In today’s BBTL book entry, Chet writes about feelings vs. facts – more specifically, the downside of getting caught up in our negative feelings and losing sight of the facts. When this happens, we tend to catastrophize a situation, judging things to be far worse than they really are. But our judgements are not always justified.
As the late Senator Pat Moynihan once famously said, “You are entitled to your own opinion. But you are not entitled to your own facts.”
Facts are subject to objective, independent, and sometimes scientific verification. Feelings don’t have to pass any of those tests. And so our feelings, most usually the negative ones, often run amok.
But why does this happen? Why do our feelings sometimes break loose, jump the fence, and run out of control?
According to the research of Harvard neuroscientist Joshua Greene, the human brain performs like a “duel process” camera, which has both automatic and manual modes. In our brains, the automatic mode is the limbic brain and it drives feelings and emotions. This is where our fight or flight instinct originates. The limbic brain is fast and efficient – automatic. The manual mode in our brains is the neocortex. The neocortex drives rational and analytical thinking. This is where our cognitive skills originate. The neocortex is slower and requires conscious input, just like the manual mode on a camera. We most frequently rely on this automatic mode and that’s usually just fine. Our limbic brain’s reflexes, intuitions and feelings typically serve us quite well. And, when necessary, our manual mode enables us to consider the facts and formulate our more sophisticated thoughts and behaviors, based on explicit knowledge.
But this manual mode, the conscious act of rational thinking, is often stifled in times of stress, fatigue or anger. When this happens, we are left only with the feelings generated automatically by our limbic brain – our emotions maker. With no support from our manual mode — no rational thinking to balance our emotions, no facts to balance our feelings — our feelings run unchecked and out of control. We ruminate, brood, and exaggerate the situation, getting down on ourselves and often lashing out at others.
So, how can we do better? How can we get a handle on our feelings and reel them back in?
Breathe deeply. Breathe deeply. Breathe deeply. And write.
Write, because writing requires you to engage your brain’s manual mode.
When your limbic brain starts redlining and negative feelings run rampant, engaging your brain’s manual mode can help bring it back under control. Because the act of writing alone will trigger your thinking brain and move your mind rationally toward finding the facts to fight those feelings.
At BTL we write and we write and we rewrite. We rinse, repeat, and write some more. We do this as a daily discipline to find clarity. This clarity helps us make conscious decisions. And conscious decisions trigger us to take purposeful action.
Reflection. Clarity. Action.
Don’t wait. Begin your habit of writing today. Get clear. Stay clear. As best you can, keep those irrational, negative feelings from running wild. But if they do, engage your manual mode – your rational thinking — through your (new) habit writing.