Why you feel what you feel | Alan Watkins | TEDxOxford


Translator: Queenie Lee
Reviewer: Peter van de Ven Good afternoon. It’s a real pleasure
to do another TED Talk. And today I’m going to talk
to you about you. And share with you, hopefully, an idea that’s really made
a massive difference in my life and hopefully could make
a massive difference in your life too. I’ve spent my life, really,
studying human beings. When I was a kid,
I was the youngest of four, so I spent a lot of time
just watching my brothers and sisters and seeing the mess
and the challenge that they got into, and trying to clock how I avoided that. Then I had the great fortune
of training as a physician, and some of you may know that medical training
is the most incredible opportunity, because you get up close
and personal with human suffering on every single level, on a daily basis. I’ve been in a room where people
have died right in front of me, and it’s a really profound moment. I’ve also been in a room
where life has come into the world; I’ve delivered a number of children,
including three of my own four boys, one of whom is at the back – Hi, son. (Laughter) (Son from the audience) Hi, dad! So medical training,
a fantastic experience. I became a researcher,
initially an immunologist, and studied right down to the nano detail of how our white blood cells
roll along the inside of our blood vessels and with really clever adhesion molecules stick and kind of squeeze out
between the endothelia cells and fight infection. More recently as a neuroscientist.
So right down at nano level. And also at a much bigger scale. I had the good fortune of working
with CEOs and leaders around the world in some of our biggest companies
and multi-nationals, looking at the hidden social dynamics
and the networks that exist that determine whether a company
succeeds or fails. As you heard, I’ve worked with elite athletes,
helping them to win gold medals. I’ve read a lot, learned a lot. And through all that time,
one question kept bothering me, sort of eating away at my brain. And that question was: if you could teach yourself,
your children, or anybody one thing, what would it be? What would that one thing be? You can only teach one thing of all the things
I’ve learned and understood, and it’s that that I want
to share with you today. What is that one thing? I can tell you it’s not “Eat an apple”;
that’s not what it is. We’re going to talk about that. But before, I want to return, just,
to really the story of you. I don’t know whether you remember, but there was a time
before you knew you existed. For some of you that was probably
last Friday night, after a skinful. (Laughter) But as we all grow up,
there’s a moment in our life – and this is a really
beautiful moment if you witness it – where you can see, about one year old – it might happen a bit sooner, a bit later,
but roughly about one year old – where a child realizes they exist
as a physical entity. It’s that moment where they look
in the mirror, and they kind of go, “Oh, that’s me!” They move their hand
and that hand moves, and they realize that that’s them. So they have a physical
awareness, if you will. But they haven’t yet developed
an awareness of their emotional self, which is why you get the terrible twos. So when a two-year-old is hungry, the world is hungry
and why aren’t we eating? So there’s that kind of intensity,
that egocentricity in a two-year-old. That’s where they kind of get
to test the power. So in the supermarket, it’s “Mom, mom, that that, me, me,
food, food, me, me, me, food,” and they kind of bother you
to a great extent. And then again, it’s witnessable,
this moment where they suddenly realize that not only are they
physically separate from you, but their emotions
are not your emotions. You may have witnessed this with a child walking down
the aisle in the supermarket, eyes, streaming red,
bawling in frustration and rage that they can’t get what they want, and then looking at you
completely baffled, like: “Why aren’t you crying?” “We’re hungry;
we want those chocolates.” (Laughter) There’s that bafflement in their eyes, that sort of thousand yard stare. And that’s the emergence
of the awareness of the emotional self, separate from the parent or the caregiver. So that’s a sort of second level up, but it’s not until they get
to three to six years old that they get into the “conceptual self,” and part of that emergence
is a sense of identity. So it’s what you would know
as consciousness, is they start to become aware – not only that they’re physically,
emotionally separate, but they’ve got an identity. And it blossoms between
three and six years old. One of the things that happens in the emergence
of conceptual self is language. So language is essentially a concept:
it’s a noise to represent something. So the emergence
of conceptual self happens, and we start to label our universe – you know, cat, dog, bat, ball,
window, floor, and so on. So the world starts to make sense
and we start to be able to navigate. Children between the age
of three and six learn about six new words
every single day. There’s phenomenal
language acquisition going on. But only from the fourth level, which is called concrete consciousness, they start to learn
the rules that govern the concepts. Then it all starts to make sense: why is a dog a dog and a cat a cat? Why is a mummy a mummy
and daddy a daddy? What’s the rule? It’s in that between
six and nine years old that the fun starts to happen. So if you speak to a seven-year-old, you can start to have fun
by playing against the rules – you know, look at that cat
going woof-woof? No! Cats go meow! They don’t go woof-woof. And it makes them laugh
because you’re playing against the rules. There’s this whole
rule emergence that occurs in a child between six and nine. And then that’s where most people stay … (Laughter) Most of the people
you’re going to meet, 20, 30, 40, on the inside: nine! (Laughter) See it in accompanies all the time: toys out of the pram,
behaving like children. It’s very common. There is an attempt,
usually in the early teenage years, to get beyond that concrete self,
to get beyond the rules, which is why you get teenage conflict. You’ll see it, and parents
try to suppress this, like it’s a bad thing. It’s a developmental stage! You shouldn’t be suppressing this stuff;
they’re testing the rules. So this battle ensues: you told me to be home at ten,
I want to be home at 11. You told me to be honest;
you’re not being honest, and the fight breaks out. And they have their whole
turbulent teenage years. Regardless of who wins that battle,
whether it’s mom or dad or the child, it bubbles along for a few years. Now eventually,
regardless of who wins the battle, they leave home – hopefully. (Laughter) (Applause) They go! Right? But then a much bigger parent
called society comes in and imposes its rules. So a lot of people go back
into the concrete, not like transferred but back
in the concrete following a set of rules, that we start to believe
that we’ve got to get a degree, we’ve got to get a job,
a relationship, a car, a house, we’ve got to get all these things
to be a good corporate citizen. So we start to follow the rules,
and we enter a company, and we start to work our way
up the career ladder, following the rules. So a lot of people you’ll encounter
are back in that concrete, their life become stereotypical. You’ll see people talk about this: “That’s not how we
do things at this company. You’ll be the Chief Executive,
I’ll be the Chief Financial Officer. That’s how we do it around here.” It’s a set of rules
that we’re all following, and we’re often not even
aware of those rules. And that will often happen
for the rest of your life; you don’t even realize
you’re running the rules. By the way, these rules weren’t given
to you with your permission; they were just imposed
by parents or society. We’re not even aware of it. If you’re lucky, you have a crisis. At some point in your life, something terrible happens
to get you to question the rules. Now, most people this never happens to – or if it does, it doesn’t
cause them to question. That might be the loss of a loved one, the loss of a relationship
or something terrible happens, usually, most commonly, in midlife. Then you enter the stage
what we call “the disease of meaning,” is it starts to occur to you there’s something wrong
with the picture of your life. I’ve been following all these rules,
and it hasn’t delivered. I thought if I was
a good corporate citizen, and I got a good job, and a good house,
and paid tax and all of that stuff, I would be happy and blissful forever; and I’m not. That’s the disease of meaning,
and that is real pain. If that happens in a religious context,
people call it purgatory. I mean, literally, it’s hell on earth. So people get into this state
and often they lash out, they become unpleasant
and negative and so on, because they’re basically in pain. Now there are two strategies to that pain. First strategy – much loved by students – anaesthetic. (Laughter) Because if I can blot
out the meaning of life, that kind of existential question – if I’m wasted on a Friday night, I don’t have to think
about what’s the meaning of all this. It just goes away as a question. So then some people do this every night,
some people every weekend, getting wasted, either through alcohol and drugs. But the problem is
when the hangover wears off, the question returns; it’s still there. You can’t answer it. If you’re smart, you realize
anesthetics won’t help you. So you get into the second strategy,
which is distraction. There are lots of different
types of distraction. That distraction can simply be
that you become a gym bunny. Let’s pump some iron. Because when I’m feeling the burn,
I don’t have to think about the question. So I become “the body beautiful,”
stuck at the gym the whole time, getting the kick
on the endorphins and so on. But you realize that, actually,
when you get away from the gym, the question is there again. So the gym doesn’t solve it. So you might use
a very common strategy: sex … Right? Because while I am engaged
in the intimacy of the sexual union, I don’t have to think about the question,
because I’m too busy doing this. (Laughter) But you may have noticed
that when the act is over, that bloody question comes back again. So some people go even more nuts:
I’ll have sex with two people, (Laughter) then a whole crowd – desperately trying to get away
from this question that’s bothering them: the meaning of their life. So if sex doesn’t work –
and it doesn’t, ultimately – then you get into materialism: shoes! I’ll go and buy some shoes. Or a car, or a house, or a yacht. So we get into materialism, or some people that we see,
very common in industry, workaholism – they become work-addicted. Because while I am working
that hard, having to do stuff, I don’t have to think about the question. None of that solves the problem. Because we mistakenly believe that the problem is out there
and the solution is out there, whereas the real problem is in here. You cannot solve your sense
of emptiness, or your unrest, with an external solution
outside of yourself. So stop looking out there,
you have to look in here, and particularly to look
at your own emotional experience. Now, most people go through their life
completely unaware of emotions, particularly us fellows, right? If somebody mentions the word “emotions,”
we run for the hills! Emotions are just energy in motion,
they’re composite biological signals: the signals made up
of all the pounding heart rate, the sweaty palms,
the tension in the muscles or whatever is going on biologically, it’s stereotypical energetic patterns –
energy in motion, they are e-motions. Now, we all have emotions,
every single second of every single day, even us fellows. Feelings, however,
are something entirely different. Feelings are the awareness
in our mind of the energy. So the energy is always there
but we don’t necessarily feel it, and that’s where we’re stuck – is we haven’t really learned
to understand our own emotional life. So we go through our life believing how we’re feeling
on a moment by moment basis is down to somebody else. We actually say this: “You annoyed me,”
“You made me unhappy,” “You did it to me,”
and we point the finger at other people, believing other people are
the cause of our own unhappiness. So newsflash: nobody’s doing it to you. Nobody’s making you feel these things. I mean, what do you think that happens when you get frustrated
with somebody else? Did they come up to you
and inject you with frustration, with the chemicals of frustration? Did they create the electrical
signals of frustration, the pressure waves, the sound waves? No. You did that. You created that inside yourself
in response to their poor behavior. So, if you can accept
that you’re doing it – it’s not them, it’s you – that simple truth takes you
from what we call the victim position, and it crosses the threshold to ownership. That’s the most important transition
you’ll ever make in your life. So to help you navigate that, first and foremost, you have to understand
where am I in the universe of emotions. If I asked you to write down your current
emotions and gave you five minutes, you’d have a list of things, and then we said, OK,
put your hands up who’s got how many, and we did a test of how many you got, the average in a room like this
would be about ten or twelve. There are 34,000 emotions
that you can experience. Most people go through life
with ten or twelve. And just to try to help you navigate,
I’ll show you an app that we’ve built to help people know where they are
in the universe of emotions. So we’ve plotted
all these emotions on a map, and this map shows you the axes. So, to the top of the axis
in the universe of emotions, we’ve got the ones that are,
sort of, more energy, if you like, and to the bottom the ones
that are more relaxed. To the left the ones
that are more positive and to the right the ones
that are more negative. So you can see that we’ve plotted
maybe the 20 commonest emotions there, and as I’m talking to you, right now,
you’re somewhere on this grid. You’re somewhere in the universe
experiencing one of these planets, and we can bring in the next 100 emotions, we can bring in the next
200 emotions, the next 1,000. So we’ve built this app to try
and crowd source with you all 34,000, we’ve built it with
just 2,000 as a starter. And you can enter into
one of the 64 galaxies that exist and start to navigate round and see where you are in relation
to some of the other emotions, because if you don’t know
where you are, you’re lost. Now, you’d never get control
of your own state, and it’s really important for your health,
for your well-being, for your success, whatever you’re doing, whether you’re a sportsperson
or a business leader, that you can start to control
your own emotional state of what’s going on for you. If you don’t know where you are, how can you possibly
control any of this stuff? The answer is you can’t. So the start of the journey
is even knowing which planet are you on. This is designed to help you,
and you can see in the top corner there, it shows you roughly where you are
in the universe, at any point in time. Now, we can zoom in
into one of these 64 galaxies and look at a specific solar system. So, where do we go into? Maybe, Sociable. We can see. So let’s zoom in
to the solar system of Sociable and start to see
what planets are around you. If you want to move
from Sociable to something else and then gradually navigate yourself
to a different part of the universe, you can see where you are. Most importantly,
you can track where you are, so you can enter some notes. You visit the planet of,
I don’t know, Popular. I felt popular today. People came up and gave me
various messages, and I felt popular. And you could enter
how popular you felt or you didn’t feel and actually keep an audit trail, and you can socialize this
with your mates. You can either share it on Facebook
or tweet it or Gmail it and see, well, who else
is in the solar system of Sociable or even on the planet Popular –
who else is out there. And I can track, as it does with these audit trails,
of where I’ve been. So this is your start point,
starting to get a grip of do you even know
which planet you’re on, which are the nearest planets
and how you can start to move around, start to get some navigational capability
within that universe. So the first thing is you’ve got
to learn navigational potential, and this is designed to help you build
your emotional repertoire. So you’re not just stuck
with twelve emotions, or in some people frankly: two! I feel “yuck” or “OK,”
the only two motions they’ve got. So you’ve got to build a repertoire, and what you discover
as you start to build a repertoire, some emotions are
better antidotes than others. So you can start to navigate around. The second maneuver, once you’ve started
to navigate around the universe, is really, once you get
to a more constructive planet, there’s no right and wrong,
but is this emotion really serving you? When you get
to a more constructive planet, can you stay there? And that really requires you
to do a separate maneuver, it’s called Mastery, where you actually take the emotion
which is subject to you – it’s a subjective experience,
below the level of your real awareness, you’re sort of subject to it,
i.e. it’s got you. So if you’ve got anger,
if anger is going through your system, if you’re on the planet of Anger, it’s got you. You haven’t got it; it’s got you. The way to get control over it
is to objectify it. Like, “Oh, it is anger.” So you take it out
as a subjective experience, and you objectify it. And if you can objectify it,
you can get a grip of it. If you can do that
with your positive emotions, then you can move yourself
over to the positive side of the universe and stay there. So you really don’t have to feel anything
you do not want to feel. Misery is optional,
you don’t have to feel that. But if you haven’t got control, then who has? And the answer is usually
somebody outside of you. So I’d really encourage you, if you want to transform
your life forever – because, ultimately,
emotions will predict your health, they’ll predict your performance,
your wellbeing, your sense of fulfillment, they’ll determine your ability
to make effective decisions, emotions drive all of that,
your motivation and so on. If you don’t know about them
and have control over them, it’s a little bit of a lottery as life. So if you go away after today,
and ask yourself one question: what planet am I on? And what planet would I like to be on? And start to work to be
on the planet that you want to be on rather than wherever life has pushed you. Imagine a world where all of us could be on the planet
we wanted to be on, or navigate around
that kind of solar system or the galaxies that we
wanted to experience. Imagine a world where, when you go to the bar to chat up
that attractive person at the bar, you didn’t need four pints
of Dutch courage before you could go there. Imagine you could just do that yourself. Imagine a world where you didn’t need to feel anxious
going into an exam or a job interview, where you didn’t need
to feel terrified coming on stage. Imagine a world where your children,
on the receiving end of bullying, didn’t feel terrified or bullied. If you could control your emotions,
you can change your life completely. So I’d really encourage you to start wondering about
what planet you’re on and start putting
yourself in the universe, in that part of the universe
where you really want to live your life. Thank you very much. (Applause)

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