Once there was a group of kids that had been sent on a mission. They were not to come back unless their mission was successfully accomplished. To do so you not only mean obvious failure, but also would indicate their lack of ability to take on further missions. They had been charged by the elders of their tribe, and had been on the road for some time. After they had set out, it had been quite for a while. None dared to speak, lest they violate the silent tension that clung relentlessly about the group.
At first the silent tension was troublesome. It gave rise to thoughts and anxieties of failure and rejection. But then the tension became accepted, then comfortable, and finally like an unseen security blanket that bound the group together. They would all fail or succeed together. To speak would snap the tension, and likely destroy any chance of success. Or so they thought.
Pain is an interesting thing. Biologists tell us the body evolved an inability to grow resistant to pain, as to do so would certainly not lead to reproductive success. Any creature from any species that had the ability to grow accustomed to pain may become injured, and not take reconstructive efforts. A bleeding animal wouldn’t lick it’s wounds and give it self the anti-bacterial effects of it’s own saliva. It would slowly remove itself from its own gene pool, and after only a few generations, any individual within the group with this “ability” would be extremely rare.
Other sensory input, on the other hand, that doesn’t require immediate attention can easily be temporarily ignored. Hunger, thirst, smell, slight discomfort due to outside ranges in temperature.
But emotional pain is a completely different ballgame. Neuroscientists are only just beginning to understand the role that emotions play in everyday human life. And even then the input they have is still a mystery. From a scientific perspective, emotions are nearly impossible to measure. You can’t very well hook somebody up to an emote-o-meter (unless you are a scientologist) and see what effects the different emotions have on physiological and biological functions of the mind/body/nervous system.
Until very recently, most scientists believed that emotions played on part in decision-making. Emotions were viewed from the Vulcan standpoint of getting in the way of logical thinking. It was believed that without emotions, we could always make the best choices, and never make mistakes.
Then a couple of surgeons had the opportunity to test this theory out during a particularly interesting brain surgery. The portion of the patient’s brain that was thought responsible for emotional feelings was temporarily “disconnected,” and since brain surgeries can be performed with an awake patient, they figured they ask him a couple difficult questions (like the kind you find in a high school ethics book). They were stunned to find out that he couldn’t even make the most basic decisions without the input of his emotions.
If you break everything down into either a pain or pleasure emotional response, and assume those are the drivers behind every decision, it makes sense. Your brain has this amazing capability of imagining several future outcomes of every single decision, usually unconscious, and checking to see what would produce the most pleasure, and the least amount of pain.
Luckily, through millions of years of evolution, things that keep us alive and safe, as well as propagate the species generally give us the most pleasure. Like good food, good sex, and a nice safe place to sleep at night. Things that put us in danger tend to give us emotional pain, like high places, loud noises, and tigers.
It can get complicated when our rational minds know that one particular choice is a good one, but it goes against our hard-wired programming from millions of years of evolution. No matter how scientifically sure you are that it’s probably not a good idea to have one more bowl of ice cream, it can be near impossible to squash your desire through willpower alone.
Of course, if you successfully avoid the ice cream enough times, you’ll build up a resistance to that evolutionary drive to continually eat whenever there’s food available. And pretty soon you’ll get used to expending emotional energy to suppress your million years old biological urge. So much so that when you do have an occasional bowl of ice cream, the “guilt” associated with it, which is really a temporary release of that emotional discomfort that you’ve grown accustomed to, is enough to mess up your pleasure of eating.
Of course, if you are trying to lose weight, this isn’t so bad. For many, to lose their craving and taste for something rich and calorie dense like ice cream would come as a blessing.
But what about more complicated things? What if you make a decision, one that requires some conscious willpower and faith in the face of unconscious resistance, but you aren’t nearly as scientifically sure as you were when you avoided the ice cream? When you put up with the emotional discomfort long enough, it’s easy to start to question your decision that you made earlier; no matter how sure you were when you made it.
It can be extremely helpful to set up some good anchors and targets to stay focused on, if you expect those tough times to come. Figure out exactly why you are embarking on your mission, and what the specific pay off will be when you get there. So when you do come across those rough patches, you’ll have something to focus on to pull you through. If you make a decision that isn’t really in your best interests, either because it’s not really your goal to begin with, or you aren’t sure what outcome you’re after, it’s extremely difficult to stay on track.
Make sure you take enough time to build your target, and make it as compelling as possible before starting on your operation.
When the group boys finally returned after a successful mission, they were given generous accolades from their tribe. They hadn’t known it, but this was a ritual performed on young boys to ease them into manhood. This had been passed down for generations immemorial, and in previous generations had been used to prepare young boys for the life and death struggle of the daily hunt. In recent times however, the ritual had gradually taken on a symbolic meaning, as the tribe had slowly evolved into a successful agricultural community, and hadn’t needed to hunt animals for many years. Nevertheless, they found it useful to send the boys on a quest, to give them a taste of setting their sights on something far off in the distance, going after it, getting it, and bringing it home.
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