People will sometimes say profound things without realizing the power of their words. I often have coffee with Mike, a dear friend I’ve known for many years and a licensed counselor who always has great insight into human thought and behavior. One thing Mike said to me a few weeks ago just really blew me away.
He said, “We are emotional creatures. We feel, we think, we behave—in that order.” I immediately stopped him and said, “Whoa, hold on—I gotta write that down. Walk me through that.”
Our feelings and emotions come on strong and fast—and they come first. Feelings drive so much of our behavior; that’s why it’s so hard not to eat that cookie, even though we’re trying so hard to lose weight. In a sense, we all have two brains in our heads: lizard brain and smart brain.
The lizard brain is the seat of our emotions and feelings. It’s lightning fast and perfect for fight, flight, or freeze, but when it comes to rational thought, don’t count on it at all. Our smart brain is where we make deliberate, sensible decisions based on data and logical thinking.
Ray Dalio captured this idea in his book Principles: “Your logical, higher-level conscious You & your emotional, lower-level subconscious You are always at battle.”
One of the nine behaviors of a World-Class Performer is practicing positive self-talk. Negative self-talk can manifest itself in many ways, but one you’ve probably heard of is imposter syndrome. World-Class Performers don’t think in imposter syndrome ways; they are careful about their internal self-speak, not saying anything to themselves they wouldn’t say to someone else.
We all know negative self-talk isn’t helping us, but many still do it. How do we get over that? One way is to repeat to yourself what your smart brain is telling you. I’ll often even speak it out and talk to myself. Saying it aloud helps. You also hear it with your own ears, which then sinks it in a different place in your head. I’d also recommend an accountability partner; the act of knowing someone else is watching will help. It works for cops and keeps people from speeding, right? It will work here also.
We also have times when our feelings hold us back from doing what we know we need to do. The right thing can feel counterintuitive; World-Class Performers push through those feelings because they know there’s goodness on the other side. They say to themselves, “It may not feel right, but I know it’s the right thing to do. I’m going to walk away from the cookie table.”
There are times to lead with your head, and there are times to lead with your heart. The key is to know which one to listen to and when; don’t let lizard brain take over—wait for your smart brain to catch up. Push through those feelings when you know you need to—there’s goodness on the other side.