Emotions are generally instinctive. A triggering event—which can be an external situation or simply our brain anticipating something—generates an emotional response like fear, amusement, sadness, anger, relief, or love. 

Emotions come and go. They’re mostly immediate, instinctive, and physical. But feelings last, and they’re often a result of rumination, which you have control over. Anger can be the emotion that comes up, but bitterness—a lasting feeling—doesn’t have to be your lifelong sentence. 

  • Joy
  • Anger
  • Fear
  • Sadness
  • Think of emotion as mostly a reaction, and feeling is an interpretation. 
    • The emotion of fear can come up but you don’t have to choose to feel frightened and run away. 
    • You can experience the sudden emotion of fear, but in the very next moment choose to feel centered.
  • Whenever you calm yourself down, you are choosing a different feeling than the emotion that may have come up for you. 
  • Before entering any performance situation, high performers contemplate how they want to feel regardless of what emotions might come up, and they envision how they want to feel leaving the situation regardless of what emotions might come up. Then they exert self-control to achieve those intentions. 
    • Example: If you’re in a meeting and people suddenly start arguing with a negative tone, ill probably experience immediate emotions like fear, anger, or sadness. The response is pretty predictable: My heart will start pounding; my hands will get sweaty; my breathing will get shallow. Those emotions can soon evoke feelings of dread or anxiety. 
    • Knowing this, I can choose to feel differently in the meeting even if those emotions come up instinctively. 
    • I can tell myself that the emotions are just telling me to pay attention or to speak up for myself or to feel empathetic toward others. 
    • Instead of allowing the emotion to evoke the feeling of dread, I can just let it be, take a few deep breaths, and choose to feel alert yet calm. 
    • I can keep breathing deeply, speak in an even tone, sit comfortably in my chair, think positively about the people jn the room, choose to be a calm force amid the storm—all of these choices generate a new feeling that’s different from what “came up” earlier. 


Feelings are used to refer to a mental portrayal of emotion. This is not a precise statement, but it’s helpful for our purposes here: 

  • Often our emotional responses happen without much of our conscious will; we just suddenly feel the emotion because our brain interpreted something happening and attached meaning and emotion to it, guided mostly from how we sense the situation from the past. 
  • This doesn’t mean that we are conscious of all our emotions, or that we cant also generate an emotion consciously.
    • Example: Seeing your baby smile at you may stir joy in your heart, but you could also elicit the emotion of joy simply by purposefully thinking about the same incident later on without the actual stimulus. 
    • Still, the vast majority of the emotions we feel in life are automatic and physical. 

“My automatic emotions don’t have to be in charge. My feelings are my own.“

Over time, if we choose to create the feelings we want from emotions, our brain will likely habituate to the new feelings. Fear suddenly doesn’t feel so bad anymore because our brain has learned that we’ll deal with it well. 

How we feel after the emotion has changed, changes the actual automatic emotion’s power. For example, the emotion of fear still might get triggered, but now the feeling we sense from it is what we created in the past. 

No description of any function of the mind or body can be precise, because there is always variance and no thought or emotion is an island—our senses and intentions interact and overlap across a vast neural network.

The reason why this is brought up is that it’s obvious that high performing athletes, businessmen, artists, creatives, etc. are generating the feelings they want more often than taking the emotion they naturally experience on them.

When high performing achievers say they’re in the zone, what they mean is that they are trying to use their conscious attention to narrow their focus and feel in the zone. Being in the zone is not an emotion that just happens—athletes will themselves thereby minimizing distractions and immersing themselves thereby minimizing distractions and immersing themselves in what they are doing.

For high-level athletes and performers from all walks of life; flow is a feeling they choose. It is summoned, not a lucky emotion that conveniently happens to show up just in time for kickoff.