Abstract: Emotional regulation is a topic currently being studied in the field of psychology. Five different types of emotional regulation strategies have been identified, distinguished by the stage of the emotion-response process in which they occur. To drastically simplify, this strategies are: situation selection, situation modification, deployment of attention, changes in cognition, and modulation of responses. 



This is a follow-up to my previous post about my problem with emotional regulation. This is also my first outside-of-the-classroom foray into scholarship, lukeprog style. Mainly what I found is that it’s surprisingly time-consuming and frustrating. I suffered a lot of akrasia, compared to my usual, while writing this post–mainly because I kept thinking ‘oh my god, and then I have to cite my sources!’ This may be an area where I need more practice...

What is emotion anyway?

Apparently there are quite a lot of competing definitions for ‘emotion’. Maybe this shouldn’t be surprising–the concept of emotion seem simple because most of the processing happens below conscious awareness, but emotions are as complex as the brains that create them.

The definition that most research in emotional regulation uses is the ‘response tendency’ definition: emotions are adaptive behavioral and/or physiological responses, and they happen when the organism is put in evolutionarily significant situations. The internal experience of emotion may lead to a particular behaviour, but may not: emotion is a feedback mechanism that leads to various behaviours, rather than the direct cause of behaviour. Recent research has covered the specific purposes that emotions accomplish. They can facilitate decision-making, prepare the individual for a fast response to a given situation, inform on the match between organism and environment, and serve a social function; in general, they allow for learning. Emotional responses are not set in stone, and can be modulated on the way to taking their final shape. (Gross, 1988).

What does this mean for me, personally? One, emotions exist for a reason. They are adaptive, and attempting to turn mine off entirely or prevent them from affecting my decisions would likely not be adaptive. Two, emotions are triggered by ‘evolutionary significant’ situations. To take a wild guess on what that might mean, being in a situation that involved competition against people who were much, much better than you might have had severe consequences in the ancestral environment...and even if not, for most of human history survival was more important than fun, and that would mean focusing on activities where you were likely to succeed, rather than those you liked. My emotional response may be trying to inform me that the match between my organism and the environment is less than ideal–or would have been if I were living 50 000 years ago.


Emotional Regulation

According to the people who study it, emotional regulation is what happens when people try to increase, decrease, or maintain their emotions, whether positive or negative. (For once, this seems like a pretty straightforward definition.) People may try to change the kind of emotions they have, when they have them, and how they experience and express them.

“The available evidence does not support the existence of discrete emotional states. Instead, emotional responding appears to be organized in terms of a few fundamental dimensions, including valence, arousal, and approach-avoidance. The influence of emotion regulation on people’s emotional states is therefore likely to be similarly dimensional. In other words, "emotion regulation may not be so much concerned with getting people in or out of discrete emotional states like anger, sadness, or joy. Rather, emotion regulation may change people’s emotional states along dimensions such as valence, arousal, and approach-avoidance.” (Koole, 2009).

The study of emotion regulation isn’t new. Freud studied it in the form of ego defenses, which he saw as non-conscious processes that could, depending on the specific method used, result in reality distortion, excess energy consumption, and unnecessary non-gratification–to him, these forms of emotional regulation were maladaptive. (Gross, 1998).

More recently the study of coping has focused on emotional regulation from the point of view of conscious, deliberate, and adaptive processes. These can be based on fixing the underlying problem, i.e. problem-focused coping, or on reducing the negative emotions without changing the physical reality, i.e. emotion-focused coping. In general, emotion-focused coping is less effective and more likely to be associated with psychological distress. (Watson & Sinha, 2008). According to more recent research, emotional regulation processes “may be automatic or controlled, conscious or unconscious, and may have their effects at one or more points in the emotion generative process.” (Gross, 1998).

An individual’s skill at emotional regulation must also be distinguished from their innate emotional sensitivity, which affects how much and how quickly they respond to an emotion-causing stimulus. In theory, Person A could be very sensitive, and experience a swift rush of negative emotions in response to an upsetting stimulus, but still be able to down-regulate the feelings afterwards, whereas Person B responds less quickly and steeply but lacks the skill to redirect the emotions they do experience. And whereas emotional sensitivity correlates with temperament differences in infants, and seems to develop independently of environmental influences, skill in emotional regulation develops and changes based on the quality of children’s social interactions, and can continue to improve throughout life. (Koole, 2009). 

Different strategies of emotional regulation can be classified by whether they are consciously controlled or automatic–however, since conscious control is a complex and hard-to-define concept in itself, it may be more useful to classify strategies by when they occur during the emotional response process.

  1. Selection of situation: occurs before the stimulus that causes the emotion.
  2. Modification of situation: occurs after the stimulus, but before the emotional response begins.
  3. Deployment of attention: occurs during the emotional response process. 
  4. Change in cognition: occurs during the emotional response process.
  5. Modulation of responses: occurs after the emotional response process. (Gross, 1998).

Methods #1 and #2, situation selection and modification, require a certain degree of self-knowledge, in order to decide which situations to seek out and which to avoid. There can be a conflict here between long term and short-term goals–for example, a timid person can reduce their anxiety by avoiding social situations, but in the long run this can lead to undesirable social isolation. To further complicate things, the emotional response itself can back-propagate and modify the situation–witness my taekwondo instructor’s response to my freak-outs.

Deployment of attention has three sub-categories: distraction, concentration, and rumination. Distraction involves focusing attention onto neutral or non-emotional aspects of the situation, or shifting attention from difficult to tractable goals. Concentration involves focusing further on the situation, trying to enter a state of flow in order to avoid frustration. In rumination, attention is directed onto the feelings themselves, analyzing them. Wadlinger and Isaacowitz (2011) suggest that attention can be trained in order to better develop emotional regulation skills. Skill at directing and controlling attention is partly an innate trait, but studies indicate that attentional skills are also plastic and can improve with practice. For example, low mood can be improved with (gaze-based) training, which creates a bias towards looking at positive stimuli, such as happy instead of angry faces, 

The fourth category, change in cognition, happens during the step where perceptions of the situation are given an emotional weight. The perceived capacity to manage or control a situation affects the emotions assigned to it. Classical Freudian defenses include denial, isolation, and intellectualization of the situation. Events can also be reinterpreted in a more positive light–for example, downward social comparison, or a goal being reframed so that failure at the initial goal becomes a success according to the new goal. According to studies, this kind of reappraisal has a larger effect in complex than in simple situations. Factors that affect reappraisal include attribution of an event to self versus others, beliefs about the controllability of the event, accountability, expectations, and implicit personal theories of how emotion works. (Koole, 2009).

The last category, response modulation, does not affect the internal emotional experience at all, but only the expression of it. Examples given by the author include various medications such as anxiolytics, exercise, relaxation therapy, and self-soothing with alcohol, cigarettes, other drugs, or food, as well as simply initiating or hiding the expression of a given emotion. (Gross, 1998).


How does this help me?

Well, for one, it gives me a good idea of which techniques I’ve already tried, and which ones I might try next.

1. Situation selection. To start with #1, I have used situation selection in the past, mainly when I decided to quit swimming to avoid pre-race meltdowns. That worked in the short term; when I wasn’t putting myself under that much competitive pressure anymore, I had no reason to freak out, and my general stress levels dropped as well. But #1 is a method I would prefer to use sparingly, if at all; it seems that it would seriously limit my future prospects, and running away from the things that scare me doesn’t really fit with the mindset of wanting to be stronger.

If anything, finding something challenging or even scary causes me to be even more motivated to keep doing it until I don’t find it scary anymore. (I think the thought process goes something like ‘life could through you into a situation where you need this skill at any moment, and wouldn’t it be way less stressful if you’d already been practicing it?’

2. Situation modification. Is there any way that, without quitting taekwondo entirely, I could find a way to pick and choose what I do in class, avoiding the things that I know will make me upset? I can’t think of any specific examples of how I could do this, except for making up excuses not to do particular exercises that I’m bad at and that frustrate me. (I have an actual excuse not to do frog jumps–bad knees­–but I think the fact that I can’t do it makes me more frustrated than if I went ahead and did them, because it makes me feel like I’m not as good as the others.)

I can think of other situations where I’ve used this technique to calm myself down, though. Recently, at our university’s Social Sciences Ball, I wasn’t having that much fun and I was running out of what little steam I’d had to begin with by 11 pm. I was very upset to learn that the bus to take us back to campus, which I’d thought would come at 11:30 pm, actually would come at 12:30 pm. (My stamina for social events lasts about 3 hours, and if I can’t remove myself from the situation at that point, I start feeling some strange equivalent of claustrophobia, and will probably start crying if I can't get away.) Over my boyfriend’s protests of ‘it’ll look bad on me if you leave by yourself now!’ I resourcefully texted my brother and got him to look up the bus schedule online. It didn’t end up working as planned, but having the feeling of control restored calmed me down a lot, and when it turned out that the bus schedule was wrong, I came back to the party and went on enjoying myself like nothing had happened.

This tells me that anytime my stress is due to feeling like I’m not in control, and there’s some proactive ‘taking-control’ move that I can execute, it’s probably worth it even if it doesn’t change my actual situation much–it’ll still have a huge effect on my emotional state, which in some cases is more important than the situation causing it. 

3. Deployment of attention: distraction, concentration, and rumination. If I think about it, distraction is exactly what I do when I have a compelling stimulus available to distract myself with. This is more likely to be when I’m alone, and that might well be the reason why meltdowns aren’t a problem when I’m alone. (One reason. Lack of social pressure is probably another.) If I’m in public, and I’m about to burst into tears, I’ll tell myself ‘okay, start thinking about one of your stories, now!’ But if someone tries to talk to me, especially if the subject of conversation is the same as what’s frustrating me, my attempts at self-distraction get derailed fast. Conclusion: I could probably make this a useful method, but I need to come up with better distractions.

Concentration, getting into a flow state, is a promising method, but likely it’s something I would have to start doing before I became frustrated at all. Certainly sparring in taekwondo is complex enough to occupy someone’s full attention, leaving behind no excess processing power for frustration. Correction: this is the case for someone who knows what they’re doing. As a beginner, my inability to plan strategy fast enough to use it in real time means that I don’t normally plan my strategy at all while fighting. That means a lot of space left over for frustration-inadequacy-failure thought chains. The implication: as I do get good enough to plan in real time, and coordinated enough to enjoy the moment-to-moment satisfaction of pushing myself hard (like I do while swimming), frustration won’t be so much of a problem.

Rumination is a strategy I’ve definitely used before, but I’m not at all sure that it’s an effective strategy in this context. In an exception to the general rule that thinking about my emotions dulls them, thinking about frustration and what’s causing it leads to an explosive feedback loop. However, I might find it desirable to use this method when I’m alone, in order to track down and list all the thoughts and emotions that occur, as user: aelephant  suggested in this comment. 

4. Changes in cognition. This step of the process, where the emotion itself actually happens, seems like a productive place to start. The ‘downwards social comparison’ method could be translated into ‘comparing myself to people who’re the same belt level as me, instead of comparing myself to the black belts,’ or at the very least persuading myself that not being as good as the black belts isn’t a reason to get frustrated.

Reappraising a situation in a more positive light, or reframing your goal so that your actual results count as success rather than failure, also seems promising–especially because often, when in the process of reappraising a goal, I realize that it wasn’t even my real goal. Back when I was 14 and competing in swimming, ‘win lots of races’ and even ‘go to the Olympics someway’ were explicit goals, even if I didn’t want to admit it to friends and family.

But I didn’t start taekwondo intending to ‘win lots of tournaments’. That wasn’t even something I thought about at all. My goals were, approximately, ‘become fitter and more flexible, learn some self defense in case anyone ever tries to rape me when I’m out late at night, and anyway martial arts are cool so I’ll acquire coolness just by showing up.’ The fact that I turned out to have really awful reaction times, making it hard for me to win at sparring, doesn’t equate to a failure at any of these goals–but the goal of ‘beat other people in sparring’ sneaked in there somewhere, probably because it’s easier to measure than my original goals, and then starting causing me frustration when I failed to achieve it.

6. Response Modulation. I do the simplest form of this a lot–the iron-jaw, stare-into-space-and-don’t-cry approach does work a significant portion of the time to keep anyone from noticing until the emotions subside on their own. But that’s if no one tries to talk to me.

As for the subtler methods, I already use exercise as a mood regulator, and frequently candy or baked goods to cheer myself up, and/or addictive books and shows. (Telling myself “if you get through this, you can watch 30 minutes worth of Rescue 911 episodes on Youtube” is a significant cheer-up factor.) But most of those methods aren’t available to me on the spot when I’m actually in a taekwondo class and starting to get upset.



My miniature foray into scholarship has allowed me to make a list of methods that humans use to regulate emotions. Methods that look promising include: finding ways to change the situation so that I feel in control; distracting myself from upsetting situations; trying to get into a state of concentration or flow; and reevaluating my goals to be realistic or achievable.

My plan for the future: try to think of specific ways I could use this methods, i.e. a particularly compelling chain of thought that I could use as a distraction, and then try all of them out and compare. I plan to show part or all of this article to at least one of my instructors, too, so that they have an idea of what I’m working on, and can help me a little.

Note #1: I did get feedback from juliawise on my first post, suggesting that I investigate cognitive behavioural therapy and dialectical behaviour therapy. I think this article is long enough, though, so if I do investigate it, it’ll go in a separate post. Don’t worry, juliawise, it was good advice and I’m not ignoring it.

Note #2: If anyone wants to see the articles in my reference list, I can't post links because I accessed them through my school account, but I have the PDFs saved and I can email them to you. 



Sander L. Koole. (2009). The psychology of emotion regulation: an integrative review. Cognition and Emotion, 23 (1), 4_41
James J. Gross. (1998). The Emerging Field of Emotion Regulation: An Integrative Review. Review of General Psychology, Vol. 2, No. 5,271-299
Watson David C., Sinha, Birenda. (2008). Emotion Regulation, Coping, and Psychological Symptoms. International Journal of Stress Management, Vol. 15, No. 3, 222–234
Wadlinger, Heather A., Isaacowitz, Derek M. (2011). Fixing Our Focus: Training Attention to Regulate Emotion. Personality and Social Psychology Review,15(1) 75–102



40 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 7:16 PM
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Deployment of attention has three sub-categories: distraction, concentration, and rumination.

I have a query about what kind of sentence this is. Is it teaching me a taxonomy, so that we have a common language for discussing the deployment of attention? Is it teaching me an empirical finding, that researcher have found natural clusters and, having agreed that there are three of them, have given them names. Perhaps I need to step back and say how I imagine research in psychology working.

I imagine that psychologists start off by drawing up taxonomies that make lots of fine distinctions. Perhaps, sitting in their armchairs on a Sunday afternoon, they dream up five kinds of attention: A, B, C, D, E. Over the next few months they classify hundreds of instances of the phenomena they are researching. Next they settle to counting and analyzing. Perhaps they have lots of A and C but hardly any B. And perhaps they never find a D that couldn't just as well be an E, or and E that couldn't just as well be a D.

So they end up with an empirical discovery, that there are three kinds of attention, A, C and D/E. it is a weak kind of knowledge; it is relative to the initial taxonomy. Had they started with a different list they would have got a different result. Nevertheless, it could be solid progress in a difficult area.

I hope that the previous two paragraphs clarify my query. When I read that there are three kinds of attention I don't know whether I'm reading definitions (and should passively accept, since a definition cannot be an untrue statement of fact) or whether I'm reading an empirical claim (and should be trying to assess its plausibility and not lose track of who told me in case I want to update later).

Since my comment is obviously too long for what it asks, I've also got a meta-query. How should I be asking my base-level question? I hope that there is some standard terminology which makes it easy to ask whether a sentence such as "Deployment of attention has three sub-categories: distraction, concentration, and rumination." is taxonomic or empirical.

Excellent comment! I'm not majoring in psychology, and although I find it fascinating, I don't understand the vocabulary and conventions that well. I took the phrase to mean "this is a non-exhaustive list of the general strategies with which people have been found to use their attention to regulate emotions." It's obviously a simplification–there's probably a thousand different variants on 'rumination', some of them blending into the other categories, etc–but it's a more useful statement than individually detailing the emotional regulations strategies of 5000 people in a study.

I'd say it's an empirical statement, based on the fact that the articles I read were in general meta-overviews of research in emotional regulation. A lot of that research involved your standard psych-study tasks–having people think about an emotional event and then do a fine-motor task, or weird stuff like that where it seems hard, to me, to know for sure what you're actually measuring. So it's not an incredibly rigorous empirical statement, but it's not an armchair-philosophy statement either.

And as for your meta-query, your comment seems neither too long nor a bad way of asking the question.

#1 is a method I would prefer to use sparingly, if at all; it seems that it would seriously limit my future prospects, and running away from the things that scare me doesn’t really fit with the mindset of wanting to be stronger.

Even if you want to become stronger, it makes sense to temporarily turn off (by method #1) some of your troubles, so you can focus and fix the remaining ones one by one. For example if you have problems both at your work and personal life, it makes sense to take a short vacation, if you believe that during the vacation you can fix your personal life, and then with full concentration you can fix your work life. The goal is to become stronger, not just to signal strength (including signalling to yourself).

[Psychologists describe emotions] in terms of a few fundamental dimensions, including valence, arousal, and approach-avoidance.

I didn't know for sure what any of those were, so I read the wikipedia links.

Valence just means positive or negative (in the affective sense). Arousal is just intensity. Approach-avoidance doesn't seem any different than valence (note: the link you gave was to approach-avoidance conflicts). From my read, these aren't 3 dimensions; they're 1 (real valued).

So the pair of emotion-type (discrete? I don't know what types there are) and real-valued-valence seems enough.

Am I mangling this?

"Dimensions" because n real values describe an n-dimensional space.

Semantic labels are a way to describe emotions but would not normally be used in conjunction with dimensional descriptions. Typically you would see a 2D arousal-valence emotional space or a 3D arousal-valence-dominance space. (Dominance is a relatively recent addition needed to distinguish some emotions that occupy the same region of arousal and valence: one such pair is anger and fear, both high-arousal low-valence.)

This is precisely what I"m not understanding: how is intensity of valence different from intensity of arousal.

In other words, can I feel intensely ambivalent? If so, then I see why they claim >1 dimension. If not, I don't follow.

In other words, can I feel intensely ambivalent?

I would say yes. If we take ambivalent to mean "having mixed or contrary ideas about something or someone" like my desktop dictionary defines it, you can definitely feel mild ambivalence (where the two or more conflicting feelings are themselves mild), or intense ambivalence, where you feel strong, painful conflicting emotions about something.

Neutral valence, high arousal could be "surprise". If sustained, it's the proverbial "state of cat-like readiness".

I recommend using Google Images ("arousal valence space") to find some pictures, which I think would help your intuition along.

In my original comment I assumed at minimum that you'd have a (probably discrete) type of emotion, and definitely intensity, and maybe valence (no need for polarity if you just add more types). However, it occurs to me now that the intuition supporting discrete types of emotion (because they may be founded in different physical implementations) would also support a many-dimensional continuous strength-of-activation dimension. That is, I see no evidence that there's only one currently felt emotion.

I followed your search advice and I think I do understand what the cited valence/arousal (both real valued) classification is. Maybe those are the two most important factors, but I'm not impressed.

I'll postpone thinking/research about how to categorize emotion in favor of more practically useful things. I'll be interested once researchers have an implementation-level argument for why their abstract emotional state space explains what really happens in brains (a simpler model that doesn't have any correspondence to brain-level stuff could still make good predictions, but I'm not going to search for that unless anybody has a specific recommendation).

I'll be interested once researchers have an implementation-level argument for why their abstract emotional state space explains what really happens in brains

Easy: we have separate hardware for approach and avoidance behaviors, rather than a single linear "what's the value of this" system. It's easier to first evolve systems for avoiding bad things and approaching good things, than it is to develop a decision-making system that weighs pros and cons and decides which way to go. You can develop a disambiguation system after the first two systems are there, but it'd be hard to make from scratch.

(This, btw, is why I think utility expressed as a single number is lossy with respect to human values: when humans have both utilities and disutilities in a scenario, they usually experience conflict, not neutrality or indifference!)

This, btw, is why I think utility expressed as a single number is lossy with respect to human values: when humans have both utilities and disutilities in a scenario, they usually experience conflict, not neutrality or indifference!

That is a very insightful comment, I find. Let me ponder on that...

It does seem easy. Thanks.

I expect then that some approach-related and avoidance-related 'emotions' can co-activate (although you'd expect some mutual inhibition circuits, perhaps in some cases it's mediated only in deciding what concrete physical action to take).

Agreed 100% that the definitions are not very rigorous. Social sciences and psychology are like that. It's annoying, but I just kind of ignore it.

Still, I don't think valence and arousal are the same concept. They don't necessarily correlate, even...you can have intense negative emotions, intense positive emotions, mild positive emotions, etc, anywhere along a two-dimensional continuum. I agree that approach-avoidance isn't the same kind of categorizer...emotions don't really fit into a continuum of being more or less approach-avoidance, whereas they do fit into a continuum of being more positive or negative. But based on the Wikipedia page I turned up (the original article assumed I was an expert in the field and didn't define its vocabulary, damn them), it's not exactly the same concept as valence. Unless that's the wrong Wikipedia page and they're talking about some other psychology concept also called approach-avoidance. I wouldn't know–this really isn't my field. Anyway, at the very least emotions can be defined in 2 dimensions, valence and arousal.

Also, though I didn't go back and check their sources for this, the article said that emotion types (I think that here they mean the naive division of emotions into anger, sadness, joy, etc) is a problematic/not rigorous way to categorize. I don't know why they decided this. (I should try to be more curious, I guess, but blaaaach it's a lot of terms to pick through in order to dig out the concrete suggestions I'm actually looking for.)

They don't necessarily correlate, even...you can have intense negative emotions, intense positive emotions, mild positive emotions, etc, anywhere along a two-dimensional continuum.

That still sounds like just one dimension to me. For two dimensions, you would need "mild very positive emotions" (contentment?) and "intense slightly negative emotions" (overpowering nostalgia?).

Social sciences and psychology are like that. It's annoying, but I just kind of ignore it.

That "Downward social comparison" Wikipedia article seemed particularly terrible.

Maybe we can apply the virtue of scholarship in a differentiated fashion depending on the field.

  • For philosophy, psychology, and anything "harder" than that: do scholarship, they frequently experiment or make rigorous arguments.

  • For sociology: spin your own theory, that's all sociologists are doing anyway and your theory doesn't have to sound impressive so you can get tenure.

That still sounds like just one dimension to me. For two dimensions, you would need "mild very positive emotions" (contentment?) and "intense slightly negative emotions" (overpowering nostalgia?).

One way to get around this is to classify emotions into active and passive (or high- and low- arousal), where, for example, anger would be active/negative, and grief would be passive/negative. Like the emotion diagram I've seen around the internet lately:

Emotion Diagram

That being said, it's still interesting how vague emotional classifications can be.

That still sounds like just one dimension to me. For two dimensions, you would need "mild very positive emotions" (contentment?) and "intense slightly negative emotions" (overpowering nostalgia?).

The two dimensions are negative and positive: you can be both negative and positive at the same time, so your degrees of negativity and positivity can be treated as a point in a two dimensional space.

This still isn't a fully two-dimensional space -- or at least it's not a square, since extremes of either positive or negative arousal tend to suppress the other. WIthin a certain range, though, you can be both negative and positive or neither, as well as one or the other. So negative-positive isn't directions on an axis, it's a pair of sometimes but not always anti-correlated measurements.

Maybe we can apply the virtue of scholarship in a differentiated fashion depending on the field.

For philosophy, psychology, and anything "harder" than that: do scholarship, they frequently experiment or make rigorous arguments.

For sociology: spin your own theory, that's all sociologists are doing anyway and your theory doesn't have to sound impressive so you can get tenure.

Sounds like a plan!

An informative read, thank you.

Also, for this "oh my god, and then I have to cite my sources!" I find that what makes life easier for me is to do in-place citations as I write (sometimes not completely correctly). That way, there is no "and then", as I've done all the thinking about my cites as I was writing.

I did this in a rather haphazard way–saving my pdfs of articles under short descriptions, example 'em. reg. overview', and then putting that in brackets when I cited that article in my text, later to be replaced with the actual author's name and date. Still kind of a pain.

If you were going to do this regularly, it would be worth installing, and getting used to a tool like Zotero. If you're not, it probably isn't.

That actually looks useful for schoolwork, so I should probably get into the habit of using it for that reason.

I'd never considered that there could be a timed limit for social stamina, this is very probably the case with me as well, although it has been a long time since I've been in a social situation. It probably changes as a function of the intensity of the social expectations, but I too probably have a usual amount that I "can take" before my level of social tact begins to drop precipitously. If you are aware of the time limit, you stand a good chance of controlling your environment to avoid or at least temper your negative reactions. I will keep that in mind.

[-][anonymous]11y 3

My stamina for social events lasts about 3 hours, and if I can’t remove myself from the situation at that point, I start feeling some strange equivalent of claustrophobia, and will probably start crying if I can't get away.

Sounds like ego depletion

The evidence indicates that you can imbibe some glucose to forestall--as in your anecdote--short-term depletion.

slow reaction time

How have you measured your eye->hand reaction time? How have you determined that this is in fact the limiting factor in the quality and speed of your sparring reactions? Do you even care how quickly you learn appropriate sparring reactions? It seems like something you could let yourself learn without much self-pressure.

I haven't measured eye-hand reaction times. However, all instructors agree that the speed of my reactions is the problem. Once I initiate a movement, I can do it only a little slower than average, and I do improve. So I do okay if we're just repetitively practicing techniques.

My biggest problem in sparring is going from seeing an opening to actually deciding what move to do and doing it–my 'eye-to-brain' reaction time. It's not just a newbie thing–my instructor says I'm a lot slower than the other people who started at the same time as me, and I certainly feel slower. I don't know if it's because of my particular brain architecture, or just because I didn't play a lot of reaction-time games when I was a kid. I never owned a TV, never played video games, and only did sports like swimming and cross-country skiing, which are mostly endurance. I've actually been told that it would help me to start playing video games now.

Sounds like you're inhibited from acting by not wanting to make a mistake. Things that need to happen fast need to be practiced and prepared in advance. You need to have consciously in mind at most one or two specific motor plans (preferably 0) to have a hope of executing them quickly and reactively. Ideally the connection between trigger and execution eventually becomes faster-than-conscious.

Practice making unconscious reactive decision to act may generally train the facility. You could try the video game thing. Better if you can just get more good repetitions directly practicing the thing you want to train.

Sounds like you're inhibited from acting by not wanting to make a mistake.

Maybe. I tend to 'overthink' in general... But I think it's more than that, because a lot of the time I do have a specific motor plan in hand, and I'm waiting for my opportunity to do it, and when I see the opportunity, I jump in as fast as I can...and either do it with good technique but too slow and it doesn't work, or do it a bit faster (but still too slow) and with such awful technique that it doesn't work. (Speed and coordination are inversely related.)

To me, this sounds like a general beginners' problem–movements that aren't fully integrated into muscle memory yet, less practice knowing what to watch in your opponent, etc. I just have more of the 'beginners' problems' than the other people who are at my belt level, and I can't move past them as fast.

When I'm first learning a reflex-based motor skill, I have a very long lag time of consciously identifying an opportunity, parsing out what the opportunity represents, doing a lookup to see what response is most appropriate, and then executing the response. The reaction lag is about as long as this sentence.

Later, I notice something, and immediately realize how I should respond. I execute the appropriate response.

Finally, I notice, I respond.

I do very, very badly at video games when I start thinking about what I should do, when I start strategizing, because I'm back to that VERY slow first mode of thinking. The key, for me, is to just stop thinking entirely. I do what my body wants to do, and afterwards I reflect on what it did wrong. If it's getting one particular bit wrong, I practice that bit. If I'm still having trouble, I break it down in to smaller steps.

As a concrete example, I've been learning poi. Most moves are two handed. If I just try a move without any build up, I usually end up bludgeoning myself (I had people seriously concerned I was in an abusive relationship... oops.) What I found worked was to practice the motions slowly with just ONE hand, then learn to do it quicker. Then I'd switch hands. Finally I'd do the two hands together, but very slowly or without even having the actual poi in my hands. Finally I'd do the actual move itself.

Then, once I'd learned the move, I had to learn how to move while doing the new technique (stationary vs moving is very different for poi). Then I got to learn how to transition this move in to other moves I knew.

Only after I'd done ALL of that would I have a single new move added to my repertoire. It usually takes me a couple hours and a few mild bruises. I've also learned to wear a thick hoodie and goggles when doing any move that stands a chance of hitting my face.

Despite feeling like that description makes me out as very clumsy and uncoordinated, I'm totally comfortable with the idea of setting these things on fire and spinning them around my body, as long as I'm doing a technique I've practiced sufficiently.

The key, for me, was learning to break it down in to all of those little tiny steps. It also helped that I noticed my flinch reflex was getting in the way, so I wear goggles just because it makes me feel safe :)

it also helps me a lot to do this when no one can see me. I can get very self-conscious about learning new physical skills, and it translates in to all sorts of little hesitations - I get afraid of screwing up, so I pull myself short and fail in very boring ways, rather than in spectacular or "wow, that was stupid" ways. Giving myself a safe space to make truly stupid mistakes without getting flustered is very important! (And I emphasize safe: don't put yourself in a space where you're making stupid mistakes that unduly injure you - for example, I'm fine with a bit of bludgeoning, otherwise I'd wear more padding!)

Finally, if I've done something for even 5 minutes without making any progress, it's time for me to stop, and break it down in to even SMALLER steps, no matter how absurd that might seem. I've spent an hour practicing a single tiny gesture because I couldn't quite get the timing consistently.

I agree with you. I guess I handle my emotions using situation selection. i just sheer away from the activities that bring pressure. But in the long run, I realized it's wrong. In this way, I don't have a chance to improve and to explore my limits.

Abstract please.

Do you mean you would like a little blurb at the beginning that summarizes the rest of the text? I could do that...

Somewhat related request, could you put in a summary break before you get to "What is emotion anyway?"

Yes...but what is a summary break? Just like a line break?

You're looking for this button.

Added, but in the finished text it looks exactly the same to me.

It makes it so that in certain places just the first part of the article shows up, with the rest hidden behind a "continue reading" link.

(It's like an , in case you're familiar with those.)

Ohhh. Makes sense. Wow, you learn new things every day...

It looks like an introduction, not like an abstract.

I didn't originally set out to do an abstract. Like I said, this in my first foray into a scholarship-style article, so I'm not 100% onto the proper form. I intended to write an introduction, explaining the relation between this post and my earlier post. If you think it would benefit the article, I could go back and add an abstract. (I haven't done that yet, so it's not surprising that my introduction doesn't look like an abstract.)

(Also, your original comment was very cryptic to me...at first I thought you were asking to see the abstracts of the papers I cited.)

Abstract added. I'm not practiced at writing abstracts so it may not fit the form perfectly.