How to rescue your rationality.

Stop the pandemic doom spiral

Are you rational?

Oh, sure, Cole, I can hear you saying. I’m very rational. I’ve been inside since March, my kids and I have been waging a bandwidth battle that I am losing, I’ve moved beyond the entire concept of “pants”, and oh yeah, there’s a pandemic that’s threatening my elderly relatives. This is fine. I am fine and very rational. 

I get it. My kids are fortunately too grown to require my homeschooling assistance (which is good, because unless they want to learn to calculate credit risk, I too would be at a loss to help) but I do feel that uncertainty, that fear, that impulse to hide, to deal with the world tomorrow, to leave rationality on the to-do list for tomorrow. 

This summer, a very good friend of mine – and my co-founder’s beloved brother – lost his struggle with COVID-19. That was the tip of the fear wave, for me. And fear is the most irrational emotion of them all.

I found myself hiding, and lashing out. I’d get mad at political tweets from strangers; I’d want to start an Internet fight, create drama, make someone else feel my anger and fear. My lizard brain wanted to fight or flight, no in-between. 

Finally, I realized I needed to get away from my desk and away from screens, and my family and I did an epic “quarantine reset” kayak trip down the beautiful Devil’s River. I slowed my heartbeat; I watched fish play under my kayak in the crystal clear water. I got perspective. I reclaimed some of my rationality.

 Rational, but not unemotional

Sometimes, when we talk about rationality, it’s framed as the opposite of emotion. Robert Greene explains this very well in this video, but this is the important bit:

“The misconception is that rationality involves the suppression or the repression of emotions. In other words, if you’re feeling fear, anger, love, or hatred, you have to tamp down those emotions. You have to get rid of them in order to be rational; and in this view, rationality isn’t something very fun or very exciting –  it’s kind of like health food. It’s good for you, but it doesn’t taste very good.  This is quite wrong. It’s actually the opposite.”

Emotions can be a guide toward rationality, or a roadblock. My love for my good friend can – and did – pull me into fear, uncertainty, and anger. But that emotion also provides a map – a map that guides me to rationality, that propels me forward, that realigns my perspective. 

Don’t bury your emotions; name them. Interrogate them. Make them complete sentences. “I feel angry because….” “I’m scared of…” and then ask why.  “I’m scared of my trees falling.” Why? “They might hurt my children.” Well, if you’re not going outside, doesn’t that also hurt your children, now forbidden to play under the trees? That love for your children is the emotion you can hold onto, your map forward. 

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