Have you ever reacted in a way that you weren’t super proud of? Do you wish you could reassess that situation to figure out what went wrong, and how to do better next time?
Think, Feel, Act cards are an amazing tool that helps bring your emotional intelligence into focus – so you can see more clearly and act more deliberately.
Want a Hands-On Tool to Practice EQ? Try T, F, A Cards
An essential tool to bring your EQ into focus – and see more clearly.
With situations that are multilayered and complex, it’s hard to know where to start. The beauty of T, F, A cards is that they break the situation down into smaller, more digestible parts – your specific thoughts, feelings and actions. That way you can see more clearly what happened, what you really want, and what you could do differently the next time to get that. They are designed for open-ended experimentation, but here are a few examples of how I have used them – with remarkable results. The first step is to reflect on what the heck happened, or keeps happening, like in this situation:
It’s the story of dealing with my coworker who was driving me crazy, and how T, F, A cards helped me see what I could – and should – do differently:
… because he never stopped talking. It was pure stream of consciousness, out loud thoughts all day. We worked closely together and sat next to each other in the office, so I didn’t feel like I could escape. I felt overwhelmed, and increasingly bitter. I knew it wasn’t a healthy situation, but I wasn’t sure what to do. I sat down with these T, F, A cards to try to get inspired. The first step was to recognize what actually happened, or in my case, what pattern I kept repeating – what thoughts, feelings, and actions, or lack of actions. So I laid the cards out and pulled out the 3 cards that represented what kept happening, and how I was thinking and feeling about it.
“They are going to make me… crazy,” is how I filled out the Think card in my head. And that is frequently what I thought – he’s slowly driving me nuts. That’s the first card I picked, though honestly you can pick them in any order. Some people notice their actions most readily, while others notice the feeling, the physical sensation. I tend to start with the thought behind it all. But there’s such a dynamic interplay between our thoughts, feelings and actions that there’s no correct order. For more on this, see the box below. But I noticed my thoughts first, and my feeling irritated and angry and wanting nothing to do with him followed closely behind.
Seeing it laid out on the table like that was clarifying all by itself. But the best part is when you get to choose new cards, based on how you would like to respond. Here’s a side by side comparison of my typical reaction compared to what I really want.
Notice how my thoughts changed from a statement to a question. This is a proven effective method for increasing empathy – and that’s exactly what it did for me. The curiosity – what’s going on for him? – opened me up to empathy. When I asked myself, “What does this person really need?”, the answer was obvious. He’s lonely, seeking connection. And that totally changed my feelings, from frustrated and irritated to feeling compassion. And that, in turn, changed my actions, from giving up on him to wanting to be part of the solution. It made me ask myself: What can I do to help change the dynamic here? The answer didn’t come to me immediately, but it came. It was a twofold solution. First, I talked to him about how I was feeling (I felt like the least I could offer was honest feedback). He was surprised and apologetic. But at the same time made an effort to really connect with him, and even invite him to hang out outside the office. I had been living in town for a while and had a great social network, whereas he was new and knew almost no one outside the office. Before I opened myself up to compassion, I hadn’t given this much thought. This story happens to have a happy ending. He ended up getting really close with another friend of mine, and even though he’s no longer at the company, we still see each other from time-to time and have a good relationship. I don’t know if I could have made these realizations without really breaking down the situation.
T, F, A cards, for the win.
Thoughts, Feelings, and Actions: In What Order?
Our thoughts, feelings, and actions rarely occur in a neat, linear fashion. There’s a dynamic interplay between them, and they can all be a catalyst for the other two. For example, it’s commonly recognized that our thoughts affect feelings. If you think about your best friend moving away, you feel sad. Or if you think about that guy who was super rude to you, you feel angry. What’s often less understood is that our feelings also affect our thoughts. If you are afraid, you may look for and notice more threats. If you’re stressed or anxious, you will think an irritant is worse than you would if you were feeling happy. Similarly, even actions affect thoughts and feelings. Just smiling, or taking a deep breath, calms our body and mind, changing how we think and feel. People often confuse thoughts and feelings. An easy test is that if you catch yourself saying “like” or “as if”, like when we say “I feel like you weren’t listening,” that is actually a thought, not a feeling. It’s an evaluative observation. The feeling behind it may be something like, “I feel ignored.” T, F, A cards help you see the difference between these 3 and the relationships between them.
Here’s another story about a time I felt stuck, unsure of what to do – and T, F, A cards helped clarify what my options really were.
… with this problem, and really get to the heart of it. In a lot of ways, I was living in the perfect situation – on a beautiful farm up in the mountains. My partner and I were doing a trade – a few days a week of farm work in exchange for bunches of fresh food and a little cabin on the property. It’s something we had done before, and for a while, it was awesome. But something had started to not feel right. I would feel anxious too often on the farm. I loved the work, and the people I worked with, but something was off. Honestly, I felt overwhelmed. I used T, F, A cards to break down a big, complex situation into more manageable parts. And since my feelings felt clear to me, I started with that. I chose the card: Insecure, Anxious, Fearful.
Insecure. Anxious. Fearful. Those are the feelings that kept coming up for me. And deep down, I knew why. I lived and worked on this farm, and the expectations for work were never clearly established. And it’s a farm there is always something to do – weeding, harvesting, cleaning up the old barn. On days when I wasn’t working, I would question whether I should be. And so an act as simple as going up to lunch or taking a nice stroll on the farm would leave me feeling anxious and insecure. I had tried to improve the communication, but without much success. That left me thinking that I was powerless, and avoiding it altogether – basically telling my insecurity to be quiet.
So I went through the process of looking at the T, F, A cards and choosing the cards that represent what I would like to have happen.
Since I wan’t happy about how I was feeling, how did I want to feel? That question alone I found to be liberating – and when I looked at all the Feel cards, I found the one that sounded right: Happy, Content, Pleased. Isn’t that how anyone wants to feel – more often than not – about where they live? But I still didn’t know how to get there. So when I found the Thought, “What are some other ways to see this?” I thought that sounded like a good plan, try to think differently to not feel so stuck. And then the Action literally jumped out at me: “Identify 3 or more options and evaluate them.”
Ah, yes. I love organizing my thoughts into lists! Since I wasn’t happy about how I felt but didn’t know what to do, I should consciously think of, and write down, a few of my options. When I saw that, I remembered a passage from The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle in which he says that there are 3 primary options when faced with this type of situation: accept it, change it, or leave it. So I thought of each of those and wrote down the pros and cons for each one. It looked something like this:
Accept – Since these feelings had been recurring for me, I felt like accepting the situation as it is was not good enough. That’s what I had been doing. Change – This option actually became several options. One possible change was to talk with the owner about how I was feeling, but I had already tried to do that, unsuccessfully. But then I thought of an option that I hadn’t thought of before: change the situation by putting in a small kitchenette in my space on the farm. And that way get a little more separation from my living and working situations. Leave – I could leave the situation, and that led me to thinking about the pros and cons of living there in general. There were a lot of things on both sides of the list, and writing it down really helped me in a way that thinking about it repeatedly had not.
What I decided to do in the end is actually less important than what the T, F, A cards helped me do, which is to see that I had more options, and more power, than I had realized. The cards helped me activate 3 vital skills of emotional intelligence:
The cards helped me see that I had more options than I thought I had. Some were big changes, and others were smaller, but in the end, I realized I had quite a few options. When you are feeling stuck, this is a lifeline. Learn more about Exercise Optimism.
Apply Consequential Thinking
The Action card I chose for how I wanted to react – “Identify 3 or more options and evaluate them” – led me to apply consequential thinking, which basically means stopping and evaluating the pros and cons of my choices. Learn more about Consequential Thinking.
Bite Sized Is Better
For me, the power of T, F, A cards is that it breaks down the situation so wonderfully into manageable parts. I so often feel overwhelmed, especially in complex situations, by all of my various thoughts, feelings and actions. So to break them down is essential.
And there are two cool tricks that I didn’t go over in the examples above:
Blank T, F, A Cards – The packet comes with two cards that are blank for each category, so you can write in your own Thought, Feeling, or Action.
Choose More Than One – You can choose more than one card per category. In fact, feelings are complex and we will often feel different feelings, or have taken multiple actions, in relation to a situation.
If you want to buy your own set of T, F, A cards, you can get them in the EQ Store by clicking on this link. They’re on sale for $18.95.
Check out this simple and remarkably effective tool. I have used them and they’re really helpful!Click to tweet
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