Feelings, Thoughts and Actions: Who’s In Charge?
It is a common perception that our feelings come from our thoughts, but the truth is far more intriguing. Lets look at feelings, thoughts and actions and how they work together.
The popular view is that when we think about something enough, then we'll have an emotional reaction to it. Further thinking about it can might resolve these feelings. If we get caught up in the emotions, more thinking will help get us out.
You can see this play out in the interactions between parents and a young child who is getting increasingly upset. The parents believe that if they only explain things logically and properly to an infant, the infant will understand and change its behaviour. If this doesn’t work, then the parents explain it again. Or explain it with more force. We can believe that this is the only way to have the child finally understand. And yet the child doesn’t understand, leading to frustrations all round.
Feelings, thoughts and actions – a better model
There is a more satisfactory model of what actually happens – and it’s just the opposite. The truth is, when we are young our ability to think is unformed. Our only response to the world is through our feelings. Neuroscience supports the idea that the brain is incapable of rational thought in the early part of our lives. We can see it ourselves in the behaviour of young children; all they seem to do is express emotion, sometimes with high intensity. Their feelings can’t be controlled because there is nothing to control them with.
Working in sync
Later, when the child's ability to think begins to develop, the emotional being of the person is well established. The thinking then develops in concert with the already-established feeling, and sits on ‘top’ of it. This is why we have some ability to moderate our emotions, but we don’t have the ability to stop having emotions. From this point on, as a person makes their way in the world, there will be a mixture of thinking and feeling intertwined in every aspect of their lives.
Our impulses and desires
We see this when we observe our impulses and desires. The desire starts with a feeling, and it is the feeling that impels us and gives us the energy to pursue our desires, to take action. The thinking we have about our desires is definitely later, and some theorise that the thinking legitimises our desires. In other words, we pursue our desires based on our feelings but we use our thinking to rationalise what we feel; we allow ourselves to have things that we want, and only then convince ourselves that it is in our best interests. It isn’t enough for us that we want something – we often have to justify it. Far from setting the agenda, our thinking merely falls in line.
Our feelings, thoughts and actions work together, and make us unique.
Let me know what you think in the comments. Now, read about the way that fear motivates us – for good and for bad.