You aren’t at the mercy of your emotions

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The link of the presentation:
After watching this video, I made a summarization and wrote down my reflection and thoughts. I hope this material can help you explore deeper into this topic. And, if you have any ideas, please feel free to contact me or give me some comments. :)

Summarization

The core idea of this presentation is “people do not have pre-wired emotion circuits towards certain situations or physical reactions, the emotions we feel are created, influenced or controlled by ourselves.”
It may be a shocking idea for a lot of people. However, this claim can be proved right step by step with scientific results. First, the speaker has performed research on the relationship between physical reactions and emotional reactions.
For the last 25 years, the results from all of this research are overwhelmingly consistent. There is not a hardwired emotional system in our brain. In other words, our emotions will not be influenced by our physical movements.
These phenomena can be found frequently in real life, too. For example, sometimes, maybe we are laughing, but in our minds, it is deep sadness. For people who are crying, maybe in their minds, it is true happiness.
Now, imagine you walk into a bakery. You may think you would encounter the delicious aroma of freshly baked chocolate cookies. And your brains start working, it makes your stomach churn a little bit and prepare for eating those cookies. Then, your brain creates a feeling of hunger, which can help you eat a lot of cookies.
However, if the situation changes. Now, you are waiting for test results in front of a hospital room. You will feel stomach-churning then dread, worry, or anxiety. Did you notice? The same physiological response, stomach-churning, causes a completely different result.
The lesson here is all the emotions you feel are made or influenced by you, instead of triggered by physical reactions.
The same physiological response can have different emotional reactions. Emotional reactions are not prewired. So, next time, when you have a hammering heartbeat before any tests or presentations.
Remember, it is not necessarily a sign for you to feel nervous. It may only be a mechanism to make you be better prepared for any incoming challenges. In other words, you can change your cognition then change your emotions.
Moreover, if you feel dread, anxiety, or depression for the things you have to do at work after waking up in the morning, ask yourself: Is this a purely physical cause or is there a psychological cause behind this emotion?
It does not mean that we can cure or go out of the dominant emotion we are feeling immediately. It means that all people, including you, have much more control over our emotions than we have previously expected. As a result, we also have a larger responsibility for our emotions.

My reflection and thought

As I watched this video, I was reminded of a book I had previously read that articulated a similar premise. And, I have believed that we can consciously change, control, or influence our emotions greatly since reading that book.
The book was called The courage to be disliked. In this great work, it claims what wedo in our daily lives, which seems to have no choices, is actually controlled by ourselves consciously or unconsciously also, it is not only limited to emotions.

The enlightenment from that book

But let’s take emotions as an example. In that book, it claims that we can control our emotions, and the reason why we are angry at someone or something is that we choose to be so.
Just imagine if you are having dinner in a restaurant, a waiter accidentally spills soup on your clothes. What would you do at that moment? Maybe you would scold that waiter and ask them to apologize and clean your clothes impatiently; because you feel extremely angry.
However, at the same time, if your friends call you, what would your reaction be? You would probably change your tone immediately and speak nicely: “Hey, we haven’t seen each other for a long time!”
Yes. In many situations, we can change our emotions, from feeling angry at our children, in a flash, to speaking politely while the children’s teacher is calling.
The reason why we are angry at our children is that we choose to be angry. Being angry towards our children is the most effective way to achieve our goal — make our children realize they have done something bad.
We surely have other options to meet the same objective; however, as I said, we choose not to.
This argument can be a good explanation for why we can change our emotions immediately if the situation changes. Because we are not controlled by our emotions; instead, we control them.
That also means we have the ability to guide ourselves through depression, frustration, or anger and towards more positive expressions of feeling if we use our emotions and feel them more consciously.
But, at the same time, the fact that we can control our emotions also implies that we have a larger responsibility for our emotions. (This implies we have a larger responsibility for our emotions SINCE we apparently have the ability to control them.)
We should be responsible for our emotions, at least a great part of them. Therefore, if you could not help but feel angry at someone or scold others, ask yourself: could the reason why this IS happening just be because you want to feel that emotion? (just because we feel entitled to feel that emotion or want the release that having that emotion would provide to us.)
Those takeaways above are what I learned from that book. And, I believe in those claims. The reason is easy. Since it is logical and beneficial to myself, too.
Therefore, when I first saw this presentation, it was not super surprising or shocking to hear this fact, which has scientific evidence to support it.

Comparison between the concept of the book and the presentation

However, the finding and core idea of this presentation is slightly different from my belief. The core idea of the speaker is “people do not have pre-wired emotion circuits towards certain situations or physical reactions, the emotions we feel are created, influenced or controlled by ourselves.”
The main body of the presentation focuses more on the relationship between physical reactions and emotions and that physical reactions and emotions are not necessarily connected closely to each other.
My belief is that the idea that we can control our emotions, is a broader and stronger idea.
Nevertheless, it does not mean that I did not learn anything from this video. Actually, I did. Especially when the speaker pointed out that when you feel dread, anxiety, or depression, you should ask yourself: Is this a purely physical cause or is there a psychological cause behind this emotion?
What did I learn from this? This provides me a method to calm myself down while facing emotional issues under certain situations. Because my original belief is only a concept. How to practically implement this concept? To be honest, it is not what I am really familiar with. I am still learning, too. Therefore, this idea or method is especially useful for me.

My comments towards this presentation

This presentation is good and the idea it tries to convey is nice. But, I do have some suggestions or comments on this presentation.
When I heard the two examples the speaker gave — going to a bakery and waiting for test results. Both of them have stomach-churning, then other emotions come out. The speaker used these two examples to prove that the same physical reaction can cause completely different emotions; therefore, physical reactions do not necessarily cause emotional reactions.
However, I felt strange after hearing it.
If the speaker was trying to say that stomach-churning can have different emotions in different situations. The assumption of the speaker is stomach-churning happens first, then other emotions. But, is it true?
I am not a professional in biology; so, it is not that straightforward for me. Maybe it is true. But when I was hearing that, I could not figure out the logic here and felt strange for a while. Therefore, in my opinion, it may be better to explore this idea a bit more deeply at this point.

Summarization

All in all, the only flaw, which potentially can be a big problem, in this presentation is it is not yet clear for all listeners to understand the system of emotions. To say physical reactions do not necessarily cause certain emotions is perfectly fine.
But, can it be described as “You aren’t at the mercy of your emotions”? To satisfy this statement with scientific evidence requires 2 assumptions: 1. Emotions are triggered by physical reactions. 2. Under any conditions, physical reactions come first, then emotions.
From my own personal experience, this does not always seem to be the case. And if in fact the emotions always follow the physical sensations as the speaker proclaims — then what is it precisely that triggers the physical sensation, to begin with? What is the source of stimulation? Is it thought, then physical reaction then emotion.
Or is it some other form of stimulus at an unconscious level perceived by our senses, assigned some unconscious meaning then as a result a fight/flight/freeze biological response of physical action is set into motion through our nerves and electrical impulses then culminating in the eventual “having of emotion”? None of these questions are answered directly and yet I have them. This leaves me feeling unsatisfied and curious…
Therefore, the conclusion: “You aren’t at the mercy of your emotions” sounds like we can change our emotions is a little rash and reckless from this perspective and that limited scientific evidence.
To sum up, the presentation is good. The presenter tries to convey a good and useful idea to everyone. It also indeed provides some tools and concepts we all can apply in our daily life. We can influence our emotions by ourselves; but, at the same, we also need to take a larger responsibility for our emotions. The only thing that can be further improved is, as I said, make the relationship between title and content more coherent.
Originally published at https://www.juliansweb.com on October 14, 2020.
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