When we talk about emotional intelligence (EQ), we are often talking about someone’s ability to recognize and understand their own emotions. This ability is called self-awareness, and it’s the foundation of EQ. Once you’ve built your self-awareness you can also begin to better manage yourself and your interactions with other people.
Without a doubt, one of the fastest and most effective ways to improve your self-awareness is to learn how to name your emotions more specifically and accurately. Studies show that people who label their emotions precisely are…
- More flexible in their management of negative emotions.
- Less likely to have angry outbursts and better at handling fear and anxiety.
- Less likely to use alcohol for emotional coping.
The strategies below will help you learn to label your emotions and develop your self-awareness.
1. Learn the basic families of emotions. There are seven broad categories of emotions that show on someone’s face: anger, happiness, sadness, contempt, surprise, fear, and disgust. These seven are your starting point to search for inside yourself. For intense emotions, naming them acts as a kind of “pause” button slowing your physical reaction to the feeling and bringing the emotion into the realm of rational thought where you can begin to process what you’re feeling and why. This first step can save you from angry outbursts or retracting in silence when confronted.
2. Expand your emotional vocabulary. When you take context into account, the number of emotions we experience is limitless. We don’t quite experience the exact same kind of happiness, anger, or fear. It’s through the understanding the subtle varieties that you begin to really develop self-awareness. Check out this emotions list, which takes into account words for emotions that only exist in other languages. It’s full of words like “toska,” a vague sense of restlessness, “abbiocco,” a sleepy feeling after a big meal, and “umpty,” a feeling of everything being too much and all in the wrong way. By expanding your emotional vocabulary, you’re really getting to know your range of tendencies and triggers. Careful reflection on these emotions will help you access big picture questions about your values, beliefs, and intentions.
3. Practice on books and movies. Movies, poems, and novels offer layered emotional expressions: a specific emotion felt by a specific person during a specific experience in a specific context. As you watch movies and read books, focus deeper into a notable emotion to try to understand each of these layers. When a character shows fear, for example, try to better identify and understand what type of fear. Are they “apprehensive?” Are they “bristling with fear?” Apprehension might come from a sense of self-doubt while “bristling” is much more physical and likely the result of an immediate threat or triggered from a past trauma. You don’t need to worry about finding the right answer. What you are doing is building an important skill – awareness and your ability to analyze emotions as they happen. This practice will not only help you break down your own emotions, but it will also help you build social awareness, or your ability to recognize and understand the emotions and tendencies of others.
From Insights to Action. Remember that when we are first in the grips of an emotion, it is at its most powerful. This moment of saturated feeling is when we are the most prone to act entirely based on how we feel. Being reactive can lead to poor decisions and regret. Try to slow yourself down, label that big picture emotion family, and give yourself time to process things more logically and with more nuance.