Cognitive-emotional wisdom means having the mental and emotional understanding and ability to not act from the lower steps of despair, depression, and anger. It means to have the mental tools and cognitive agility to move up the emotional spiral staircase and to act from the place of good feelings where clarity, health and vigor reside.
The steps to move up the emotional staircase/emotional hierarchy vary depending upon the set of emotions involved. One order of progression may be from despair, to anger, to frustration, to displeasure, to pleasure, to joy, to delight, to exhilaration, and finally, to ecstasy. A patient may not be able to go from despair to joy. That would be too great a leap. But he or she may go from despair to anger, from anger to frustration, from frustration to displeasure, from displeasure to pleasure, and from pleasure to joy over a period of time.
Cognitive-emotional wisdom means having the desire, courage, and tenacity to do the work necessary to move up the emotional staircase and to continually reach for a thought that feels better. Poetry, music, dance, the arts, and sports all have an important and profound effect because successful participation within these disciplines demands cognitive control with emotional guidance. And every step higher in the level of accomplishment demands an even greater commitment to cognitive discipline through emotional guidance.
As individuals mature into adulthood, they continually develop new skills to use their emotional guidance system to harmonize the activities of their minds and bodies with the external world and to adapt a prehistorically evolved emotional guidance system with the demands, complexity, and nuances of our modern society. Cognitive-emotional wisdom also means having a broad enough perspective on ‘what feels good is good’ to understand that ‘what feels good’ in the immediate present may have a completely different emotional response in the very near future. Jumping off a cliff may feel great, but the landing leaves much to be desired.
The mind and body exist within a multitude of conditions and activities, all creating a symphony of emotional feedback and harmonies. It is these harmonies and disharmonies that individuals must bring together as they conduct the symphony of their life creations. The primary goal and objective for society and its members should be to nurture and guide individuals into their own beings as creators of their own lives. Much too often, societal and individual actions create schisms between individuals and their own personal emotional guidance, sometimes innocently, sometimes benevolently, but sometimes maliciously and by design.
Development of Cognitive-Emotional Wisdom
The narrowness of myopic mental vision and perspective also plays its role in mental illness and aberrant behaviors. The answer is to strive for action that is not mentally myopic, but integrates the totality of a person’s cognitive and emotional universe. Different sections of an orchestra must be aware that they are playing in the same key to remain in harmony. The dissonance that can develop within a person to accommodate society’s diverse demands can be so great that it becomes impossible for a person to remain whole and mentally healthy. To be mentally well, individuals must have successfully mastered the necessary skills to navigate their cognitive and emotional processes through life’s challenges and adventures. They must successfully integrate the lessons demanded by society and develop the necessary cognitive-emotional wisdom to succeed.
In a healthy cognitive/emotional symbiotic system, emotionally negative activities of the mind are sources of inspiration and creativity: inspirations for new, emotionally positive cognitive activities that are the necessary precursors to healthy physical action. Emotional wisdom is reached when emotionally positive cognitive and physical activities bring health and vitality and nurture a constructive, cooperative and successful personal environment. Emotional ignorance, on the other hand, is when emotionally negative cognitive activities run amok: externally they create destructive physical actions and internally they create unhealthy environments susceptible to disease, illness and injury.
The first step towards cognitive-emotional wisdom is to establish a person’s awareness of the fundamentals of the emotional feedback system. Unfortunately even the syntax of language uses emotions independent of the mind. The phrase ‘don’t be so emotional’ or the concepts within ‘emotional disorder’ do not use emotions as a function of mental activities. This use of language obscures the notion that the display of a person being ‘emotional’ is the direct result of his or her current mental activities and it is these cognitive activities that need to be addressed.
Cognitive-emotional wisdom is born when emotionally depressed persons begin to understand and accept the relationship between their depression and the nature of their thoughts. The fall into depression is not their fault but healing demands taking new responsibilities. For depressed persons to continue dwelling upon the people and events responsible for their current condition is to create barriers to understanding and accepting their new responsibilities for their own thoughts and actions. Cognitive-emotional wisdom means to begin taking new responsibilities for one’s own behavior and to change and develop new habits of thought and perspectives. A neuroplastic brain makes all this possible.
Cognitive-Emotional Wisdom in Education
What is the purpose of education if it is not to provide the tools and training for a successful adult life? Can education be called a success if it does not provide the understanding and training of a personal cognitive-emotional system which has evolved for the actualization and maintenance of mental and physical health and well-being? Education should not be confined to developing a student’s cognitive skills without also understanding the emotional connection needed to succeed in life. Cognition, emotions and physiology have evolved together as a team. This collaboration should certainly be part of our educational curriculum.
Education must also be about training students to develop the wisdom necessary to function with an emotional system that has been evolving hundreds of thousands – if not millions – of years. To ignore the intricacies of an emotional guidance system is to disregard centuries of survival on the savannahs of Africa. This emotional guidance system needs to be prepared and cultivated and nourished for successful operation within today’s technological world and within the awakening and new acceptance of an individual’s abilities to guide his or her own life.
The importance of physical education, sports, and even early-year recess in school is that it nurtures the emotional ties to physical health and well-being. We evolved to be active and these school activities reinforce the correlation between positive emotions and physical behavior. Encouraging healthful activity that feels good is to promote this evolutionary correlation. Seeking joy and the feeling of well-being within physical movement reinforces the physiological and emotional connection that has evolved over thousands of years.
Performing arts such as dance, theater, and music especially ask of each participant to connect with and to discover their emotions. These disciplines require an exploration into emotions. Instead of promoting a culture of emotional ignorance, they promote a culture of emotional understanding and appreciation. This emotional awareness is a vital factor in comprehending the cognitive, emotional, and physiological alliances.
Basic lessons in the understanding of and the application of one’s own emotional system are vital. The absence of these lessons leads to violence. Emotional wisdom is about taking healthful actions in joy rather than taking destructive actions in anger. The capacity to perform the mental gymnastics necessary to take such healthy actions should be developed during early childhood to take full advantage of the brain’s neuroplastic behavior to reinforce these habits.
Students must have the cognitive training and skills to climb up the emotional staircase from the lower emotions of rage and anger, to the higher emotional levels of frustration and irritation, and finally to the pleasurable feelings of positive emotions. The failure to develop this cognitive-emotional wisdom, where emotional evolution is ignored, can be directly tied to our society’s violent behavior where movement up the emotional staircase is never learned, developed, nor practiced. Successful students know how to use their emotions to guide their cognitive activities. A successful life has the same requirement.
We as a society have failed to develop the necessary education and training of a unique and wonderful emotional guidance system. The consequences of such an ineffective emotional understanding can be readily seen in our prisons, hospitals and welfare institutions. Violence is the result of an individual’s lack of understanding of the cognitive-emotional connection. The emotional guidance system has evolved to constructively guide individuals so that violence is a last resort for immediate physical danger. The overhaul of our criminal justice system must start with an overhaul of our educational system and cultural values pertaining to understanding thousands of years of emotional evolution and the nurturing of cognitive-emotional wisdom.
Criminal Justice Reform
The mental skills and agility that most people have developed from birth to navigate successfully through the societal nuances and intricacies of ‘what feels good is good’ and ‘what feels bad is bad’ is absent in the tens of thousands of imprisoned people. Any successful, sustained rehabilitation is dependent on understanding the brain’s neuroplastic nature by our teachers, our parents, our schools, our religious figures, and by our politicians who are blindly setting up laws and punishments. The brain can be rewired from an emotionally negative decision processing that further accentuates destructive behavior to an emotionally positive decision processing that accentuates rewarding, useful and constructive behavior and results.
Why does society respond to unwanted behavior via punishment? Why is “spare the rod and spoil the child” such an ingrained euphemism within our culture? Why is punishment for “crimes against society” considered to be just and humane behavior? Instead of punishment, society must nurture cognitive-emotional wisdom, the wisdom that finds a thought that feels better; a process that developed over tens of thousands of years of evolution and that is now etched in our DNA. Where is the cognitive-emotional wisdom education and training that should be imparted in our schools and prisons? Every person has an emotional guidance system; its understanding and training must be part of our evolving moral culture. We have a penal justice system entrenched in ‘punishment’ to bring ‘justice.’ Our penal system should be about justice, to be sure. But where is the justice if there is no understanding of, nor education and training to employ a very ancient emotional system?
Decision making and action from a negative emotional base has its evolutionary foundation within the reality of actual and immediate physical danger. To act from fear and anger within an emotional storm is to act without the benefit of the mental clarity and purpose found within an emotional calm. Life and death mental reflexes are for the natural and artificial battlefields that have little to do with most behavior requirements within our modern societies. A person’s power of decision making comes not from the emotional negative places of fear, anger, and despair, but from the emotional clarity found within peace, joy and hope. There can be no criminal justice without also providing the cognitive/emotional rehabilitation needed to succeed in society. It is a crime of society to believe that punishment is justice for criminal behavior. Punishment reinforces and propagates an emotionally negative and destructive way of living. Is that society’s intent for our current criminal justice system? The lack of ethical decision making skills in adolescence does not mean these behaviors can not be rehabilitated into new ideologies and behaviors later in life.
Who can predict the motivation, drive and desire of a person to return to the life of freedom and the life of well-being, joy, vitality, and enthusiasm for another day’s adventures even after years or even decades of imprisonment? Within a climate of doubt and disbelief of reform possibilities there may still exist within someone a flame of hope and the necessary drive to work and develop his or her cognitive-emotional wisdom and return to the freedoms and harmonies of joyous well-being. Is there not a moral duty within society to explore the possibilities and give those imprisoned a chance to return to a naturally healthy life of freedom? There is a societal duty to explore, develop and learn about the cognitive-emotional connection. Likewise, there is a societal responsibility to understand cognitive-emotional wisdom and the brain’s neuroplastic ability to change and to develop new neurological networks that can define new perspectives, new alternatives, and new ways of successful living.
Reframing Antisocial Personality Disorder
Because of the brain’s neuroplastic nature to develop alternate networks, more advanced mental constructs of wanting and desire can develop as a person matures. The combination of internal physiological behaviors and the external physical exertion for survival also means a more complex development between the biological body and emotions. Movement to gather food or even to hunt on the African savannahs during humanity’s beginnings meant survival. Thus, a correlation between emotional pleasure and physical activity would be evolutionarily advantageous.
Although the joy of the hunt and the pleasure of gathering may produce the food needed for survival, during the heat of the day continual exertion risks heat exhaustion, dehydration and death. Rather than being a mere pawn of pleasure and pain, the individual must make decisions whether to continue to hunt in such adverse conditions with survival of self and family as one possible outcome and the death of the hunter and those dependent on the hunter’s survival as the other.
Thus, neuroplasticity of the cognitive and emotional networks involves a complexity that permits mental reflection about the conditions for physical exertion and weighing of conflicting factors of feeling good getting food versus feeling bad because of the day’s heat. The success or failure of these reflections and choices can spawn different genetic lines with different values and behaviors, such as one emphasizing the survival of the self and another emphasizing the survival of the family. One genetic line may care about other people; another genetic line may not. Therefore “antisocial personality disorder” would not be an actual disorder; rather, it would be a natural part of an individual’s evolution that society must recognize.
Military Personnel Decommissioning
The power of the brain’s neuroplastic capacity to adapt to the demands of a new environment by changing and developing new neurological networks is also demonstrated by the successful migration from civilian to military life. Unfortunately, this neurological network change, which is developed to succeed in military life, is not later reconfigured for civilian life. There must be a structured ‘decommissioning’ period for military combatant that accounts for the neurological network changes that allowed for success within a militarily structured environment designed for war. This wartime neurological network must be reconfigured for a successful civilian life. Military life starts with a very well developed ‘boot camp’ that prepares a civilian for the new rigors and demands of a combatant. Where is the basic re-training that deprograms and alters the neurological networks that formed while in active military service and that are now detrimental to civilian life? Where ‘commissioning’ personnel into military service has a long and rich tradition to produce successful combatants, surly it makes sense that the ‘decommissioning’ of military personnel with the new knowledge of the brain’s neuroplastic adaptive behaviors must be explored. Success can be measured when we no longer hear of homeless veterans or those who have given up hope and committed suicide. Our military personnel are the most advanced and best trained in the world. They should also be the most advanced, best trained and most capable of transitioning anew to civilian life.
The Wisdom of a Champion: Let Joy Reign
The crowd is cheering. Those in the arena are stomping their feet in appreciation of the skillful play of their basketball team. Team execution has reached a new level of excellence. Every shot is dropping and – amazingly – a teammate is in the right spot for every loose ball, block, rebound or steal. There’s electricity in the air. It feels good! It feels great! It is wild. For team member and fan alike, this didn’t just happen; it began with a feeling, a positive good emotional feeling that grew and then exploded…lighting the nets (and spirits) ablaze!
The mental game of ‘being in the zone’, ‘creating momentum’, ‘being connected’ and ‘having confidence’ is about emotions, about good feeling emotions. There is no mental game, there is no mental focus, unless the emotions and feelings collaborate and acknowledge it. The mind and emotions must work together – as the proverbial team – to bring forth an athlete’s best performance. This mental-emotional game is about bringing forth an accumulation of all the times an athlete experienced a successful moment, especially in competition. The mental-emotional game of any contest is about having the discipline to use the mind to (1) find, (2) focus in on, and finally (3) use the presence of good feeling emotions to develop and to maintain the zone: this mental-emotional zone of confidence gleaned from previous successes. The team must recreate the mental-emotional game first, before the competition, to ‘own’ any court and competition. Underdogs win because they create a pre-game vortex of success which is undeterred by the opponent’s performance. Their results and outcomes of actions, shots, and plays follow their mental-emotional game. Champions win for the same reason. Yet, how many teams get overpowered in the last few seconds, not by an opponent’s skill, but by the opponent’s overpowering belief in themselves as the victor.
The mental-emotional play of a competition starts long before the actual game begins and must continue throughout any competition. Championships are lost because emotional guidance gets distracted from the final outcome and is sidetracked into the pregame publicity of previous successes. Winning feels good but a tournament isn’t over with the semi-finals. This is the time for real mental and emotional discipline; to use the mind and its cognitive abilities to focus in on, to recreate, and then to maintain the emotional play of previous successful competitions. What were the mental-emotional states that brought previous successes? Recreate these mental-emotional states as protection from any barrage of doubts, fears, uncertainties, and questions presented by the upcoming event. Recreate these mental-emotional states as a defense from the lure and illusion of a victory that doesn’t yet exist. This starts at home and continues in the locker room and begins all over again on the court.
The audience may be watching and emotionally reacting to the action on the court, but the real plays take place in the minds and hearts of each player. Which team is going to maintain their knowing of, and feeling of success? Which team will rise and overcome each challenge on who owns this ball, these nets and this court? Which team will first feel the frustration of a missed shot or stolen ball or an opponent’s score and feel the gnawing fear of doubt? Every move and pass before a shot is an assertion of confidence. Pass the ball around to set up a shot but also to break down the opponent’s mental resilience and to assertively demonstrate to them that “we” control this game. We own this game. We are enjoying this game. Our bench is enjoying this game. We are winning this game no matter the current score. “Do you feel it? Good! Take the shot.”
A player cannot play his or her best having an emotionally negative state of mind. The presence of negative emotions means that a well-balanced and vital body is not physiologically present. Mental disharmony, felt through emotional dissonance, translates promptly into imbalances in the body’s physiology. Eye hand coordination is off. Touch is off. Shots rim out or even become air balls. A simple layup becomes a challenge. Accidents happen. Injuries occur. To physically compete at a peak physiological state, the emotional state cannot be negative. Negativity leads to injuries when the body is stressed and pushed to its limits during competition. The mind and body are biologically not working together as a unified whole. Evolution advanced a correlation between feeling good and a well-balanced and vital body. Emotional awareness of this, either consciously or unconsciously, meant survival. Those who acted without this understanding did not survive. To act without joy means the body is not in a prime physiological state and simply does not have the harmony within itself to excel and perform at peak abilities.
Every moment throughout every day is an opportunity to train and to practice moving into a better and better feeling place. Every negative emotion is an opportunity to create a more powerful mental attitude. Winning starts when each negative emotion is used as motivation to find a thought that feels better. Each of these successes helps develop the mental gymnastics to respond to an evolved emotional guidance system with intent and with design. The emotional system is giving constant feedback on whether ‘your head’ is getting into ‘your’ game or into ‘theirs’. The question is….do you have the mental and emotional discipline to listen and to make the necessary adjustments?
Emotions are responses to all that activity going on between the ears. They are an ever present coach that lets each player individually know where his or her mind’s activities are heading. The better the feeling, the more mental activities are in ‘your game’. The worse the feeling, the closer mental activities are to getting lost in ‘your opponent’s game’. Half time provides a moment to stop and step up the emotional staircase. Have the discipline to use your mental training and abilities to move up from despair to anger, from anger to frustration, from frustration to hope, from hope to belief, from belief to joy, from joy to excitement, from excitement to…Take the time to re-take the ball and court and make them ‘yours.’ A time out is an opportunity to get ‘your’ mind, ‘your’ heart, and ‘your’ body back into the game, ‘your game.’ Then any court throughout life will bring joy and become ‘yours’.
Emotions in the 21st Century
The purpose of life from a physiological, biochemical perspective is to find joy. A correlation exists between joy and the biochemical balances found within the brain’s neural networks and the health that make for a strong and vigorous being. Has not that been the evolution of the emotional system? A false/positive correlation between joyous emotions and lethargy, weakness, and ineptness would only make a being vulnerable and easy prey within the survival of the species. Joy, happiness, and wonderment associated with biochemical harmony of strength, confidence, skill, and agility, on the other hand, would clearly enhance the survival of the species.
Genetically, humans are wired to feel emotionally good. The very strength and survival of the individual depends on striving for better feelings and what those feelings represent within the body. It is our evolutionary nature. But we do not thrive as individual beings without the societal strength to create and empower the development of cognitive-emotional wisdom where individuals learn, develop, and know how to respond to their own individual emotional guidance with healthful and joyous actions and behaviors.
It is necessary to elaborate on some important distinctions which need to be made of our 21st century consumer-focused society. Sugar may have wonderful ‘feels good’ associations but gaining weight is probably not one of them. Shopping may feel good but getting the bills may not. Having a brand new car feels great, but the consequences of it being a stolen car does not. The same ‘feels good’ but ‘know the bad’ goes for drinking, drugs, medications and all of human behaviors. Knowing what actions may feel good and knowing what consequences may feel horrendous is a product of the cognitive mind and the emotional system. Though society’s acceptance of such actions is another discussion on its own: what if a person’s behavior aligns with emotional guidance but this behavior is contrary to accepted societal norms? And conversely, what if a person’s behavior aligns with emotional guidance but this behavior ought to be contrary to accepted societal norms?
Where is the emotional wisdom in a ‘feels good is good’ behavior model? The better one feels, the healthier one is, began evolving tens of thousands of years ago. In question are emotions’ guiding relevance in the 21st century. The power of cognitive-emotional wisdom lies within one’s abilities to meet the challenges of today’s complex societies by transmuting life’s pains and failures, via work and imagination, into the thoughts and actions that both feel good and are integral and harmonious to a self that does not demand the obedience and subjugation of others. Joy and happiness dependent on the requirement and demand for specific behavior in others is an attempt to appease a false ideology. It can never succeed. To make joy and happiness dependent on others’ behaviors is to deny the evolutionary role of emotional guidance. Emotional guidance and cognitive-emotional wisdom are self management tools.