As promised, here is some more about psychology and business from the Harvard Business Review article by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer about “inner work life.” The article follows in the footsteps of Goleman and his emotional intelligence work by backing up their claims with good old-fashioned brain research. And let me tell you, if I ever DO need to defend myself from accusations of being touchy-feely, it certainly helps to make reference to brain research in my defense!

Amabile and Kramer studied people in organizations (by tracking diaries that workers kept) and discovered an important connection between people’s perceptions (how they make sense of workday events) and their emotions (their reactions to the workday events). The two would play off of each other, and depending on how that dynamic developed, it could have a big impact on their motivation for doing the work (what to do, how to do it, when to do it, etc.). This fits, apparently, with brain research:

Recent research in neuroscience has found that emotion and cognition (which includes perceptions of events) are tightly intertwined. Areas of the brain associated with rational thought and decision making have direct connections to areas associated with feelings. They do not exist in separate psychological compartments, and they interact in complex ways. Like any system, the brain cannot be understood simply by looking at each individual component. Inner work life functions the same way: It is crucial to consider all components and their interactions.

I used to enjoy quoting Goleman’s research that pointed out that the emotional center of the brain literally sends its signals faster than the rational center (so you have your emotions before you even have the chance to think about them). But this stuff is the next level. The rational and emotional are intertwined, so your perceptions and your motivation are actually more complex than we make them out to be.

If you really want to get deep, it starts to point to the fact that the interplay between “reality” and our brains is more complex than we tend to realize. Reality and our thoughts about reality are much more “intertwined” (to use Amabile and Kramer’s language) than we are taught. This is why the power of positive thinking, as Ben has noted, is so surprising to us.

Jamie Notter