Our world has changed significantly over the last few months. This post looks at emotions from the lens of social reality. At a time when everything feels as though it is out of control, now is the time to take stock and reflect on what we can control. We may find ourselves worrying much more than we have done before, struggle with life’s meaning, and feel pressure in our current circumstances. Although we cannot change the circumstances, we can change how we interpret it and react to it.
What is social reality? Philosophers often debate this question and different people have different perspectives. My perspective is that of a constructionist. By taking this perspective I define social reality as something that at least in part, I construct from my own conceptual system. That is, my judgements on what I see, what I experience, what I do is based on what I think is the ‘truth’. My truth is created from my experiences, so although there are similarities and overlapping beliefs, mine is different to yours because we have not had the same experience in life. When I see a crowd of happy revellers you might see an aggressive mob of rascals.
Our social reality is formed from the meaning me make in what we experience each moment. We predict what the likely meaning is based on what we have experienced previously. So if my boss is always having a go about my work, I will see in my boss’ face that admonishing look, hear the tone and interpret the words in a less than positive way. If my boss smiled at me and hugged me I’d be shocked but still expect negative feedback. My habits and beliefs are part of my ‘story’ of what will happen every time the boss turns up. It’s hard for me to create a new story without reflecting and assessing whether my social reality needs to be rewritten.
Changing your social reality
So let’s stay with the boss scenario. The boss is your boss. You are told by a colleague that they have nothing but good experiences from the boss. You cannot believe what is being said! So why is the boss nice to her but so mean to you? Your colleague gives examples of the experiences she has had. Suddenly it hits you. What she has just told you has changed your interpretation of your boss. Your boss’ boss wants to make redundancies from the team and in the past has wanted to remove your job role. Your boss has been fighting to protect it, and what appeared to be meanness was actually the boss trying to encourage you to do fantastic work so the boss’ boss can’t criticise. Now that you think about it, what the boss said wasn’t so mean. You could tell it was supposed to be motivating but the boss is under some pressure too. You feel a shift in how you view your boss……
In this scenario, you have rewritten your emotion category for your boss, and start to emote a different emotion. Next time you see your boss you will no longer feel dread, and you will behave differently because of it. This is because we do not have ‘fixed’ emotions, we ‘emote’ based on the dynamic and moment to moment experiences we have.
Our choice on what we ‘emote’
We may not be able to change the boss’ boss wanting to make redundancies, but we can change how we emote in the circumstances, and it is likely that by being more open and willing to listen to the boss, the boss too will emote in a new way and feel more relaxed. You are now working together and not against each other!
I’m not suggesting we can flip our emoting in a blink of an eye as we often have deeply embedded beliefs and emotion categories that we have cultivated for years. However the more we teach our minds and practice to interpret the world with a new social reality lens, the more we will create new emotion categories and beliefs that will allow us to have better experiences each day.
Read about the author Lisa Jones and more of her articles HERE
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