Do Emotions Control Your Life?

by Don McMinn

I am surprised by, and sometimes frustrated at, some people’s submission to emotions. Emotions dominate their lives. Rational thought is ignored and facts are resisted. Like the lady with the nail in her forehead, life is seen exclusively through the lens of emotions.

I do understand and appreciate human emotionality—I even wrote a book on the subject. But let’s pursue a balance between emotions and rational thought. Don’t live your life based on emotions, and for sure, don’t make decisions based on emotions.

Can we agree on the following?

Learn to tell the difference between feeling and thinking.

Mark Twain said, “We do no end of feeling and mistake that for thinking.” Often, we’re simply not aware of which part of our brain is most active at any given moment: our limbic system (emotions) or our frontal lobe (thinking and reasoning). When you’re feeling angry, sad, happy, rejected, overwhelmed, fulfilled—those are feelings. When you’re considering data and facts and you favor rational discourse and the thoughtful weighing of evidence—that’s thinking.

There is often an inverse relationship between feeling and thinking.

Sometimes the more emotionally stirred-up we are, the less rational we are. In extreme cases, when someone is emotionally peaked, he or she may be incapable of thinking rationally. Likewise, if we view life exclusively through the lens of rationality, we won’t fully understand the human condition and we’ll miss out on the depth of human experience. Strive for balance. Avoid emotional incontinence.

Don’t immediately act on feelings.

In his must-read book, The Road to Character, David Brooks said, “The point of all this (self-regulation) was to separate instant emotion from action, to reduce the power of temporary feelings. A person might feel fear, but he would not act on it. A person might desire sweets, but would be able to repress the urge to eat them. The stoic ideal holds that an emotion should be distrusted more often than trusted. Emotion robs you of agency, so distrust desire. Distrust anger, and even sadness and grief. Regard these things as one might regard fire: useful when tightly controlled, but a ravaging force when left unchecked.”

When making decisions, rely more on facts.

To make a sound decision, you need facts. Seek them out and prioritize them. Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinions but not to their own facts. Occasionally, opinions and personal perspectives need to be considered, but not before the facts are examined. For sure, when you’re peaking emotionally, refrain from making major decisions.

In general, rational thinking trumps emotions.

All humans are inescapably emotional, so we can’t ignore human emotionality. Our lives are filled with both positive emotions (I feel affirmed, satisfied, happy, content, supported) and painful emotions (I feel sad, neglected, hurt, alone, unsupported), and they are part of the human experience, contributing to our very existence. But logic and reasoning provide a surer path to truth and progress. Used by permission.

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