Tips for Emotional Mastery: How to Increase Your Wellbeing by Being Smarter with Feelings

How can we navigate feelings more effectively?

By Joshua Freedman 

Every person has emotions. They’re part of being human. But too often, we’re in a struggle against our own feelings – trying to suppress or ignore them. Our wellbeing suffers as a result. So what do we need to know in order to get a handle on feelings and feel more in control of our emotional wellbeing? Here are 12 tips from emotional intelligence practitioners:

 

1. We almost always have multiple emotions at the same time.  This can be confusing and lead to overwhelm, but it doesn’t have to. Use resources like Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions to understand your feelings better, including how emotions combine to create entirely distinct feelings. Joy + Trust = Love. What about Joy + Anticipation? Check out the Wheel to find out.

2. Every emotion has a purpose. They give us messages about opportunities and threats. The Emotoscope Feeling Chart offers many examples of the purpose of feelings, which you can download in the Plutchik article. When we learn the messages of each and every emotion, we can navigate them more effectively and fuel sustainable wellbeing for ourselves. The most difficult part for many people is appreciating challenging emotions, like fear, anger and jealousy. This article is a great introduction into valuing all emotions: Decoding Emotions.

3. There is power in the ability to name emotions – “name it to tame it”.  When we name feelings, we get a handle on our own experiences, and then communicate more effectively with others. Neuroscience research has found that “affect labeling” – or naming your emotions – increases the connection between the amygdala and prefrontal cortex, which is key to building resiliency.

4. To identify feelings, remember: Emotions affect us physically.  What is your body telling you?  Are your muscles tight, do you feel pain anywhere, are you hands hot, cold, etc?  Are you smiling? Frowning? Forehead furrowed? Physical sensations provide invaluable data about how we’re feeling.

5. Treat all feelings a neutral – data about your experiences.  There are no “good” or “bad” feelings. Emotions are data. Most of us have been socialized that some feelings – or more likely, all feelings but happiness – are “bad,” To start unlearning this mentality, start with this article, Integrated Emotions: Treating Feelings as Allies.

Integrated Emotions: Feelings Are Allies

6. Treat feelings as normal.  Don’t apologize for your feelings, nor “show off” with them (“look how emotional I am!”).  Don’t make a “big deal” about other’s feelings; neither reward people for being vulnerable, nor criticize – keep a neutral, curious, caring tone.

7. Remember that if you don’t pay attention, feelings usually escalate. The earlier you attend to this message, the easier it will be to handle the feelings.

8. When strong feelings come up, be an observer.  “Oh, that’s interesting,” or, “What can I learn from this?”

9. Emotions ≠ actions.  Notice emotions as sensations, and distinguish between that sensation and the way people act.  Anger is an emotion, yelling is an action – but one does not NEED to yell just because s/he is angry.  We have choice about how we use our emotions.

10. In different situations, different emotions are useful.  For example, with loss it’s useful to feel sorrow; relaxing on the beach it’s useful to feel peace.  When understanding feelings, think about what’s useful in the current context. 

11. Validate feelings.  Name them, acknowledge them.  Start by assuming they’re valuable & useful.

12. Don’t obey feelings blindly, don’t lock them away: find the middle path.  Feelings are signals saying, “Something interesting is happening!” Ignoring and suppressing emotions has actually been found to increase their intensity and lead to a host of problems. A lack of impulse control is similarly troubling. Find the middle ground!

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