Changing How You Feel


What are emotions? If something significant happens in your life, you will have an emotional response to it. We have names for emotions: happiness, sorrow, joy, rage, anger, lust, revulsion, disgust, and so on. Some emotions can cause you lot of trouble, while others provide the very enjoyment and meaning of life itself. What are emotions anyway? Emotions are apparently nothing more or less than changes in your brain’s chemistry.

Panic among scuba divers who get entangled or who

experience equipment malfunction is blamed for

unnecessary deaths. Your emotions can kill you.


This is disappointing answer to many people because they want their emotions to be something grander, more mysterious, more spiritual, and more profound than simple chemistry. If that is how you feel, then you need to change that feeling. A characteristic of the Machiavellian is that he will face an unpleasant truth rather than delude himself.

According to brilliant neuroscientists, certain changes in the brain’s chemistry always result in predictable changes in your emotions.
Jimmy Swaggart, Television Evangelist

Evangelist Jimmy Swaggart

weeps after confessing to

enjoying the company of

prostitutes. Humiliation and

remorse followed lust.

Certain emotions are always accompanied by the presence or absence of certain chemicals (like adrenaline or dopamine) in the brain and body. Emotion and chemistry always occur together. It is also well known that brain injuries can cause changes in the injured person’s behavior and emotions. In a famous case, a man who was gentle and kind became violent and coarse after a brain injury. During brain surgery, stimulating certain parts of the brain with a small electrical current stimulates an expected emotional response. Certain odors (airborne chemicals) stimulate particular emotions. As the human being ages, his body chemistry changes and his emotions change correspondingly. The photograph of a young, lovely, naked woman stimulates different emotions in a man at ages six, twenty-six, and ninety-six. Same man, same photograph, same naked woman, but different body chemistry.


This soccer star let a comment

about his mother drive him

intoa rage, for which he was

later forced to apologize. Rage

led to humiliation.

A depressed person who is given an antidepressant medication will feel less depressed, even though the circumstances of his life have not changed. We all know that the insertion of certain chemicals (alcohol, marijuana, valium, amphetamines, caffein, even suger) into the body cause profound changes in emotion. If emotions are not based on chemistry, then how can all of this be true?

Michael Richards (Seinfeld's Kramer)

Comedian Michael Richards

let his anger at a few hecklers

control him when he used

racial epithets during a

performance. Anger led to

some difficult career problems.

In short, emotion is your experience of changes in your brain chemistry, apparently nothing more and apparently nothing less. The brain is a chemical crock pot that brews up thought and emotion. If emotion is anything other than brain chemistry, then what else can it be?


 Our emotions are as individual as our faces - We are born with a predisposition toward certain moods. Some of us have an irrepressible cheerfulness and optimism. Some of us are more prone to wistfulness and melancholy moods. Some of us are characteristically indifferent to events that drive others to rage or depression. After an automobile accident, one uninjured passenger might become completely hysterical, another would be in a rage about the damage done to his new car, while another might calmly give first aid to the injured and call an ambulance on his cell phone despite his own broken arm.


Can you change your emotions? - Some people say you can’t. They think that emotions “happen” like the weather. “It’s not my fault. He made me angry,” they say, as if the anger originated from “his” action rather than in the angry person’s brain. You can change how your body and brain respond to events, though it will take time and determination. Here are a few examples to start you thinking...

  • Familiarity - We avoid situations that provoke unpleasant emotions in us, but familiarity changes our emotional response. An intern who vomits and faints at the his first viewing of an autopsy might be casually sipping a diet coke during his fiftieth observation of an autopsy. A young man who is afraid of a fist fight might, after twenty years in the Marines, fearlessly disarm a mugger and frog-march him to a nearby police station. A teenager who is afraid to ask a girl to the dance might develop into a seductive Don Juan after a few years of sexual experiences. A man who flies into a rage when someone curses him might face the same situation very calmly after a few years as a police officer. A man who can’t stand criticism can learn to tolerate criticism after a few years in politics. Facing an emotion-provoking situation many times reduces the power of the emotional response, leaving your brain free to think rationally. Face the things you fear. Do not avoid them. They will become less powerful.
  • Drugs - Depression, anxiety, phobia, and other dysfunctional emotions can be minimized by the use of physician-prescribed drugs. Taking a pill is not an admission of a lack of will power, because will power doesn’t exist. The use of recreational drugs like cocaine, opium, heroin, ecstasy, PCP, etc. do not seem to have improved anyone’s life and are not recommended. The overuse of alcohol never seems to be beneficial to anyone either, but moderate use of alcohol seems to benefit general health and well-being.
  • Strenuous Exercise and Good Diet encourage an energetic and optimistic view of life by flooding your brain with natural drugs (brain chemicals) that induce a feeling of well being. Body health cannot be separated from brain health.
  • Psychotherapy is the one of the best values for your entertainment dollar and I recommend it to anyone who can afford it or who has health insurance. Professional counselors, psychiatrists, and psychologists have heard it all. If nothing else, just expressing your feelings and describing your life’s goals to someone can help you clarify your thinking. And, like a prostitute, your therapist will pretend to like you - if you pay him.

A dysfunctional emotion is one that prevents you from responding to a situation in a way that advances you toward your goals. Dysfunctional emotions - anger, depression, anxiety, rage, panic - were useful in prehistoric, pre-rational times, but they make you do the wrong thing in the modern world.


A dysfunctional emotion is a bad emotional habit that needs to be replaced by a functional one, usually calm consideration of your situation and careful planning of your response. Every time you find yourself starting to feel a dysfunctional emotion, try to stop it early and train yourself to have a more useful and practical emotional response. Stop making bad emotional choices.



A Machiavellian Proverb



If you can do it for a month,

you can do it for the

rest of your life



This Machiavellian proverb comes from someone I once knew. It struck me the first time she said it, and I still think about it. Actor David McClean played the Marlboro Man in many commercials. He was the second Marlboro Man to die of lung cancer.She was very good at incorporating new habits into her life when she needed to. She was slender, in superb physical condition, and self-discipline seemed to come easily to her. She gave me some advice on how to quit smoking cigarettes more than thirty years ago - something I had tried before. Her characteristically blunt comments, as I remember them, were something like this:

“If you want to quit smoking, just stop touching cigarettes. Do not touch another cigarette with your fingers. Do not pick another one up. When you first stop smoking, your lungs will itch for a few days because they are healing. Then the itching will go away. Don’t touch a cigarette for thirty days. Imagine that they are poison, which they are, and that contact with them will make you very sick, which they will. Think of a cigarette as a piece of dog shit. Actually, it would be better for your health if you liked dog crap instead of cigarettes.

If you can do it for a month, you can do it for the rest of your life. If you can’t control what you pick up and what you put in your mouth, then what can you control? Even a four year old child can be taught not to pick up dog crap and put it in her mouth.”

Her advice helped me quit the weed, but not because her advice strengthened my resolve. It was mostly because I couldn’t bear the thought of facing her scathing criticism if she discovered that I was still smoking. She was not a cruel person - that I could have handled. Instead she belonged to that most annoying category of person: very intelligent, bluntly honest, and almost always right. She also practiced everything she preached. I enjoyed her company very much, despite her annoying habits.


It may take some learning, and you may fail a few times, but you must learn to control your own behavior.


If you can do it for a month, you can do it for the rest of your life.



An Anecdote


I heard this story from a friend of mine:


“I was in a bar once with a buddy and we challenged a couple of guys to a game of eight ball. During the billiards1course of the game, my friend accidentally nudged a ball with the cue stick, but he put it back where it originally lay. Our opponents insisted that his accidental nudge counted as his shot. He insisted that it did not.


“Twenty bucks lay on the table and we had all had a few beers. Tempers began to ignite, especially my partner’s. I picked up my cue stick so I could use it as a weapon, if necessary, in support of my comrade. Manly honor was at stake.


“Then, a tiny voice in my head said, ‘When you wake up tomorrow in jail or in the emergency room, will this fight seem like it was worthwhile?’


“I grabbed my friend’s belt and propelled him out of the bar and into the parking lot. He was very angry with me for preventing him from fighting - until I repeated to him what the voice had told me.


“‘Damn, what was I thinking? Let’s get the hell out of here,’ he said, so we hopped in his car and drove away.


“Thank goodness for that little voice. It has saved me more than once,” said my friend.


Was my friend a coward? That question will not lead us to the point of this story. The question should be this: is a cracked skull and an arrest record a fair trade for twenty bucks and showing two drunk idiots that you are not afraid of a fight? Saving my friend’s beer-fueled sense of honor and his twenty bucks were not worth the risks he would have been forced to take.


Cultivate the little voice in your own mind. It will never lead you astray.



A Machiavellian Proverb



We Conquer By Degrees



A friend of mine has the family name of “Duke.” Duke Family Crest. I have superimposed the family motto.In his house I saw a Duke family crest that he had purchased online as an amusement. Mr. Duke is an ordinary American who has no real idea where his family came from or why his family name is Duke, and he didn’t feel that the crest was particularly associated with his branch of the Duke family. He also said that there was no story of being descended from royalty or wealth that had come down to him from previous generations.


The motto on the crest was “We conquer by degrees.


That motto struck me at the time, because every accomplishment of my life has come about by degrees. There have been no sudden windfalls or instantaneous victories. Most victories, I suspect, are that way. In particular, gaining control of your own behavior is done minute by minute, habit by habit, achievement by achievement. A year of carefully planned work gradually pays off. If you need to lose 30 pounds, you will not lose them all at once but ounce by ounce. If you want to get out of debt, you will probably do it dollar by dollar. If you want better grades, you must get them exam by exam, term paper by term paper.


We conquer by degrees.


On This Page


 How can I change my feelings? You say don’t feel anger? Don’t be hurt? Don’t feel outrage? Don’t be silly. I feel how I feel, right? 

An original Machiavellian proverb is presented below for your consideration.

A charming anecdote will teach you a valuable lesson.

Another proverb will drive home a valuable point.


Chapter 7



Download or read online: Machiavelli’s Prince in English translation by W. K. Rowling


Read a brief summary of Machiavelli’s life and works,

written by W. K. Rowling as the Introduction to his translation of The Prince


A readable summary of Machiavelli’s Prince can be found at





The Modern Prince:

Better Living Through Machiavellianism


Click to read a couple of sample chapters. Click here to read a couple of chapters


  Download PDF -  $4.95

  Order the Book - $14.95

  Amazon Kindle  -  $4.95