I’ve had the privilege of speaking with a number of groups, teams and organizations over the last month. The theme for these talks? Resilience. Specifically, how to strengthen it.

The subtitle for these talks may as well be: strengthen your resilience by identifying and processing your emotions. Depending on your comfort level with emoting – and the depth of your emotional vocabulary – this topic may have you feeling very uncomfortable, or wanting to close out this blog post and never return. A few years ago, I would have been right there with you closing out the browser. But if you’re willing to, bear with me for the next few paragraphs.

Emotional literacy is not taught in schools – not explicitly, anyway. So we are reliant on our upbringing, our friends, and society in general, to school us on our emotional lives. What is, and isn’t, appropriate. When, and how, we should emote. Building my emotional literacy has been one of the most challenging aspects of my personal leadership journey. It has also been one of the most transformational.

Willing emotions away doesn’t work

Turns out, our emotions are running the show. I’ve learned this through experience, and through the research of Brené Brown and Marc Brackett. We can try to repress them, ignore them, or will them away – but we can’t prevent emotions from happening. And if we aren’t actively tuning into them, and processing them, they’ll drive our lives unconsciously.

Not giving ourselves the space or permission to tune into our emotions can leave us huffing and puffing our way through interactions, misplacing anger and frustration, or adamantly declaring “I’m fine” when we are anything but.

Emotions as information

I was often afraid of sadness and anger. Concerned I would get stuck in a wallowing state if I felt my feelings too deeply, or worried I would get trapped in resentment if I allowed myself to get angry. I didn’t understand: what was the point of feeling these unpleasant feelings?

Emotions serve as information about what’s really going on for us. When you feel a feeling coming on, stay with it for a moment. Describe it. Name it. (If your emotional vocabulary is limited like mine, check out www.feelingswheel.com or the mood meter app at www.marcbrackett.com).

For example, let’s say a woman is marching her way through the grocery store, pushing past individuals in the aisle, letting out a heavy sigh. Her shoulders are tense, she’s irritated. Her inner monologue is something like why is everyone insistent on getting in my way? Just let me through!!

Imagine if she paused and noticed: geez, I’m having a really strong reaction right now…what’s going on? As she walks the aisles, she remembers a conversation she had with her daughter that morning. It was really disappointing. Wait no, she thinks to herself, it wasn’t disappointing, it was unsettling.

Suddenly, the penny drops. She isn’t frustrated with her fellow shoppers.

She’s unsettled by the conversation with her daughter.

It had her questioning her parenting choices.

Which had her questioning herself.

She lets this sink in, recognizing that it is this conversation with her daughter that has her feeling upset and unsettled.

This knowledge now informs her next action: she needs to have a follow up conversation with her daughter.

Emotions inform your next best action

In the above example, simply by pausing and processing what she was feeling, the woman was able to move from an unconscious, reactive state (and taking out her emotion on her fellow shoppers) to conscious awareness. While the realization that she is unhappy with her daughter isn’t necessarily pleasant, it has informed the woman’s next step.

This is true for all of us. In a year where we’ve had to re-think how we approach just about everything in our lives, we’ve been on an emotional roller-coaster. Navigating these ongoing changes requires taking stock of what is going on for us day to day – and it is by tuning into – and processing – our emotions that we can access that valuable information.

If you’re looking to strengthen resiliency at your organization or with your team, visit www.agencytochange.com to learn more about our resiliency workshops and psychological health & safety programs. All workshops and talks are designed for virtual delivery.

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