Ever been in an argument and not be able to think of a single thing the offending person has done for you? We use words like always or never because no matter how hard we try our emotions cloud our thoughts. Yet without emotions, we would forget most of what we experience.
My friend who runs a brain training business uses this illustration. Stand at an intersection and watch traffic go by for half an hour. After, try to remember as many of the cars as you can. None of us can report back details of every car we saw. We can report the cars that looked exactly like ours, or the ones with that strange bumper sticker, or the one that looked like the van from Scooby Doo. Each of these cars evoked an emotional reaction which is why we remember them. Our memory does not work like a video recorder.
And our thinking does not work like a computer. When we are sensing fear we make ourselves believe that our fear is even more rational. When we are feeling sick or depressed, we think like we will feel this way forever (even though it won’t). When we fast, there are times that you feel very hungry so hungry that we can’t imagine that we can endure it, and then a half hour later we don’t feel hungry at all. Our emotions significantly influence how we think.
But we are not slaves to our emotions. Knowing how our emotions affect us gives us the power to influence them. We can choose what we want to dwell on. Our emotions will try to interject and we can’t completely prevent that. But we can remind ourselves that our emotions are not always based on truth and remind ourselves about what is true. Also, as any parent knows, distraction is our friend. Instead of trying to tell ourselves we shouldn’t feel that way, we should try to direct our attention elsewhere.
Our emotions are continually changing. They help us remember or they prevent us from remembering. They are truly what help us make decisions. But we would do well to remember, especially when we are feeling emotions strongly, that allowing ourselves some time will benefit us greatly.
Boy is this subject dear to my heart. It’s hard to admit that we ever make rational decisions. Our brains are so good at filling in the giant gaps in our memories with rationalizations, how can we ever really know we have the information we need to make informed, rational decisions?
I think that stories are one of the most powerful ways we make sense of all the information, and emotion is the glue that makes it stick. This post makes me wonder what use you find for emotions. Are they really just to help us remember?
For me, in many ways, our emotions are what is most true about us. “I’m angry!” seems like one of the most powerful truths. It gets murky when we try to explain why.