Emotions often get a bad rap in business settings. They are irrational, contagious, easily manipulated, and at odds with sound thinking.
At least, that’s one view. I say instead that emotions are an integral and powerful part of how we think. And behind each individual feeling, there is a specific and decodable thought.
- Anger = I am not getting what I want.
- Fear = There is danger here.
- Hatred = I am in ideological disagreement with someone with whom I share a close relationship. (Thank you to Robert C. Solomon and his book The Passions for pointing out this one.)
- Admiration = This person has a quality I value but have not yet internalized or developed.
- Self-hatred = I am preserving my love and connection with another person or group, by assimilating their lack of respect for me. (Self-hatred in other words is a misguided attempt to love.)
These thoughts, once isolated, can be evaluated as true or untrue, helpful or unhelpful, and then acted on:
- I am not getting what I want… What is it I want exactly, and how do I get it?
- I sense danger… Is the danger real, or is it projected onto my current situation based on my past experience?
- I am in ideological disagreement… Is it time for me to give up some of my treasured ideas, or change the parameters of a relationship that taxes my energy?
- I value a quality in someone else… How do I cultivate it in myself?
- Can I love people who hate me? Can I love myself, and model the behavior towards me that I want others to show as well?
One of life’s big secrets is that you can facilitate your own growth, and improve your thinking—for free, I might add—just by attending to your own emotions.