What’s the worst thing someone can say when you’re panicking?
How about when you’re feeling like crap?
“Buck up, life’s not so bad!”
Of course, in these scenarios people are telling you exactly what you need to do. They’re completely correct from the standpoint of logic. But from the standpoint of a negative emotional state? Let’s just say they better run before they get hit with something.
The most ineffective, and sometimes even harmful thing to introduce to someone in a negative emotional state, is logic. The rational and emotional sides of our human nature just don’t mix – they’re completely different systems that function without overlap. One tells us why we shouldn’t touch a hot stove, and the other tells us who we should marry… apples and oranges, right?
Our minds are comprised of separate parts that help us handle completely unrelated pieces of information. So in regards to knowing, we can generally say that there are two kinds of knowing.
People know that they should exercise. They know the health benefits; they’ve read the studies. They absolutely, logically know. But how many of them spend an hour of their day at the gym instead of propped in front of a tv screen? Very few. It’s because their emotional side hasn’t grasped it – it doesn’t know. When you see athletic types gleefully bounce into the gym each day, it’s not because they’ve read the studies – it’s because that other, irrational part of their brain latched onto exercise in a positive way, which makes exercise a breeze for them. Their emotional brain gets it.
This goes for other scenarios too. A lot of us don’t have the motivation to keep a healthy diet, go for a job we really want, or repair a strained relationship, for example. However, we say that we reaaaaaally want to. What do you just like screwing up your life or something? Not exactly.
It's just that our logical side cooperates pleasantly with these ideas, and our emotional side is the equivalent of a tantrum-throwing child. It doesn’t want to do any of these things, and it’s going to stand in our way every chance it gets.
This is the reason mental illnesses like depression and anxiety often can’t be cured through techniques like reading books, educating oneself, taking medications, engaging in "tough love," etc. These are all logic-based approaches to an emotional problem. Sometimes they may be effective, but often they don’t even make a dent in the issue.
So what’s the solution? How do we get from point A to point B despite fear, a lack of motivation, failed attempts, negative expectations, etc, etc, etc?
We have to use a solution that’s not based in logic. Knowing logical information will only help with purely logical problems. For emotion-based problems, we have to find that other kind of knowing - the more emotional, intuitive, maybe even instinctive
If your washing machine was broke (logical problem), you probably wouldn’t try to fix it by singing and chanting at it (illogical solution). So why on earth do we always try to solve our emotional problems with logical solutions? For example: “I hate my job and it's screwing up my life. However, if I just tell myself I need it in order to make money, I’ll get over it.”
...No! You won't!
What if we were to instead ask ourselves, “What would make this feel better?” (And before you berate yourself for coming up with a silly answer, remember that it’s not supposed to be logical.) Maybe the thing that would make you feel better about your miserable job is white water rafting. It doesn’t make direct sense, but when we start taking action based on what feels better, emotional problems begin to unravel on their own.
Warning: In some cases, taking this new approach may result in others telling you that you’re a nutcase. But remember, that’s because humans are used to approaching things logically and dismissing the emotional approach. (If we can’t immediately see how point A could lead to point B, we resist the approach and get skeptical fast. There are cultural reasons for this… which I’ll eventually do a post about.) So take any discouraging comments as an indication that you’re on the right track - you are being illogical... because you're supposed to be!
So remember this the next time you mix up the two kinds of knowing: There are two frameworks we have to work within. We humans are experts at solving logical problems with logical solutions, but we have to suspend this when solving an emotional problem. Get acquainted with your emotional side and learn to take action to feel better – no matter how silly it seems.
Your emotional self already knows the answer.