The success of our teachers in life, whether they are our parents, teachers and other students in school, religious leaders, or bosses at work, or the powerful academia, political, and business leaders who set the stage for our lives, their success is in their ability to empower others with the skills and abilities to think and to feel good, and, to move thought and debate up into the mammalian brain. Here, a ‘what feels good, is good’ mentality can evolve into broader and greater awareness of both short and long-term consequences, and, decision making and action can mature into greater complexity and imagination. And, ‘what feels good, is good’ can have a compassionate foundation for existence.
Cognitive-emotional wisdom means having the cognitive and emotional understanding and ability to not act from the lower platforms of despair, depression, and anger. It means to have the cognitive tools and agility to move up the emotional staircase and to act from platforms of good feelings where clarity, health and vigor reside.
The steps to move up the emotional staircase (or emotional hierarchy) vary depending upon the set of emotions involved. One order of progression may be to move from despair, to anger, to frustration, to displeasure, to pleasure, to joy, to delight, to exhilaration, and finally, to ecstasy. Most people do not have the ability to go from despair to joy. That would be too great a leap. But he/she may go from despair to anger, from anger to frustration, from frustration to displeasure, from displeasure to pleasure, and from pleasure to joy over a period of time.
Cognitive-emotional wisdom also means having the desire, courage, and tenacity to do the work necessary to move up the emotional staircase and to continually reach for thoughts that feel better. Poetry, music, dance, the arts, and sports can all be important motivators because successful participation within these disciplines demand action from higher levels of cognitive awareness and a more refined response to emotional perceptions. Every step higher in the level of accomplishment demands an even greater commitment to a cognitive discipline with emotional guidance. And, every step higher is a movement into greater happiness, joy and passion. Think about it. Physical and cognitive agility, coordination and strength, all key attributes for an athlete’s success, require the athlete, as evolution has demanded, to be joyous and passionate within their endeavors.
As individuals mature into adulthood, they should continually be developing new and more intricate methods of utilizing their emotional guidance to create new and more complex harmonies within their minds and bodies and with their external world. The complexities of the mammalian brain need to be utilized to adapt a prehistorically evolved emotional guidance system to the demands, complexity, and nuances of our modern society. Cognitive-emotional wisdom also means having a broad enough perspective on ‘what feels good is good’ to understand that ‘what feels good’ in the immediate present may have a completely different emotional response in the very near future. Jumping off a cliff may feel great, but the landing leaves much to be desired.
The mind and body exist within a multitude of conditions and activities, all creating a symphony of emotional feedback and harmonies. It is these harmonies and disharmonies that individuals must bring together as they conduct the symphony of their lives’ creations. The primary goal and objective for society and its members should be to nurture and guide individuals into their own beings as creators of their own lives. Much too often, societal and individual actions create schisms between individuals and their own personal emotional guidance, sometimes innocently, sometimes with benevolent intent, but sometimes with malicious intent to manipulate individuals for ulterior purposes, such as exploitation or control.
7.1 Development of Cognitive-Emotional Wisdom
The narrowness of myopic mental vision and perspective plays a role in mental illness and aberrant behaviors to strive for action that is not myopic but, rather, integrates the totality of a person’s cognitive and emotional universe. Just as the various sections of an orchestra must be aware that they are playing in the same key to remain in harmony, the various aspects of a person’s consciousness and very being must find harmonious integration for the person to remain whole and mentally healthy. Otherwise the dissonance that can develop within a person to accommodate society’s diverse demands can become so great that it may be impossible for the person to remain whole and mentally healthy. To be mentally well, individuals must have successfully mastered the necessary skills to navigate their cognitive and emotional processes through life’s challenges and adventures. They must successfully integrate the lessons demanded by society and develop the necessary cognitive-emotional wisdom to succeed.
In a healthy, cognitive/emotional symbiotic system, emotionally negative activities of the mind must be a source of inspiration and creativity: inspirations for new, emotionally positive and transformative cognitive activities that are the necessary precursors to healthy physical action. Emotional wisdom is reached when emotionally positive cognitive and physical activities bring health and vitality and nurture a constructive, cooperative and successful personal environment. Emotional ignorance, on the other hand, is when emotionally negative cognitive activities run amok: externally they create destructive physical actions and internally they create unhealthy environments susceptible to disease, illness and injury.
The first step towards cognitive-emotional wisdom is to establish a person’s awareness of the fundamentals of the emotional feedback system. Unfortunately, even the syntax of language misrepresents the mind, body, emotion relationship with consciousness. To say that a person is “emotionally out of control” or having a “fit of rage”, or “acting out in anger” or committing a “crime of passion’ is an incorrect characterization. The person is not “emotionally out of control” but, rather, he/she is “cognitively out of control” because it is the cognitive activities that are creating physiological and biochemical changes, which consciousness perceives and calls emotions. Emotions can not be aberrant and destructive because they are but the messenger. It is cognition that can be aberrant and destructive. It is cognition that is creating the physiological biochemistry that is running afoul.
The phrase ‘don’t be so emotional’ and the concept of ‘emotional disorder’ do not treat emotions as a perception of mental activities via physiological biochemistry. This use of language obscures the notion that the display of a person being ‘emotional’ is the direct result of his or her current cognitive activities and it is these cognitive activities that need to be addressed.
Cognitive-emotional wisdom is born when emotionally depressed persons begin to understand and accept the relationship between their depression and the nature of their thoughts. The fall into depression is not their fault but healing demands taking new responsibilities. For depressed persons to continue dwelling upon the people and events responsible for their current condition is to create barriers to understanding and accepting their new responsibilities for their own thoughts and actions. Cognitive-emotional wisdom means to begin taking new responsibilities for one’s own behavior and to change and develop new habits of thought and perspectives. A neuroplastic brain makes all of this possible. (ref. 7-1)
7.2 Cognitive-Emotional Wisdom in Education
What is the purpose of education if it is not to provide the tools and training for a successful adult life? And where is success without joy and passion? Can education be called a success if it does not provide the understanding and training of a personal cognitive-emotional system which has evolved for the actualization and maintenance of mental and physical health and well-being? Education should not be confined to developing a student’s cognitive skills without also understanding the emotional connection to happiness and joy needed to succeed in life. Cognition, physiology, emotions and consciousness have evolved together as a synergistic team. This collaboration should certainly be part of our educational curriculum. And this means teaching and developing the students’ skills and abilities to be happy and joyous within their endeavors.
Education must also be about training students to develop the wisdom necessary to function with an emotional system that has been evolving hundreds of thousands – if not millions – of years. The physiological biochemical response from cognitive activities of our reptilian brain are far different than the physiological and biochemical response from cognitive activities of our mammalian brain. And to ignore the intricacies of an emotional guidance system is to disregard thousands of years of survival on the savannahs of Africa by our original human ancestry. This emotional guidance system now needs to be prepared and cultivated and nourished for successful operation within today’s technological world. This modern environment requires a new awakening and acceptance of an individual’s abilities to guide his or her own life.
The importance of physical education, sports, and even early-year recess in school is that it nurtures the cognitive-emotional relationship to physical health and well-being. We evolved to be active and these school activities reinforce the correlation between positive emotions and physical health and well-being. Encouraging healthful activity with the feeling of joy is to promote this evolutionary correlation. Seeking joy and the feeling of well-being within physical movement reinforces the physiological and emotional connection that has evolved over millions of years.
Performing arts such as dance, theater, and music especially ask each participant to connect with and to discover their emotional awareness. These disciplines require an exploration into emotions. Instead of promoting a culture of emotional ignorance, they promote a culture of emotional understanding and appreciation. This emotional awareness is a vital factor in comprehending the alliances between cognition, emotion, and physiology.
Basic lessons in the understanding of and the application of one’s own emotional system are vital. This means that our youth need education about how to develop joy in their lives. Emotional wisdom is about taking healthful actions in joy rather than taking destructive actions in anger. The capacity to perform the mental gymnastics necessary to pivot from destructive to healthy mental and physical actions should be developed within early childhood education to take full advantage of the brain’s neuroplastic behavior to reinforce these habits.
Students must receive the cognitive training and skills to climb up the emotional staircase from the lower emotions of rage and anger, to the higher emotional levels of frustration and irritation, and finally to the pleasurable feelings of positive emotions. The failure to develop this cognitive-emotional wisdom, where emotional evolution is ignored, can be directly tied to our society’s violent behavior where movement up the emotional staircase is never learned, developed, nor practiced. Like successful students in school, successful people in life know how to use their emotions to guide their cognitive activities towards achieving their goals and agendas.
We as a society have failed to develop the necessary education and training of a unique and wonderful emotional guidance system. Many home environments don’t provide even the basic emotional guidance understanding and training which creates a huge challenge to our education institutions. The consequences of such an ineffective emotional understanding within any cognitive behavior training can be readily seen in our prisons, hospitals and welfare institutions. Violence and a failure to succeed in life is the result of an individual’s lack of understanding and appreciation of the cognitive-emotional connection.
The emotional guidance system has evolved to constructively guide individuals so that violence is a last resort for immediate physical danger. The overhaul of our criminal justice system must start with an overhaul of our educational system and cultural values pertaining to understanding millions of years of emotional evolution and the nurturing of cognitive-emotional wisdom.
7.3 Criminal Justice Reform: The Unalienable rights of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness
The mental skills and agility that most people have developed from birth to navigate successfully through the societal nuances and intricacies of ‘what feels good is good’ and ‘what feels bad is bad’ is absent in the tens of thousands of imprisoned people. Here, as a result of training and reinforcement of negative thought patterns and an ignoring of the emotional feedback system, activity has never moved out of the more reflexive reptilian mind and into the more intricate and complex mammalian mind for compassionate and successful living. Any successful, sustained rehabilitation is also dependent on understanding the brain’s neuroplastic nature by our teachers, our parents, our schools, our religious figures, and by our politicians who are blindly, or maybe purposely, setting up laws and punishments that only further degrade human intellectual and emotional wisdom and well-being. The brain can be rewired from an emotionally negative decision processing that accentuates destructive behavior to an emotionally positive decision processing that accentuates rewarding, useful and constructive behavior and results. (ref. 7-1)
Why does society respond to unwanted behavior via punishment? Why is “spare the rod and spoil the child” such an ingrained euphemism within our culture? Why is punishment for “crimes against society” considered to be just and humane behavior? Our current criminal ‘justice’ system only further desecrates our humanity and continues the cycle of self-destruction. It is time to stop the individual’s and society’s downward spiral into hell. Discussion and debate must move upward out of our more reflexive reptilian brain and into our more compassionate mammalian brain where reality not only seems different, it is different. Different neural networks are assembling a different world.
Within this new world, punishment is not justice and human degradation is obscene. In this new world, empowering an individual to create their own, unique and wonderful world of joy is paramount. Here, society nurtures cognitive-emotional wisdom, the wisdom that finds a thought that feels better within a process that developed over tens of thousands of years of evolution and that is now etched in our DNA.
Where is the society and culture that promotes cognitive-emotional wisdom education and training within our schools and prisons? Where is the society and culture that knows not of punishment, but understands the wisdom and freedom of joy? Every person has an emotional guidance system; its understanding and training must be part of our evolving moral culture. But we have a penal justice system entrenched in ‘punishment’ to bring ‘justice.’ Our penal system should be about justice, to be sure. But where is the justice if there is no understanding of, nor education and training to employ a very ancient emotional guidance system? Where is our government that was designed to protect our unalienable rights? How can our government perform its Constitutional mandate to promote the general welfare if it is not promoting life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? To achieve this aim, we must promote the necessary understanding, purpose, and importance of an individual’s emotional guidance system – a biological system absolutely necessary for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Decision making and action from a negative emotional base has its evolutionary foundation within the reality of actual and immediate physical danger. To act from fear and anger within an emotional storm is to act without the benefit of the mental clarity and purpose found within an emotional calm. Reptilian life and death cognitive reflexes are for the natural and artificial battlefields that have little to do with most behavior requirements within our modern societies. A person’s power of decision making comes not from the emotional negative places of fear, anger, and despair, but from the emotional clarity found within peace, joy and hope. There can be no criminal justice without also providing the cognitive/emotional rehabilitation needed to succeed in society. And this means teaching a prisoner the wisdom in ‘the pursuit of happiness’! It is a ‘crime of society’ to believe that punishment is justice for criminal behavior. The rule of punishment reinforces and propagates an emotionally negative and destructive way of living. Is that to be society’s intent for our current criminal justice system? The lack of ethical decision-making skills within cognitive adolescence does not mean these behaviors can not be rehabilitated into new ideologies and behaviors later in life.
Who can predict the motivation, drive and desire of a person to return to the life of freedom and the life of well-being, joy, vitality, and enthusiasm for another day’s adventures even after years or even decades of imprisonment? Within a climate of doubt and disbelief of reform possibilities there may still exist within many individuals a flame of hope and the necessary drive to work and develop his or her cognitive-emotional wisdom and return to the freedoms and harmonies of joyous well-being. If there is not a moral duty, there is a Constitutional mandate for society to explore the possibilities and to give those imprisoned a chance to return to a naturally healthy life of freedom. There is a Constitutional and societal duty to explore, develop and learn about the mind-body-emotion-consciousness connection. Likewise, there is a Constitutional and societal responsibility to understand cognitive-emotional wisdom and the brain’s neuroplastic ability to change and to develop new neural networks that can redefine new perspectives, new alternatives, and new possibilities for successful living by our incarcerated brothers and sisters. Where is our government that was created to protect our inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? Where are the protectors of our Constitution for the welfare of all of humanity?
7.4 Reframing Antisocial Personality Disorder
Because of the brain’s neuroplastic nature to develop alternate networks, more advanced mental constructs of wanting and desire can develop as a person matures. The combination of internal physiological behaviors and the external physical exertion for survival also means a more complex development between the biological body and emotions. Movement to gather food or even to hunt on the African savannahs during humanity’s beginnings meant survival. Thus, a correlation between emotional pleasure and physical activity would be evolutionarily advantageous.
Although the joy of the hunt and the pleasure of gathering may produce the food needed for survival, during the heat of the day continual exertion risks heat exhaustion, dehydration and death. Rather than being a mere pawn of pleasure and pain, the individual must make decisions whether to continue to hunt in such adverse conditions with survival of self and family as one possible outcome and the death of the hunter and those dependent on the hunter’s survival as another. Or, maybe the hunter’s survival alone is paramount.
Thus, neuroplasticity of the cognitive and emotional networks involves a complexity that permits cognitive reflection about the conditions for physical exertion and weighing of conflicting factors of feeling good getting food versus feeling bad because of the day’s heat. The success or failure of these reflections and choices can spawn different genetic lines with different values and behaviors, such as one emphasizing the survival of the self and another emphasizing the survival of the family. One genetic line may care about other people; another genetic line may not. Therefore “antisocial personality disorder” would not be an actual disorder, rather, it would be a natural part of an individual’s evolution. Any successful interaction with these individuals must recognize and respond to their lack of any capacity for compassion, understanding, and kindness except when it pertains to their own well-being and interest.
7.5 Military Personnel Decommissioning
The power of the brain’s neuroplastic capacity to adapt to the demands of a new environment by changing and developing new neural networks is also demonstrated by the successful migration from civilian to military life. Unfortunately, this neural network change, which is developed to succeed in military life, is not later reconfigured for civilian life. There must be a structured ‘decommissioning’ period for military combatants that accounts for the neural network changes that allowed for success within a militarily structured environment designed for war. This wartime neural network must be reconfigured for a successful civilian life. Military life starts with a very well developed ‘boot camp’ that prepares a civilian for the new rigors and demands of a combatant. Where is the basic re-training that deprograms and alters the neural networks that formed while in active military service and that are now detrimental to civilian life? Where ‘commissioning’ personnel into military service has a long and rich tradition to produce successful combatants, surly it makes sense that the ‘decommissioning’ of military personnel with the new knowledge of the brain’s neuroplastic adaptive behaviors must be explored. Success can be measured when we no longer hear of homeless veterans or veterans who have given up hope and committed suicide. Military personnel are offered the most advanced and best training in the world to succeed in the most brutal of environments. They should also be trained to become the most advanced, best trained and most capable to succeed within the harsh indifferences of civilian life.
7.6 The Wisdom of a Champion: Let Joy Reign
The ‘Grateful Red’ (the UW student section) are stomping their feet in appreciation of the skillful play of their basketball team. Team execution has reached a new level of excellence. ‘Every’ shot is dropping, even the bizarre and – amazingly – a teammate is in the right spot for every loose ball, block, rebound or steal. There’s electricity in the air. It feels good! It feels great! It is wild. For team member and fan alike, this didn’t just happen; it began with a feeling, a positive good emotional feeling that grew and then exploded…lighting the nets on fire!
The mental game of ‘being in the zone’, ‘creating momentum’, ‘being connected’ and ‘having confidence’ is about emotions, about good feeling emotions. There is no mental game, there is no mental focus, unless the emotions and feelings collaborate and acknowledge it. The mind, body, and emotions must work together in synergistic whole – as the proverbial team – to bring forth an athlete’s best performance. This mind-body-emotional game is about cognitively bringing forth an accumulation of all the times an athlete experienced a successful moment, especially in competition. The mind-body-emotional game of any contest is about having the discipline to use the mind (1) to find, (2) to focus in on, and finally (3) to use the presence of good feeling emotions to develop and to maintain ‘the zone’: this mind-body-emotional zone of confidence and momentum gleaned from previous successes. The team must recreate the mind-body-emotional game first, before the competition, to ‘own’ any court and competition. Underdogs win because they create a pre-game vortex of success which is undeterred by the opponent’s performance. Their results and outcomes of actions, shots, and plays follow their mental-body-emotional game. Champions win for the same reason. Yet, how many teams get overpowered in the last few seconds, not by an opponent’s skill, but by the opponent’s overpowering belief in themselves as the victor?
The mind-body-emotional play of a competition starts long before the actual game begins and must continue throughout any competition. Championships are lost because emotional guidance gets distracted from the final outcome and is sidetracked into the pregame publicity of previous successes. Winning feels good but a tournament isn’t over with the semi-finals. This is the time for real mind-body-emotional discipline; to use the mind and its cognitive abilities to focus on, to recreate, and then to maintain the emotional play of previous successful competitions. What were the mind-body-emotional states that brought previous successes? Recreate these mind-body-emotional states as protection from any barrage of doubts, fears, uncertainties, and questions presented by the upcoming event. Recreate these mind-body-emotional states as a defense from the lure and illusion of a victory that doesn’t yet exist. Recreate these mind-body-emotional states as an offense to the opponent’s barrage of jabs, hits and punches to assert ‘their’ dominance. This starts in the off season at home and continues through each practice and right into the locker room and onto the court and throughout the game. Half-time is but an opportunity to reaffirm the joyous mind-body-emotional synergy of success. Too many half-time talks by the coaching staff disconnect rather than reinforce the team’s connection to strength, agility, coordination and power.
The audience may be watching and emotionally reacting to the action on the court, but the real plays take place in the minds and hearts of each player. Which team is going to maintain their knowing of, and feeling of success? Which team will rise and overcome each challenge on who ‘owns’ this ball, these nets and this court? Which team will first feel the frustration of a missed shot or stolen ball or an opponent’s score and feel the gnawing fear of doubt? Every move and pass before a shot is an assertion of confidence. Pass the ball around to set up a shot but also to break down the opponent’s mental resilience and to assertively demonstrate to them that “we” control this game. We own this game. We are enjoying this game. Our bench is enjoying this game. We are winning this game no matter the current score. “Do you feel it? Good! Take the shot.”
A player cannot play his or her best having an emotionally negative state of mind. The presence of negative emotions means that a well-balanced and vital body is not physiologically present. Physiological biochemical disharmony, felt through emotional dissonance, manifests directly from cognitive dissidence. Eye hand coordination will be off. Touch will be off. Shots will rim out or even become air balls. A simple layup will become a challenge. Accidents will happen. Injuries will occur. To physically compete at a peak physiological state, the emotional state cannot be negative which means that consciousness must direct cognitive activity. Negativity leads to injuries when the body is stressed and pushed to its limits during competition. The mind and body are biologically not working together as a unified whole. Evolution advanced a correlation between feeling good and a well-balanced and vital body. Emotional awareness of this, either consciously or unconsciously, meant survival. Those who acted without this understanding did not survive. To act without joy means the body is not in a prime physiological biochemical state and simply does not have the harmony within itself to excel and perform at peak abilities.
Every moment throughout every day is an opportunity to train and to practice moving into a better and better feeling place. Every negative emotion is an opportunity to create a more powerful emotionally positive mental attitude. Winning starts when each negative emotion is used as motivation to find a thought that feels better. Each of these successes helps develop the mental gymnastics required to respond to an evolved emotional guidance system with intent and with design. The emotional system is giving constant feedback on whether ‘your head’ is getting into ‘your’ game or into ‘theirs’. The question is….do you have the cognitive discipline to listen and to make the necessary adjustments?
Emotions are responses to all that activity going on between the ears. They are an ever-present coach that lets each player individually know where his or her mind’s activities are heading. The better the feeling, the more mental activities are in ‘your game’. The worse the feeling, the closer mental activities are to getting lost in ‘your opponent’s game’. Half time provides a moment to stop and step up the emotional staircase. Have the discipline to use your mental training and abilities to move up from despair to anger, from anger to frustration, from frustration to hope, from hope to belief, from belief to joy, from joy to excitement, from excitement to…Take the time to re-take the ball and court and make them ‘yours.’ A time out is an opportunity to get ‘your’ mind, ‘your’ heart, and ‘your’ body back into the game, ‘your game.’ Then any court throughout life will bring joy and become ‘yours’.
“If anyone doesn’t believe that we are going out and take over the second half and win this game, you can stay right here. We don’t want you. We don’t need you.” UW football player halftime speech to the team (paraphrased).
7.7 Emotions in the 21st Century
The purpose of life from a physiological, biochemical perspective is to find joy. A correlation exists between joy and the biochemical balances found within the brain’s neural networks and the body that makes for a strong and vigorous being. Has not that been the evolution of the emotional system? A false/positive correlation between joyous emotions and lethargy, weakness, and ineptness would only make a being vulnerable and easy prey within the survival of the species. Joy, happiness, and wonderment associated with biochemical harmony of strength, confidence, skill, and agility, on the other hand, would clearly enhance the survival of the species.
Genetically, humans are wired to feel emotionally good. The very strength and survival of the individual depends on striving for better feelings and what those feelings represent within the body. It is our evolutionary nature. But we do not thrive as individual beings without the societal strength to create and empower the development of cognitive-emotional wisdom where individuals learn, develop, and know how to respond to their own individual emotional guidance with healthful and joyous actions and behaviors.
It is necessary to elaborate on some important distinctions which need to be made in our 21st century consumer-focused society. Sugar may have wonderful ‘feels good’ associations but gaining weight is probably not one of them. Shopping may feel good but getting the bills may not. Having a brand-new car feels great, but the consequences of it being a stolen car does not. The same ‘feels good’ but ‘know the bad’ goes for drinking, drugs, medications and all of human behaviors. Knowing what actions may feel good and knowing what consequences may feel horrendous is a product of the cognitive mind and the emotional perceptual system of the body’s physiological biochemistry. On the other hand, society’s acceptance of such action often impact a person’s attention to their own emotional guidance: what if a person’s behavior aligns with emotional guidance but this behavior is contrary to accepted societal norms? And conversely, what if a person’s behavior aligns with emotional guidance but this behavior should be contrary to accepted societal norms?
Where is the emotional wisdom in a ‘feels good is good’ behavior model? The correlation between the better one feels and the healthier one is, began evolving millions of years ago. In question are emotions’ guiding relevance in the 21st century and beyond. Emotions are only reflections of cognitive activities via their correlative relationship to physiological biochemistry. Therefore, it is not emotions, but cognition that is in question. The power of cognitive-emotional wisdom lies within one’s abilities to meet the challenges of today’s complex societies by transmuting life’s pains and failures, via cognitive work and imagination, into the thoughts and actions that both feel good and are integral and harmonious to a self and that does not demand the obedience and subjugation of others but promotes the welfare and empowerment of others. This means moving out of the more reflexive reptilian brain and into the more compassionate complexity capacity within the mammalian brain. Joy and happiness dependent on the requirement and demand for specific behavior in others is an attempt to appease a false ideology. It can never succeed. To make joy and happiness dependent on others’ behaviors is to deny the evolutionary role of emotional guidance. Emotional guidance and cognitive-emotional wisdom are self-management tools.
7-1: Begley, S., July 27, 2013. Rewiring your Emotions. Retrieved From