Feel, Then Think
Lucky us! We’re born with the ability to feel and think, and we need to use both wisely to manage life’s problems and resolve our eating issues. Some people get stuck in emotions and rarely call upon good judgment. Others think ‘til their brain hurts, but hardly ever experience authentic emotion. Are you one of these types?
Maybe you intellectualize—live in your head—to avoid experiencing painful emotions. You research, make lists, and weigh pros and cons. You chunk down problems and come up with well-oiled solutions. Yet you rarely know what you’re feeling. If you focus on emotions at all, it’s to brush them aside. When you experience them, you generally describe them with vague words like upset or stressed. Due to a childhood in which your emotions weren’t heard or validated adequately, you’ve closeted them away and that’s where they’ve stayed. Instead you rely on thinking exclusively to guide your life.
Or maybe a stew of emotions maneuvers you through the world: This feels good, so I’ll do it, that feels bad, so I won’t. If you’re angry, whether it’s appropriate or not, you let everyone know it. If you’re miserable, the world must be miserable along with you. You’re clueless about how to rein in your emotions and they rule you rather than the other way around. It’s hard for you to think rationally about dealing with life’s problems because your emotions are so intense and overwhelming. It’s likely that your parents also were unable to manage their emotions—either their feelings were out of control or hidden away unseen and unheard—so they couldn’t teach you how to do it.
In this culture, thoughts are more highly prized than emotions, so many people believe that you have to first think about a problem, then, only as an after thought, check in with your feelings. How many of you go round and round in your heads to solve a personal dilemma, then ask yourself how you’re feeling about it—or never ask at all? The truth is this is the inverse way to do effective problem-solving.
To live happily and successfully, it’s essential to use your emotions and your cognitive abilities by first noticing your emotions in a situation and identifying them—anxiety, shame, fear, disappointment, loneliness, whatever. After you’ve recognized what you’re feeling, it’s time to enlist your frontal lobes to help you determine what to do—act, don’t act, think some more, dig for more feelings, etc. I can’t stress enough how authentic emotions are at the core of answering most of life’s questions, as long as we use them in conjunction with good judgment and clear thinking.