I was watching an interview on the morning news today with a woman about her love for the Boston Red Sox. The woman said that she has been a Red Sox fan since she was 14 years old and then said “And I don’t know why.” She is now 102 years old and has diligently followed a sports team for 88 years and yet she doesn’t know why. I was saddened that this woman has given some part of almost 90% of the years of her life to the Boston Red Sox and she could not articulate what the team means to her.
I don’t have statistics, but I have anecdotal evidence, that this is incredibly true of our society as a whole. Most people are numb to their lives and their experiences. Most people cannot tell you what a sports team, a hobby, a relationship, time with friends and family, or many other things that they say they “love” mean to them other than that they “like” them or they are “good.” I wonder, if we started to keep track, how many times when you ask someone how they are doing that you would find you get any response other than “fine” or maybe “good.” We go through the motions of life but we rarely pay attention to what any, or most, of it feels like. We too often don’t tune into our emotions.
As a counselor, I often hear that emotions are pesky matters that muddy the waters of nice, logical lives. It seems that many people see emotions as something better to be avoided than dealt with. I believe this is because most of us were never taught what to do with emotions; there’s some silent expectation that it comes naturally to experience our emotions. That simply is not true. But whether we acknowledge our emotions or not, they are present, they exist, and they have a purpose. If we don’t listen to our emotions, we don’t know what we feel. If we don’t know what we feel, we can’t share our experience with others, and likely we will make few changes in our lives because everything is “fine.” If you want a life that is more than “fine”, here are a few ways to start to pay attention to your emotions.
Get a feeling list, chart, or wheel. Find a tool that makes sense to you and that you can use to expand your vocabulary of emotion words. There are great free ones on the internet – just Google “free feeling wheel” or “free emotion list.”
Check in with yourself. Set an alarm on your phone to check in with yourself on what you are feeling a few times a day. When the alarm goes off, take a deep breath, close your eyes, and look inside to see if you can identify what you are feeling in the moment – and then write it down in a journal, or a note in your phone along with what was going on at the time. If you are not sure what you are feeling in that moment, pull out your emotion list and see what jumps off the page to you – that it likely the emotion you are experiencing in that moment. It is important to not to judge what you are feeling. Despite what some may say, emotions are neither good or bad – they just are.
Check in with your body. If you can pay attention to what your body is doing and any sensations you feel, this can provide you information on your emotion at that moment. For me, I know that when I notice my shoulders are hunched and tense, that signals overwhelm for me. I don’t always identify the emotion of overwhelm in the moment, but as soon as I recognize my hunched and tense shoulders, I know that I’m overwhelmed. When checking in with your body, just like when checking in with yourself, do not judge or discount any body sensation, but instead be curious about what it’s telling you. This could be a warm sensation in your body, tensed shoulders, “butterflies” in your tummy, your heart racing, shallow breathing, or tingling in your arms or legs, to name a few. It is important to notice any sensation and see if you can tie it to an emotion. The more you can start to pay attention to your body, the easier it becomes to identify your emotions.
I’d love to hear what you do to help yourself tune into what you’re feeling. And, if you try any of these, I’d love to hear your feedback as well. Please feel free to leave comments below.
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