How Pixar's movie 'Inside Out' can make you better
This article was first published on KSL.COM
If you haven’t seen the movie "Inside Out" yet, take the kids or your friends and go see it. Get over the fact that it is targeted toward the very young and pay close attention to what it’s trying to teach you about your brain.
Pixar has provided a creative glimpse into what happens in your mind when you experience painful, life-changing situations. The movie shows how you process emotions and how emotions can drive your behavior. You can then use this knowledge to become a better, wiser more emotionally mature person.
Here is how.
We all have emotions or subconscious tendencies driving our behaviors every day. The ones mentioned in the film running the control center in the mind are Anger, Fear, Joy, Sadness and Disgust. These emotions are represented as little people, who live and work inside Riley’s head and take turns driving.
At one point, as she is processing her discouraging situation, Joy and Sadness start fighting, leaving Anger, Fear and Disgust alone at the controls. These emotions cause problems and drive some really bad decisions. Imaging little people (as the emotions) in your head may help you become more consciously aware or mindful about what you are thinking, and it could even help you gain control.
Instead of letting your random emotions take over, you could start consciously choosing how you want to experience your life. In the movie, the young 11-year-old Riley wasn’t mature enough to control what was playing out in her head, but you are, and imagining your emotions as little people will help. (It may sound a little schizophrenic, but go with it because there is great value is separating yourself from your emotions so you can look at them objectively).
The first thing I recommend you do it figure out which emotions drive your behavior from time to time. Do you have times where Sadness drives and you feel under a dark cloud all day? Does Sadness make you feel depressed and discouraged? Does she see the negative in everything? Does she encourage you to complain or criticize others?
Do you have moments where Anger drives and encourages behavior you later regret? Do you fly off the handle and treat people badly?
Do you have Disgust in you? Does your Disgust get offended too easy and take over too often? Does she grab the wheel at even the smallest offense? Does she lash out and hurt the people you love because Love can't show up while Disgust is at the wheel?
Can you hear a voice of Fear in your head that is scared of everything? Does he worry about everything that could go wrong? Does he encourage insecurity and tell you that you aren’t good enough?
You may have other emotions that aren’t featured in the movie but play a large role in your life. Like a Drama Queen, who overreacts, blows things out of proportion and wants the attention and focus on you all the time. If this little person drives your day it may encourage really immature behavior at times. Are you later embarrassed at how you behaved?
I have one in my head I call Focus, who is really good at focusing on whatever I’m doing, which can be a good thing at times, but when Focus is driving I could also miss the needs of people around me and completely forget to be nice to them. Focus can even make me rude at times, because he’s just too focused on whatever I'm doing.
The good news is these emotions and their behaviors aren't the real you. They are just voices in your head. You can even tell an unhelpful emotion to sit down and shut up. You can decide to let Gratitude, Joy, or Love drive today. You have that power.
This isn’t about suppressing emotions though. It is about processing them and becoming aware or mindful, so you don’t let your subconscious mind drive your life. None of your emotions are bad and they all serve you at times. That is even a major point of the movie. All emotions should be processed and experienced when they show up. They all teach you things about the human condition and give you empathy for others. Emotions, like Sadness, definitely have their time and place, but you don't want to let them drive all the time. You want to be aware of Sadness and understand it. If you struggle to process your emotions in a healthy way there is a great e-book on my website on processing emotions I encourage you to read.
For now, just think about what other emotions may be causing trouble in your life? Do you have a Stubborn part inside you, one that gets latched onto to being right and can’t let go? Do you have a Lazy, who just doesn’t want to do anything but lay on the couch? Do you have a Criticizer, who likes to pick at the flaws and faults of those around you? Does it take over and gossip about other people, when being like this isn't the real you at all? Do you have an Ego that has to be right and sees other people as less than you at times?
The good news is you also have Joy and Love inside you (I think these are the real you). These beautiful parts of you can see the world, yourself and other people accurately and treat them with kindness and respect. If only these would drive more often! Take some time and own these wonderful parts of you and teach your children they have these inside them too.
Once you have figured out which emotions drive your behavior, it is time to start getting them under control. I believe you can go through each day one of two ways: You can either take control and decide who is driving, using the power of conscious choice to put Love, Joy or Motivated Work in charge, or you can let your subconscious mind drive, which means any of you emotions could and might take over at any time. If you go through life this way, you are at the whim of emotion and immaturely reactive.
Viktor Frankl, author of the book "Man’s Search for Meaning," found himself in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II and discovered a powerful truth he has shared with the world. He said, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
The problem is that most of us either don’t realize we have this power or we aren’t using it. Instead, we let whatever emotion grabs us in that moment take over. We may even think we are powerless against them, but this isn’t true.
You have the power to decide how you are going to feel and think in this moment.
As mature adults, we want to be awake and aware of what is playing out in our heads. We strive to recognize the emotions we are feeling, experience them, process what they are here for, and then choose behavior that serves us and those around us most.
This amazing film gives you the opportunity to teach your children about their emotions and to recognize what’s happening inside them. It also gives you, and them, language to better explain what you are feeling. You may ask them if Anger just took over? How does Anger want you to behave right now? How mad is he? What is going to happen if you listen to him? Do you have any other options? How could you get him off the wheel?
Is sadness driving today? How come he wants to drive? Maybe he just needs to talk about his Sadness? Often children feel bothered but can’t put words to why. This movie may help.
Make sure you take the time to talk to your family after seeing the film and explore what they learned. This may open the door to some great conversations and discoveries about how you children think and see their world. Hopefully, it will help you too. Have fun with it.
You can do this.
Kimberly Giles is the founder and president of claritypointcoaching.com. She is also the author of the new book "Choosing Clarity: The Path to Fearlessness" and a popular life coach and speaker.