Many a science fiction story features some sort of villain entertaining the “feelings make you weak” school of thought. These robots/scorned scientists with broken hearts argue that being cold and calculating keeps you focused, eyes remaining on the prize of utter world domination, or something.
It’s a compelling argument. How many times have you gotten past 100 on Flappy Bird and felt your heart rate bump up a little, as every single outside stimulus becomes magnified tenfold? Nerves are high and you eventually lose. You play another game, and lose before you get to 40. Frustrated, you start once more, and this time you don’t get past 10. Your anger is distracting you, and you’re unfocused. Regardless of whether you’ve ever played Flappy Bird, the same idea translates to someone in any slump, whether it’s in sports, test taking, or anywhere in between. Without these feelings, you’re focused on the task at hand, as if you were capable of naturally producing Adderall without the side effects. This doesn’t sound bad to me.
The problem is we’re not robots. The better part of the population experiences emotion, and often. What if we can harness the power of emotion to our advantage? This idea has also been tossed around in TV shows, cartoons, and anime I should’ve stopped watching when I was 15 but may or may not have watched yesterday. Many of these heroes use emotion to heighten their performances, and where the cold-hearted villains remain stuck at the calculated peaks, the good guys can use unbridled emotion to soar to heights previously thought unrealistic.
For the sake of this conversation and for the sake of reality, let’s scale the idea back. Imagine some injustice that you suffered in your life. Everybody has them — “life’s not fair” is the philosophical bread and butter for some. Depending on the circumstances, you may have felt anger, sadness, jealousy, or something else of that ilk. In periods of extreme concentration, these emotional states can derail you.
What if feelings were like information? What if the more we had, the better off we were? The masters of any craft will tell you the accumulation of data is not the most important step to becoming the best, but rather the ability to sift through that sea of intel to find what you need faster than the next person. In chess, the masters know an immense amount about any given position, and decades of experience will allow them to understand and use seconds for a move that may take a lesser, but still experienced player minutes to decide. An experienced football quarterback will see a defensive front and make the necessary audible to exploit a weakness when a rookie may not see such deficiencies. So again, what if we treated emotion the same?
I think we can, but to do it naturally and without understanding is a slow and often painful process. How many painful breakups does it take before you notice yourself changing your approach, or seeing someone do what you would be prone to do in a specific situation? Does dealing with death become easier? That may be a hard question to answer for those that experience few deaths in a lifetime, but a surgeon may notice a transformation in their coping mechanisms from their transition from residency to retirement.
Mastering emotion would seem to be a useful tool for life, but if it was easy, everyone would do it. What gives us trouble? Although I am no master of the art of emotion harnessing, I have a few ideas. Sifting through emotion involves a hefty bit of introspection. You need to know what you’re feeling, why you’re feeling it, and how it alters your perception of the situation at hand. To be able to identify those three points and understand them takes a lot of practice however, maybe even taking longer that the way some do it naturally.
But there are people that use their emotions, and use them well. Some work better with anger, where others are powered by nerves. I’ve said it before (and also before Leo said it in Inception) but I believe positive emotion works better than the negative in terms of working potential. Regardless, use what works best for you, and allow it to push you further. Don’t let the feelings cloud your vision; understanding yourself allows you to remain focused while using those emotional highs to push your limits.
It’s always been a recurring fad for us to celebrate our “human element.” In celebrating, I’d like to actively understand what makes me human, and be consumed by it, but in a manner where I’m still in control. While the discussion of just how “human” emotions are remains a subject for another day, the complexities of human interaction have enabled our emotional possibilities to far exceed those of any other species, so why not celebrate this and see just how deep we go? Neglecting to explore this might just be what keeps us from achieving our highest potential.