In the midst of the huge storm last week I was driving with my wife, Sandy, from the Bay Area to southern California. The highway emergency signs were flashing “Avoid Travel.” The storm (the Pineapple Express) was bearing down on us with pelting rain and 60-mile-an-hour winds and there were flood warnings on the radio. It was stressful, to say the least.
But we were committed to seeing our granddaughters perform in their school play, Shrek. While my mind kept telling me, “What the heck are we doing?” my emotions kept speaking loudly, “I can’t wait to get there. I’ve been looking forward to this for months.” My desire to see my granddaughters in their special moment was much stronger than any fear of the storm. It was scary and yet we had no intention of turning back.
The Elephant and the Rider
Yup, we made it to the play and it was worth all of the stress (said my mind)! Emotions and rational thinking work together in an interesting way. The best way I know of to describe it is by using the metaphor of the elephant and the rider.
My rider (rational thought) thinks he’s in charge, but my elephant (emotion) goes wherever he wants to go. Jonathan Haidt, who wrote The Righteous Mind, says rational thought is so inferior to emotions that our thinking mind will make up stories to prove that it (the rider) wants to go where the elephant (emotion) is already taking it!
My emotions propelled me to drive through the storm whether it was the smart thing to do or not! In fact, when I really study it, my emotions are always in charge. It may be that I’m Avoiding a difficult conversation (using the Protective Pattern of Avoiding) because my emotions feel unsafe OR I might be using my Resilient Mindset of Courage to initiate a difficult conversation because my heart (emotion) is pulling me into doing what it takes to make things right.
Either way, when I use the Centering Skill of Noticing Myself, and I pay attention to what my emotions are telling me, I learn what is really important to me and why I am doing things the way that I am.
Take a few minutes every day and practice the Centering Skill of Noticing Myself. What are your emotions telling you?
Chuck Fisher, Director of Transformational Learning