By Fred Kofman
Philosopher and Vice President at Linkedin
“The emotional brain responds to an event more quickly than the thinking brain.” Daniel Goleman
In my last post we covered the first three of the five basic competencies for working with your emotions: self-awareness, self-acceptance, and self-regulation. In this post, let’s cover the last two: self-inquiry and self-expression.
Self-Inquiry is the capacity to understand the stories that give rise to your emotions. When you experience an emotion you can examine its underlying story in order to separate the useful information from the false beliefs. That is, you can welcome the emotion as an appropriate expression of your thoughts while critically analyzing these thoughts to check whether they are true; that is to say, they appropriately represent reality.
For example, you may experience a jolt of fear when you see a snake on the running trail ahead of you… until you realize that it’s just a piece of rope. The fear is right; the perception is wrong. The mistake is cognitive, not emotional.
Self-expression is the capacity to act appropriately in response to your emotions. When you feel the emotion and you validate its cognitive root, you can use it to guide your behavior. The natural emotional cycle is to get stirred up as feeling and then move out as action. When you acknowledge your feelings and express them appropriately, they foster emotional health.
Returning to the example of the snake, if there were a snake it would be prudent to express your fear by stopping and giving the snake a wide berth. That’s what fear calls you to do, to take care of yourself and what you value. Since it is only a rope fear vanishes and you can happily run through.
The Emotion is Always Right (But The Story Behind It May Be Wrong)
If you examine a particular story beneath an emotion, you will find a series of assessments. These assessments may be wrong. They can be the product of perceptual or reasoning errors.
That’s why you emotional intelligence means to embrace the emotion and challenge the thought. Then, you can respond appropriately through self-expression. You may find it useful to have a list of some basic emotional narratives to understand each emotion’s presuppositions and it’s “call to action.”
Happiness: You feel happy when you believe that something good has happened. Happiness is the expression of care in the face of success. Think of a time when you felt happy. You probably assessed that you attained something of value. Happiness calls for celebration. When you celebrate, you recognize the value you achieved and face the future with strength and hope.
Sadness: You feel sad when you believe that something bad has happened. Sadness is the expression of care in the face of a loss. Think of a time when you felt sad. You probably assessed that you lost something of value. Sadness calls for grieving. When you grieve, you acknowledge the importance of the loss and recover a sense of inner peace.
Enthusiasm: You feel enthusiastic when you believe that something good may happen. Think of a time when you felt enthusiastic. You probably assessed that something you valued was within your grasp. Enthusiasm calls for effort. When you turn enthusiasm into concrete actions, you increase the probability of achieving your objectives.
Fear: You feel afraid when you believe that something bad may happen. Think of a time when you felt afraid. You probably assessed that something you valued was at risk. Fear calls for protection. When you turn fear into specific actions, you decrease the probability (or the impact) of the possible loss.
Gratitude: You feel grateful when you believe that someone went out of his or her way to do something good for you. Think of a time when you felt grateful. You probably assessed that someone helped you attain something you valued. Gratitude calls for appreciation. Thanking the person who helped you, you recognize his/her efforts and acknowledge his/her impact on your well-being.
Anger: You feel angry when you believe that someone hurt you inappropriately. Think of a time when you felt angry. You probably judged that, because of some transgression, someone damaged something you valued. Anger calls for a complaint, an effort to reestablish the violated boundaries. Anger also calls for repairing what was damaged and protecting it for the future. Expressing anger productively, you reaffirm your values and reduce the chances they will be harmed again.
There is another pair of emotions, pride and guilt. Those will be the topic of the next post.
In the following video, I discuss how every emotion is based on a story about something that matters to you.
Find more exercises related to mindfulness at work here.