Many of our deepest emotional experiences occur when we are children. They are powerful because we have so little control, at that age, over the circumstances in which those events occur. We have limited means for reasoning about the outcome of an event, so we simply replay it over and again in our minds. The association of an emotion with the event becomes deeply ingrained in our neural pathways. If the experience is powerful enough, any sensory or conceptual association may trigger that emotion, sometimes inappropriately.

Two common strategies are followed to control these associations. One is to suppress our emotions, denying ourselves the motive energy for sustained action. The other is to ride on those emotions, using them to drive others and us to behavioral extremes. Powerful emotions are a type of drug. They exhaust the body's energy and eventually disorganize our thought processes. If indulged too long, we may succumb to psychological or physical collapse.

The only way out of this trap is to consciously and rationally choose different stories. This can mean changing our source of news, or watching different movies. When we have difficult stories of our own to overcome, we can make a concerted attempt to rewrite those stories - to imagine outcomes that would have occurred if we had the benefit of past experience, and to assert those as the model for our future behavior.

Mastery of this process of cerebral re-interpretation is one of the critical skills we must develop on the road to becoming a mature adult. As the skill develops, we can better harness our emotions by rapidly evaluating their relevance to our intentions. To prevent a loss of focus, we can call upon other experiences that evoke emotions more consistent with direction of our energies to the purposes we have chosen.