Emotions are part of the human experience. They serve a valuable purpose. However, your emotions can also harm you if you give in to them. You might feel highly driven to eat a candy bar, though you shouldn’t. You might feel an overwhelming urge to tell your boss exactly what you think, only to find yourself unemployed.
Our emotions aren’t always accurate guides for making decisions or choosing behaviors. Getting a handle on your emotions is critical! But the first step is to become self-aware. Most people just react with their emotions. It’s imperative to be able to analyze and understand them. In the process, you begin to understand yourself. When you understand your own emotions and tendencies, you gain a better understanding of others, too.
Know Your Values
You can’t evaluate your emotional responses fully if you’re not aware of your values. Your values signify what you stand for. They are part of what makes you unique. Living your values allows you to reach your goals while still being able to live with yourself for the choices you make . Your self-esteem suffers when you don’t live according to your values and you feel fulfilled when you honor your values.
Use these ideas to identify your values and understand yourself better:
- What values would you want your children to hold? What would make you proud as a parent?
- Make a long list of values. Keep writing for at least 20 minutes. Write down every value that appeals to you at all.
- Put your list in order. You might have over 100 items, but just focus on the top 10. What are your 10 most important values? What are the top 5?
Your values provide a unique perspective for evaluating your thoughts, actions, and emotions.
Keep an Emotion Journal
You can’t understand or address something you’re not aware of. You can’t master your thoughts and emotions if you’re not aware of them. One of the best ways to learn to be aware of your emotions is to keep a journal that tracks your emotions.
Use these strategies to build your emotion journal:
- It’s important to record your thoughts and observations as close to the incident as possible. Avoid relying on a single review at the end of the day. A small notebook works well. A portable recorder, or a smartphone, can also be effective and convenient.
- When you feel a change in your emotions, positive or negative, pay attention. You might feel mildly annoyed that someone is asking to borrow a pen for the third time this week. Or you might be ecstatic that someone complimented you about your shoes. Make note of the incident and the emotion you felt. Speculate on why the incident made you feel the way it did. Record what you were tempted to do as a result versus what you actually did. What response would have been most aligned to your values?
Many people avoid keeping an emotion journal. This is natural. The ego doesn’t like anyone poking around too much. Avoid allowing that to stop you. Keep track of your emotions for a month and see what you discover.
Consider How Others View You
This is a challenging exercise, but very revealing if we are to become self-aware. Most of us don’t have an accurate representation of how others view us. We tend to inflate our positive qualities and disregard our negative attributes. We filter our own behavior differently than others do. We often give ourselves the benefit of the doubt, but others often do not.
Use these ideas to consider how you appear to others:
- Take the perspective of an outsider. Imagine observing yourself. What would you think about you? Consider your clothes, grooming, job, interactions, hobbies, friends, and how you handle conflict.
- Consider the impact each of the above has on your life. The opinions of others can impact your career, dating options and even how much you’re trusted.
Being able to see yourself through the perspective of others will help you filter out which opinions and voices are important to you and which do not serve you well. You might think that it’s great to be free from worrying about what others think, but that would be a mistake. True self awareness will help you evaluate the opinions that matter and help you adjust what needs to be adjusted.
“Engaging in meditative self-reflection and gaining increased control of inner experiences provides a person with a sense of control over fear and trembling and the chaos of life.” – KILROY J. OLDSTER