how, you may ask, can we ‘make the decision’ to sustain those feelings of love in the process of seeking solutions, when it feels so much more natural to slip into anger, even fury? I admit, it does take a conscious intention, and a decision to refrain from what feels like the ‘natural’ path. Ironically, acknowledging the anger and other emotions you might be feeling is the first step, regardless of whether you choose to channel those emotions into a more positive force. However, acknowledging doesn’t mean getting stuck in the emotion. It is equally important to ask yourself whether the emotion is working for you; i.e. is it depleting your health or enhancing it; fogging your brain or helping you think clearly and creatively; is it helping you achieve the outcome you want?

Making that observation and then making the decision to change to a more productive, constructive emotion (and yes, you can change what you feel), to channel the emotion into a positive force, that decision is the first and most important step you can make. The choice and intention to act from state of centred love, must surely be the only way forward.

A famous quote by Jimi Hendrix might be an appropriate conclusion: “Only when the power of love overcomes the love of power will the world know peace.”

*For references and information on research please email us at office@AppliedEmotionalMastery.com