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

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

Alan Watkins

Here is the full transcript of Complete Coherence founder Alan Watkins’ TEDx Talk presentation: Why You Feel What You Feel at TEDxOxford conference.

Listen to the MP3 Audio: Why you feel what you feel by Alan Watkins at TEDxOxford


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.

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.

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.

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. And so the world starts to make sense and we start to be able to navigate. And children between the age of three and six learn about six new words every single day. This is phenomenal language acquisition that goes on.

But it’s not until they get to the fourth-level which is called concrete consciousness that they start to learn the rules that govern the concepts. So that’s when 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? And it’s in that between sort of 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 wolf wolf? No, cats go meow! They don’t go wolf-wolf. And it makes them laugh, because you’re basically playing against the rule. So there’s this whole rule emergence that occurs in a child between six and nine. And then that’s where most people stay.

So most of the people you’re going to meet in your life, 20, 30, 40, on the inside nine! See, this accompanies all the time, [toys at the prime], behaving like children. It’s very common.

Now 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 know, 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 10, I want to be home at 11. You told me to be honest; you’re not being on it and the whole kind of fight breaks out. And they have the whole turbulent teenage years.

And now regardless of who wins that battle, whether it’s mom or dad or the child, it’s the bubbles along for a few years. Now eventually regardless of who wins the battle, they leave home, hopefully. 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 in the transpersonal way, they’re 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, we’ve got to get a relationship, we’ve got to get a car, we’ve got to get 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. And so a lot of people you’ll encounter are back in that concrete, their life become stereotypical. And you’ll see people talk about this, no that’s not how we do things at this company, you 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.

And 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 remember most people this never happens to — or if it does, it doesn’t cause them to question. So that might be the loss of a loved one, the loss of a relationship or something terrible happens, usually most commonly in midlife.

And then you enter the stage what we call the disease of meaning, is it starts to occur to you that 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. And in a religious context, people call it purgatory. I mean, it literally is hell on earth. So people get into this date 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. Because if I can blot out the meaning of life, that kind of existential question is get wasted on a Friday night, I don’t have to think about that question, about what’s the meaning of all this. It just goes away the question.

So then some people do this every night, some people do 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. And you can’t answer it. So if you’re smart, you realize anesthetics won’t help you.

So you get into the second strategy, which is distraction. Well, there’s different types of distraction. Now that distraction can simply you become a gym bunny, let’s pump some iron — you know because when I’m feeling the burn, I don’t have to think about the question. So I become the body beautiful, right, stuck at the gym the whole time. You know, getting the kick on the endorphins and so on. So, 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. But you may have noticed that when the act is over, that bloody question comes back again, right? So some people go even more nuts: I’ll have sex with two people, then the 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, I have to do stuff, I don’t have to think about the question.

Now 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, particular those fellows right, somebody mentions the word emotions, we run for the hills, OK. Now emotions are just energy emotion, 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 those 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, it’s down to somebody else. So 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 the cause of our own unhappiness. So Newsflash, nobody’s doing it to you, nobody is making you feel these things.

I mean, what do you think that happens when you get frustrated with somebody else? Do they come up to you and inject you with frustration, with the chemicals of frustration? Do 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. Now 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.

Now if I asked you to write down what emotion you’re experiencing right now and gave you five minutes, you might have a list of things and then we said, OK put your hands up who’s got how many and we did a sort of 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 and help you navigate, I just want to 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 axis. 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. And 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 potted maybe the twenty commonest emotions there and right now as I’m talking to you right now, you’re somewhere on this group. You’re somewhere in the universe experiencing one of these planets and we can bring in the next hundred emotions, we can bring in the next 200 emotions, the next thousand, so we’ve built this app to try and crowd source with you all 34,000 thirty, we’ve built it with just 2000 as a starter. And you can enter into the one of the 64 galaxies that exist and start to navigate round and see where you are, 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 would never get control of your own state and it’s really important not only 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. And if you don’t know where you are, how can you possibly control any of this stuff? And the answer is you can’t.

So the start of the journey is even knowing which planet are you on, and 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 we’re going to go into maybe sociable, we can see. So let’s zoom in to the solar system of sociable and start to see what planets around you. So if you want to move from sociable to someone else and then gradually navigate yourself to a different part of the universe, you can see where you are.

And most importantly you can track where you are, so you can enter some notes. You visit the planet of, I don’t know, popular, you know, 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 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, 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 and which of the nearest planets and how you can start to move around and start to get some navigational capability within that universe. So that’s 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’ll go yacht or OK, the only two motions they’ve got.

So you’ve got to build a repertoire and what you’ll 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 to this — 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. So the way to get control over is to objectify it. On earth is anger, so you take it as a subjective experience and you objectify it. And if you can objectify it you can get a grip of it, and 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, 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, they’ll predict your wellbeing, they’ll predict your sense of fulfillment, they’ll determine your ability to make effective decisions, emotions drive all of that, your motivation and so on. And if you don’t know anything about them and you haven’t got 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 able 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 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.

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