My previous blog post, How Being Grateful Made a Difference, has triggered in me a huge reflection about moods and emotions that I have decided to share here. This post isn’t relevant to one particular time in my journey. Rather, it is relevant to life in general and, as such, can possibly be considered a bonus post; one that I would like to offer in case it is useful.
So, moods and emotions…
Throughout our lives, I don’t think that we are really taught how to learn from and interpret our emotions, My assessment is that, in some cases, we are even taught to suppress our emotions: Don’t be angry; Stop crying; Don’t be scared; Nice people aren’t proud or conceited; I can’t believe you are scared of that; There is nothing to be sad about. What this has done, I think, has created a societal interpretation of emotional spaces where some moods and emotions are considered “good” and some are considered “bad”. I also think that it has removed legitimacy from our feeling of some emotions – if someone is telling you to stop crying, what (would you interpret that they) are saying about the legitimacy of the emotion that you are feeling in that moment of crying?
It feels to me as though we place judgement around emotions, and I would now like to introduce the possibility of removing this judgement. What if we accept that moods and emotions just are, and there is no good/bad, right/wrong?
So, firstly, what is the difference between moods and emotions?
Emotions are experienced in the moment, in response to a specific situation. Every emotion has a predisposed action; that is, the default action that we are most likely to take from that emotion. For example, if I see a snake, I might experience fear. The action that I am most likely to take from that experience of fear is to avoid the snake. The fear is taking care of me by telling me that there is something specific that is going to harm me (the snake) and it is predisposing me to avoiding that harm.
Moods are emotions that have decided to stay, and they can stay for a period of time that is as little as a few hours or as long as a lifetime. They, too, have predisposed actions. For example, in a mood of anxiety, the predisposed action may be to self-protect. If we are unwittingly operating from a mood of anxiety, every action that we take will potentially be centred around self-protecting. This may serve us well in some ways; in other ways, perhaps not.
The interpretation of moods and emotions that I have chosen is that they are not right or wrong; they are simply signs that there is something within us to be taken care of. If we don’t see the signs, we will take the predisposed action. If we do see the signs, we have a choice about what action will serve us. As an example of this, there is a round-about at the end of my street. If I take the time to interpret the signs at that round-about, I can choose to go left to a friend’s house, straight ahead to the shops, or right to the playground. If I am driving along whilst talking on the phone, I may not see the signs. In that case, I would take the predisposed action of going straight ahead to the shops. By not seeing the signs, I have, in a way, reduced my possibilities for action because I have unwittingly taken the default possibility of going to the shops. If I was after something for dinner, that action might serve me. If, however, I wanted coffee with my friend, I have not only removed that possibility, I have unwittingly taken an action that is going to take me down a completely different path.
If we think about it, everything that we do is done from an emotional space, even if we don’t realise it or understand it at the time. There is, therefore, incredible power available to us when we take the time to understand and learn from our moods and emotions.
So what do I mean by “noticing the signs”? Well, this could be what we are saying to ourselves or how we are feeling within our body. For example, I can usually tell when I have slipped into a mood of anxiety, because I will be saying something to myself like “I don’t want to do this” or “I can’t do this” or my personal favourite “What if…?”. In my body, I will feel something akin to grasshoppers bouncing in the bottom of my stomach; I will almost feel ill. I will also feel a tightness in my shoulders, my torso area will become closed and my breathing will become more shallow. I have learnt this by really focussing on what is happening when I experience anxiety. I have also learnt that, for me, shifting my shoulders, slowing my breathing and opening up my torso area will help to reduce/remove the anxiety. So, noticing my anxiety in the moment means that I now have options available to me for removing the anxiety, rather than following the predisposed path of self-protection. It also means that I have an opportunity to understand why it is there and to deal with that in whatever way might serve me.
With this interpretation of moods an emotions, I feel able to observe myself without judgement and in a way that enables me to make choices about my actions. I tend to do this in the moment by asking myself the following:
- What is this emotional space taking care of for me?
- How would I like to work with this emotional space to achieve the outcome that I am after?
Being willing to be a learner and really explore my own moods and emotions has been incredibly powerful. However, there is a second part to this that, I think, increases the power exponentially and that is being able to understand that everyone else in the world is also operating from an emotional space.
As an example of this, I recently had an interaction with someone who I felt was being quite aggressive in their approach towards me. I also felt as though they were making assumptions about something that I had done, without clarifying with me first. I could feel myself becoming angry. When I asked myself why this was the case, I realised that it was because I felt as though something about me was being questioned by this person. I also felt as though the individual was judging me before seeking to understand me, and therefore wasn’t respecting me. Once I understood this, I was then able to make a conscious decision that my reaction would not be about my anxiety or my own insecurities of myself in that situation. Instead, I decided to focus on how the individual might be feeling.
In the moment, I became curious about whether he may be feeling some anxiety or frustration. This was a completely ungrounded assessment on my part, however, it served the purpose of enabling me to see the situation from the other person’s perspective, rather than focussing purely on how I felt. Although I didn’t think that he was speaking to me in a way that took care of my concerns, I decided that I was going to put that aside and work out a way that might speak to his anxiety and enable him to see that we could work together to achieve his goal. The interaction ended with us both being on a common page with regard to the situation and I think that I can take my learning from this into future interactions with that individual.
Points to Ponder…
Think of a situation that you would like to be working differently.
- What moods or emotions are present for you? How are they serving you?
- If there are other people involved in the situation, what moods or emotions might they be experiencing? How could you take action in this situation in a way that considers those moods and emotions?
Note: If you would like to read more about moods and emotions and, in particular, gain an understanding of a variety of moods and emotions, “The Unopened Gift: A Primer in Emotional Literacy” by Dan Newby and Lucy Nunez is one of my favourites. For me, it really cemented my interpretation of moods and emotions, and I refer to it often.
I am a leadership and life coach, available for coaching and facilitation services. If you feel that it would be useful to have a conversation with me, please feel free to view my services on the Leading and Being website.