Alan Watkins: Why You Feel What You Feel at TEDxOxford (Transcript)

Here is the full transcript of Complete Coherence founder Alan Watkins’ TEDx Talk presentation: Why You Feel What You Feel at TEDxOxford conference. For more details about the speaker, read the full bio here.

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Alan Watkins – Founder, Complete Coherence

So 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.

Now, I spent my life really studying human beings. So 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. And 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.

And I’ve been in the room where people have died right in front of me and it’s a really profound moment. I’ve also been in the room where life is coming to 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’.

So medical training, a fantastic experience — I became a researcher, initially anemologist 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 molecule 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 in the networks that exist that determine whether a company succeeds or fail.

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As you heard, I’ve worked with elite athletes helping them to win gold medals, you know, read a lot, learned a lot. And through all that time, one question kept bothering me, so that’s 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’re only allowed to teach one thing — of all the things I’ve learned and understood, and it’s 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, OK. We’re going to talk about that. But before, I want to return just to really the story of you. Now I don’t know whether you remember but there was a time before you knew you existed. To some of you that was probably last Friday night after skinful.

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, bit later but roughly about one year old when 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!” And 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 own emotional self, which is why you get the terrible twos.

So when a two-year old is hungry, the world is hungry and while we tick. So there’s that kind of intensity, that egocentricity in a two year old. And so that’s where they kind of get past the power, you know so in the supermarket, “Mom, mom, that that, meat, meat, food, food, meat meat, meat food” and they kind of bother you to a great extent.

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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. And you may have witnessed this with a child walking down the aisle on 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 are you crying?” “We’re hungry; we want those chocolates”. And there’s that sort of bafflement in their eyes, that’s 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 sort of three to six years old that they get into something called the conceptual-self and part of that emergence of the conceptual self 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 sort of blossoms between three and six years old. And 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.

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