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The Four Building Blocks of Every Emotion (and Why This is Important)


What are emotions, really?


We know enough about emotions to be able to define them fairly well. We can talk about being 'happy' or 'sad' because we've understood these concepts since we were small. But truly understanding an emotion can seem complicated, especially when you're pushed to explain it.


Every emotion is made up of four parts. Let’s explore first what those parts are.


The Stimulus

For an emotion to happen, you need something which will inspire it. This can be anything at all. Generally, emotions come from outside sources, though they can also arise from your thoughts. You never know what might raise an emotion – a smell, a taste, a memory, a person, a place, or even an activity you're taking part in will inspire emotions. Even babies will be inspired to emotion through simple things like being hungry, uncomfortable, amused, or even by the smell or sound of their caregiver.


Your Awareness

A situation alone won't be enough to inspire emotion. At some point, your mind will become aware of the situation. This can be a conscious or even unconscious thing. We start paying attention, and this stimulus suddenly matters to us in a way the other things around us don't.


The Judgement

Are you okay with this stimulus? Your unconscious self already knows your likes and dislikes and is already steering you toward either a positive or negative emotional response.


The Reaction

Your physical self is already figuring out the situation and is responding. For example, you might not have noticed the spider that just scuttled across your hand, but your eyes have widened significantly, and you might have felt a chill. This is followed very closely by the physical reaction (in this case, pulling your hand away) and possibly even a verbal expression (a scream, perhaps, if you're afraid of spiders).


Why is this important?


If you want to change your feelings, start with these building blocks. You'll always have a stimulus, and your awareness of things isn't always within your control. But how you feel about the stimulus can be reshaped. Go back to the spider example. If you don't want to be afraid of spiders, you might rehearse a different reaction, starting with a new judgment. You tell yourself spiders aren't scary and try not to react when you see one. Eventually, you won't feel the 'fear' anymore but might move to disinterest or even curiosity when you see a spider.


This takes time, but taking control of your emotions is invaluable. The key? Be consistent as you work on this change; soon, it will come naturally.

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