Emotional Management and the Illusion of Consciousness
September 25, 2010 Leave a comment
It’s time to buy some new socks. You plant yourself in the sock aisle at Target, and after a few moments you choose the pair you like best. It feels like you’re making a conscious decision. But are you?
The key is the “liking” feeling elicited by the socks. This emotion is based on the instantaneous recall of everything in your memory activated by the socks. (For example, people you like or admire who wear those socks.) These unconscious memories trigger an emotion which then triggers a behavior. In this sense you’re not consciously deciding to by the socks. That decision was made when you saw Brad Pitt wearing them and thought he looked good. The “conscious” decision you perceive is merely the output of underlying processes you have no control over.
This is important because sometimes these underlying processes can lead you astray. Feeling positive about socks because of Brad Pitt’s similar footwear is relatively unproblematic. But what if the clothing reminds you of a co-worker you hate? And what if the clothing is being worn by new co-worker instead of on a shelf in a store? You will dislike that new co-worker for no good reason. You are a slave to your unconscious.
Conscious analysis of emotion is the only way to break free from the control of our unconscious. When you feel something, stop and think about why you feel that way. Sometimes, you’ll discover a legitimate reason for the emotion and the feelings will stay. But sometimes you won’t, and the feelings will begin to disappear. Regulating the unconscious will lead to more rational emotions and better decision making.