Sunday, September 24, 2017


Emotions over Intellect or intellect over emotions? When I heard this question raised on the radio, I stopped in my tracks. What?! This can’t be right. But the voice on the radio went on, extrapolating his belief that we have become a society with too much focus on emotions. According to him, we talk about them, revel in them, and use them as an excuse for unacceptable behaviour. This may occasionally be true, but it became clear that he viewed emotions as completely separate from intellect – in fact he claimed that a focus on emotions somehow dumbs us down, interferes with our intellectual progress and actually reduces logical thinking. In these last three words, I finally agreed he had a point, but not in the way he meant it!

If the question were ‘either emotion OR intellect’ – it would indicate that if we want to achieve intellectual prowess we need to get rid or reduce our emotions, not give them any attention – which is tantamount to stuffing our feelings in a bag. My first argument against this attitude is that we now have almost a century’s worth of evidence showing how stifling emotions damages both mental and physical health in all manner of ways. Secondly and more to the point, as far as the intellect is concerned our emotional state actually drives our thinking. When our feelings are positive, happy, engaged, enthused, purposeful, inspired, or passionate, our brain is fully ‘switched on’ and works at its highest potential. Emotions only dumb down our intelligent, reasonable thinking when they are negatively stress-producing and unmanaged, when they trigger signals sent between the brain and the body that prime us for defence.

We only have one system to deal with stress, and this system is designed to prepare us for self-defence against physical threat. When it is triggered, our energy needs to be diverted to our body, our heart beating faster so that blood and oxygen can be sent to our muscles and we become stronger and more able to fight or run away from a rabid animal or some other threat. In such cases, we also need our brain to be laser-focused, so any area of the brain that makes us empathic, creative, curious or otherwise ‘intellectually inclined, is of no use and so basically shuts down.  

Unfortunately, these days when our 'threat system' becomes triggered, we are usually experiencing a threat to our assumptions, expectations, pride or ego. So, when we are stuck in traffic and that all-important meeting may be missed or we feel offended or rejected by a text or email, our brain – if unmanaged – goes into its ‘threat response’. The result is that any logical, intelligent thinking is reduced to almost naught and in many cases is obliterated altogether. Anyone who has regretted their own actions or behaviour will likely recognise this experience!

Emotions and intellect are two parts of the same human brain, and both are needed for either to function well. In order for both to flourish, one cannot stifle the other, instead they must collaborate. We need to use the intellect to acknowledge, validate and learn what our emotions are telling us (yes, they all have something to tell us), and learn to manage our emotions so they support the intellect.

This is all the work of attaining and applying emotional mastery - and although you could say this is all very relevant to the current state of world affairs(!), we can only really take charge of ourselves.

For information about coaching and resources go to or for tips and guided meditations to help build emotional mastery, go to