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Resilience: Noticing Emotion

Harry Mills, Ph.D. & Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

In order to develop the five emotional intelligence skill domains, you'll need to become skillful at the following tasks:

Noticing Emotion

By their nature, emotions are consuming. During the moment, it is very easy to simply remain embedded inside them and not quite recognize that they are occurring. In an emotionally embedded state, it is as though you are asleep, or helpless to act differently than the emotion wants you to act. You might find yourself doing things you will later regret doing while in such a state.

As self-awareness grows, you become able to notice emotion as it is occurring. Noticing emotion allows you to step back from it, and witness it as though it were happening to someone else. Noticing emotion separates you from that emotion, and therefore provides you with the space you need to recognize that the emotion is happening, and to form judgments as to whether your actions in response to the emotion are proper. A self-aware person is awake and responsible rather than asleep. They are conscious of what they are feeling and can use their understanding of their emotion to change how they act.

In order to notice emotion while it is happening, you must pay attention to the following:

  • Your Senses. Emotions get expressed physically and are reflected in one's body and posture. Specific behaviors like clenched fists or gritted teeth are good signals that one is probably angry, for example.
  • Your Thoughts and Beliefs. Emotions are also expressed as thoughts. It is fairly common for particular types of thoughts and beliefs to only be present when you are upset. Your learning to notice that those emotion-linked thoughts are present in your mind becomes a clue that you are upset. For example, many people say thing to themselves like, "Things will never ever get better, ever again!", when upset, but not say this sort of thing to themselves when they are feeling okay. If you do something like this, you can learn to recognize when you are doing it, and use that knowledge to know when you are upset.
  • Your Actions. Emotions have behavioral components. Learn to recognize the way you act while upset. Noticing that you are suddenly raising your voice or starting to speak over other people might be clues that you are upset.
  • Your Triggers. Triggers are situations, people, places, feelings, thoughts or objects that get you to start thinking or feeling something you would not otherwise have thought or felt. Triggers can often start you down the road towards becoming upset without your conscious awareness. Identify your triggers by watching for the things that set you off, and then writing them down. Knowing what your triggers are helps you to anticipate them so that they don't catch you off guard. Generate a plan for handling each trigger so that it doesn't get the best of you.
  • Your Motives. Think about how you believe people should conduct themselves in various different situations. For instance, ask yourself which is better behavior when speaking with one's spouse: calm discussion or screaming? Later, compare your own behavior against your list and see if you meet your own standards. Learn to notice when you are not meeting your own standards of conduct. Your noticing when you are not meeting your own standards of conduct can become a clue as to when you are upset.




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