What’s Love Got To Do With It – Live Life Like You Mean It
Jul 3 2010

What’s love but a second hand emotion.  Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken.“  So go the lyrics of Tina Turner’s famous song What’s Love Got To Do With It (wikipedia link).  Check it out on YouTube if you haven’t heard it in a while.  I kept thinking of that song when I was reading a book recommended to me by someone, who I’ve come to respect greatly, with decades of experience in the field of psychology.  The book is called Living Like You Mean It: Use the Wisdom and Power of Your Emotions to Get the Life You Really Want (Amazon link) by Ronald J. Frederick, Ph.D.

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It’s a valuable book for any manager/leader/entrepreneur to read because it discusses in simple terms how many of us have challenges processing our emotions and using them as tools to get a better understanding of what is happening inside of us and outside of us.  So many of us have been trained not to fully feel our emotions or stop them because we have been judged, place judgment on them, or simply feel we can’t deal with them right now.  We are a bundle of feelings and they surface, just like thoughts, to give us data points to help us navigate this crazy world.   I was speaking to one of our entrepreneurs at the Austin Technology Incubator recently and he said something like “I don’t have time to feel right now.“  I could relate to that statement because when I was running my companies, I put many things on the back burner and one of those things was my feelings.  The same thing happens when you are parenting little kids who take so much of your mental and physical energy…you feel like you have to keep up a front of having it all together so the kids don’t see what you are processing.  But you know what?  Even if they don’t see it, they feel it.  Of course your ‘gut feeling’ is always right there but sometimes we ignore it and defer to the ‘powers that be’ when if we had only listened to it earlier we might have taken action earlier and ended up in a better place earlier.

Dr. Frederick used very powerful examples based on his client’s stories that many people can relate to.   It’s hard to summarize this book, so I’m just going to highlight some key quotes/takeaways:

He says that “in general the spectrum of our emotions is actually made up of eight primary feelings and their related shades and combinations,” which are Anger, Sadness, Happiness, Love, Fear, Guilt-Shame, Surprise, and Disgust. (p. 54-55).  He lumps Guilt-Shame together as one category but makes a distinction that I found very enlightening.  Guilt is feeling bad about something you did and shame is feeling as if you are a bad person.

The fear of feelings is apparently common.  “In fact, most of us are afraid of our feelings.  We’re afraid to feel the full extent of our emotions and afraid of being emotionally alive and present with others.  We’re afraid of being vulnerable, of drawing attention to ourselves, of looking like a fool.  We’re afraid of being overwhelmed, of losing control, of getting out of hand.  We’re afraid of being seen for who we really are.”  So “We distract ourselves, push our feelings aside, stuff them back in, and hope they’ll go away.  But they don’t.  They keep trying to get our attention, to be heard, to be responded to — that’s their nature.  They reemerge as the sense that something is off, odd, or not right; as worry, irritability, restlessness, anxiety, or depression.” (p. xiv-xv).

In the last few years there have been many studies on emotions leading to a better understanding of how the brain works.  “We now know that emotions can play a more powerful role than thoughts in bringing about well-being and lasting change.  Our feelings can arise much faster and be more intense than our thoughts.  At times, no matter what we do to suppress them or how hard we try to control them, they’ll have the edge.  In addition, recent discoveries in the field of neuroplasticity…reveal that emotional experience actually has the power to rewire our brain!” (p. xvii).  “In recent years, technological advances have enabled scientists to understand more precisely just how the brain functions.  Joseph LeDoux, in his fascinating book The Emotional Brain, clearly illustrates how the neural connections that run from the emotional parts of the brain to the thinking parts of the brain are actually much stronger and more numerous than the connections that run in the other direction.  This helps explain why at times emotions are able to overwhelm our thoughts and dominate our thinking and why it can be difficult to control strong emotions through rational thought alone.” (p. 18).

There are so many ways we avoid our feelings that I can’t type them all here but I recognized myself in many of the descriptions including things like “Overthinking issues, getting ‘stuck’ in your head. Having to be in control or being overly self-sufficient (otherwise, your strong facade might crack and allow your emotions to come through).” (p. 78)

The amygdala is a cluster of neural circuitry deep inside our brain and is a storehouse for significant emotional memories.  It also gauges the emotional significance of events and it’s the place where fear originates so it has the ability to overwhelm rational thought and overlook reality.  It has the ability to hijack the brain.  (p. 90).

He discusses letting yourself actually feel the emotion through it’s entirety.  When you don’t, it never gets really dealt with and you keep reliving it instead of letting the emotion come through like a wave to its natural conclusion.  It’s a process and doesn’t happen overnight.  Attaching a label to a feeling (e.g., anger, sadness, etc.) dampens the fear response and decreases emotional distress. (p. 94).  He also gives tools to help you name and process the feeling.

As a business person and a parent, understanding and paying attention to your feelings about situations can help you make better decisions in all aspects of your life.  I know so many entrepreneur’s who look back and wish they had listened to their ‘gut feelings’ during critical times but they were too afraid to do so.  I’ve been there and done that!  The maternal (parental) instinct (based on feelings) is strong and I’m not sure if there have been any studies done but I’m guessing that instinct has saved many a baby’s life.

We shouldn’t be afraid of our feelings because they “1. Impart information.  2. Provide insight.  3. Give us guidance.” (p. 135)

Here’s to your emotional health and well-being!  I’ll end this post with a quote the author has on p. 131 that starts Chapter 7 of his book: “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk to bloom.” – Anais Nin.

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