Tapping into our inner emotional signals
Positive Psychology Coach and RB Mind Trustee, Monika Waller, asks whether in the age of reduced attention span, self-awareness can become the key to our wellbeing.
Focus is a rare skill. We live in times of continuous partial attention. We try to multi-task daily, we often rush meals to then go and fix competing priorities. We talk to family and even friends while watching TV or checking emails. What is our focus really on? Are we aware of the difference between urgent and important? When the summer is over and we go back to work or to school, what are we going to focus on? Let’s learn a new way to benefit our focus as well as our wellbeing.
Developing awareness and self-awareness will help you appreciate the present moment and will strengthen your focus. If you spend a lot of time living in your head, you probably don’t pay attention to what’s going on below your neck. Bodily sensations matter. For example, when you’re angry you may spend hours in your mind justifying your point of view and planning what you will do or already should have done. Can you recognise the physical aspect like that tension in your stomach? It’s the body telling you now something is off. Are you aware of emotions in your body? If not, try the following steps:
- Label that emotion
- Locate that emotion in your body
Thoughts and emotions move very quickly through the head. In contrast, the body is relatively slow moving. Your self-awareness can grow when you learn how to find the actual physical sensation of emotions.
The strength to feel what is happening
Dr Kristin Neff – co-creator of the Mindful Self-Compassion programme – has found a formula to improve our awareness of emotions in the body and how to work with them. She’s discovered that when our awareness has a fearful quality we are less open to our emotions and can barely tolerate the experience. However, when our awareness is tender and warm, we have the strength to feel what is happening within us. We can meet difficult emotions and give ourselves comfort in three ways:
- Softening – physical compassion
- Soothing – emotional compassion
- Allowing – mental compassion
Pause and soften into the location in your body where you feel the difficult emotion. Relax, let the muscles soften. Breathe more slowly but comfortably. Gently repeat the word ‘soften’ a few times until it rings true – if possible. You are not trying to change the feeling. You’re just mellowing it, melting it down by a few degrees or even by one.
If it’s possible close your eyes and place your hand over the part of your body that feels the discomfort of emotion. Just take a moment to connect with the gentle touch of your hand. Generate some warmth and kindness towards your body and let that positive energy flow. Offer yourself a smile or whisper some comforting words.
Release the need for any discomfort to go away. Let it be. Make room for it, observe it without judgement. Allow yourself to be just as you are, even if it’s for a brief moment. Repeat the cycle with your emotion if you wish. Honour your limits and end the exercise whenever it’s comfortable for you.
Self-awareness at first may seem like a daunting skill to cultivate. It gets easier if we practice it a little bit every day. The body and mind work best together. Paying attention to emotional signals in our body strengths the mind-body connection. After a while it will seem natural to want to apply self-care and allow any discomfort to mellow. When we are more in tune with our own body and mind it becomes less difficult to recognise what others may think and feel. Awareness of what’s going on in our environment is really important. When we focus on one activity at a time then we can recognise the emotions it evokes and choose how to behave. Instead of being swept away by emotions in difficult situations we could self-manage our temper, our fear and soften and soothe and allow it to melt away.
Benefits of practicing self-awareness
There are 4 proven benefits of practising self-awareness:
- It can make us more pro-active and encourage positive self-development
- It allows us to see things from another perspective, practice self-control and experience pride in ourselves and our work
- It leads to better decision-making
- It can make us better at our jobs, better communicators in the workplace, and enhance our self-confidence.
These benefits are reason enough to work on developing and improving our self-awareness. Self-awareness has the potential to enhance any experience we have and it’s a tool that can be used anywhere and anytime.