In a previous post, I mentioned the importance of taking full responsibility for the emotional energy you bring into the room. Any room. Every room. Every day. But what does that mean, exactly, and how does one take responsibility for one’s emotional energy?
Part of the foundational emotional intelligence skill set is emotional self-awareness, which I define in three parts: knowing what you’re feeling at the moment you feel it, understanding what triggered it, and having a sense of how your emotional state affects everyone around you.
Knowing what you’re feeling in the moment isn’t always easy. We’ve all grown up with mechanisms for coping with intense feelings (which ironically don’t involve expressing them appropriately). The first step in emotional self-awareness requires an acknowledgement that emotions are felt. You can’t “think” an emotion, and emotion doesn’t reside in the brain (although the triggers for the chemical mechanisms that allow us to feel them certainly do).
Where do you feel things? In your body, of course. Where the nerve endings are. The places where your knotted stomach and clenched fists, tight throat and bulging neck veins reside. For those of us who tend to live “from the neck up,” here’s my best advice: get back into your body. You do this by paying attention to the signals from your body and learning the unique set of physical indicators you feel for each emotion you experience.
The first time I ask a client where they feel anger in their body, their immediate answer is usually, “I don’t know.” That’s because most of us are not accustomed to the physical awareness part—we’re too busy being pissed off. If they do identify a body part that indicates an emotion is present, they usually respond with an emotional descriptor: “My heart feels sad.”
No. Your heart does not “feel” sad. It might feel empty or full, heavy or light, pounding or pulsing or exploding—it feels whatever sensations you recognize as the hallmarks of your sadness. Develop a conscious awareness of these physical sensations, and you’re on your way toward greater self-awareness, which will serve you well at work and at home.
Here’s a method for taking the first steps toward bringing physical awareness to your emotional state:
Step One: Grab a notebook or journal and find a quiet spot.
Step Two: Close your eyes. Settle into your body by feeling where your body is in contact with the chair, and where your feet are in contact with the floor. Rest here a moment, and scan your body from toes to head, noticing any sensations at the areas of contact.
Step Three: Imagine a time in your life when you were feeling unhappy, perhaps because of a conflict, a loss, or your own stuck-ness in life. Imagine it as fully as you can, using all five senses.
Step Four: Notice the sensations that wash through you—what do you feel, taste, smell, hear? Scan your body slowly from toes to head and notice any sensations like heat, tightness, heaviness, or coldness, looseness, lightness, and make a mental note of where you feel these sensations.
Step Four: Open your eyes and jot down what you felt and where you felt it in your body. Use words that describe physical sensations, not emotional descriptions.
Step Five: Repeat the process while imagining a time in your life when you were filled with joy, and felt that anything was possible. Notice what you feel in your body and where you feel it. Write physically descriptive words in your journal.
What did you notice? What do you know about yourself now, that you might have missed in the past? Was it easy or difficult to settle into your body and find physical words to describe your experience?
This exercise will give you a baseline from which you can know the truth about what you are feeling, without the interference of your mind (whose main job seems to be rationalizing any situation to help you cope with it, dismiss it, or hang on to it). Once you know what you’re truly feeling, not what you think you should feel, you will be able to trust yourself more fully, and use that emotional data to make decisions that align more fully with your true desires, your values, and your physical, mental and spiritual well-being.
In Part Two of Emotional Energy: Sowing What You Really Want to Reap, we’ll discuss how your emotional energy affects others, and how awareness of the effects of your emotional energy on others can help you improve relationships at work and at home.