How to Read Your Emotions Part II: Put on Your Spec’s

Reading your emotions is all about perspective. Perspective is just a place from which you are looking at something – it’s a point of view from which you observe things as they happen. Your experience of an event can be dramatically different depending on how you view that experience.

If you’re watching a movie but sitting behind someone with an enormous hat that blocks your view, you’re likely to experience frustration because you’re missing out on the movie. You might politely ask this individual to remove his or her hat, and sometimes that works. But if they refuse, the situation can become even more upsetting and you might be tempted to start an argument. After all, people “shouldn’t” wear big hats in movie theaters! While you might feel you are justified in arguing, making a scene usually isn’t actually much fun for anyone (no, your date will not be impressed). If the point of your evening is to have fun enjoying a movie, then the simplest solution is to change seats.

But notice that whether or not your view is blocked by a hat, the movie itself is exactly the same. For that matter, changing seats doesn’t mean the person with the hat suddenly stops existing. The important difference is in where you’re sitting – it all depends on your perspective. The same is true of your emotions: don’t try to change them, get a better view.

The ability to take perspective on one’s emotions isn’t a matter of understanding – it’s a matter of repetition and practice. The more you do it, the better you’ll get. One of the best ways to develop your emotional perspective-taking skills is through practicing mindfulness meditation.  Mindfulness is the practice of taking perspective on your feelings, thoughts, and sensations. It can also help you learn to take other people’s perspectives, develop a stronger sense of self, and become more accepting of your psychological experience (see my earlier blog post on the perils of judging emotions).

Just like it’s hard to read a book that is an inch away from your face, it’s hard to read your emotions without creating a little space. How and from where you look at your emotions can be much more important than what emotions you are looking at. By “stepping back” from your emotions you create a new vantage point that will help you see more clearly. As you’ll see, that perspective gives you an advantage.

On the Virtues of Being Wrong

“Wow. I don’t know. Maybe I’m wrong.”

Take a moment and consider, what are you wrong about right now? Are you aware of being wrong about something in this moment? I mean really stop and check. Can you think of something that you know you are wrong about right now?

Most of us walk around with a perpetual feeling of being right. In most moments of our lives we feel right about what we are doing and believing. And if we do feel wrong, it’s usually only in some small part of our lives. Doesn’t this seem odd that all of us are right almost all the time? Logically, it must be the case that we are wrong about something almost all the time.  Why don’t we know it?

One way to think about is to think about our thoughts as stories. Our minds are masterful storytellers, spinning new stories all the time. And most of the time we don’t even notice it. And these stories almost always seem to be true. Rarely do we tell stories that we know we are wrong about (unless we are telling a lie, in which case we usually know that we are telling a lie and know that’s right).

Unfortunately, our inability to notice when we are wrong can hold us back. We can miss information that can help us to grow. We can be right about things that don’t help us to move forward in our lives.

If you’re up for it, below I offer a brief exercise (including a video) on how believing our own stories can stand in our way. The whole process takes about 30 minutes.

Part 1

First, take a minute to think about a direction that you’ve wanted to head in for a while now. Something you’ve wanted to do and either haven’t been able to follow through on or haven’t been able to find the time for. Write out what you want to do. Write that out in a few sentences.

Second, think about why you haven’t done it. We all have explanations for our behavior. What is your story about why you haven’t progressed in this area? Write that out in a few sentences.

Third, once you have written out your explanation, check out whether your reasons seem right or wrong to you. I would bet that it’s pretty unlikely that your explanation seems wrong, as you wouldn’t have written the explanation if you felt it was wrong.

Fourth, keep your direction and explanation in mind as you watch this TED Talk by Kathryn Schultz:

Part 2

Now that you’ve watched the TED Talk, make a new plan for how you will move in this direction that you’ve been wanting to progress in. If you are willing to be wrong about your reasons, it opens up new possibilities. What possibilities might there be for how you could get this done? Outline your plan briefly in writing.