This article came from an interview I did with Jared Tendler on performance (Improving Performance with Tapping). At one point in the interview Jared said, “I don’t believe there is such thing as an emotional decision.” After a brief discussion I agreed with him.
photo by Nathan deGargoyle
Below is a longer explanation than what we got into in the interview of why I think he is right and how we can use this point of view to improve our Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT)/tapping. I don’t expect you to agree with me on this. Take it for what it is: food for thought. I would love to hear you feedback and thoughts in the comment section below.
How The Brain Works
Please bear with me. This is going to be a gross over-simplification of how the mind works, but it will help to explain what is happening. Even if the specifics are inaccurate, the basic principles are correct.
Our brain is a giant ball of brain cells (like I said, gross over-simplification). Each of these brain cells can be connected to lots of other brain cells, sometimes as many as tens of thousand of other cells. Information, in the form of energy, moves along these connections to create brain function such asthinking and instructing the body to move.
These connections are not permanent. Any and all of these connections can be changed over time.
When we are learning new skills we create a new set of connections based off the old connections of the brain plus the new information.
For example, in my brain right now there connections between brain cells that contain all of the information that I need to walk, but there are no connections that know how to do the foxtrot.
As I take dance lessons and repeat the steps over and over again I am taking the information that my brain already has about moving my body, such as walking, and making new connections between my brain cells to add the new types of movement.
The more often I do a movement the more connections that are made around a specific move, making it easier and easier each time to make the move in the future.
After one dance class I might have only a few connections, if any at all. After a few weeks I have a few hundred, and after a few months I might have a few million. The more connections between brain cells around a certain action, the easier this action becomes. This is the reason we can do things like walking without any thought at all.
Think of these connections like walking a path. The more people walk along a certain path through a field, the wider the path becomes and the harder it is for the grass to grow over the path. The less a path is walked on, the skinner it becomes and the easier it is for the brush to take over the path.
Also, the wider the path, the easier it is to walk down and the skinner the path, the more work it takes to walk down.
In the brain the more we use a certain set of brains cells connected (repeating the same movement) in a specific way, the stronger and wider this path becomes. While the paths that are very new or hardly used, for example new dance steps or skills we rarely use, the more quickly these paths are going to disappear.
This means that something I have done a million times before like walking is very easy, while doing the new dance step requires much more concentration because the path to that action is so much skinnier.
For this reason it takes 14 to 21 days to form a new habit. That is the amount of time it takes to create enough new paths between brain cells to make an action habitual.
The brain works the same way when it comes to remembering information. For example remembering your name is an easy thing to do. This is something you do often and the path to this piece of information is very wide and well worn, but if I asked you to name the person who sat behind you in 4th grade it would be a much harder task. This is not a piece of information you access often (if ever) therefore the path is going to be very narrow.
How This Plays Out In Our Choices And Actions
The brain/system only has a limited amount of energy to act. For this gross over-simplification let’s say that amount is 10 units of energy. The tasks that we do regularly, like walking only take 1 unit of the energy, while a task that is very new, like a new dance step, takes all 10 units.
Here is a perfect example. Think of the last time you saw someone do something they don’t normally do, like threading a needle. As they are concentrating you can almost see the gears moving in their head. It is obvious they have to use much more of their brain energy to perform this task.
I can spend these 10 units of energy in lots of different ways. I can walk and hold a complicated conversation at the same time. It might require 1 unit to walk, 1 unit to talk and ,8 eight units to think about what we are talking about. But as we are walking along and I need to think of something really specific I am going to stop walking, close my eyes, and concentrate all 10 units on to finding that piece of information that is stored in the deep recesses of my mind.
How Emotions Use Brain Energy
When we feel an emotion we also use some of this brain energy. Let’s say for the sake of simplicity the SUDs level of an emotion is equal to the amount of brain energy it is taking to feel that emotion. Meaning that if I am angry to a SUDs level of 8, then I am going to use 8 out of the 10 units of brain energy.
Let’s say that I have been working on the foxtrot long enough that it now only takes 5 units of brain energy to do the dance step. When I am in the dance studio with my instructor it requires some concentration to do the steps, but I am able to do the dance in such a fashion that it is no longer work, and I can enjoy it.
A few days later I find myself at a dance. I ask a beautiful woman to dance with me. Now I am nervous. I want to impress her and I want her to like me. My nervousness is at SUDs level of 6. Because I am using so much energy to be nervous I am not going to dance very well because I only have 4 units of brain energy left to do a task that requires 5 units.
The dance steps are no different, my ability is no different, but the resources I have to do those steps are different.
This is the same reason it is harder for us to do complicated things when we are tired. When we are tired we don’t have the full 10 units, but maybe 3 or 4. The more brain energy the task takes the sharper we need to be to do it.
How Emotions Effect Our Choices And Actions
We can see very quickly how emotion can start to affect the choices we are making.
For example, let’s pretend that I love chocolate, but I know that I can’t eat a lot of it. For me to be able to think, “I know I like chocolate, but I am only going to limit myself to one piece of high quality chocolate a day and therefore not going to eat the cheap stuff here at work” takes 7 units of energy.
As I am sitting at my desk I receive a call from a disgruntled customer who just unloads on me. They are screaming at me for 10 minutes for something I had nothing to do with. When I get off the phone I am frustrated to the SUDs level of 5.
I walk into the staff room to refill my water and a co-worker has some chocolate cake and she offers me some. It takes 7 units of energy for me to say “no”. I am spending 5 units on being frustrated leaving with just 5 more units. I don’t have the resources to make the choice to say “no” and I end up eating the cake.
These Are Not Emotional Choices
If we follow all of this to its logical conclusion we are not making emotional choices. What we are doing instead is making the best choice we can make based on the amount of resources we have in any given moment. The emotions affect the choices we make and the actions we take by affecting our environment.
Because of the natural rhythms of our system we have fewer resources available in the middle of the night: very few good choices are made at 3am. This is the reason that, as resident assistants living in a university resident hall, that we warned our students against drinking when they were hungry, angry, tired, or lonely. This is the reason that the more I practice the foxtrot, the easier it is going to be to dance it when I am nervous on a first date.
How This Information Informs Our Tapping
There are two main types of tapping that we can do. We can do “first aid” tapping in response to something that is happening in the moment as well as tapping to deal with core issues. When we look at both of these types of tapping through the lens we can see how it profoundly affects our choices.
First, when it comes to first aid tapping we can see that when we are tapping for an emotion or craving that has arisen in the moment, we are not just clearing the emotion to feel better. In addition to clearing the emotional charge we are also freeing up the energy it is taking to maintain that emotional charge. This frees up resources to make the better choices.
Second, we can use tapping to make changes to the information/beliefs we hold about ourselves and the world that are already connected to the wide paths that take the least amount of brain energy. To explain this let’s use our self-concept as an example.
There is a part of my brain that contains all of the information on what I think of myself. This contains all the information about what I think I do well and what I think I struggle with. This would be my self-esteem. There is a very well worn and very wide path to this part of my brain because I am accessing this information all day long.
Since this is the information that we always going to have access to regardless of our emotional state, because it is so easy to access, it becomes very clear how this can be problematic. If I hold the belief in this area that “I have failed before and am going to fail again,” then this will be the information that I am going to access in the most emotional situations. If this is the information I am accessing then I am not going to be making the choices I really want to make.
This creates the second opening for us to use tapping to change our ability to make choices. What tapping allows us to do is to take advantage of these well-worn paths by allowing us to transform the information at the ends of these paths. With tapping we are able to transform the limiting belief of “I have failed before and will fail again,” to “I have failed in the past, but I have learned from those mistakes and am going to make better choices today.”
The path that requires very little energy is still in place, but we have changed the information at the destination. This is the main reason why tapping can be so powerful. We are utilizing the network and paths of the brain, but we are allowing it to access information that is going to permit us to make better choices.
I feel it is very important that we understand not only the choices we make but why we make those choices. When we are only looking at the outcome of the choices we have made it becomes very easy to beat ourselves up. When we understand why we are making the choices we are making, based on the information we have about the world and the amount of mental energy we have to access it, it is easier for us to be easy with ourselves as well as see the path to transforming ourselves by giving us the opportunity to make better choices in the future.