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Emotions Are a Source of Power

“Buck up. Quit being so emotional.” If you haven’t heard it, you may have said it.

We’ve long been taught that emotions are a source of weakness. Getting emotional is often perceived as an indicator we’re not in control.

But what if we’ve been thinking about this all wrong? What if the opposite is true?  What if your emotions are actually your best source of power?

Thirty years ago, the idea of emotions as power was fodder for woo-woo conferences with people burning incense and channeling their inner spirit animal.  Today, the power of emotions is being discussed by none other than the former Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy.  Murthy, a Yale and Harvard-educated physician, and Vice Admiral in the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps addresses the topic in a recent interview with National Geographic.

He says, It’s the presence of positive emotions that allows us to be resilient in the face of adversity.

Murthy is on a mission to reduce stigmas around mental illness and to promote emotional well-being.

“The first thing is that we need to change how we think about emotions. Emotions are a source of power, and that’s what science tells us.” he says. “But many people I encounter have been led to think of emotions as a source of weakness. “

A problem I routinely see in business is when leaders try to logic through what is basically an emotional problem. For example, we were called in recently to help a senior leadership team introduce a new performance management model for their global managers. They had introduced the model; done training, but to no avail. It never got traction. The team tried to identify the logical reasons things weren’t working. Perhaps the people hadn’t been trained well. Perhaps it was too difficult. No, other teams of similar types were using the model and the training was solid. Their team should have been implementing. What to do? Should they retrain, or take punitive action?

After watching them go around a bit, I asked, “What emotion is going on here?”  One leader quickly answered, “Fear.”

It was pretty simple; the entire organization was paralyzed by fear. People were constantly afraid they were going to be punished or lose their jobs. It’s no wonder they couldn’t take in new information.

There are basically only two emotions: love and fear. All of our other emotions radiate off that. In his National Geographic interview, Dr. Murthy describes it this way,  “I have long believed that there are fundamentally two forces or emotions that drive our decisions— love and fear. Love has its many manifestations: compassion, gratitude, kindness, and joy. Fear often manifests in cynicism, anger, jealousy, and anxiety. I worry that many of our communities are being driven by fear. It’s partly because of the things we read about in the news that give us pause about the state of the world. And it’s also because we haven’t really prioritized cultivating positive emotions that emanate from love.”

When we try to deny emotions, we often wind up stripping away positive emotions associated with love, and all we’re left with is fear. Ignoring emotions,  (your own and others) doesn’t increase your power, it lessens your power. Next time you’re faced with a challenging situation, instead of turning to logic, look at the emotions. That’s where your real power lies.