How does the emotional aspect of the brain REALLY work? If we knew that, we could control some of our impulses and feelings and perhaps do what we set out to do, experience life with more joy and stop worrying or being angry. So this book is a unique look at emotions from the actual physiology, chemistry and psychology of the brain in terms of science, not psychotherapy.
If you were to read this and combine it with a book on "Emotional IQ" such as [[asin:05538049 Emotional Intelligence]], it could be a breakthrough in living your life and accomplishing what you want to do more effectively.
So, what are some of the aspects of the "emotional life" of the brain, or let's say, the characteristics of a healthy emotional life? They are Resilience, Outlook, Social Intuition, Self-Awareness, Sensitivity to Context and Attention.
Let's look at each:
We all take blows from life, I can attest to that. And lately, there has been a lot of natural adversity, look around, how many of your friends have lost jobs or even their homes in the economic turmoil we've seen? I'll bet you can point all around you, even to yourself. Overcoming what happens to us takes resilience or the ability to function despite taking hits. The better your brain is at handling screaming messages of "OH NO! ...or worse) while you attempt to extricate yourself, the better. And the better for your family. The author characterizes people on a spectrum. At one end, FAST to RECOVER (bouncing back, working with energy to overcome adversity.) On the other end, SLOW to RECOVER, those who sadly are crippled by a downturn in their lives. If you are at the less advantageous end, what can you do to bulk up the resilience? The author suggests a number of activities, from meditation (because we become what we think--mere thinking can sometimes even bulk up a muscle, why not the emotional strength of the brain) to cognitive therapy if you need help to escape thought patterns. I can heartily recommend good cognitive therapy for escaping those patterns formed in childhood that we all can't seem to overcome and which in some cases, we aren't even aware that we have.
Springing off the idea from the first chapters, that we are what we think, that the now almost-cliche "power of positive thinking" is truly powerful, your outlook is how long you can keep up a positive attitude. Again, we fit on a spectrum, those who have a naturally sunny outlook (the proverbial Optimist) and those who naturally sink into pessimism by nature. If you are naturally a pessimist, what can you do to shift to more consistent positive outlook? It seems stupid--hey, the world stinks, why should I try to think otherwise, but again, your MINDSET actually determines what you see. If you have a cloudy outlook, you will literally miss opportunities you may be seeking, and if you are depressed, you telegraph a sense of sadness, anger and failure to those around you. Again the suggestions to improve outlook are mental training to re-route your thought to a more positive tenor.
I would add here, and something that is missing from the book, possibly due to its scientific bent, is PRAYER. I imagine that prayer is not mentioned often in this book due to the fact the author takes a scientific tack, but prayer helps outlook, and though there is no way to use science to prove or disprove belief, for those who do believe in God, this is a way to support a healthful outlook.
Again, a spectrum, from those who are almost able to read minds from silent and obliquely verbal social signals to those who are oblivious (and sometimes, this is an aspect of conditions such as autism, where a person can be born literally blind to the subtle signs we learn to pick up.) One interesting and powerful suggestion to improve on social intuition is to listen with non-critical awareness. Simply OBSERVE and do not edit the social conversation around you with an internal commentary about the relative merits of the conversation's content or the person commenting. You'll miss things. So if someone is giving you an opinion that is probably something you disagree with, it may be challenging but try simply turning off the part of the brain that is judging and watch and listen. The exercise will wake up parts of the brain that see other things happening in the social milieu.
This again, a spectrum. I had a conversation with a licensed clinical social worker some years ago who told me that there are people who feel things but are UNABLE to connect those feeling to something that had happened in their life. This astonished me, but sad to say, not everyone is hard-wired to make those connections. When people eat out of emotion, for example, they may not recognize that an upsetting phone call led to an uneasy feeling in the pit of their stomach, that propelled them to raid the fridge. The spectrum runs from highly Self Aware to Puzzled. If you listen to any of the radio or television pop therapy programs, try cataloging the person who is working on their issue. Are they aware or are they deep in puzzlement and need to have someone connect the dots for them? It's an interesting exercise. And where do we fit on that spectrum? If you are more Puzzled than Aware, that's fine--it's how you are at the moment, but what can you do to move you along the spectrum to a more helpful place? This is another area where cognitive therapy (the thought, the feeling, the actions all get connected, then new ways to think and react are worked on.)
How well do you focus on what is around you and what is happening? This is similar to the "being in the moment. It is one of the reasons that it is a problem to see your kids texting during a family gathering or dinner. They are not paying attention to what's happening. They are missing social cues. (See social intuition.) They are not in the moment. They are not really there. If you have the same issue, or simply find you drift in and out of the moment due to many distractions, what can you do to improve focus?
Now, despite the spectrum of these five characteristics, the author warns us not to judge ourselves and others and say "you need to be more socially intuitive", "You need a better outlook." The book is designed to have you measure where you fit on this map, and then to see if there is an area you would like to alter in order to move past something that is hindering you. In other words, if your style is to one end of each of the spectra, you are not "bad" but you might choose to play with an aspect of your Emotional Style to see if you can get new results that make you feel better. This is the take-home message; we all have an emotional style, we cannot judge it as "good" or "bad"--it's up to each of us to know ourselves and then, if we desire, to find a way to adapt our style to make our lives better. Fascinating reading, and I could almost recommend that if you read one "self-help" style book this year, this ought to be the one. It is very enlightening and combines a lot of the information that is circulating on helping ourselves live a better emotional life, but in a way that makes a system that can illuminate your interior landscape.