What is the right way to use our minds? What matters most, the head or the heart? Logic or emotions? The supporting arguments on both sides are compelling. Which side would you pick?
Though I follow these emotions-versus-logic debates closely, I am a big proponent of using our reasoning and thinking alongside all of the capacities of our mind. That is why I believe that the more we know about how our brain works, the better able we are to use it to navigate our lives.
When it comes to the above duality, it is not about being in favor of one or the other, but it is all about the proper integration of both. The truth is, we need both — emotions and logic — for effective problem solving. In order to truly use our minds the right way, we need to include the gut-check factor along with our thinking.
Regardless of where we feel them, both logic and emotions, are born within the brain.
The rational side of our brain is located in the frontal lobes (right behind our forehead), while the emotions rise from within the limbic system deep inside our brain. Some of us may be tempted to think that emotions come from our heart. After all, isn’t this why we instinctively put our hand up to the chest to say “I feel it right here”? Not quite right.
The reason for this association is that emotions do come with physical sensations. These sensations are often strong enough to increase our heart rate, change our breathing, and even make the body temperature rise or drop. This is a quick mechanism by which our brain alerts us to strong emotions and signals that we need to pay attention.
The logical parts of our brain are taking on the heavy lifting of gathering data, analyzing and sorting through all the information available. They do the pros and cons analysis, correct for biases (if we are aware of them), estimate damages and costs, and finally — propose solutions. However, it would not be wise to act on these proposals right away without checking in with our feelings.
The gut-check stage is the one responsible for the approval of our final actions. No matter how logical a solution sounds, we always wonder whether it feels right. What is our intuition telling us? If you think about it, this makes sense:
Emotions are actually where all the problem-solving often begins and also where it ends.
Remember the alert signal I mentioned earlier? When something feels blissful and exciting or dreadful and scary, these emotions make the brain kick into gear to do the work of analysis and evaluation, so that we can decide what to do about our feelings.
When that process is done, it is the feelings that will guide us, once again, as to which solution feels right and which one to follow. That is the right way to use our mind: from feelings to logic, and back to the feelings again.
The simplest way to think of it is to see the mind as the outcome of the work that logic and emotions do together.
Our brain will consume mental energy in equal measure to process emotions, as it does to process any other kind of information. This should make sense if we understand that — for the brain — emotions are just another type of information. If you were to pick, my guess is, you would probably want to spend more time thinking and processing thoughts around your goals and the work you are doing. Most likely, you would rather not deal with emotions, because they can be unclear, leaving us confused as to what to do about them.
We don’t have this choice, however. Emotions do come up as part of our normal functioning and as reactions to the world. What we need to do is to learn how to deal with them.
When we are well-equipped with the skills of “reading” and “decoding” our emotions, our understanding of their meaning improves dramatically. With practice, we acquire the kind of emotional fluency that helps us process them quicker and more efficiently. If we perceive emotions as an incomprehensible puzzle, they will tend to overwhelm us. When we get too caught up in them, we need to exert enormous amounts of energy in order to figure out what we are dealing with.
Simple tools of the mind help us stay balanced when processing different types of information, including emotions.
The most important tool of the mind is questions. Remember to ask: “Is there more to this? What else do I need to know? What does this really mean?” These questions prompt us to consider all that is relevant, before jumping to conclusions. The third question is most important when we are dealing with emotions.
We are more likely to react defensively. Because of that, we are also more likely to overestimate the significance of what is going on. Instead, asking the right questions helps us put things into perspective.
Finding just the right balance for this collaboration between the analytical thinking and the emotions is the work of self-awareness.
This work often takes years of practice. It is a fascinating and powerful work, nonetheless, and brings the sense of peace and happiness to our lives.
The challenges don’t go away, of course (life is full of them), but they do feel less like heavy burdens. When we learn to integrate emotions with reasoning, we are on our way to developing resilience. Even though it takes years to master self-awareness and achieve this balanced way of thinking, the practice can begin at any time. And it starts with a simple set of questions. Such practice gives us a more realistic perspective on what is going on.
We have to remember to stay objective, since the easiest person to fool is ourselves.
We may want to tell ourselves a different story about what really matters to us and what we are feeling. This can go both ways. We may overestimate our abilities or make light of the situation. We may also get absorbed by the drama of life, often self-inflicted (such as expecting too much of others, while doing very little of our own work).
Because of that, we need to do frequent but short internal check-ins. These check-ins can help us restore the integration of logic with emotions. We can ask ourselves:
- How is our thinking-feeling balance?
- Are we lost and dwelling on emotions?
- Or, are we doing the opposite and are we ignoring what we feel?
- Are we over thinking?
- Perhaps, on the contrary, we act impulsively. What is the result of our action?
These kinds of check-ins are some of the tools towards achieving balanced integration. Such balanced approach incorporates both — emotions and reasoning. This integration of the mind is what builds a sense of well-being and, ultimately, resilience in the face of adversity.
Curious about how that works? Read more about Balance & Resilience here.