Once you’ve raised your awareness of what you feel, when you feel it, and where you feel it, you can take full responsibility for regulating the emotional energy you bring to the events of the day. You’ll have an opportunity to consider how you are contributing to a positive or negative environment, and can make an informed decision about how you want to show up in the world. This last part—developing a sense of how your emotional energy may be perceived by others—is critical to successful interactions with peers, managers and direct reports, not to mention spouses, siblings, parents, children, friends and acquaintances.
Try this simple experiment for a live-fire exercise in emotional energy. There are two parts, and you’ll try one part each day over a couple of days.
Go to your local coffee shop. Before you enter, think of the worst, most negative thing that’s happened to you lately, and perseverate over it for a three or four minutes. Notice your body’s response, as you did in the previous exercise. When you’re good and deep into the awfulness of the situation, take it a step further. Blame yourself for the entire thing. Step into the coffee shop feeling like the most unworthy human on earth, and without saying a word, observe how people respond to you. Do they seem to be moving toward you, or away from you? Does anyone engage in pleasant banter, or do they seem to give you plenty of space in the line?
Go back to that coffee shop. Before you enter, think of the most wonderful thing that’s ever happened to you. Remember how it felt to be so successful or connected, and make it mean that you truly deserved it then, and deserve even more of it now. Feast on that feeling for several minutes. Dine on it in exquisite detail. Feel it in your bones. Translate that into a feeling of being loved and cherished by everyone you meet. Walk in and observe. Are people smiling at you, or frowning? Do they move closer in line? Does the barista give you an extra shot of vanilla for free?
You’ve just witnessed the power of emotional energy. Without saying a word, the look in your eyes and the language of your body telegraphed your emotional state, causing an unconscious but very real response in everyone around you. Our brains are wired to reflect back emotional states we’re faced with—think of a time when you’ve watched someone cry and could barely hold back your own tears, or a time when someone’s unrestrained giggles made you laugh.
Try the exercise again before walking into your workplace in the morning, before entering a meeting, or before any kind of interaction, and observe what kind of ripple effect your emotional state has on those around you.
Caveat: just because you’re exuding positivity and confidence doesn’t mean everyone will gravitate in your direction. There will be some folks whose own negativity will be projected toward you; it’s your chance to observe how it feels to be on the receiving end of someone else’s emotional energy expression. Use this opportunity to consciously respond with emotional self-awareness: decline the contagion.
Taking responsibility for your emotional energy is about realizing that circumstances and interactions with others aren’t what determine your emotional state. Your choice of emotional response influences your circumstances and interactions.
So the next time someone does something that harshes your mellow, remember that the sooner you recognize your feelings, the sooner you will be able to exercise the power to stop the proliferation of unconscious negative energy and replace it with something more useful.
The calmest energy in the room is the most powerful, according to Dr. Martha Beck, a sociologist and life coach who taught me the two-part coffee shop exercise above. Emotional self-awareness helps us return to a state of stability that gives us the power to choose the responses which will lead us toward the things we truly want in life: confidence, connection, contentment, and success.