Emotional awareness, or emotional intelligence, is the ability to read and interpret our own feelings, empathize with others, and adjust our speech and behavior to reflect social context. It’s a major factor in our ability to think clearly, make good decisions, and get along harmoniously with others. But it can feel counter-intuitive, because most of us are used to solving problems with our mind only, and emotions live in the body. Here’s a way to strengthen the feedback loop between body and brain:
Part I: Check Your Barometer
1. Sensation – Bring to mind a problem that needs to be solved, or a situation that needs your attention. Focus on the center line of your body from the throat all the way down to your lower belly. You may also feel sensation through your arms and legs, or even the hands and feet, though this is less common. Describe your sensations with adjectives such as dark, tight, contracted, dense, heavy, light, soft, relaxed, fuzzy, vibrating, fluttering, sour, nauseated, agitated, frozen, or numb.
2. Emotion – Choose the area of sensation that seems to be the strongest or that seems more important than the others. It may be an area that feels uncomfortable, or that you wish would go away. Be as specific as you can about where the sensation is (throat, chest, shoulders, solar plexus, stomach, etc.). Write down the primary emotion you feel when you focus on the sensation, such as nervous, anxious, afraid, angry, sad, excited, eager, impatient, overwhelmed, etc.
3. Thought – Finally, as you are feeling the emotion, write down any thoughts, memories, worries or concerns that you have in connection with that emotion. A summary of these three steps might be, “I notice tightness in my chest, I feel fear, and I’m thinking that my elderly parents may not be able to get medical care if they need it, and I’m not close enough to help them myself.”
Gathering this information is like checking your emotional barometer. Once you know what it is saying, you’re ready to reverse the process and move back from the body to the brain more intentionally and strategically. Here’s where you brain becomes really useful! You can use it to make changes to your internal barometer that will help your whole system to “think” more efficiently. When you’re ready, reverse the process with Part II:
Part II: Reset Your Barometer
1. Add a New Thought – Rather than deny the feeling or the fear, simply acknowledge it, and at the same time, expand your perspective to also include one additional piece of information that broadens your perspective. In my example, I might add “…and I know that right now my parents are safe and healthy and that they have friends and community resources nearby.”
2. Emotional Resonance – Again, without attempting to squash any other emotions that may be present, check how your emotional barometer responds to the new thought. How does this new thought make you feel emotionally? Slightly more relaxed, hopeful, neutral, calm, or curious? If you don’t notice any shift, experiment with different thoughts.
3. Change in Sensation – As you are feeling the emotional resonance, note any shifts in sensation in the area you chose to focus on. Does that area feel any lighter, softer, more open, or different in any way? Has the primary sensation moved to a different part of your body? Take a few deep breaths to clarify any changes.
With practice, this inward-to-outward process becomes faster, and you’ll be able to do it in real time. If this is new for you, give yourself some private time to check your barometer and do a personal reset before you proceed in the situation that is causing the stress or difficulty.
As you sharpen your awareness, you may discover greater flow of creative ideas and more clarity in your decision-making. Having reset your barometer, the situation might look different to you. What’s the next logical action to take, given your wider perspective?