Monday, May 07, 2012

Non-Fiction: Emotional Equations by Chip Conley

Every once in a while, you come across a book that changes the way you think about life, yourself, and what’s possible. Emotional Equations (FreePress) is such a book.

I was always taught -- or maybe I just assumed -- that emotional and rational thought were two very separate things. Much as I might understand something rationally, how I processed it and what emotions that process inspired were other matters altogether.

In Emotional Equations, Chip Conley has found a way to combine the two modes of thinking into one. In language that’s direct and spare, yet also somehow intimate, Conley suggests that if we break down what we’re feeling into bite-sized emotional elements that can be understood rationally, we should be able to find better balance in our lives. What’s more, maybe we’ll find some of the answers that have proven to be elusive, even stubborn.

 Conley, a well-known and much-admired speaker, has written Emotional Equations so that it applies to both one’s business and one’s life. The equations appear, on the surface, to be easy, and that’s the point. No need to be intimidated here, folks. But there’s a great deal more to each equation, more ways to apply it to life, than perhaps it seems at first.

Take the first couple: despair = suffering – meaning and disappointment = expectations – reality. It’s not enough that these make sense if you stop to think for a moment. Conley delves deeper into the equation. He shares how he discovered it, who and what his influences were, and how you can apply the equation to what you’re feeling right now. At times this is fun, at other times eye-opening. Now, subtraction isn’t the only game Conley’s playing here. The equations touch down at many points in the math spectrum. For example, anxiety = uncertainty x powerlessness. Why multiplication and not addition? Because in this case, the variables aren’t additive; something happens when you multiply that doesn’t happen when you add. Something compounds. Take curiosity = wonder + awe. From a mathematical standpoint, that makes more sense as addition. It’s fun to see what Conley will come up with next. You’ll find chapters on regret, jealousy, workaholism, your calling in life, authenticity, integrity, happiness, joy, wisdom, and more. He breaks them all down into their component parts and even shows you how to create your own emotional equations. And yes, though the math gets complicated at times, the writing doesn’t. Believe me, you won’t get lost, no matter how you did on the math portion of your SAT.

I’ve never read a book like Emotional Equations. Clearly, Chip Conley is more than a speaker. He’s a reader, and he’s an open book, as it were, about what he read and analyzed to come up with the ideas he shares here, starting with Abraham Maslow. I was impressed, again and again, with the intellectual leaps Conley made. This book won’t just go onto a shelf, out of reach. Rather, it’ll be one I need close by, to refer to again and again. ◊

Tony Buchsbaum, a contributing editor of January Magazine and Blue Coupe, lives in central New Jersey with his wife and sons. These days, he is writing his second novel. Again.



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