So emotional literacy seems to be my niche. I have written books about it, deliver training on it, written teaching resources about it, supported parents/cares to help their children develop it and I find it fascinating. I am not deluded enough to think that it’s everyone’s passion or even on everyone’s radar. I appreciate it still needs championing despite the fact everyone has emotions and they impact so significantly on our day-to-day existence. A simple fact is, people who have good emotional intelligence have less depression and anxiety, are easier to get along with, are more creative in any moment, are better at maintaining their wellbeing, perform better in jobs where other people are involved, are perceived as more confident…and much more. It’s been heavily researched.
However, it’s one thing to be told what research says but another thing to truly buy into it. So this is what this post is about: helping us see why emotions are the significant things that they are. The effect of emotions could be summarised in the following way.: if we are not overly aware of our emotions and their impact, it can either mean we engage in impulsive behaviours that make situations worse or we become so caught up in the thoughts relating to an emotion that we fail to act at all. But let’s take a look at this in greater detail.
Now there is no doubt that different people experience emotions with different intensities, some people’s emotions are triggered more easily than others and some people’s emotions disappear quickly and others’ tend to fester. But whatever our emotion ‘patterns’ are, they definitely affect our thoughts, our decisions, our judgements and our behaviours. Let’s take a look at some examples.
Let’s think about how emotions affect the decisions we make. Imagine we were at a park and someone suggests taking a rowing boat out on a lake. Consider how your approach would be different if you were feeling happy compared to feeling anxious. If you were feeling happy, you might engage with the whole thing with gusto! However, if you were feeling anxious, you might resist the idea altogether or if you did go ahead, you’d struggle to enjoy the experience for fear of an impending disaster! Emotions affect our outlook, which in turn affects our behaviour. If we learn to acknowledge this impact, we can have better mastery over the decisions we make.
Let’s think about how emotions affect the relationships in our lives. Emotions (often subconsciously) affect every interaction we have with other people. Before we have even interacted, we tend to have different feelings when we think about different people. Some people we feel really happy to see, some people put us on guard and make us feel anxious and other people might make us feel drained. We will anticipate these feelings before we have even encountered the person and these feelings will affect how we greet the person. We will communicate these feelings through body language, tone of voice, what we say and how we behave and this will impact on how the interaction goes right from the start. And then, there is emotion contagion. If we are feeling low, this is likely to make others we interact with feel low. If we are feeling optimistic, chances are we will raise the mood of those we come across. Emotions have an impact on every relationship and interaction we experience. This impact, which can be positive as well as negative, is often going on with little consciousness. The greater awareness of this impact we develop, the healthier and better managed our relationships will become.
Let’s think about the impact of our emotions on learning. Learning requires us to pay attention, remember things, think critically and be creative so we can problem solve. (I include in being creative the ability to think flexibly.) Different emotions have different effects on these processes. A little short-term stress can improve attention whereas chronic stress (and anxiety), can make focussing difficult. A degree of surprise can help us remember things but if we’re feeling low or bored – we will struggle to retain anything we have learnt. A little anxiety can help us be critical and evaluate things carefully, whereas when we feel happy we are more likely to overlook any potential problems and let enthusiasm and optimism make us somewhat slapdash as we assume everything will turn out just fine! And to be creative, we need to feel no threat, feel safe and be reasonably happy so that we can engage in expansive thinking rather than needing to be cautious. Being aware of our emotional state in a learning environment can help us become conscious of any resistance we might be feeling so we can problem solve and employ strategies to overcome these.
Emotions have impact. We have a choice about what to do about this. We can try and ignore that impact and struggle on through life with what will seem like unpredictable triggers, impulses and behaviours or we can learn to recognise what we are feeling and bring into consciousness the likely effect each emotion will have and therefore be better equipped to make better decisions.
My video: What is emotional literacy and why is it important? gives children examples of how emotional literacy can impact beneficially.