Thoughts are our ideas and opinions about the world, often based on past emotional experiences.

Emotional reactions have many triggers that can cascade recursively. This emotional depth needs to be understood to truly understand ourselves.

Emotions are irrational and can lead us to incorrect assumptions about ourselves and the world if we don’t take the time to understand them.

Hypothetical Example

I’m getting ready to make a speech in front of a large audience.

Before I go on stage, I begin to experience an emotional response of a higher heart rate, a release of cortisol, and the general activation of my fight-or-flight response of the limbic system.

In my mind, I internalize this emotion by feeling it — associating a feeling to the emotional response. I begin to feel fear and anxiety associated with giving a speech.

My rational brain tries to interpret what is happening and begins to have thoughts such as:

I’m feeling nervous. I must be nervous because I’m worried about messing up. I’m worried about messing up because I know I’m not that good or don’t have as much expertise in the subject I’m about to give a speech on (impostor syndrome).

What if they find out I’m an idiot?

There are a lot of other smarter people than me. Why should I be presenting right now?

This recursive thought spiral can in-turn cause more emotional responses and feelings such as feeling a fear of abandonment of my social status or relationships if I don’t perform well.

This cascade of emotions and feelings needs to be felt. They will come in waves and as long as I let them pass, they will pass.

After I get past my emotional response, I can begin to see that the thoughts I’m having are not valid. In fact, the feeling of excitement has the exact same emotional state as anxiety: higher heart rate, cortisol, etc.

Feeling the feelings, validating them, and understanding that our thoughts are irrational in an emotional state yields understanding.

I can then move past the emotional response and begin to give my speech feeling excited rather than anxious.