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February 10th, 2020
Hard truths are difficult because our emotions are not aligned with what we know.
We experience this strange internal resistance: we know what the better food option is. We know we shouldn’t text that toxic person. We know we should buckle down and get to work on that important project.
But when push comes to shove, there’s a snap decision moment when we our thoughts and emotions on the subject sail past one another like ships in the night and we say screw it!
Derek Sivers put it quite well once when he said that “If more information was the answer, then we’d all be billionaires with perfect abs.”
He makes an excellent point with humor. We have more information at our finger tips than ever before. The methods for how to accomplish many extraordinary things has been teased apart and detailed ad nauseum for those willing to look for it. We know what works, whether that be to gain wealth, or to have a healthy, fit body.
We can go so far as to say that we know how to be happy. Even the knowledge and the techniques for that are ancient, and yet so few systematically go after these goals..
The question is why? Why would someone not strive to make their life better, especially when such great heights are clearly achievable?
Even if these methods are obvious in terms of information, this rarely means that the same things are obvious from an emotional standpoint.
If something is ‘logically obvious’ but radically different from our previous behavior then emotions are almost certainly not going to be aligned with what is logically obvious here.
Emotion is the basis for our action, not logic, and certainly not information.
For the most part, modern culture, especially in the west is a mess when it comes to any kind of alignment or regulation of emotions. It’s starting to creep in for the individual level, as with the resurgence of interest in the stoics and meditation, but still for many, these options are not obvious.
More importantly though, is: what exactly is emotion? And why is it so different from thoughts which is the realm of all the good ideas that might change our life for the better?
In short: emotion is what moves us.
Think for a moment about attention and distraction. Think about the instances when you have a hard time focusing. Why?
So many things are fighting for your attention. In this sense, there are many emotions occurring. Each distracting is eliciting an emotion and pushing you in a certain direction.
Many large emotions are conglomerates of many aspects of one’s state. Think of how someone can become irritable because of an uncomfortable plane seat. The reason is physical but manifests in this somewhat unrelated behavior of being grumpy.
Emotional regulation is a lot like sifting and listening: you sift out the unnecessary emotions that aren’t of any immediate help or use. Sure one can be generally depressed about one’s station in life, which can be a very useful signal, but it almost never guides one well in the moment.
Noting that emotion – which drives a person to do dumb things in the short term but as a useful long term signal – and then sifting it out, allows a person to listen to what else is going on in consciousness.
Get good enough at quickly sifting and listening and we begin to start finding gold, regarding smaller, quieter emotions that give a person a tiny push to do something useful in the moment. These are often totally crowded out.
Sift, note, and listen long enough, practice deeply enough, and we begin to realize that everything is an emotional composite. Individual words may even be said to be emotional in that they move our mind to a certain object of imagination. And in that vein, even what is logically obvious but initially counter intuitive begins to resolve as a subtle and unexpected combination and path of emotion where our mind is taken on an unexpected journey of attention.
What is ‘obvious’ to most people are the big loud, dumb emotions that aren’t useful in the short term if we act on them, and which will have negative consequences in the long term.
Good ideas are not that obvious, somewhat by default. They are quieter, and their emotional power is of a subtler degree. One that we have to train in order to be properly moved by.
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