If you can name your emotions, you can change them

name your emotions


Sally Grisedale

What emotions are you harboring? What’s the worrisome script that’s running through your mind that needs to be changed. Fear in you creates fear in those you lead and care for. Do you want to pass your fears along to them?

Confronting my Fears

In March 2020, I was in the grip of fear about the news emerging about COVID-19. The script in my head went something like this. “I’m paralyzed, I feel helpless, I’m going to die on my couch alone”

Desperate to get out of the grip of my fear of dying alone, I looked to my coaching tool the Feelings Wheel to help change the script.

A Tool to Support Emotional Literacy

The Feelings Wheel was developed in the 1980s by Dr. Gloria Wilcox. It was created for people like myself who feel their feelings very strongly but have a difficult time expressing them. The wheel has three concentric circles.

  • You start at the inner smallest circle and pick a word that resonates with your current core emotional state. I chose “Fearful
  • Next, you pick a word from the middle circle that is in the same segment and color zone. I chose “Insecure
  • Lastly, you pick two words from the largest circle in the same segment and color zone. I chose “Worthless” and “Insignificant”.

I wrote the words down and said them out loud several times. Each time I said the phrase “I feel fearful, insecure, worthless and insignificant” the emotion I was experiencing began to shift. I went from tears of shame rolling down my cheeks to a sigh of relief and finally, a small smile of acknowledgment at my personal drama playing out on the couch!

The Benefit of Managing Your Emotions

The severity of my emotions subsided as they lost their grip on me. Speaking the words aloud took the strength out of my fear. My rational brain was able to take back the reins of control. I got off the couch, no longer frozen in place.

It’s not always feasible to pay attention to or make time to process your feelings. But if you’re stuck in fear, using a tool like the Feeling Wheel is a fast and effective method to redirect neural pathways in the brain to form new connections and change the script in your head.

If you can Name your Emotions, you can Change them

When you change your emotional state, you are no longer hostage to the hypnotic frenzy of fear. Managing and working through difficult emotions isn’t always easy. However, practicing emotional literacy and having the ability to name and communicate your feelings, will make a big difference.

As Dr. Sanjay Gupta put it, “When you care for yourself, you care for everyone.”

Try the Feelings Wheel and let me know in the comments below how it goes for you.

I look forward to hearing from you!

the Leading by Design Newsletter

What Is the Leading by Design Newsletter? Great question.

Leading by Design is a blog for creative leaders working in tech. It’s not a “Why You Should Use AI in Design Thinking” or “How to Hire and Retain Product Design Teams with Impact” type of blog. There are enough of those.

I write about the challenges you can’t safely discuss as creative leaders working in tech. The stories come directly from my experience leading teams at Apple, Meta, Yahoo!, and some start-ups and from the executive design leaders I coach today.

I have written about the stressful magpie boss, hateful cross-functional peers, creative burnout, the shame of job loss and survivor guilt, and the fear of becoming irrelevant in the marketplace.

I publish once a week and offer strategies to reframe your challenge so you can return to being the creative leader your team loves you to be.

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