Research is discovering that we decide what to think and then look for reasons to believe that what we already think is true. In other words, we don’t make decisions or have opinions because of facts, reason or logic. We use facts, reasons and logic to support what we’ve already decided. So if it’s not reason that we are using to make our decisions and form our opinions, what are we using to decide? Emotions. This isn’t a mistake or a problem – it seems to be how we are designed to function. And it’s suprisingly effective system. People with brain damage which prevents them from experience emotions tend to make terrible decisions and really struggle to function.
The problem is that most of us have completely untrained emotions. Spend an hour with a baby or small child and you will see that humans are born with very strong emotions that are mostly pointed in the wrong directions. It takes time, effort and attention to train our emotions to respond accurately to the world as it is. Then, our emotions can be trusted with doing a better job pointing us towards the best decisions, opinions and attitudes for us.
Of course, many of us avoid emotions as much as possible which makes it difficult to even begin to train them So, the first task is just to take note of our emotions.
Take a day that you know should be pretty low-key and try to pay attention to your feelings for that day. Ask yourself frequently, “what am I feeling right now?” Label your emotions: “I am happy, bored, angry . . . “ Try to find more precise descriptions of your emotions if you can. “I am thrilled, restless, appalled . . . “ Identify things that are triggering your emotions. The point isn‘t necessarily to change anything right away.. You are just trying to get used to noticing and feeling what your emotions are communicating to you. Keep practicing whenever you can and in time you will start to notice patterns and problems that you can correct. But first, just get used to actually noticing your feelings at all.
For a book with some really useful ideas about what to do with all those feelings, check out Much Ado About Feelings.