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Three Simple Steps to Understanding your Emotions

understanding emotionsDriven by emotions, we react to others, make important decisions, avoid uncomfortable situations, and even sabotage our goals. Yet, most of us don’t really understand our emotions or exercise much control over them.

This simple tutorial will help us take concrete steps to understanding our emotions so that we can make more conscious choices with them.

We’ll assume negative emotions for this post, but you can use this process for any feeling.

To understand an emotion consciously, take the following three steps:

These steps are influenced by neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) but have roots that go much deeper than NLP.

To do the steps, you’ll need to pause and give yourself the attention you deserve. Beyond this, you should enter an open frame of mind, one in which you aren’t judging yourself.

You have emotions. Some of them are not emotions you enjoy and don’t even like to admit you have. OK. Let’s at least understand these emotions better so we can figure out what to do. Usually, you’ll learn something valuable about yourself if you do, which helps resolve the difficult emotion.

1. Locate the physical feeling in your body

Where is it? Emotions are grounded in physical sensations. Are those sensations in your head, throat, chest, solar plexus, belly, or somewhere else? Locate them in your body. Place your hand over the area if it helps. Don’t chase it away! Just be with it.

Consciously experiencing an emotion can’t harm you. Unconsciously letting some emotions fuel your decisions and reactions can harm you. Locate your feeling. Place your hand there. Sit with it consciously.

2. Become aware of the following qualities of your emotion:

How big is it?

The size of your fist? Smaller? Bigger?

What shape is it?

A circle? Square, rectangle, diamond, a blob, a cylinder, a block? If you could trace the outside of your feeling, what shape would it take? It doesn’t matter what shape it is. Just be aware. Is it a flat shape or three-dimensional?

How deep is it?

On the surface of your skin? An inch deep? Deeper?

Is it moving?

Slowly or quickly? Pulsating, swirling, flowing? In which direction? Up, down, side-to-side?

Again, just be aware of these qualities. Don’t try to change them. Let your feeling do what it wants to do.

3. Label the feeling

What would you call it? Anger? Anxiety? Sadness, guilt, grief, fear, jealousy, worry, a ball of stress? That old yuckiness? It doesn’t matter what you call it, although whatever you call it should help you make more sense of it.

So far, you’ve taken a healthy pause, located a sensation in your body, described the sensation in detail, and given it a label that clarifies what it is and what it means to you. These steps alone take just a few minutes and can be helpful in and of themselves.

Even better, when you just sit with this kind of detailed attention and self-awareness, you’ll often notice the emotion dissipating all by itself. This is because you’re processing it consciously, using the power of your awareness to attend to your needs.

Emotions tend to flow like water. They want to express and tend to be temporary states, coming and going in waves. When you block the flow of emotional energy in your body, emotions can dam up and plague you again and again.

Once you get this process down, you’re in a position of high self-awareness, knowing how you feel.

From here, you can ask yourself some productive questions:

• What triggered this emotion?
• What do I need to help this feeling resolve?
• How can I express this emotion to others in a mature way?

And so on. Happy emotion hunting!

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Three Simple Steps to Understanding your Emotions

Mike Bundrant

Mike Bundrant is the author of Your Achilles Eel: Discover and Overcome the Hidden Cause of Negative Emotions, Bad Decisions and Self-Sabotage and co-founder at The iNLP Center which offers online certification in Neuro-Linguistic Programming and life coaching.

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APA Reference
Bundrant, M. (2017). Three Simple Steps to Understanding your Emotions. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 2, 2020, from


Last updated: 23 May 2017
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