Posts Tagged ‘Daniel Goleman’

Mastering Your Emotions

May 12, 2017

This post is based on material in a revolutionary book by Lisa Feldman Barrett titled “HOW EMOTIONS ARE MADE.”   The first item is to remember to keep your body budget in good shape.  Your interoceptive network works day and night, issuing predictions to maintain a healthy budget.  This process is the origin of your affective feelings (pleasantness, unpleasantness, arousal, and calmness).  To feel good your brain’s predictions about your heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, temperature, hormones, metabolism, and so forth, must be calibrated to your body’s actual needs.  Otherwise you body budget gets out of whack, and you’re going to feel crappy.  Unfortunately, modern culture seems to be engineered to screw up your body budget.  Work and school schedules can make it difficult to get enough sleep, and junk food is omnipresent.  What can be done about this?  Try to adjust your schedule and diet as best you can.   Regular exercise increases the levels of proteins called anti-inflammatory cytokines, that reduce your chances of developing heart diseases, depression, and other illnesses.

Your physical surroundings also affect your body budget, so if possible, try to spend time in spaces less noisy and crowded, and with more greenery and natural light.  Reading a compelling novel is also beneficial for your body budget.  When you get involved in someone else’s story you aren’t as involved in your own.  These mental excursions engage part of your interoceptive network, known as the default mode network.  And do not ruminate, and if you are ruminating, stop.

After you body budget, Dr. Barrett says that the next best thing to do for emotional health is to beef up your concepts, to become more emotionally intelligent.  Remember that you create your emotional concepts.  Emotional intelligence is about getting your brain to construct the most useful instance of the most useful emotion concept for a given situation.  Sometimes it is important not to construct emotions but instances of some other concept.  Daniel Goleman, the author of the bestseller “Emotional Intelligence,” argues that higher emotional intelligence leads to success in academics, business, and social relationships.

Dr. Barrett writes that there are many ways to gain new concepts: walking in the woods, taking trips, reading books, watching movies, trying unfamiliar foods.  She says to be a collector of experiences.  Try on new perspectives the way you try on new clothing.  These kinds of activities will provoke your brain to combine concepts to form new ones, changing your conceptual system proactively so you’ll predict and behave differently later.

Try to develop higher emotional granularity.  A collection of scientific studies indicate that people who could distinguish finely among their unpleasant feelings, say fifty shades of feeling crappy, were 30% more flexible when regulating their emotions, less likely to drink excessively when stressed, and less likely to retaliate against someone who has hurt them.

Rather than ruminating about something unpleasant, keep track of positive experiences.  Each time you attend to positive things, you tweak your conceptual system, reinforcing concepts about those positive events and making them salient in the mental model of your world.

If you deal with children, be positive and try not to say negative things.  Studies have shown that children in low-income homes hear 125,000 more words of discouragement than praise, while their higher-income counterparts hear 560,000 more words of praise than discouragement, all by age four.  If a child is whining incessantly, instead of yelling “Knock it off,” try something like, “your whining its irritating me, so stop it.”

Dr Barrett offers the following tips for mastering feelings in the moment.  She says that the simplest approach is to move your body.  She writes that moving your body can change you’re predictions and therefore your experience.

Another approach is to change your location or situation.  For example, during the Vietnam War, 15% of U.S. soldiers are addicted to heroin.  When they returned home, 95% stayed off the drug their first year back.  Given the strong addictive effects of heroin, this is an extraordinary result.

Dr. Barrett writes that recategorization is a tool of the emotion expert.  The more concepts you know and the more instances you can construct, the more effectively you can recategorize in this manner to master your emotions and regulate your behavior.  So, if you’re about to take a test and feel affectively worked up, you might categorized your feeling as harmful anxiety (“Oh, no, I’m doomed”) or as helpful anticipation (“I’m energized and reading to go!”).

Last, but certainly not least, is meditation.  She notes that key regions in the interoceptive and control networks are larger for meditators, and connections between these regions are stronger.  Some studies have seen stronger connections even after only a few hours of training.  Other studies find that meditation reduces stress, improves the detection and processing of prediction error, facilitates recategorization (termed “emotion regulation,”) and reduces unpleasant affect.

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Emotions and a Healthy Memory

April 1, 2012

When I was a graduate student in the seventies studying cognition, emotions were of little interest. We needed to research cognition, the important stuff. Emotions were something of concern to clinicians and those dealing with mental illness, not something with which we hard-nosed scientists needed to be concerned. Richard Davidson was a graduate student the same time that I was, but he immediately saw the folly in this view. He completed his requirements for a doctoral degree and has done research which has developed a coherent view of emotion, the brain structures and processes underlying emotion, and methods for modifying our emotions. The last point is most important because he has shown that, regardless of any innate predispositions, we can control and change our emotions.

I did not have the prescience of Davidson. I held the contempt for the study of emotion that was prevalent at that time. In retrospect I can see how foolish I was. It is our emotional states that determine not only our happiness and satisfaction, but also the effectiveness of our interactions with the environment. Emotions are a key factor in a healthy memory. Emotional problems promote an unhealthy and ineffective memory.

Davidson is a most remarkable fellow. He is a professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Time magazine named him one of the hundred most influential people in the world in 2006. Much of Davidson’s work has been published in his book, The Emotional Life of Your Brain.

He has identified six dimensions of emotional style: Resilience, Outlook, Social Intuition, Self Awareness, Social Context, and Attention. Each of these dimensions is characterized by different interactions of structures in the brain, the activities of which can be observed and measured. He relates these dimensions to personality and explains how they develop. He relates them to normal and abnormal patterns and explains when “different” becomes pathological. What is most important is his elucidation of the plasticity of the brain and how emotional styles can be changed. He provides a questionnaire test to self-assess one’s position on the six dimensions. He also provides exercises one can use to modify one’s emotional style. External resources are also identified.

This book is highly readable. It is a joy to read. He added a co-author, Sharon Begley, to assure its readability and accessibility. Many personal stories are included. His experiences as a research assistant in a sleep laboratory when he was in high school, his undergraduate studies, his graduate studies including his meetings with fellow graduate student Daniel Goleman (author of Emotional Intelligence), his professional career including his trips to Central Asia, and his relationship with the Dali Lama are entertainingly presented.

This is an important book. Accordingly, I plan to devote a substantial number of Healthymemory Blog posts to it. But there is no way I can even come close to giving this book its just due. I strongly encourage you to get and read the book. It should not only be interesting, but also personally rewarding.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.