Humans are emotional beings, there is no doubt about that. The challenge with our emotions can be when they begin to run our lives, or even debilitate us from experiencing joy and purpose.
Detailed in Karla McLaren’s The Language of Emotions, she writes about how our emotions are not good or bad, but rather that they are providing us with information. She states, “All emotions are necessary, and all emotions are supportive if they appear at the right time and at the correct intensity for the situation.”
The challenge with emotions is how to not only understand their message, but what is at the root of the emotion and how to master your mind in response to the emotion. This is especially important to understand when your emotions are affecting your career or business.
“We’ve all been taught that ‘being professional’ means suppressing our honest emotions while we’re on the clock — but research shows that this actually leads to a loss in productivity, diminished creativity, and crushing job dissatisfaction.
Because the workplace, as an entity, threw emotions out the window more than a century ago, it hasn’t known how to build healthy or functional human environments, how to care for people, or what to do when their natural and necessary emotions arise.”
– Karla McLaren, The Power of Emotions at Work
The first step in understanding the emotions that can debilitate us (like anxiety, anger, depression and fear) is what is at the core of triggering them within our brain. The area of the brain that is responsible for all of our survival instincts is called the limbic system. The Queensland Brain Institute writes about limbic system as, “The part of the brain involved in our behavioural and emotional responses, especially when it comes to behaviours we need for survival: feeding, reproduction and caring for our young, and fight or flight responses.”
As you can imagine, over the thousands of years of human brain development, we started with the limbic system as our primary source of survival. As we evolved, we didn’t get rid of the limbic system, but rather we added and developed other areas of our brain involving critical thinking like the frontal lob. Even though we now have the ability to plan for an imagined future, our primal limbic brain is still in charge and can override any plans you have if it realizes a bus is about to run you over.
“When the deep limbic system is less active, there is generally a positive, more hopeful state of mind. When it is heated up, or overactive, negativity can take over.”
– Daniel G. Amen
The limbic system’s total job is to protect your Self in any way possible to insure your survival. The Self is a construct of the mind made up of a collection of identifying attributes you have added over your lifetime of experiences. Each of these attributes are carefully curated by you over time by adding and removing them as you experience your life.
Attributes come in many forms. Some are labels you give yourself like daughter, son, sister, father, teacher, etc. Labels can be expanded into larger forms to include phrases like; “hard working”, “Minnesota Twins fan”, “Weber grill owner”, “homeless shelter advocate”, and so on. The list of attributes can be almost endless.
In Sean Webb’s books, Mind Hacking Happiness Vol. I & II, he talks about how the structure of the mind and your mastery of it, is directly related to the amount of happiness you experience in your life. The exercise of identifying your attributes can be laid out onto what he calls a “Self Map”. The Self Map is like a kind of target with expanding rings that surround a core point which represents the most important parts of you needed to survive (like food, water, shelter). The closer the attribute is to the center of the map, the more important it is for your survival and who you believe yourself to be. For example, your attribute/label of “father” is going to be closer to the center of this Self Map than your attribute of being a “Vikings fan” or “Loving pepperoni pizza”.
As you fill in the Self Map with all your attributes, you will be deciding how important each of them is to you. The question to ask is, “If one of these attributes were attacked, how emotionally charged would I get?”. If I was at a MN Vikings football game and someone started yelling profanities at the quarterback, would that have more or less emotional impact on you than if they did the same thing about pepperoni pizza? Knowing these things about yourself is critical because it will help you gain awareness around why you are affected by some things more than others.
Once you’ve gone through the process of filling in our Self Map, you will want to keep it around and posted somewhere you will see it. You will find that over time you will likely want to update it as you discover new aspects to how you view your Self.
“When you become the master of your mind, you are master of everything.”
– Swami Satchidananda
The most interesting part of the brain science around the limbic system, is that anything that you identify as part of the Self is in the realm of needing protection. In other words, the limbic system doesn’t know the difference between needing to protect yourself from being hit by that bus or someone making disparaging remarks about that team you love. All of these things are part of the Self and subject to various possible threat levels needing to be monitored and protected.
The second and more important reason for doing the Self Map exercise, is to help you build an awareness of the attributes you’ve identified. As you go about your daily life you will have experiences that will emotionally provoke you in some way. When you have these experiences, you will start to recognize the connection between the emotional reaction and that part of your Self that you feel has been attacked.
Sean Webb says, “The more things you have identified on your Self Map, the more opportunities you have to be unhappy.” By using mindfulness practices like meditation and auto-writing, you can assist the subconscious mind to express how the Self attribute is being triggered and what that means to you. Building this awareness will start to slow down the connection between the triggering event and the resulting emotion. This will enable you to use the evolved part of your brain (e.g. frontal lobe) to see what is happening, understand the trigger and the emotion it caused, and then choose how to respond, rather than react.
Over time, the power of the emotion will subside as your mind mastery grows and your subconscious mind feels safe. You will also find that some of the attributes on your Self Map will move farther out from the center of importance, resulting in little or no reaction to any trigger. In some cases, you may even move the attribute completely off the Map!
Considering your own Emotional Mind Mastery is an important step toward freeing yourself from the burden of being a slave to your emotions. You may soon realize you are closer to experiencing ongoing contentment and peace in your life.