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Isn’t life an emotional rollercoaster at times? Do you feel that and wonder, how can I not get caught up in my emotions all the time? It’s true, gaining emotional literacy is the key to unlocking your inner awareness and untapped potential.

It’s about starting to think, feel and act more intentionally rather than just react to life.

We all experience emotions constantly, but it is rare that we understand exactly what they are and what they are telling us. We don’t realise it, but our emotions are a source of endless information about ourselves, the people around us and the environments we’re in! The trick is to observe them more!

So, what is emotional literacy?

Emotional literacy is not just having general knowledge about emotions but becoming fluent in your very own emotional language.

Developing emotional literacy allows you to:

  • Improve your problem-solving skills.
  • Make more informed, emotionally intelligent decisions.
  • Become a better leader and team player.
  • Learn vital information about your thinking and behaviour.
  • Strengthen your relationships with others.

Deciphering Emotions

In The Heart of Leadership, Joshua Freedman tells us that all emotions fall on an intersection of two continuums: pleasantness and intensity.

So your emotions range from pleasant to unpleasant on one continuum and from mild to intense on the other. The location of an emotion on these two continuums can dictate your decision-making, how you perceive and respond to others and your performance. This is why it is so important to have emotional literacy so you can be aware and place your emotions. Test the truthfulness of what you’re feeling or whether you need to shift emotions to see the issue differently.

The following steps are a starting guide to learning and interpreting your emotions.

1. Realise your emotions are assets

As a culture, we tend to deal with our emotions in a very unproductive way. We stifle them because we think they are weak or ugly, or we respond to them in a way that is unhelpful.

Wouldn’t you like to experience your emotions guilt-free and actually benefit from them? It sounds too good to be true, but it is possible.

Your emotions are letting you in on the very nuanced details of your life:

  • ‘You didn’t get enough rest on the weekend’.
  • ‘This person does not seem trustworthy’.
  • ‘You should work on more projects like this’.

In Essentials of the Human Brain*, John Nolte explains that the limbic system, or the emotional brain, is responsible for providing input from our surroundings and to indicate how our body is doing. It sends this data around the body and you feel emotions as physical sensations. How amazing is that?

It’s time to stop thinking about emotions as obstacles and realise they can move you in new and exciting directions.

2. Stop ignoring emotions

The next step is to stop ignoring your emotions. Have you ever had a feeling in your chest during tense or uncertain circumstances? Does that feeling ever go away without a change of some sort? Perhaps not.

If nothing changes, unpleasant emotions like stress, fear and anxiety can grow in intensity. Our brain just gets more desperate to have its message heard and acted on. If you feel apprehensive about a big meeting one week prior and don’t do anything to better prepare yourself, you will surely feel terrified one hour before.

On the other hand, pleasant emotions need to be followed up. If you feel happy about something, that is a great indicator that you should keep doing it!

3. Start to name your emotions

Now that you’ve started paying attention, you can start thinking about and speaking about your emotions more explicitly. It’s amazing how much of a difference it can make to pause and think or even speak about what you are feeling!

When you name an emotion, you’re acknowledging that it’s there, opening up a channel to begin considering that emotion.

Sometimes, naming an emotion is powerful enough to change the direction of a situation. As you make this a habit, you’ll notice yourself becoming more present in each moment as your inner dialogue begins to change.

4. Understand the wisdom of your emotions

Once you have developed your emotional literacy, you can begin to better understand how your emotions are sharing wisdom that your mind hasn’t caught onto yet.

You can also start to observe emotional patterns, triggers, shifts and their strength. Don’t judge, just observe. Track particular emotions over a time period – consider emotions you want to have more and less of. Expand your emotional vocabulary by naming your emotions and see how you can express your emotions through conversation, art, writing or music.

It takes time to learn the language

So, the more you listen to your emotions consciously and learn to understand them, the more you can see personal and professional growth. Well-developed emotional literacy takes time and practice. Be gentle with yourself!

Continue to imagine what you might achieve when you know how to work WITH your emotions rather than AGAINST them!

*Disclosure: We love to promote great resources to support your personal leadership development. This post contains affiliate links which means if you decide to use the links and make a purchase, we receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. Thanks for your support!


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