In this week’s Success Newsletter, I would like discuss the question “What were you thinking?” and explain why almost all of our decisions are emotionally driven and how the understanding of that is a key to success.
First a quick update:
**** The Psychology of Anger: Listen to the interview I gave to Jim Peake of MysuccessGateway.com about anger – what anger really is, the emotions that lie beneath anger, how to safely release anger and why simply trying to manage anger isn’t the solution.
Now, let’s talk about our emotions and the way they affect our decisions and behavior.
What do all of these people have in common?
King David and Bathsheba
Samson and Delilah
Sen. Gary Hart and Donna Rice
Jim Bakker and Jessica Hahn
Sen. John Edwards and Rielle Hunter
Sen. Chuck Robb and Tai Collins
Gov. Elliot Spitzer and Ashley Dupre
Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and Christina Beatty
Robert Moffat and Danielle Chiesi
Yes, the above is a list of powerful men who had affairs and eventually suffered a downfall but it is also a list of men who were led by their emotions. Of course, it will be argued that men are the first to cheat but famous women have also cheated, strayed and betrayed such as LeeAnn Rimes who left her husband Dean Sheremet for Eddie Cibrian or Jennifer Lopez who had an affair with Ben Affleck while married to Chris Judd or Julia Roberts who had an affair with married cameraman Danny Moder.
But this newsletter is not about those types of scandals. The above simply serve as extreme examples of the way emotions rule us and can ruin us.
Contrary to what we would like to believe – that we are highly advanced beings – humans are still controlled by their emotions. Think for one moment about your response to the above examples; did you give a pass to anyone of those people in the above list because he or she might be a favorite of yours and is your decision and response based on logic or emotion?
If you are a parent of a teenager, then it is highly likely that you may have used this phrase or question, and possibly out of frustration: What were you thinking?
Yes, teenagers often do things that don’t seem to make sense to adults and this is because the teenager’s brain hasn’t fully developed; specifically, the Frontal Lobe hasn’t fully developed. These two “lobes” play a significant role in reasoning, emotion, and judgment as well as voluntary movement. And they are often in battle with the limbic system – the part of the brain that controls our emotions.
But if teenagers can cry victim to a brain that hasn’t fully developed, then what excuse or explanation can adults give when their behavior is beyond stupidity such as IBM executive Robert Moffat, who destroyed his 31 year career with IBM after having an affair with Danielle Chiesi and giving her insider information which led to his arrest on securities fraud; as a result Moffat forfeited sixty-five million dollars in stock options.
So what part of our brain leads to such emotionally-driven behavior?
We have three layers to our brain, from the outer to the inner:
- Neocortex – the thinking brain – our ability to reason – responsible for the development of human language, abstract thought, imagination, and consciousness; (consists of the Left and Right hemispheres)
- Limbic system – the emotional brain – the seat of the value judgments that we make, often unconsciously, that exert such a strong influence on our behavior
- Brain stem or Reptilian Brain – the brain of life – controls the body’s vital functions such as heart rate, breathing, body temperature and balance
Most of us would like to think that we operate and control our behavior from our Neocortex – our logical brain, but the truth is that our emotions (limbic system) and the need for survival (our reptilian brain) often control us and override our logic and reasoning brain.
In other words, I teach that every decision we make, every action we take is based on the emotional benefit and therefore cannot be argued as being purely logical. We put on sunblock to prevent the pain of cancer; we date or marry someone until the pain is too much, at which time we leave (the same applies to a job); we hold onto resentment, anger, hatred or lack of forgiveness to punish the perpetrator because we feel that we get more joy by hurting and punishing him/her even though that action might be wreaking havoc on our lives and preventing us from moving forward.
Our emotions affect the decisions we make in every area of our lives. Jennifer Lerner, Ph.D., is the director of the Emotion and Decision Making Lab at Carnegie Mellon University. Dr. Lerner has researched the way feelings from one situation can spill over and affect spending behavior.
Lerner and her co-researchers conducted a study in which they showed subjects three movie clips designed to induce emotions in the subject: one revolting, one depressing, and the third neutral. After watching the clip, researchers asked the subjects to estimate how much they would be willing to spend on a certain product.
The people who had seen the movie clip that generated feelings of sadness were willing to spend the most.
The lesson here is to understand and accept that our emotions are always driving us and our dominant emotion – the most intense emotion always wins. The only way to prevent us from reacting to extreme emotions, which then allows that emotion to take over, is to learn to intervene before the emotion takes charge so that we can engage more of our reasoning brain and less of our emotional brain.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy teaches you to find that one key moment when your emotion is about to lead you to the behavior you want to change and then intervene right before that occurs by becoming consciously aware that you have a choice – you can choose a different path or behavior. This approach is sometimes successful with addicts who are trying to consciously control their behavior.
The challenge for most people is simply awareness: emotional intelligence. The more emotionally intelligent you are the less prone you are to fall victim to powerful emotions.
While emotional intelligence is a great tool to learn ways to respond in the moment, more help is needed when dealing with other emotions and beliefs that run deeper – often hidden in our subconscious mind. The process I promote is to uncover the core emotion (often attached to a belief) and work on releasing that emotion and changing the belief. In other words, you might feel angry by the words of a co-worker or a friend and only after delving further into the matter, you might find that the anger stems from a belief that people don’t respect you or listen to you and maybe that is a belief you took on as a child based on your experiences growing up. Accordingly, the first line response is to learn how to prevent the angry outburst or response to your co-worker or friend but the key to releasing you from those chains of the past is to shift the original belief and underlying pain and emotion so that they no longer serve as a trigger for angry outbursts. Then you will never again hear those words said to you “What were you thinking?” for you will now be in control of your behavior.
Consider also hypnotherapy or my hypnosis CD/MP3s such as “Get over it”
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I wish you the best and remind you “Believe in yourself -You deserve the best!”
Patrick Wanis Ph.D.
Celebrity Life Coach, Human Behavior & Relationship Expert & Clinical Hypnotherapist