Most of us say, “hey, how are you?” to at least one person each day. When was the last time you asked yourself that question? How do joy, sadness or frustration feel for you? If you don’t know, then it’s time to find out.
Learning to check in with your emotions can pay off in a number of ways:
1. Naming an emotion takes away its power. In The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves author Stephen Grosz suggests that unnamed emotions drive actions that create unnecessary chaos and pain. So much heartache could be prevented if we stopped to identify our emotions before acting rashly. Grosz compares these strong, unacknowledged emotions to the proverbial tail that wags the dog.
2. Checking in with yourself is an important first step to creating change. If you don’t know how you’re feeling it’s nearly impossible to respond thoughtfully to a difficult situation. Imagine you are lost in the woods. How are you going to find your way home if you don’t even know where you are? Once you know your current emotional location you will be ready to start the journey back.
3. Knowing that moods change makes it easier to tolerate the bad and savor the good. If you don’t pay attention to your feelings, you are likely to miss a positive emotion, especially if it’s fleeting. Positive emotions are like a cat basking in a pool of sunshine: beautiful, temporary, but thankfully still very real. Fortunately, no bad mood lasts forever. While it may sound counterintuitive, it can also be helpful to to stay with a bad mood, especially if you are still learning to name your emotions. It’s an uncomfortable, but important practice, especially for people who tend to avoid negative feelings.
4. You’ll be practicing mindfulness. If you check in with your emotional state in the here and now you’re also staying in the present. According to mindfulness expert Jon Kabat Zinn, “the only moment we’re ever alive in is now.” Learning to name the emotion you feel right now helps break the cycles of reliving the past or worrying about the future which prevent us from being fully aware of our lives in the present.
5. You will be kinder. Broadening your inner emotional vocabulary will allow you to be more empathic. It’s pretty hard to see things from the perspective of another if you don’t know what emotions actually feel like. Once you know how you’re feeling you may also be nicer to yourself. You will be able to respond to your own needs with greater kindness and understanding.
Learning to take your own emotional temperature can pay off in many ways. This useful skill can help you make better decisions, respond thoughtfully in tough situations, and it may even make you a better friend.
Photo credit: Tim Oller