Practicing Emotional Awareness

Learning to process emotions is a life-long journey. Here's a simple starting place.

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A cornerstone of emotional intelligence is emotional awareness. This means, in part, being able to identify the feelings we are experiencing. It sounds simple—perhaps even innate—but there all kinds of things in our contemporary lives in the West that can make emotional awareness difficult. We may have been raised to stuff our feelings down or have worked in environments where to get through the day we have to ignore how we feel. And it doesn’t have to be something big disconnecting us from our feelings; all kinds of small distractions can add up over time—things like zoning out in front of the TV or having a habit of attending to others first. These distractions or habits can be neutral or even helpful, but they can still add up over time in a way that disconnects us from how we feel. All of the things that disconnect us from how we feel then reduce our capacity for emotional awareness.

The good news is that emotional awareness is a skill that we can build up proficiency in over time. So, we don’t have to settle for our current level of awareness. This is an area of emotional intelligence that we can gain some control over. Building up emotional intelligence by starting with awareness can then benefit not only our personal lives but our work in ministry, our lives with our families, and more.

Build your emotional awareness

A simple practice to start growing your skills in emotional awareness is to reconnect with your feelings throughout the day. This can be an eye-opening process of discovery. Here’s how to do it.

First, pick a day to start this process. Look at your schedule, and be realistic with your time and needs. If you feel especially disconnected, you could try starting this practice on a day off where you might be able to more easily identify with how you feel.

Next, choose a tool to help you identify your feelings. A tool might be a notepad, notes app on your favorite device, a voice recording app, art paper, or a journal.

Now, commit to the practice. With your start day picked and your tool selected, make a commitment that you will try this out. Set a reminder on your phone. Put the tool you are using somewhere handy and easy to see.

Start your practice! Throughout your selected day, take pauses to write out how you are feeling. You might just jot down a list on your notepad or record a voice memo for yourself. If you don’t feel anything, that is important to note.

Next steps for emotional awareness

You can repeat this practice as often as you’d like, and use it as jumping off point to learn more. Some things that you may find from this practice to explore further include the following.

  • Identifying emotional areas to learn more about by looking for books on emotional awareness.
  • If you noted not feeling much of anything, it may mean that it is worth it to talk to a spiritual director or counselor. Talking to a spiritual director or counselor may be a valuable step, regardless of the emotions you list out.
  • Using your emotions in prayer or contemplation to connect with yourself and God. This practice may also support your prayer life if you use some from of the Ignatian Examen.
  • Keeping the practice and using it to regularly journal.

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