by: John Cunningham
Marty is having a bad day. She is going to be at least an hour late to work because the trains are delayed by a jumper; someone is jumping in front of a moving train. When she gets to the office, her boss will be waiting to see her. He is upset because a report that she stayed up late to submit last night had several typos in it. To make matters worse, her boyfriend keeps sending her needy texts. He is upset that she has planned a ladies night-out on Friday. It’s the only time he has available this weekend to see her.
Marty could completely crumble at this point, or she could choose a more pragmatic approach. Having a high level of emotional intelligence is not only going to help Marty navigate these crises, but it could help you to effectively manage your next traumatic experience, too.
Your emotions are a system that your nervous system uses to communicate with your conscious mind. When you feel fear, for example, the message is to proceed with caution. Feelings of acceptance could be telling you that you can trust a person or your current situation. We rarely take the time to analyze our emotions and interpret the messages they are communicating to us. Instead, most of us react instinctively to our emotional cues.
How Do I Know What Emotions I Am Feeling?
To begin understanding your emotions, you need to identify them. Are you feeling happy, sad, angry, or fearful? To be more aware of your emotions, start by identifying whether your feeling is a positive or negative one and if it is providing energy or a vacuum. This is a good first step to capturing the emotion of the moment.
We experience hundreds, if not thousands, of emotions every day and being able to recognize those impulses will help you to label and work with your feelings. Just as we experience many emotions every day, there are literally thousands of words to describe those sentiments. If you are going to manage those feelings, you need to define what they are.
One way to start the process is to brainstorm emotion words. Then, use a thesaurus to identify related expressions. An online tool I like is the Related Words Dictionary. Like a thesaurus, you input a word and get several near equivalents. I input “joy” and got back more than 100 words including happiness, delight, pleasure and radiant. Once you have a long list of emotions, it is time to plot them. This will help you with the nuance of each word and to more accurately define what you are feeling. Having a broad lexicon of emotion words is a key to identifying and working with emotions, not just your own, but others’ as well.
Journaling about your emotions will also aid your ability to quickly identify them when those feelings occur and start to understand what causes them. When you realize that being triggered is not an appropriate behavior for feeling annoyed or shocked, you can create a better response. This will become easier as you are able to understand your emotions clearly and deeply.
Marty was feeling grief for the jumper, apprehension because she was late, and maybe a bit of regret for not doing her best on the report. And this is before her boyfriend started texting her. Using the train delay as an opportunity to process those emotions and prepare for the storm that will come when she gets to the office is going to help her to manage the situation when she gets there.
Ok, I Understand How I Am Feeling, Now What?
When you begin to identify your emotions as they are happening, you can respond rather than react to them. Taking a moment to consider the message your emotion is conveying will give you information that helps to make your response more effective. A feeling of distrust, for example, could indicate you need to ask more questions. While a sense of optimism may lead you to look for more and varied solutions when the answer to a challenge is not apparent.
Some emotions come with a burst of energy, like anger and surprise. Capturing the electricity of these is like lightning in a bottle. It will allow you to catapult towards an optimal solution if you take the time to work out an effective response instead of instinctively reacting to the feeling.
Marty decided to recheck her report while she was waiting for the train to resume operation. She noticed several errors that were the result of being tired and distracted last night. She made mental notes of the corrections and wrote a quick email to her boss explaining that she needed to make some revisions and would do that as soon as she got to the office. She also invited his feedback on what she submitted and told him that she would incorporate that into the finished version. Thus, she completely changed the situation and consequences she would face on arrival to the office.
Tying It All Together
Your emotions are providing you valuable information that will help you navigate life’s challenges. Building your vocabulary of emotion words will help you to identify the intricate differences between them. This will also provide you with better insight to the messages your emotions are communicating to you. As you improve your ability to interpret these messages, you can respond in a more constructive manner, creating an upward spiral of achievement regardless of the circumstances.