It's not just fight or flight
Your emotions are a set of powerful tools. They warn you of dangers, draw you into pleasant experiences and trigger a variety of responses that grow as you understand them more. To manage your responses to emotions, it is helpful to be able to identify them.
According to Joshua Freedman, the CEO and founder of Six Seconds Emotional Intelligence Network, there are approximately 3,000 words for describing emotions in the English language. If you do not have an adequate emotion lexicon, you will naturally lump the description of your feelings into bags too small to effectively express what you are experiencing. One way to build your vocabulary of emotions is to use the Plutschik Wheel of Emotions.
Using Plutschik’s Wheel to identify emotions starts with understanding the eight base emotions; anger, anticipation, joy, trust, fear, surprise, sadness and disgust. Each of these has an opposite. Anticipation is the opposite of surprise. Joy is opposite sadness. Trust and disgust are opposites, and fear opposes anger. As you look at the wheel, emotions are identified across a scale, and there are names for the different intensities of these feelings. For example on a scale, moving from sadness to joy we would experience pensiveness, sadness, grief, serenity, joy and ecstasy. You may have feelings of optimism and love in happier moments, while emotions like remorse and disapproval could be linked to those times you are feeling down. The wheel identifies 32 emotional states, using synonyms and antonyms that will take your emotion vocabulary well over 100 expressions, more than enough to start taking an emotion inventory.
Now that you have internalized definitions of a variety of emotions and a scale for their level of intensity, you should start to identify what you are feeling. Not just in the extreme moments, but also in a wider variety of situations. Taking an emotional inventory with the help of a journal or note taking app is an ideal way to document what’s going on inside of you. According to Harvard neuroanatomist Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, unfueled emotions only last only 90 seconds.
The value in identifying emotions is not just in that minute and a half that you strongly feel them. It’s what you do after that really counts. Emotions are the trigger point. Considering what caused the emotion is almost as important as what you do once you have experienced a feeling. Intensifying or diluting is up to you. Emotions used to give us two options: fight or flight. Today, however, there are many more options for responding to emotional signals. We could for example need to consider a response, ask a question or quickly invent a solution. By capturing the emotion, then giving pause to consider how you will respond, you are becoming emotionally intelligent.
It is important to realize that the discomfort that comes from emotions is not a bad thing. It helps to move you to another action. Emotions you consider negative could be communicating a high level of risk or that you need to have more information about a situation before responding.
As we learn more about these sensations, it is becoming apparent that they are a means that our bodies uses to communicate with our conscious mind. As a result, it makes more sense to read emotions as non-verbal messages and respond to them than it does to react to the base on the impulse. To do this, once you experience an emotion stop and think about what to do with that information then act.
You will find that your responses are much more beneficial to your wellbeing when you add this cognitive step. In fact, you may find that the energy created by a bad feeling can be redirected in a positive direction, creating momentum that moves you towards your target 4X faster than complaining and anger will. I call this the catapult effect. You can read more about my theory on Medium.com.
Emotions are neither good nor bad. They are a method of communication between your nervous system, your body and your conscious mind. By widening your emotional lexicon, Identifying and understanding your emotions more clearly, you will be able to interpret the messages your nervous system is giving you. Then you can devise solutions that are intelligent and advance you in a direction that benefits your well being.
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