Thinking Twice


Emotional thinking is, for the most part, a product of experience. You spend the first twelve years or so of your early life learning from your caregivers how to respond to nearly everything you encounter oe will encounter in your environment. And you repeat that behavior over and over until your thinking becomes indistinguishable from your emotional response. Your thoughts are there, however. They are just not as important when you are in the moment.

Thinking twice is sometimes not easy when you are in a physically or emotionally threatening situation. Committing to thinking twice, once your body returns to some semblance of balance is essential. We will try to slow down that process, to better understand it from an anatomical perspective.

There are a number of brain structures that can be identified as the physical homes of emotion. The limbic system, a region located approximately in the center of the brain, can be viewed as your emotional neighborhood. The limbic system consists of a series of interconnected brain structures that includes the frontal area of the brain, the hippocampus, amygdala, hypothalamus (anterior thalamic nuclei), septum, limbic cortex and fornix. It is believed that these structures support a variety of functions including emotional behavior and long-term memory. It is NOT essential for you, the reader, to know these structures to any great extent – although it could benefit you. Knowing that there are anatomical, biochemical and hormonal correlations between your emotions and your brain is, however, critical to improving your EI. Although you may decide not to know these structures, you will have to remember where they live – at minimum. You will be visiting the limbic neighborhood a lot, as you endeavor to improve your EI.

These structures, when in balance, can be described as resting – but have the potential to come alive at any moment in an all-out effort to protect the body from real or perceived harm. This automatic response (which means it happens without your consent) involves the release of neuro-chemicals and hormones into the body. You can expect a sudden increase in heart rate, perspiration, flushing of the skin, hair standing on end, etc. All designed by Nature to give you the ability to run away very quickly or fight very bravely.

Let’s just keep it simple and imagine that you cut your finger. The blood will flow from your cut, no matter how much you are against that from happening. It is automatic. And it will continue to flow until it stops on its own or you commit to stopping it yourself. You might wash it, put it in your mouth or cover it with a Band-Aid (or a plaster). The key features here are that blood flows without your consent and you make a commitment to doing something about it.

Our emotional brain is much like cutting a finger. The thought inflicts the incision and starts the flow of fluids that kick off the fight or flight response. Those fluids will continue to flow until you commit to stopping them. In this case, stopping them will require thinking differently. Fundamentally, you put a Band-Aid on the wound made by your thinking. You will have to think twice to do that.

It is this second thought that will begin the processes of regaining homeostasis and balance, stopping the flow. You might imagine that the whole process is like spilling a very large pitcher of milk – maybe the size of a water tower. You might have knocked over the pitcher, but once the liquid starts flowing, it won’t stop until you DO SOMETHING TO STOP IT or until the liquid runs out.

EI is a process of conscious negotiation with the quiet neighbors, the aggressive neighbors and the mediator who all live together in the limbic neighborhood. Suffice it to say that more often than not, before you emote (have emotions) you think. There are few exceptions to this rule. It is your second thought, when you choose to think twice, that your EI will intercede in the negotiations and help settle on a more self-preserving, less aggressive response to disturbances to your balance.

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9 responses

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