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Mindfulness: How to Call Off the Emotional Attack Dogs

October 29, 2012, 12:00 AM

What's the Big Idea?

In his book, The Social Conquest of Earth the evolutionary biologist E.O. Wilson made the following provocative observation about the human condition in the 21st century:

“We are living in a Star Wars civilization with Stone Age emotions, medieval institutions and Godlike technology.“

What tools do we have to deal with this conundrum? Let's focus on Stone Age Emotions. While nature didn't give us any tools to control our emotions, the psychologist Paul Ekman says there are proactive steps you can take to control your emotional life. 

Ekman says you need to keep a diary of your emotions during an emotional episode. That requires writing what you are experiencing in great detail. This will enable you to determine what is triggering certain emotional responses. In other words, if you are able to access your your "emotional alert database," as Ekman calls it, you will be able to call off "the attack dogs" when faced with a future situation that might trigger a destructive emotional response.

The ultimate goal, Ekman says, is to delay your actions that spring from your impulses. 

Watch the video here:

What's the Significance?

Ekman compares a person who has full control of their emotions to a Stanislavskian actor, referring to the method of acting that was promoted by the Russian actor theater director Constantin Stanislavski. Stanislavski practiced and promoted a rigorous process that was designed to make an actor's performance believable. 

This is achieved by recalling past emotional experiences, and what Ekman describes as "trying to relive them and focus on what those sensations are. We’ve got to bring the sensations that are unique to each emotion into consciousness.  So you’ll start to feel it while you’re experiencing it."

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Follow Daniel Honan on Twitter @Daniel Honan


Mindfulness: How to Call Of...

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