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A tale of cognition and emotions.
For a few weeks now, I have been trying to put my take on how often we confuse our thoughts with our emotions and vice versa.
So I tried to dig a little deeper on what triggered this “thought” in me, and I realized it wasn’t just one conversation or situation. It seems to me I have been confusing my feelings by backing them up with some logical reasoning since my childhood. Similarly, I have been consenting to things, people, and situations that look wonderful on paper but have no real value in them.
If I look back at the past, I really don’t remember putting a whole lot of thought into my engineering profession or putting any effort in finding my path forward in this life.
As all the social norms, I was convinced that at the age of 22 I should be graduated; a couple of years from there I should have a stable job; at the age of 25 I should be married; then the most important one, right before I reach my 30s, I should be a mom.
Then I realized that I literally wasn’t paying attention to my feelings and needs. I began noticing how depressing and monotonous my life had become—that was the moment I thought I needed to take some actions.
Once I noticed that pattern, I had to make a conscious decision to start from scratch.
Starting from scratch is terrifying because it means I first must unlearn some things before I can make room for new rules and ideas.
Ideally speaking, there is no wrong choice. Every choice or decision we make paves a way for the next thing to come in our lives—it’s like playing a grand chess match with the universe. We make a move and then the universe makes one and presents us with a new life situation. Sounds like fun, right?
The question, however, is: are our minds and hearts aligned when making the right choices?
In most cases, feelings come first and make us aware that something unexpected, surprising, or uncertain is occurring. Feelings send signals to the mind, then the mind gets to work—it starts to think. What the mind thinks is based on the experiences one has gathered throughout their life. Emotions represent our needs or requirements, while the mind evaluates the solutions based on past situations and come up with the best solution to meet those needs.
In my opinion, emotions are crisp and to the point. For instance, if the question is, “How do you feel?” the answer would be “good, bad, sad, happy, elated, or dull.” But if the question is, “What do you think?” then the answer becomes complex.
We all have experienced in some situation when our intuition is right there screaming at us with the answer, but we try to add some reasoning to it to rationalize it. Having more options results into more dilemma, and more dilemma causes unhappiness and stress.
Rationalization is a key component to living, but if used excessively in each situation, it can create imbalance. Same goes with emotions. If emotions are only used to derive solutions, we could ignore lessons from our past experiences and end up in a vicious cycle of being at the same emotional spot forever.
I think that any decision with no middle ground between thoughts and emotions doesn’t last and always results in conflict. Some people prefer shutting down their emotions and going with what they think is logical, while others prefer to use only feelings to resolve the conflict. And therefore, most of the times, conflict never solves anything—it keeps on lingering and bites us when we least expect it.
So unless there is a balanced mix of emotional and cognitive decision-making, our choices or solutions might not be healthy, and we could end up in situations that aren’t fulfilling.
For example, think about someone who wants to choose a major or a master’s degree, or people who are together because of peer pressure, family pressure, or just because of fear of abandonment. Sometimes, I come across people who don’t even know their favorite color because they are so engrossed with following the trend and agreeing to what the internet has to say.
This has made me think that conflict between the mind and the heart is common, and, at some point in life, we all struggle with it. So this had me writing about how I feel about this topic and see what all of you have to say according to your own experience.
We shouldn’t forget that life is extremely ironic and surprises us with unwanted situations, so this whole process of self-work is an ongoing one. The more we practice, the easier it becomes.
Here’s what I personally do to balance my thoughts and emotions whenever I feel conflicted:
1. “Breathe through the chaos” is my first mantra.
Yes, I mean literally breathing in and out—deep breaths. No joke.
In fact, in May 2019, a study was published by International Journal of Psychophysiology that says just two minutes of deep, slow breathing engages the vagus nerve and increases HRV, which subsequently improves our decision-making.
2. Step out in nature.
Trees, plants, fresh air, flowers, mountains, and the grass have a wonderful way to help us feel relaxed and reduce our anxiety and stress.
3. Exercising regularly to stay healthy, not just physically, but also mentally.
Both aerobic and anaerobic exercise forms are helpful.
4. Don’t rush your decisions.
If I feel rushed, I definitely take my time to think through. Sometimes, time is the best answer.
5. Pay close attention to the patterns.
If I find myself in similar situations too often, then I know there is something I am doing that is not proper. This means I need to dig deeper to understand the root cause, discuss it, and find a solution.
6. Talk to friends, family, or mentor.
Talking is therapeutic, but always remember that talking with an open mind is good. What others suggest is based on their experiences, so their solution might not work for us. Therefore, getting other perspectives is helpful, but finding our own solution is the key.
I hope this article has planted some seeds that will grow and push you to properly think and feel throughout your life.
If you find this helpful or interesting, please like, comment, or share. I look forward to hear from all of you.
Sending lots of love and hugs.