Yesterday, Suellen and I went to our yoga class, just like every other Monday morning for the past three years. We enjoy the class and especially like our teacher, Natasha. Unfortunately, Natasha wasn’t there.
Natasha had been called away on short notice so, without warning, we had a substitute. She swirled into the room, asking lots of questions about what we could and couldn’t do. Frankly, I wasn’t prepared and was a bit annoyed. Who was this person and why was she interrupting the routine that I was so comfortable with?
Though somewhat off balance, I thought about the three basic mental functions: thinking, feeling, wanting. Here’s how I was doing on each:
Feeling – I was feeling irritated and out of sync. My morning routine had been upset and I was barely even awake.
Wanting – I wanted Natasha to return and get things back to normal.
Thinking – I was thinking that the status quo was disrupted. Beyond that, I wasn’t thinking much. I was just feeling and wanting.
In my critical thinking class, we describe the thinking-feeling-wanting triad as our most basic mental functions. For me, feeling and wanting are deep down in the engine room of a big ship. The thinking system is the Captain’s bridge. When things are going well, the bridge controls the engine room.
Sometimes, however, the feeling/wanting system runs out of control and unhooks itself from the bridge. The engine room is running but nobody is steering the ship. Suellen calls this “getting your undies in a wad” and it’s a fairly common occurrence.
So, what to do when your undies are in a wad and the engine room is boiling over? (Yes, it’s a mixed metaphor). Too often we focus on what we’re feeling and wanting. The trick to regaining control is to return our attention to the thinking function. Feeling and wanting are about emotions, not about control. Only by returning to thinking can we regain a sense of control.
My go-to questions in such situations include, “Why am I feeling this way? Is it logical to feel this way? What assumptions am I making?” When I thought about these yesterday, my internal monologue went more or less like this:
I’m being biased. I don’t want anything to change. It’s the status quo bias. I like our Monday morning routine. It’s very comfortable. Change is uncomfortable. But it’s silly to be biased. Think about the opportunity. Change can be exciting. Get with the program.
I know that I’m describing a very minor disruption. Still, I think it’s instructive. The way to regain a measure of self-control is to understand the differences between feeling, wanting, and thinking. When your undies are in a wad, think about thinking.
By the way, we had a great yoga class.
(The engine room is better known as the limbic system. The bridge is the executive function. Just like the engine room and the bridge, the limbic system really is lower – physically and conceptually – than the executive function).