The Vocabulary Of Emotion

The colour spectrum is made up of lots of intervals.

Apparently, English speakers slice this continuum up differently than Tagalog speakers. This is because words, like ‘blue’, categorise the spectrum. This isn’t about colour though, we impose linguistic frames on everything – including feelings.

‘Happy, sad, jealous’

In Turkish, ‘huzun’ refers to a gloomy feeling in which things will gradually get worse. In Portuguese, ‘saudade’ means a bittersweet nostalgia, memories both fond and painful because they’ve past. In German, ‘torschlusspanik’ literally translates to ‘gate closing panic’ – a sense that opportunities are fading. (More examples here)

If we knew every such word from every language, we’d be able to explain feelings in new ways. Still though, there’s only so much vocabulary.

Thoughts prompt emotions and emotions prompt thoughts. If I think about a sad memory it’ll make me feel sad. If I feel sad it’ll make more sad memories. They both create oxygen for each other.

Still, words are just a frame, they’re aren’t the actual feelings themselves. I dunno if it’s 100% of the story, but feelings are inseparable from physical feelings – butterflies in the stomach, a pit in the stomach, warm fuzzies in the chest. Emotions can only transpire in a body.

What’s happens when the words are subtracted?

We often overrate the content of thoughts, and underrate mood. Mindfulness helps us to see through the content of thoughts. Zoom in on the physical sensations, instead of the monologue and they become benign, like indigestion. This isn’t suppression, but full attention. This abbreviates the lifespan of a ‘negative’ emotion – it has no oxygen.

But ‘subtracting’ is easier said than done. Should this be the goal anyway? Emotions are packets of energy which can be used.

‘Angry’ and ‘happy’ elicit different physical sensations. But for functional purposes, let’s pretend that feelings all come from the same source. They’re like water we’ve segregated with different linguistic buckets.

Instead, we can narrate better.

. . .

Michael Jordan ruined elementary practice drills by winning stuff that wasn’t supposed to be won. He was petty – if someone slighted him or or if he perceived a slight, he’d mission to prove them wrong. 50-something year old MJ has staff deliver him quotes of what the naysayer’s have said – he collects slights.

What he’s doing here is reframing feeling. MJ does this because he’s confident he can turn these negative feelings into constructive ones. He succeeded by transmuting this energy into fuel for his competitive fire. This motivated him to play and train harder, it made his focus sharper.

This is a common among competitors, it isn’t the only way energy can be transformed though.

By narrating differently, challenging emotions can become your friend. Here are some more examples:

Nervousness -> Excitement 

Instead of dreading future plans, butterflies in the stomach can be told it’s exciting.

Insecurity/Anxiety -> Hunger/Opportunity

In order to improve you have to be motivated. In order to be motivated you have to care. Insecurity means you care. Most things are ‘skillable’ and insecurity is a great impetus for becoming more skilled.

Lust/Sexual Frustration/Anger -> Fire In The Belly

An energetic powerhouse. It can be used as fuel to stoke a motivational fire.

Stress -> Growth

Growth doesn’t happen without hardship. Part of the Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey involves trials, the happy ending doesn’t happen without tribulations. It’s the mushroom that powers you to the end of the level.

Envy/Jealousy -> Insight

Comparisons are often toxic – we can only run our own race. But envy shows us what we’d like to learn. The subject of our envy might provide valuable lessons.

Depression/Sadness -> Insight

Being sad is often about spending too much time in the past. Memories of hardship have embedded lessons. We can inflate these lessons, instead of wallowing.

Loneliness -> Expression

Loneliness often means we should call someone. But along with all ‘challenging’ emotions, they can be channeled for creative purposes. Making art or something.

. . .

The ultra successful didn’t always have it easy, so often their childhoods were shitty. This negativity meant more constructive potential. With practice, we can become more confident in our ability to transmute negativity.

Like MJ we might even inject it.

These examples are still in their infancy. If you disagree or have any thoughts come say hi on Twitter –

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