The Logic of Emotions

 Logic and emotions are usually viewed as opposites.  Logic, the step-by-step process of reasoning by analysis, is a function of the neocortex, while emotions are a function of the limbic system.  These two structures within the brain serve different purposes.

Each of these systems evolved for good reasons and each provides us with something valuable.  We are more familiar with how logic works because it is a conscious process.  Emotions, on the other hand, can seem bewildering because much of our emotional processing happens outside of our conscious awareness.

But when properly understood, there is a logic behind our emotions that can help us handle the challenges life throws at us.  There are two key components to all emotions:  information and motivation.  Once you know what each emotion is trying to tell you and what it wants you to do, you have more power to use emotions intelligently.

To illustrate, take four basic emotions:  fear, anger, sadness, and happiness.  The next time you feel one of these emotions, ask yourself, “what information is behind this emotion?  What behavior is it motivating me to do?”  Answering these questions will give you several immediate benefits.

The first benefit is that it stops you in your tracks.  Emotions evolved as a warning system that often required fast action.  In fact, your brain processes emotions several times faster than logical reasoning.  This is extremely valuable when you have to jump out of the way of a bus because you don’t want to take the time to logically evaluate options in a step-by-step conscious process – you want to jump quickly and instinctively.  The surge of emotion (in this case fear) bypasses your logic process.

But bypassing the logic process is not helpful in most day-to-day interactions, like making a presentation at work or arguing with a friend.  In those cases, taking a moment to evaluate your actions is a good thing.

Another benefit to asking yourself these questions about information and motivation is that it brings those unconscious aspects of emotions directly into your conscious awareness.  It brings the analysis function of your neocortex back on line and helps you gain more control of your responses.  Everyone will answer these questions differently given the situation, but here are some general guidelines about the information and motivation drive of the four basic emotions we are discussing here.


  • Boundaries or values have been violated
  • You are blocked from getting something you want
  • Expectations or agreements have not been fulfilled
  • Motivates us to initiate change, right wrongs


  • You are facing a potential threat
  • Take immediate action
  • Concentrate your focus
  • Motivates us to protect ourselves (fight or flight)


  • Something of value is or may be lost
  • Something needs to be improved; or expectations changed
  • Motivates us to grieve; make changes or accept what is


  • Needs are met, you feel a sense of well being
  • Situation is pleasant, satisfying
  • We feel safe, connected to a place or others
  • Motivates us to enjoy, savor, increase or maintain

Emotions arise for a reason.  Understanding the basics of how emotions are trying to help you can make you more resilient and graceful when faced with emotional overwhelm.  Using these questions to analyze your emotions will help you make sense of them and use them more effectively.

It’s the logical thing to do with emotions.


Author: Steve Sphar

Unleashing Leaders Change Agent