Emotional Mindfulness Strengthens Resilience

Emotional Mindfulness Strengthens Resilience

As we learned in this conversation with Ron Frederick, engaging with and listening to our emotions can guide our choices of how resiliently we respond to life events, to other people, to ourselves.  Here’s an exercise from Resilience that helps us better attune to and convey the most basic of emotions: anger, fear, joy, sadness, even disgust.

Exercise: Attuning to and Conveying Basic Emotions

You strengthen your capacity to attune to and recognize the flavors of the emotions you experience through practice, like doing reps at the gym.

This exercise involves communicating with a partner without using words to perceive and interpret nonverbal expressions. Practicing with five of the most basic emotions — anger, fear, sadness, joy, and disgust — builds your capacities for attunement, which can then be refined later to read more nuanced emotions such as disappointment, jealousy, guilt, and curiosity.

1. Recruit a partner to participate in this exercise with you. Allow thirty minutes for you each to have a turn.

2. Decide the order in which you will evoke these five emotions — anger, fear, sadness, joy, and disgust — without telling your partner. Recalling previous experiences of each emotion is a quick and easy way to experience the emotion again internally.

3. Tune in to your own experience of the first emotion you’ve chosen to work with, and then let your body wordlessly display the chosen emotion for ten seconds. Maintain eye contact with your partner. You can use gestures, facial expressions, and sounds — just not words. You may find yourself exaggerating your expressions at first; that’s okay. Your partner notes which emotion he is reading from your expression but doesn’t disclose it yet. Notice what happens inside of you — self-attunement — as your communicate your own feelings to someone else. Notice whether the felt sense of the emotion increases, decreases, or changes into something else.

4. Without discussion yet, turn your attention inward again. Release the emotion you’ve been expressing with a few gentle, deep breaths into your heart center. Evoke the next emotion on your list and display it to your partner for ten seconds. Again, your partner notes the emotion, but the two of you don’t discuss anything.

5. Still without any discussion, refocus your attention inward, evoke the next emotion on your list, and display the feeling to your partner. Repeat the process for each emotion.

6. Before discussing anything yet, switch roles, so that your partner now displays five emotions in sequence. As you observe them, notice what signals you pay attention to — facial expressions, body language, the tone or rhythm of sounds — to distinguish one emotion from another. And notice what happens inside you as you perceive your partner’s feelings.

7. When your partner has finished, you each share your best guesses at the emotions the other person was trying to convey, and explain how you each identified each emotion.

If all the guesses were accurate, congratulations to both of you! If there were discrepancies, take the opportunity to discuss what you perceived in each other’s expression of emotion that led you to a different interpretation. This exercise strengthens your capacities for expressing and attuning to emotions, which are the foundation of building more competence in communicating what you need, developing the skills you need to get those needs met, and empathizing with others as they express their own needs.

Find the complete Conversations on Practices for Recovering Resilience Series here.