A 3-Step Exercise for Identifying Your Emotions

Emotional intelligence starts with understanding what’s going on inside yourself

A close-up photo of a woman clasping her hands over her chest.
A close-up photo of a woman clasping her hands over her chest.
Photo: fstop123/E+/Getty

DoDo you ever feel misunderstood or underappreciated at work? Do you have a boss who doesn’t ever seem to notice the extra effort you bring to every project? A client who makes urgent demands during off hours or regularly shoots down your ideas?

In situations like these that feel out of your control, changing the way you work probably isn’t the answer. Instead, you might be better off changing the way you relate to and connect with the people around you. Try to understand that difficult boss. Build a rapport with that fussy client. And the way to do that is by cultivating your emotional intelligence.

John Mayer, a psychologist at the University of New Hampshire and one of the leading researchers on emotional intelligence, describes it as “the capacity to reason about emotions and emotional information, and of emotions to enhance thought.” Higher emotional intelligence is related to increased mental and physical health, greater resilience, and stronger personal relationships.

In other words, success isn’t all about IQ tests or other quantitative metrics. If you want to achieve anything meaningful, you must be able to work with other people. From that perspective, emotional intelligence is an essential skill.

But before you can identify other people’s emotions, you must learn to understand your own. Here’s how.

Identify your emotions

Daniel Goleman, the author of Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, argued in his book that we might better understand the mind as two minds: “one that thinks and one that feels.”

To develop my mind that feels, I like to write about my daily emotions in my journal, and reflect on what triggers those emotions. Here are some questions you can ask yourself to do the same:

  • What are you feeling in different situations?
  • Do you get angry when you receive criticism?
  • Do you feel sad when people ignore you?
  • Do you freeze when you’re put on the spot?

Interpret your emotions

Once you have a better idea about how you respond to different situations, it’s time to understand those responses. Ask yourself questions like:

  • When you’re angry, how do you respond to people?
  • How does your anger change the way you view your job?
  • How does it change the way you see your own value?

It’s important that you don’t judge yourself for feeling what you feel. This exercise is simply to help you understand yourself — nothing more, nothing less.

Manage your emotions

Managing your emotions is big part of succeeding in business. A leader doesn’t “go with the flow.” A leader sets the mood. But before you can do that, you must have control over your internal mood. Answer these questions:

  • Can you snap out of a sad mood?
  • Can you cheer yourself up?
  • Can you slow yourself down when you’re too excited?

Whatever you answer “no” to is an area you need to work on. And don’t be too hard on yourself. We can only control our emotions to a certain extent; inevitably, we all experience sadness, anger, fear, guilt, and disappointment. But what’s fully within your control is how you feel about your emotions — how well you understand them, and what you do with that understanding. Without it, you cannot become a leader. More importantly, you cannot develop the self-awareness you need to get the most out of life.

Creator of the Stoic Letter (new letter comes out every Friday) | My online course, Wealth Strategies, is now free: dariusforoux.com/wealth-strategies

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