The terms emotion, feeling and affect are often used interchangeably and there seems to be some confusion as to their meaning. Each is distinct and at the same time associated with each other. To discuss this in terms of optimization, one has to decide from which viewpoint these terms will be explored: Psychological, philosophical, neurobiological or even psychoevolutionally ! Here, and for the purposes of understanding these concepts and their role in optimization, I focus on the psychology and neurobiology of emotion.
Optimization through emotional mastery shows up as self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management, all elements of a healthy balanced person. Our brains are the foundation for our ability to interact successfully with others and emotional mastery is a skill that can be strengthened and expanded. How to acquire or improve upon this mastery is discussed below.
…the mental states by which we understand how important things are to us. They expand our sense of connectedness, love, intimacy and define our experiences so that we can understand the world. They act as a guide as to future action to take, and once they are understood and under control, they give mental flexibility and resilience to stress and best of all, an understanding of ourselves and others. They are socially oriented as we broadcast emotion to the world; sometimes this proclamation is an expression of our internal state and at other times it is invented in order to fulfill social expectations. These states include the 8 primary emotions that I’ve taken from Plutchik’s psychoevolutionary theory of emotion. They are: anger, fear, sadness, disgust, surprise, anticipation, trust, and joy. These ‘basic’ emotions are thought to have evolved in order to increase our reproductive capacity. Plutchik argued that these emotions trigger behavior with high survival value, such as the way fear inspires the fight-or-flight response or protection or joy inspires reproduction or contact. Plutchik first proposed his cone-shaped model (3D) and the wheel model (2D) in 1980 to describe how emotions were related. The eight primary complimentary emotions include:
- Joy vs. Sadness
- Anger vs. Fear
- Trust vs. Disgust
- Surprise vs. Anticipation
Additionally, his wheel model makes connections between the idea of an emotion circle and a color wheel. Like colors, Plutchik asserted that primary emotions can be expressed at different intensities and can mix with one another to form different emotions. Quite interesting as it serves as a nice metaphor to take into account the full range of human emotion.
…a sensation that has been checked against previous experiences and labeled or named. It is personal as every person has a distinct set of previous sensations from which to draw when interpreting and identifying their feelings. Feelings detect what you sense and include:
Feelings allow you to determine what is going on out in the world around you as it feeds data into your nervous system. Feeling integrates many streams of neural processing – thinking, sensing, impulse motivation and action. Our feelings inform us what to pay attention to, how to pay attention to it and help us evaluate what we pay attention to.
*The feeling of the 6th sense is in a category by itself – see my post on intuition.
…an outward, observable manifestation of a person’s expressed feelings or emotions. Affect is composed of a coordinated set of responses involving facial muscles, internal organs, the respiratory system, the skeleton, autonomic blood flow changes, vocal responses and gestural behavior. Together, they produce a match to the particular intensity of stimulation experienced by the person. Remember the last time you blushed? This is affect in action.
Affect seems to be necessary for normal conscious experience, language fluency, and memory.
How Emotion and Feeling are associated
An emotion is the projection or display of a feeling. They define what feelings mean. They are often short in duration and always subjective as they are influenced by personal experience, beliefs and memories. We can say that they are actually ‘physical’ as they can be objectively measured by blood flow, brain activity, facial expressions and body language. For example, if my stomach feels tense and in trying to understand this, I might be able to label the emotion behind this as apprehension or fear.
In other words, feelings happen as we begin to integrate an emotion, and react to it through our mental associations. It is a byproduct of our brain perceiving and assigning meaning to an emotion. Feelings are what happens after having an emotion. In the English language it becomes a bit tricky as, the word “feel” is used for both physical and emotional sensations — we can say we physically feel pressure, but we can also emotionally feel pressured. As such, feelings are something we sense. Feelings are often powered by a mix of emotions and last longer than emotions.
But why is this important?
This becomes quite important when we realize that up to 95% of our thoughts, emotions and learning occur without our conscious awareness according to Harvard marketing Professor and author Gerald Zaltman (How Customers Think, 2003). Apparently the 95% rule is used by many neuroscientists to estimate subconscious brain activity. Since the vast majority of behaviors are determined subconsciously we need to ensure we have some control in order to define our lives instead of having them defined by outside influences.
“Emotions are the means in which we understand how important things are to us, and whether they serve us or not”
Brain Correlates to Emotion
Emotional processing, expression and control use much of our brain resources and there is a definite link between brain and behavior. Your body responds to the way you think, feel and act. As such, there is a mind/body connection when we talk about emotions. To better understand how the brain correlates to emotion, the image here is a nice one from emotionalresearcher.com in which a conglomeration of images is shown that relates to the processing of emotion in the brain.The areas implicated and responsible for emotion include:
- the amygdala
- which plays a role in emotional arousal, the fight or flight part of the brain which is important for anxiety, fear and stress. Memories encoded with emotion can be much stronger and longer-lasting that those without emotional encoding.
- posterior cingulate
- which is involved in mind wandering, and self relevance.
- left hippocampus
- which assists in learning, cognition, memory and emotional regulation
These are all located within the Limbic system which is a subcortical inner area of the brain (just underneath the top portion of your brain or cortex).
- The prefronal cortex (just behind the forehead) that is responsible for regulating behavior. This includes mediating conflicting thoughts, making choices between right and wrong, and predicting the probable outcomes of actions or events. This brain area also governs social control, such as suppressing emotional or sexual urges. The prefrontal cortex is neurally connected to take in data through the body’s senses and is strongly implicated in qualities like consciousness, general intelligence, and personality.
- The temporo-parietal junction, or TPJ, (behind and back from your ear) which is associated with perspective taking, empathy and compassion and an understand between self and another.
How to optimize for emotional mastery
- Recognition of your own feelings– this is an important first step. Taking responsibility and ownership of your own response or reaction to outside events is important in emotional control and regulation.
- Mindfulness or meditation – An interesting study by Sara Lazar (Neuroreport, 2005 nov 28: 16(17): 1893-1897) showed that an ongoing and regular meditation practice is one viable means of optimizing your emotions! She was the first to show how long-term meditation practice correlates nicely with the above listed brain areas.
- Gratitude– the act of showing appreciation is good for your physical health, psychological well-being and your relationships with others. Richard Emmons a specialist on gratitude has a nice article on this. Asking yourself and your family to name 5 things daily you are grateful for is a nice ritual to improve your emotional control through positive thinking.
- Forgiveness -forgiveness plays a crucial role in life as it offers both freedom and peace of mind. Studies have shown that people who forgive are happier and healthier than those who hold resentments. They also have less number of health problems. Forgiveness is actually an important process towards self-mastery and relationship management by finding peace and providing closure to any difficult situation. People who forgive tend to be less angry, feel less hurt, and are more optimistic. They become more compassionate and self-confident. These are requirements for emotional mastery.
- Positive Psychology – freeing yourself from the ideas that no longer serve you puts the locus of control back to you. One method of doing this is to ask yourself what is “positive and helpful” in any negatively charged emotional situation.
- Social network development – a set of friends and social engagement in society is important in emotional regulation. Meaningful connection is important for us to understand our place in society, execute change, garner support and provide structure to future generations. Groups like Meet-ups, social networks like Facebook and religious groups all help people to develop their personal networks.
“True brain optimization occurs when your brain’s functionality, through your emotional, psychological, intuitive and cognitive processes are all working to the best of their ability in order for you to thrive in your environment. Thriving in your environment enables you to succeed in life.”
Article excerpt from: Optimal Mental Functioning: Total Brain Access, all rights reserved