As 100% accurate and descriptive mood rings haven’t been created yet, it’s sometimes quite difficult to decipher one emotion from another. Are you feeling angry or envious? Anxious or excited? Here Steven Handel explains how you can learn to understand your feelings by questioning them:
One of the first pillars of emotional intelligence is self-awareness. This is the process of better understanding your feelings through self-observation and self-inquiry. It requires that we look at our emotions from an objective viewpoint, and then be honest about what’s causing them and how they are influencing our actions. Emotions guide human behavior. They are a type of knowledge, but they are often fast, intuitive, and impulsive reactions to our environment, and thus they can be prone to error. Due to this, your feelings can be misleading if you always react to them without question. In certain times, it’s a good idea to step back and question your feelings before you choose the best way to respond to them.
In a 2013 study published in the Motivation and Emotion, it was found that a bad mood (caused by listening to angry music) led individuals to more likely judge someone as wrong. This is a perfect example of the pervasive influence of emotions and why we should question our feelings. You might be in a bad mood for some random reason – maybe you got stuck in traffic or spilled coffee on your shirt – but then that mood will negatively influence your impression of someone. Rationally, you know the two things have nothing to do with each other, but your brain still unconsciously makes the connection between your current feelings and the other person.
When you gain a better understanding of your feelings and where they come from, you avoid making this mistake so easily.
Here’s a guideline on how you to question your feelings. Ask yourself:
- What am I feeling?
Don’t just say you feel “good” or “bad” – be specific. Is it “sadness” or “anger” or “disappointment?” Try your best to find one or two words that best describe your feeling.
- When did I first notice this feeling?
How long has the feeling been going on for? Did you just begin feeling it, or has it been looming around for a while?
- What’s the primary cause of this feeling?
Try to think of what event in your life caused you to feel this way. Is there something that happened that stands out?
- What are possible secondary causes of this feeling?
What are some other factors that may be contributing to this emotion? Are there multiple “little things” that may have built up throughout the day?
- Am I tired or stressed?
Often times general stress and fatigue can amplify our emotions. For example, this 2013 study found that sleepless nights are more likely to lead to anger and arguments among couples.
- How should I respond to this feeling?
What’s the best course of action to take in response to this emotion? Should you talk to someone, listen to music, go for a walk, or do something productive?
- Should I just wait for this feeling to pass?
Just because you feel something doesn’t mean you need to act on it. Sometimes it’s better to just “ride out” an emotion until it subsides. Our feelings are only temporary, they don’t last forever.
Individuals with more connections between the “thinking” and “feeling” parts of their brain often have more emotional intelligence. This is because our ability to think about our feelings helps create a buffer between our emotions and responses, so that we don’t just act impulsively all of the time. Just the simple act of thinking and questioning our feelings helps detach ourselves from the “heat of the moment.” The more you question your feelings, the more you can control them rather than let them control you.
Steven Handel is a long-time writer in psychology and self-improvement. He blogs frequently at The Emotion Machine and is also the author of the digital guide The Science of Self Improvement. He encourages you to follow him on Facebook and Twitter, where he is always sharing new advice, tools, and exercises to help improve your mind.
Question Your Feelings | The Emotion Machine
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