Emotional Heuristics

EmotionsIn this week’s spotlight I wish to address the subject of values. One of the more interesting areas of human research has to do with our emotions, and there is a heuristic to them. A heuristic is a rule or method, that shortcuts the necessity to reason, or think about a decision. If you think of it this way, then when our emotions arise, they are reflecting a value. Let me flesh that out some.

Belief Mirror

For years I have taught that our stream of consciousness is a mirror on our true beliefs. When we say something to ourselves like, “I am going to really succeed!” what do we hear back from our self-talk? Does our stream of consciousness assure us that we’re right, or does it mitigate and/or even deny our affirmation? Do we hear something like, “Well maybe to some degree,” or “Who are you kidding? When did you ever succeed at anything?”

In other words, when we tell ourselves the things we want to believe, when we use all of those affirmations designed to encourage and bolster our efforts, does our subconscious mind agree with what our conscious mind is asserting? Very often, for many, the answer is a big NO! Deep inside our mind may be this subconscious belief that we are not deserving, worthy, capable, and so forth. And it is what our subconscious believes that will dictate our success or failure!

Emotional Mirror

Okay, now think back to your emotions. When you use an affirmation, what emotion is triggered? Do you feel uneasy? If so, your emotional heuristic is telling you something. This is also true of your likes, dislikes, and so forth. For example, think of a situation where you felt uncomfortable—perhaps it was with a person or something that had been said. In these instances your gut feeling, your emotion, is informing you of a value—one of your own values.

When you think of principles like morality, how do you feel? When you think of politicians, how do you feel? These feelings, emotions, are expressing your inner belief—your values. This instant feeling is your emotional heuristic informing you without reason of your subconscious belief.

Emotions are very valuable, but not always as a substitute for rationality. As I have argued in the past, we need them both. That said, our emotions can steer us wrong and lead us into real trouble. Our so-called gut feelings can, and often do, betray us. Victims of violent crime often report that they never saw the attack coming. It’s often the one we trust who betrays us most.


Emotions predispose our expectations. If we expect someone to say something negative, and then we don’t quite hear what they say but believe they are speaking about us, we will think the worst. We are likely to respond to them in our next direct exchange according to our expectation. In other words, our emotion has set up our expectation and that is confirmed by our so-called perception, despite the fact that our perception is skewed and in error. Perhaps we should be questioning the underlying heuristic, that non-thinking shortcut that informs us in a manner that may undermine our own best interest.

It’s easy to see that our expectations based on our emotional heuristic could get us in trouble. There is no better time to be rational than when the emotions are encouraging irrational behavior.

Anchoring New

Alright, just as with your stream of consciousness, you can engineer your own emotional heuristics. That is, you can consciously decide to flush out the images that evoke unwanted emotion and rewrite their anchoring, thereby replacing unwanted feelings with those you would consciously choose. Changing your feelings may not change the outside world, but it certainly makes living in it much more enjoyable and, to some extent, much safer. My thoughts anyway.

As always, thanks for the read and I appreciate your feedback.

Eldon Taylor

Eldon Taylor

Eldon Taylor
Provocative Enlightenment
NY Time Bestselling Author of Choices and Illusions