Assessing Emotions

Assessing Emotions

 

Last week I wrote that we have emotions about our emotions. This week is a bit similar but in a different direction. We humans are “assessment machines”. It seems we cannot stop interpreting, developing opinions or creating beliefs about ourselves and the world around us. All of those are assessments and they constitute the story we live. “Story” in this context doesn’t mean it is a fairy tale or disconnected from reality but only that it is both what we understand and what we expect. We are constantly inventing a future to live into and we do that because we need to. Imagine walking out of your house in the morning without a story of how the day would be. If it were possible you would close the door and have absolutely no idea what to do next. The fact that you have a story to live into – that your car will start, that you will have a job in a certain company, that at the end of the month they will pay you, that the money you receive will have value and you’ll be able to pay your bills – means you have an idea about what comes next. It doesn’t always work out that way – your car doesn’t start, you find out you no longer have a job, the company goes bankrupt and doesn’t pay you – but you don’t know that until you live into the story you’ve invented.

 

Assessments are based on past experiences and we create them to predict the future. But they are never true or false. In the world of emotions we have assessments or stories also. This is why we say there are “good” or “bad” emotions. We may believe lust is bad and generosity is good. We have developed those interpretation or assessments based on our past experiences in order to know whether to embrace or avoid that emotion in the future. This can be helpful. An assessment that anger is a bad emotion and should be avoided may save our life. But it may also keep us from ever experiencing anger or investigating if it is sometimes helpful in life. We may avoid it to the extent that we don’t know what it feels like or even think about its value. Often our assessments of emotions come from the feeling or sensation it produces physically. In anger, we may feel out of control, anxiety produces a knot in our stomach and disgust makes us nauseous. But we shouldn’t make the mistake of confusing the feeling with the possible value of understanding the emotion. Anger allows us to correct injustice, anxiety to be prepared for the unknown and disgust to avoid unpleasantness.

 

Our assessments also come from culture or family. We tend to classify good and bad emotions in those that were acceptable or unacceptable in the environment we grew up in. Again, that can be helpful and helps us to remain part of that culture or that family but we may also lose out because we avoided an emotion that ultimately could have been useful.

 

So, the invitation this week is to stop and reflect on our emotions and how we assess them. Which ones do we see as helpful, which harmful, which embarrassing or which are the ones we aspire to because we believe they are the best. If we want to be emotionally literate we need to be able to “read” emotions in ourselves and other, understand their meaning and question the way in which we value them. When we can’t do those things, emotions can never be as useful to us as they were intended to be.

 

If you’d like more practice with emotions and to deepen your understanding of them, please join one of the workshops coming in April. Registrations are now open for the Emotions and Coaching workshops in New Mexico (April 3 to 8) and France (April 19 to 22).

 

In gratitude (which is a good emotion),
Dan

 

 

Emotions About Our Emotions

Emotions About Our Emotions

 

We all know that emotions are not always easy to pin down.  Somehow they seem a little slippery and, darn them, always changing.  It is a big enough challenge sometimes just to name the emotion we are feeling exactly.  To make things even more interesting we not only have emotions but we also have emotions about those emotions.

We may feel embarrassed of our passion or irritated with our anger, we may like that we are in love or hate that we are sad.  While there are maybe 250 or 300 emotions proper having emotions about those means that there are thousands and thousands of possible combinations.  You could say that makes the area of emotions complex or you might say it makes it rich.  Your choice would depend on the emotion it provokes.  For me it is fascinating and reminds me of nesting dolls…one inside another, inside another.

The fact that emotions work this way could just be seen as mildly amusing but it is an essential concept to understand when coaching in the area of emotions.  If a coachee is ashamed of their anger they will do what we do whenever we are ashamed of something, he or she will hide the fact that they are angry or avoid talking about it.  It takes some keen observation of the things their body is communicating – slight hesitations, looking down and away, exhaling deeply – to understand that they are feeling shame and that the shame is about their anger.  And we may not be sure at first what they are hiding but it can make us curious and give us a path to follow.

This phenomenon doesn’t just happen with challenging emotions such as fear, shame and anger but also with those emotions we consider positive.  We can love that we are in love and that has the possibility of leading us astray.  So, problems can emerge from any emotions and getting to the core emotions needs to be the goal of our coaching.

As you sit and reflect on this idea begin to notice your own experience.  Recall an emotion that was triggered yesterday and think about whether you allowed yourself to be with the emotion or did another emotion kick in and take you away from the first?  When we cannot experience the emotion that is triggered by an event we cannot reflect on it, learn from it or resolve it.  Peeling this back allows us to see the emotions we are comfortable with and those we tend to avoid.  So, enjoy your curiosity and celebrate your insights.  You are building awareness and building your emotional literacy.

If you’d like more practice with emotions and to deepen your understanding of them, please join one of the workshops coming in April. Registrations are now open for the Emotions and Coaching workshops in New Mexico (April 3 to 8) and France (April 19 to 22).

Warmly,

Dan

 

Navigating Emotions

Navigating Emotions

 

Looking back over the past 60 years of my life I can see that I have had several distinct relationships with my emotions and various strategies for how to co-exist with them. If it sounds like I am referring to them as something separate from “me” that is because for many years I saw them that way.

There have been periods in my life – adolescence for instance – when I hated emotions. They were confusing and uncomfortable and I couldn’t really see that they had a purpose beside making me miserable. Even being enamored with a certain girl wasn’t simple as it provoked jealousy or longing and brought all kinds of confusion and pain. The only strategy I could think of was to endure them. I couldn’t make them go away, I couldn’t stop them and so I resigned myself to tolerate them.

At other times, I adopted the always popular strategy of trying to control them. I “white knuckled it” or held on tight to the ones I wanted and tried to avoid the ones I didn’t. It was not very successful because no matter how strong my will it seemed my emotions were stronger. There is a familiar story about moral fortitude and ‘being stronger’ than the emotions that lead you into bad places and it is one I believed for some years. The problem was me. I was weak and did not have sufficiently strong values or morals.

Then there was my ‘management’ phase. I couldn’t avoid emotions and I couldn’t control them so I’d find a way to manager them. Managing emotions for me was kind of like “control lite”. I tried hard to avoid or resist them but did my best to outguess them or stay away from the worst of them. The result was that I narrowed the range of my emotions by keeping the highs from getting too high and the lows from getting too low. My emotional palette became dull and emotionally I became less and less expressive.

Finally, as I became more emotionally literate, I found a metaphor that is very useful. I think of it as navigating emotions. It is similar to what happens when you are kayaking or canoeing in a stream. The current (your emotions) are continually moving and carrying you with them. You cannot stop the current or your emotions but you can, to a large degree, determine what path you will take in order to get where you want and ‘avoid the rocks’. I was taught in canoeing that I needed to move only slightly faster than the current to be able to control my direction and anticipating where I wanted to direct the canoe required awareness of what was happening around me. With emotions, I find something similar. I can be aware of them and allow them to carry me but also can choose a change of direction when needed. I don’t control them but I certainly can influence them. Just as I can accept that the current will carry me forward I can accept that I will experience emotions provoked by what is happening around me and that I have some power in choosing how I will respond.

I believe this way of being on friendly terms with our emotions and seeing them as part of what makes life rich can be learned by most people. Recently I had two mentees independently tell me that as they have learned more about emotions this sort of navigation has become available for them. They can be in the moment even with emotionally charged events and at the same time sense the flow and make choices about how they will navigate. It requires the practice of listening to our emotions, trusting that our emotions have a purpose and are trying to tell us something and allowing ourselves to flow with them. I encourage you to try. I have found tremendous freedom with this approach and hope the same will be true for you.

Warmly,
Dan

P.S. If you’d like more practice with emotions and to deepen your understanding of them, please join one of the workshops coming in April. Registrations are now open for the Emotions and Coaching workshops in New Mexico (April 3 to 8) and France (April 19 to 22).

 

Growing Awareness

Growing Awareness

I’ve always thought about awareness as something a bit mystical and difficult to pin down.  It seemed like a good idea but I had put it into the “either you have it or you don’t” column.  I’d come to think that either people “were or were not” aware.  Very black and white.  That all change in a workshop I just finished in Italy.

For a long time I’ve used a model to help my coachees and students understand the steps in intentional learning.  I just call it the Awareness Choice Practice Model.

We have to know there is something we could learn.  We need to choose to learn it.  We need to use it or find a way to practice it so it becomes more or less habitual.
Until a workshop I just finished I’d never addressed what awareness is or whether we can intentionally expand it but I did an exercise with the participants was amazed by the result.  The exercise was this:

  • Image of a single tomato in the powerpoint (we were in Italy after all)
  • A request that they individually write down in bullet point form all the points of awareness they had about tomatoes.
  • After 3 or 4 minutes I asked them to count how many bullet points they had
  • Working with a partner I asked them to share their items one by one and for the other person to add to their list any they had not written down.
  • At the end we debriefed the number of points they started with and the number they finished with.  In all cases they did not double the number because every pair had some overlap
  • Finally, I asked them what they learned about awareness from the exercise

 

The answers were:

  • It is not so complicated to expand awareness
  • It requires listening
  • It is possible to have awareness of awareness
  • They had to trust their partner wasn’t trying in some way to trick them with their list
  • They had to share – their awareness wasn’t something they owned
  • Curiosity was needed
  • Once they heard a new point of awareness they couldn’t forget it

 

For me a once mystical part of myself became practical.  I don’t doubt there is more to awareness (I’m just now aware of it) but this experience helped me see there is an eminently practical way to approach awareness and help people understand how they can simply and consciously expand their or teach others.  It was quite thrilling.  I’ll be using this exercise again with my clients and invite you to try it out.  If you want to personalize it you could pick a different vegetable….or are tomato fruit?

Registrations are now open for the Emotions and Coaching workshops in New Mexico (April 3 to 8) and France (April 19 to 22).  A past participant said “I’ve been to many trainings on emotions and cried a lot but not learned practical tools.  The difference with this workshop was that I only cried once and I came away with tools I can use every day.  Thank you.”
Looking forward to seeing you in April.
Warmly,

Dan