What are emotions?

Some of us have felt what are described as joy, sadness, shame, fear, and other “emotions.” I never thought twice about emotions until my first work presentation as a software engineer. My body and hands gyrated intensely as my heart raced minutes before speaking and I said to myself, “What’s happening?” I’d given numerous presentations without these unpleasant sensations, so why was this time different? To make matters worse, I felt like my voice quivered like a violin as I gave my presentation. The presentation was far from my best performance and I left the room afraid of reliving the experience again. As fate would have it I learned that I would have to give a presentation every 2 weeks for the remainder of my engineer career 🙂 That realization terrified me as I told myself, “I can’t relive that experience again.” I became more self-reflective and started observing the behaviors of high performers and executives around me for guidance. I noticed that people I admired seemed to have a calm and cool demeanor – think Harvey Specter and Don Draper if you’ve ever watched the show Suits or Mad Men. With time I learned that some of that perceived calmness was due to what I call emotional mastery. The ability to either ward off being emotionally triggered or limit the negative potential impact when triggered. I soon realized that my emotions impacted my first work presentation in August 2017 and that realization sent me on a quest to understand and attain emotional mastery. To master something, I think it’s paramount to first understand what it is and this article will provide a perspective on what emotions are that you can verify with your personal experience and understanding.

Emotion defined

I’d argue that emotions are human experiences that seem to be shared across a lot of humans and these experiences tend to deal with physical sensations and feelings that we’re aware of. Moreover, we use words like fear, joy, anger, etc to describe or label these experiences which allows us to discuss an experience with one word vs having to describe the experience in greater detail. These shortcuts have value in certain contexts and are less effective in others.

What triggers emotions?

If you reflect on your last memorable emotional experience, you’ll likely discover that something like a thought or an event/situation triggered the emotion. What’s interesting is that something that triggers emotions in you, may not trigger emotions in me. We’ve all experienced moments when a friend or family member is emotional about something we’re perfectly ok with. Why is that?  

Here’s my perspective on how emotional experiences happen which you can verify with your personal experience: 

Emotional mastery leads to high performance

Be easy, and stay up 

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