Emotional awareness is your experience of your life.
Read that again. Emotional - awareness - is - your - experience - of - your - life.
Right now - IN THIS MOMENT - pause and take a deep breath.
How are you feeling physically? How are you feeling emotionally?
You just checked in on your emotional awareness. If you actually did it.
Most of our time and life are spent running a script. We are not aware.
But when we relax, open, and connect to the present moment and our body we can check in.
This is the beginning of practicing emotional awareness. Checking in.
How much of your energy is spent on challenges in your mind?
Are you feeling the way you feel right now because your mind is drifting to the past or the future?
Have you ever noticed that when you are present you tend to feel more calm?
How much of your emotional state is caused by struggling with where your mind is?
Are you - your emotions? We say “I am angry!” or “I am sad”.
How often do you forget that you are not your emotional state?
For starter’s let us imagine that you are you and your emotions are your emotions.
For this to be true there must be a space between you and your emotions.
Now, I want you to visualize yourself standing behind a waterfall.
You are standing in the cool calm dark space behind the water. The water is falling fast in front of your face.
When you close your eyes this is the passing of thought and ideas in your mind that come with emotions.
This is inquiry into your current state.
Most of our life is spent swimming in the water or getting crushed by the waves.
Most of us are living in a state of constant fight or flight bouncing from one emotional reaction to another.
Most of the time you are not behind the water. You stand underneath it and get inundated and drenched.
In this state you can’t tell one emotion from the next.
But when you step back and relax you can examine this rush of thoughts, ideas and emotions.
You can let some go or choose to sit with others. You can find an edge to some emotions.
Maybe you can’t let others go and you or your body can’t handle them.
Maybe you are tired or rushed and you can’t sit behind the waterfall.
Your experience of this is you being aware of your emotional state.
Now… Imagine how much of your life is spent in emotional unawareness?
What does all of this mean to you? Here is what emotional awareness means to me.
This is mind bending and blowing to me at the same time.
Knowing a definition of emotional awareness (comprehension) is different than understanding what emotional awareness is through experience. Understanding requires empathy, identification and application.
This means we only gain an understanding of our emotional awareness by practicing and playing with these concepts in real life and then reflecting on the experience and doing it again.
Before moving on you should know that scientists and researchers do not agree on a definition of what an emotion is. Here is the best definition of emotion we found.
Emotion research is a relatively new study. Here is Our definition of "emotional awareness".
Emotional awareness is a combination of self awareness and the development and of the 8 components of emotional awareness. (Definitions below) Each of these emotional awareness skills combine to promote a more nuanced understanding of emotions. I like to say - Emotional awareness is literally how we experience our life.
emotional embodiment (feeling or attunement)
The present state of a calm mind
As Daniel Goleman says “In a very real sense we have two minds, one that thinks and one that feels.” Emotional awareness is the act of bridging the gap from feeling to thinking and back again.
Hence knowing a definition of emotional awareness (comprehension) is different than understanding what emotional awareness is through experience. Here is what I had to learn first.
What to learn first. I am not my emotions.
To begin “understanding” what emotional awareness is I had to first make a mental step to bridge the gap of knowledge to understanding.
In oder to understand what emotional awareness is I had to conceptualize "my self" separate from "my emotions". This can be tricky if you haven't worked your metacognition muscle and thought about your thinking and feeling before.
This means I separated the concept of me and my emotions in my mind. This in "mesearch" terms is the beginning of building a state of attunement.
This accelerated my understanding of emotions because I realized as Allen Watts says “Trying to define yourself is like trying to bite your own teeth” yet for many of us “I” and my emotions are the same thing.
We forget that emotions are "a process, in which we sense that something important to our welfare is occurring, and a set of physiological changes and behaviors begin to deal with the situation" - Dr. Eve Ekman.
Although - as stated earlier - it is important to note that emotion scientists do not currently agree on how to define an emotion. That is the best definition we found.
Many of us get stuck in a never ending loop of me / my emotions. We routinely confuse who we are with our emotional state. Our language forms this trap when we say "I feel sad" or 'I feel angry". This reduces the mental space between our mind and our experience of our emotions - making it more difficult to practice emotional awareness and making our experience of life stressful.
Creating space between you and your emotions is called emotional agility.
In principal - I no longer put energy into answering "who am I?". Instead I direct my attention toward how I experience my life at any given moment.
There is a strength created in directing attention, energy and awareness to my experience. This is mindfulness, attunement and feeling. Not thinking.
Questioning who I am creates a fractured and segmented sense of self that is continually weakened as it is questioned.
Choosing how I want to experience my life creates a net of experiences that grow stronger as experience is gained. There is no bad or good experience in this model - only constructive or destructive experiences.
This is a virtuous cycle that only grows stronger. Here is a doodle of how I visualize the difference between asking "Who am I?" and answering "How do I want to experience my life?".
There is a calm in knowing that my identity is an ongoing process. This spurs curiosity and compassion allowing me to step back and view my emotions at any given moment and simply experience my life. Every experience is a chance to grow and learn.
This choice saves a lot of energy, energy that can be used to be emotionally aware. As I became aware of my emotions three new skills came into play: emotional granularity, emotional differentiation and emotional vocabulary.
Then I realized that emotions, feelings, thoughts, moods, judgments and stories are not the same thing. This visualization came into view after about 6 months of meeting with my mens group every week and practicing meditation regularly.
When I would check-in with my mens group (R.O.C.) I would notice my emotional state. I began to recognize that the "emotion" and "feeling" and "thought" that I was experiencing where all respective of one another. These were all choices I was making. This is an important distinction to make - The difference between emotions vs feelings vs thoughts vs moods vs judgments vs stories.
I needed to increase my emotional vocabulary in order to differentiate and describe what I was feeling. This is where I am today. Constantly practicing.
Before creating this space when things would happen in my life - they would happen-to-me. When I R.O.C. I can create a tiny gap between the emotion and my experience of it. Creating mental space between me and my emotions cultivates emotional balance.
Creating space between me, my emotions, feelings and thoughts lead to the ability to perceive my own level of emotional balance.
It makes sense to seek a deeper sense of self. To become intimately aware of my feelings, thoughts, moods, judgments and stories. This awareness has opened the door to a new way to experience my life.
My perspective on love and connect has changed. This awareness opened the door to notice love, attraction, needs and desires respectfully. For example, I can now see that love and desire are different. Desire, from the Buddhist perspective is the choice to be unhappy until you have what you want. I now choose what I desire wisely. I notice that desire is not necessarily love. I'm able to notice desire.
The emotions produced by my goals and aspirations have new importance. I've become aware of how my goals and dreams make me feel. The gap between what you think and say and what you do is a measure of your dissatisfaction. This integrity gap often leads to anxiety. When this happens you can become trapped in a vicious cycle where your goals and dreams hold you down and zap your energy.
The way out of this trap is to build your integrity and do more of what you say you will do. This creates a virtuous cycle and positive emotions. Success momentum.
This is the trap of our modern age. To be given lots of ideas of what could be by instagram and facebook. So much so that what you think and say in your mind and to your friends is far different than what you really do - you feel worthless. This is how you get trapped in dreamer depression.
If I didn't start to notice my emotions I would likely still be trapped in this state.
Regularly noticing my emotions helped me recognize the difference between my emotions and the emotions of others. How often have we been around friends who are down and noticed we too start to feel drained? Are these your emotions or your friends emotions?
This is how you start to notice social and emotional contagion.
And finally my emotional vocabulary had to develop to allow me to progress. I learned the difference between shame and guilt.
Shame is saying 'I am a bad person" where guilt is "I did something bad". When I notice shame in my life I can flip the shame into guilt so that I can process it constructively.
The key is to engage my sense of self as malleable. To be like water or a flexible willow tree that bends in the wind. Rather than a stiff board that snaps in the wind. This is further reason to put your awareness into how you want to experience your life and let go of trying to answer "who am I?".
This is how you become a researcher of your emotions.
My emotions are not “me” and I am not my emotions.
And finally, attempting to pin down “who am” is often a destructive and confusing question for many people to ask. The constructive question to ask is: how do I want to experience my life?
Slow down - R.O.C. - Relax, Open, Connect - Calm you mind and check in.
This seed of understanding grew into an expanded view of emotions. I view my emotional awareness as 8 core skills that I can practice. This has a kinetic energy that propels my learning forward.
The best part is - The more I learn about emotional awareness - the more I experience my life.
Discover the 8 core skills of emotional awareness
Once I made the leap above the skills below started to fall into place.
Here are the 8 emotional awareness skills that you can work on to bring new perspectives to your understanding of emotional awareness.
Try to Imagine an example of each of these in action in your life:
Emotional contagion: The phenomenon of having one person's emotions and related behaviors directly trigger similar emotions and behaviors in other people.
Emotional agility: The skill of being flexible with your thoughts and feelings so that you can respond optimally to everyday situations.
Emotional balance: The ability of the mind and body to maintain equilibrium and flexibility in the face of challenge and change. A prerequisite for personal wellbeing and growth.
Emotional vocabulary: The availability of “feeling and emotion words” to describe specific experience states.
Emotional differentiation: The ability to discriminate between emotions that all fall within the same level of valence and arousal, labeling experiences with discrete emotion words.
Emotional granularity: Emotional granularity is an individual's ability to differentiate between the specificity of their emotions.
Emotional embodiment: Activation of emotion relevant sensory-motor and somatic states in the individual. Embodiment occurs both when an emotion-eliciting object is physically present to the perceiver, and also when the emotion object is referred to by internal symbols (thoughts) or external symbols (e.g., words).
The present state of a calm mind: In order to do this work and recognize an emotional episode in the present moment or past through memory we must learn to relax, open and connect or R.O.C. In this state we can begin to understanding and experience the 5 phases of an emotional episode outlined by Eve Ekman, emotion researcher and trainer in her work creating The Atlas of Emotions with renowned emotion scientist Dr. Paul Ekman and the Dalai Lama. The five phases are: Pre Episode, Trigger, Experience, Behavior, Post Episode.
In closing or beginning
I leave you with one of my favorite sayings: Energy flows where attention goes.
When you let go of the constant pull to understand who you are and bring your attention to your experience of life you can make significant and lasting change. Relax, open and connect to practice the skills above. Your emotional awareness journey is not a linear process - it's a practice. It is life.
In closing I hope that this article inspires you to learn more about emotional awareness as a skill and to open to your experience of your life.