You probably read about the psychology study last year that asked people to sit alone with their thoughts, with no distractions, for just fifteen minutes. Surprisingly, many of the test subjects (67% of the men and 25% of the women) preferred to distract themselves with a mild but painful electric shock rather than experience their thoughts and feelings, even for such a short period of time.
It’s very easy to distract yourself in the modern age, when we carry around little electronic devices that are portals to all the world’s knowledge – although we are more likely to use them for looking at Facebook and Twitter or playing games like Candy Crush. When our attention is constantly outside of ourselves, we are even less aware than our ancestors of the workings of our thoughts, motivations and emotions.
This is a real loss. If we don’t know what we are feeling, our emotions can blindside us with a sudden surge that makes us do things we later regret (as with road rage). We act to satisfy our desires and motivations, without taking the time to reflect on those motivations and whether they are right for us. And the less self-aware we are, the less we are able to understand the motivations of others or predict how they might react.
So, do you want to understand yourself better? Are you ready to increase your self-awareness by getting in touch with your emotions? (If you feel anxious about this idea, read ‘How To Increase Your Emotional Intelligence 2: What If You Don’t Like Yourself?‘ first).
Here is one way we can become more aware of what we are feeling, both moment to moment and our underlying longer-term moods.
Notice how you feel right at this moment. Emotions show up as sensations in our body – what are these sensations? Whereabouts do you feel them? . Now let your eyes stray down towards your dominant hand (the one you write with). Notice how you feel now – you may find that you are more intensely aware of whatever you are feeling than you were before.
If you don’t like the way you’re feeling, ask yourself: “How do you know you are feeling that?” Forget the label that you’ve given the emotion – sadness, anxiety or whatever – what are the physical sensations? Where are they in your body? How intense are they? Are they constant or do they change? After doing this for a couple of minutes, you may feel different.
Whatever we focus on in our experience grows. So concentrating on negative feelings like anxiety, anger or even pain will make them seem bigger than they really are, and lead us to forget the other areas of our body, and our life, where things are OK or even better than that.
So, to put your most immediately noticeable emotions in greater perspective, notice what you are feeling elsewhere in your body. Make a systematic and gradual scan through the rest of your body, from your feet all the way up to the top of your head. Notice what you are feeling in each part of your body.
Finally, focus on where in your body you have the greatest feeling of comfort, or positive feelings such as excitement, happiness or love. Allow these pleasant sensations to get stronger and spread throughout your body. Bring everything that you like about this experience back with you as you return your attention to the outside world.
Feeling positive has been found to improve your thinking skills, helping you take on new information faster, think more strategically, and recover more quickly from setbacks. So finding positive feelings within yourself and bringing them back with you into the present will help you handle the world around you better.