Mentally Hijacked: How to Recognize Constructive and Destructive Emotions

Emotions are a natural and basic part of life. They signal how we feel about a certain situation or occurrence, so we can take the necessary action to deal with the situation. Emotions in this sense aren’t positive or negative, but are more along the lines of constructive or destructive, depending on how they are utilized. Emotions can become destructive and cause serious distress when they become overwhelming and take over how we act, what we say, and what we do. This emotional high-jacking is where many problems emerge.

The high-road and low-road

Taking a closer look at the human brain and how it relates to emotions, we can examine two overall parts of the brain; the high-road and low-road. Both parts communicate with each other and help us navigate through the world. The low-road is the primitive part of the brain, where our emotions immediately come from, and signals when we feel sad, mad, or fearful. This can be helpful when it’s necessary to act quickly for our safety, or to remind us how we felt in a previous similar situation.

But, this low-road route is where emotional high-jacking occurs. It can lead to rash decision making, not thinking before acting, and ultimately hurting ourselves or others.

Your low-road sends the immediate signal of an emotion, and the high-road then assesses the situation to see what needs to be done to deal with the threat. The high-road is there so we can think about things before acting, and find the best options to solve our problem.


Emotions are a natural and basic part of life. They signal how we feel about a certain situation or occurrence, so we can take the necessary action to deal with the situation. Emotions in this sense aren’t positive or negative, but are more along the lines of constructive or destructive, depending on how they are utilized. Emotions can become destructive and cause serious distress when they become overwhelming and take over how we act, what we say, and what we do. This emotional high-jacking is where many problems emerge.

The high-road and low-road

Taking a closer look at the human brain and how it relates to emotions, we can examine two overall parts of the brain; the high-road and low-road. Both parts communicate with each other and help us navigate through the world. The low-road is the primitive part of the brain, where our emotions immediately come from, and signals when we feel sad, mad, or fearful. This can be helpful when it’s necessary to act quickly for our safety, or to remind us how we felt in a previous similar situation.

But, this low-road route is where emotional high-jacking occurs. It can lead to rash decision making, not thinking before acting, and ultimately hurting ourselves or others.

Your low-road sends the immediate signal of an emotion, and the high-road then assesses the situation to see what needs to be done to deal with the threat. The high-road is there so we can think about things before acting, and find the best options to solve our problem.

If you’ve ever been emotional distraught, you know it can be tough to think straight.

Using emotions advantageously comes from thinking before acting, and can help to prevent causing harm to yourself and others. Leer más “Mentally Hijacked: How to Recognize Constructive and Destructive Emotions”

How to have more insights

Mark Beeman is one of the eminent neuroscientists studying the ‘aha’ moment. As he said in a paper in the first NeuroLeadership Journal, “…variables that improve the ability to detect weak associations may improve insight solving.” In short, insights tend to involve connections between small numbers of neurons. An insight is often a long forgotten memory or a combination of memories. These memories don’t have a lot of neurons involved in holding them together. The trouble is, we only notice signals above whatever our base line of noise is. Everyday thought, like wondering what to have for lunch, might involve millions of neurons speaking to each other. An insight might involve only a few tens of thousands of neurons speaking to each other. Just as it’s hard to hear a quiet cell phone at a loud party, it’s hard to notice signals that have less energy than the general energy level already present in the brain. Hence, we tend to notice insights when our overall activity level in the brain is low. This happens when we’re not putting in a lot of mental effort, when we’re focusing on something repetitive, or just generally more relaxed like as we wake up. Insights require a quiet mind, because they themselves are quiet.


Animation of an MRI brain scan, starting at th...
The human brain is an extraordinary information processing system. It is brilliant at executing certain tasks, particularly physical task that can be codified, like playing an instrument or driving a car. However our brains have some surprisingly big limitations when it comes to certain types of mental tasks. Take linear problem solving, which involves trying to logically work out a solution to a question, like doing math or calculating a time zone difference. Doing this kind of task sometimes uses what’s called ‘working memory‘: we hold information in our memory and manipulate it or work on it. We need working memory when we don’t have an obvious answer to a problem: it’s used for things like making decisions, remembering and other cognitive tasks.

Our working memory turns out to be much more limited than people generally acknowledge. What do you get when you add ten plus ten? That’s easy. Twenty. Yet you don’t really need working memory for that, the answer is stored in long term memory. What about adding 128 with 287? You can do it, but it takes working memory. Adding up just six digits is quite an effort. What about mutiplying 23 and 56, without paper or a calculator? For most people it’s too much. Your working memory maxes out.

Leer más “How to have more insights”