What do you feel when you see this teddy bear?

My most recent realisation (occurred whilst hugging a teddy bear) is succinctly captured in this quote from Mexican author and philosopher Miguel Angel Ruiz: “Our brain is the factory of the emotions”. In this blog I’m exploring the similarities between the workings of our minds and a factory! When we understand how something works, we are more able to work in harmony with it.

The factory is an interesting metaphor for considering both our capacity for manufacturing the full range of human emotions together with a tendency to stick to prior programming, resulting in habitual patterns of emotionally driven behaviours. For example, if in the past I have learned to fear conflict, I am more likely to become tense whenever I imagine a situation has the potential to escalate. I might then seek to avoid a situation just because I feel tense.

In the same way a factory might be programmed to produce savoury pasties; it’s what we do, we output thousands of pasties an hour, seven days a week. It doesn’t mean that we don’t have the capacity and the capability to produce other products, it’s just that we’ve become very good at manufacturing pasties!   

The pandemic provides us with a useful parallel – through understanding their capacity and capabilities, a consortium of Formula One and Aerospace companies were able to re-programme their factories to design and produce a new type of ventilator; a vastly different product to cars or wings!

What results could we achieve by understanding how to work in harmony with our minds?

Whist preparing for a session with school aged children on where their emotions come from, I realised how I was programmed to feel happy, comforted, and nostalgic when I cuddled a cute teddy bear. Immediately I cuddled it, I identified these feelings. I knew the teddy bear itself couldn’t be responsible for creating these feelings because I had no relationship with the bear itself, only the idea of a teddy bear. Similarly, it’s not the act of a ‘power pose’ (as per Amy Cuddy’s popular TED talk) that gives me confidence rather the idea (thought) that helps me to identify with a feeling of confidence. Both examples demonstrate the invisible role that prior programming plays on our feelings.

Mind programming is obviously useful in our normal lives. It means we can draw on previous experiences when facing a new set of circumstances. It’s like the concepts of mind-set and mental mapping, shortcutting our options. Programming becomes an issue though when we find ourselves struggling with feelings that we don’t want or when we feel cut off from the full spectrum of human emotions. It is easy to miss the truth, which is that we have the capacity to feel the full range of emotions but for our programming. And it is helpful to know that we are not our programming but it does have a powerful governing role over the content of our experience.

Back to the factory… if those organisations involved in the design and production of a new type of ventilator had restricted themselves to their factories’ current programming of wings or fast motor cars, they could easily have missed their capacity for an entirely new range of products.

When we know how the mind works, we glimpse behind the content of our experience to see the role of programming and our infinite capacity for new thoughts and therefore new feelings. It is the function of the mind that reliably sets us free from unhelpful programming and brings about lasting change. Feelings are just useful information telling us about the content of our thinking. Like the products coming out of the factory they tell us what the factory is currently set up for but are not representative of its future capacity or capability.             

Curious to explore this further then why don’t you read about it in my book, “More than you think”.

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