How to Maximize Your Emotional Resources
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Would you rather feel joy or sadness? Fear or security? Anger or peace? Okay, that round was relatively easy, but what about surprise or boredom? Neither option seems particularly appealing. While the first three questions appear obvious, in terms of desirable emotions, the latter decision takes some further evaluation. It might be fun to be surprised, but what if the surprise is that you’ve lost your job or you find out your spouse is cheating on you. Surprise! You’d probably opt for boredom at this point, but really, who wants to be bored?
What is the Purpose of Emotion?
When it comes to human emotions, all are created equally. Whether we face emotions that make us feel negative or positive, none can fairly be categorized as such. Even though happiness makes us feel positive, its presence doesn’t always result in a good outcome. For example, you could be ecstatic about receiving a promotion at work, but this event might make you more relaxed and less concerned with personal and professional development. Would the outcome have been more positive had you received criticism that helped you improve your work ethic, performance, and overall productivity? The latter may make you feel down for a bit, but overall, this emotion is more likely to result in individual growth.
Emotions are indicators that we must act on our sensory perception. For instance, our biological and physiological responses to hearing a baby cry are just that, hearing a baby cry. Depending on the circumstances, we may feel frustrated that the baby is crying, or overwhelmed, empathetic, compassionate, etc. Individually, our temperaments may dictate our typical emotional responses; some people may be more patient, which results in compassion, or less patient, which results in irritation. Regardless, these emotions clue us into how to react. When the baby cries, and we know that he or she is hungry, we feel empathetic and nurturing, so we feed him. When the baby’s crying makes us feel frustrated enough to affect our ability to be safe, we need to pay attention to that emotion and get help. Although the initial emotions differ greatly, both responses result in a positive outcome: feeding the baby or getting help.
The Importance of Emotional Intelligence
The aforementioned experiences with the crying baby could turn out differently. The frustrated caregiver could ignore or abuse the baby. In the same respect, if a baby continues to cry for no apparent reason—after being fed, changed, loved, what-have-you—then the caregiver needs to assess whether the baby has figured out that crying gets attention, and now it’s time for a nap, not attention. It takes a complex system of perceptions, responses, analysis, and awareness of possible outcomes to make such judgments. We humans can typically perceive, assess, and act in a matter of seconds, and most reactions can occur subconsciously. However, we also need to hone our emotional intelligence—tune in to our feelings—to determine the best course of action.
It’s when we experience more complex feelings that we take more time to evaluate our situation and make decisions based on our assessments. Many so-called moral emotions require more of our attention. These emotions may be guilt, shame, or pride. When we experience emotions such as these, we have to seriously weigh our options, and we may become consumed with the process, unable to focus on anything else. Being emotionally intelligent can help with these complex feelings. Even emotions that are “simpler” require intuition and self-awareness. Can we change from being frustrated when the baby is crying to a perspective of more compassion? Yes. Harnessing emotional intelligence takes more than just understanding which emotions you are feeling; it takes a great level of competence and insight.
How to Develop Emotional Awareness
Daniel Goleman, a world-renowned psychologist who has made many evaluations on emotional intelligence, points out that to be emotionally apt, you have to have certain skills that allow you to grow individually, as a part of a relationship, and as a member of society. In his work, Goleman has highlighted these skills as important aspects of recognizing and using emotions to your advantage. It’s easy to try to avoid so-called negative emotions, but really, these emotions only result in the outcomes you influence. We all have this capability, and with some effort and commitment, you can begin to use your emotions, instead of simply experience them.
1. Be self-aware.
Accept your initial emotions. Although you may not have time to address them at that moment, be sure to jot down some first reactions. Keep a journal of your feelings. Talk about them. It’s also important to analyze your decision making; the way we behave can give us great insight into our emotions and our reactions. When you begin to understand why you act in a certain way, you can begin to identify emotions more easily and spot patterns in your behavior that are related to particular emotions.
2. Learn to deal with your emotions.
First, realize that people and things can’t make you feel a certain way. Your perceptions of events stir up emotions, and it’s your response to these events that manifest anger. You can control that. Learn to change your mantra (“stinking thinking”). When you feel negative toward something, remember that it’s not a negative emotion you are experiencing but rather the outcome that may be hurtful. Prepare yourself to turn those negative events into positive lessons. Provide yourself with tools to flip the negative into the positive (positive messages, breathing, gratitude exercises).
3. Be self-motivated.
Although individual temperaments may determine optimism and pessimism, these are also learned behaviors. You do have control over your impulses. Once you begin to feel confident about that—knowing that everything is a learning experiencing or that all events have led you to this specific moment—you can master your emotions. Goal-setting and self-assessment are great tools to get you to this point.
4. Be empathetic.
Be compassionate. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes. When you are able to feel for others, you demonstrate a skill-set that is crucial to self-development. Effective listening skills, conflict resolution, and respectful behaviors are all part of this ability.
5. Take care of your relationships.
Whether you are managing your intimate relationships, professional associations, or societal affiliations, taking responsibility for your connections is an essential part of individual growth. Being more mindful of others will help you to learn how to be more mindful of yourself, which is the best relationship anyone can have.
- Melissa Lavery, M.S.
Clark, J. (2010, September 13). What are emotions, and why do we have them? Retrieved March 6, 2015, from http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/what-are-emotions.htm
Cosmides, L., & Tooby, J. (2000). Evolutionary Psychology and the Emotions. Retrieved March 6, 2015, from http://www.cep.ucsb.edu/emotion.html
Darling-Hammond, L., Orcutt, S., Strobel, K., Kirsch, E., Lit, I., & Martin, D. (n.d.). Feelings Count: Emotions and Learning. Retrieved March 6, 2015, from file:///C:/Users/Melissa/Downloads/05_emotions_learning.pdf
Kashdan, T. (2015, February 2). What Your Emotions Are Really Telling You, If You'll Listen. Retrieved March 7, 2015, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/curious/201502/what-your-emotions-are-really-telling-you-if-youll-listen?utm_source=FacebookPost&utm_medium=FBPost&utm_campaign=FBPost
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