“It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” – Epictetus
🌪️ It’s hard to think logically and creatively when you are upset.
Can you think logically and creatively when your emotions are out of control? Probably not. However, the ability to maintain clear thinking under stress is a crucial skill that can be developed.
🧠 Why is it difficult to think logically when emotionally distressed?
In his book, Your Brain at Work, David Rock explains that strong emotions are controlled by a large brain network called the limbic system.
When you feel intense emotions, the limbic system becomes highly aroused, reducing the resources available to the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for thinking, understanding, deciding, recalling, and inhibition.
The limbic system and the prefrontal cortex function like a seesaw: when one is activated, the other becomes less active. When your limbic system is aroused due to strong emotions, your ability to think clearly is compromised.
💡How can you balance your emotions and logical thinking?
Rock offers several techniques to help you maintain emotional balance and promote clear thinking. Here are the steps:
1. Make a conscious decision to control your emotions:
Choose to learn to control your emotions, rather than being at their mercy. This intentional decision is the first step towards emotional regulation.
2. Recognize it as a skill:
Understand that emotional control is a learnable skill. Like any other skill, the more you practice, the better you become at managing your emotions.
3. Develop self-awareness:
Cultivate a sense of self-awareness, akin to a “director,” whose job is to quietly observe your emotions from an outsider’s perspective and intervene only when necessary.
4. Name your emotional state:
When your emotions become overwhelming, have your “director” ask you to label your emotional state in words. This act of naming engages the prefrontal cortex, which in turn reduces the arousal of the limbic system.
5. Reappraise the situation or the event:
If your emotions are too strong to be managed by simply naming them, you can use reappraisal techniques to gain control.
David Rock outlines four main types of reappraisal:
Change your perspective on the situation or event, recognizing that your interpretation is based on your own filter.
To illustrate how reinterpretation works, I’d like to share an example from the book “Man’s Search for Meaning,” by Viktor Frankl.
Frankl uses a daily tear-off calendar as an example.
You can lament the fact that the calendar is getting thinner and thinner every day. Alternatively, you can jot down what you have accomplished that day on the back of the sheets and pile them up, feeling proud of all those days that you have lived fully.
The situation is the same, but your interpretation of the event is different.
Remind yourself that your emotional reaction is normal and expected in certain situations.
Have you ever tried to learn meditation? If you have, you might find it frustrating because quieting your mind can be much more challenging than you initially anticipated. You may even become upset with yourself for not being able to simply “be.”
In his book, The Headspace Guide to Meditation & Mindfulness, Andy Puddicombe consistently reminds readers that it is entirely normal to have random thoughts when beginning to learn meditation. Similarly, his Headspace app provides frequent reminders of this fact.
While you can’t rely on Puddicombe to remind you that your experience is normal all the time, you can assign this task to your “director.”
Reassess the importance of various aspects of the situation and reorder your priorities accordingly.
Picture yourself in the midst of a hectic morning routine: preparing breakfast for your two young children, getting ready for your full-time job, and managing the household while your husband is often away for work. Amid the chaos, your child spills juice on the floor, and you snap at them, feeling overwhelmed.
To employ the reordering technique, pause and reassess your priorities in the heat of the moment. Is it more important to have a spotless floor, or to nurture the emotional well-being of your children and maintain a healthy relationship with your husband?
By reevaluating and reordering your priorities, you might realize that fostering a loving family environment takes precedence over keeping everything under control. This shift in perspective can help you regain your emotional balance, allowing you to think more logically and creatively as you handle life’s challenges.
Consider viewing the situation from a different perspective, such as another person’s viewpoint or from a different stage in your life.
I’d like to share an example from the book, Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl. Frankl, the founder of Logotherapy and a Holocaust survivor, recounts a story about one of his patients in his book.
An elderly man visited Frankl’s clinic, seeking help for his severe depression. The man’s beloved wife had passed away two years earlier, and he had been struggling with depression and grief ever since.
Frankl asked the man what would have happened if their roles had been reversed – if he had been the one to pass away first and his wife had survived. The elderly man admitted that his wife would have suffered tremendously from his passing.
Frankl then pointed out that by outliving his wife, the man had spared her from that suffering.
Upon hearing this, the man shook Frankl’s hand and left the clinic in peace.
Viktor Frankl was able to help his client see the same situation from a different perspective.
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By practicing these techniques and developing your emotional toolkit, you will be better equipped to think logically and creatively when faced with emotional distress. Embrace the challenge of emotional regulation, and you will discover newfound resilience and personal growth.