January 21, 2021

The Neuroscience of How our Emotions Shape our Lives.



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From the perspective of neuroscience, we can often identify a predictable behavioral cycle that begins with thoughts and ends with emotions.

Our thoughts are the starting points of our choices. Our choices shape our distinctive behaviors. Behaviors influence the experiences we have and produce emotions. Our emotions are the chemical processes that are associated with our subconscious body.

What is the lifespan of an emotion?

How long do emotions last?

Do we intend to feel them for longer periods?

Let it be no secret that our emotions come and go rather quickly. An emotion technically lasts only 90 seconds.

In the words of a Harvard neuroanatomist and author of “My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey,”

“When a person has a reaction to something in the environment, there’s a 90-second chemical process that happens in the body; after that, any remaining emotional response is just the person choosing to stay in that emotional loop.”  ~ Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor

Therefore, we must intend to feel our emotions longer than their biological life span of 90 seconds.

Are feelings different from our emotions?

Feelings are the interpretations of our emotions coupled with present thoughts and memories of the past. They are the meanings we attach to our emotions. Once we integrate our emotions with thoughts, judgments, beliefs, and past experiences, we begin to feel them.

Our feelings last longer than our emotions.

Feelings are the intended choices we make by way of our conscious and subconscious thoughts. We are either aware of our feelings or unconsciously operating on automatic pilot. The refractory period is the duration of time we feel our emotions and allow them to last whether it be days, weeks, months, or even years.

If the refractory period is hours or days, our emotional reaction becomes our mood. If it lasts for weeks or months, it becomes our temperament. If the duration lasts for years, our feelings become personality traits.

In psychology, rumination is the endless loop of thoughts associated with our emotional reactions to past experiences that are alive in the body.

The longer the refractory period lasts, the more we are conditioned to think neurologically within the circuitry of past experiences. We are chemically caught within the boundaries of our emotional reactions.

We are trapped in a vicious cycle of emotions influencing our thoughts and the same thoughts cycling back to the same emotions again.

The longer we volunteer ourselves to be in that loop, the more our choices, decisions, and reactions become automatic without our awareness or any cognitive involvement of the mind. We are on autopilot, which is conveniently known as automaticity in psychology. We become victims in our day-to-day situations.

Why do we continue to stay in that loop?

While reasons can be genetic, social, or environmental, we are predisposed to be either in our comfort or survival zone based on our emotions being pleasant or unpleasant.

Either way, we tend to reaffirm particular emotional states longer by the choices we make.

“You will continue to suffer if you have an emotional reaction to everything. True power is sitting back and observing things with magic. Breathe and allow things to pass.” ~ Warren Buffet

What’s the way out then? How do we channel our emotions for more positive benefits?

We can accept our emotions without judgment. “As we resist, it persists.” When we accept ourselves, we allow our emotions to lose intensity and float away.

We can examine the causes of our emotions within. When we become aware, we learn from our mistakes and handle them better next time.

We can meditate and calm our brain waves. We can take a step back and involve the analytical mind that separates our conscious and subconscious.

We can practice mindfulness or metacognition and awaken beyond our transactional thoughts.

We can develop self-concept and become aware of our attitudes, beliefs, and dispositions using the Johari window.

“My stroke of insight would be: peace is only a thought away, and all we have to do to access it is silence the voice of our dominating left mind.” ~ Jill Bolte Taylor (Neuroanatomist)

Emotions are a double-edged sword as they play a significant role in humans toward positive psychology. Our emotions contribute to our intrinsic motivation and long-term memories that drive our sense of belonging, purpose, and goals. Emotions can be self-destructive, but if wisely channeled, they are catalysts toward positive changes for the greater good in the human race.

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