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Self-awareness helps us balance our emotions with rational thinking.

Between the moment we wake up to the moment we fall back asleep, we would have experienced many different emotions. But that doesn’t mean that we are always aware of those feelings, what specific emotions they are, or why we feel it.

Being in touch with our emotions and knowing how to handle them is called emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is “the ability to sense, understand, apply the power of emotions”. While all of us have emotional intelligence, it is still a skill that is worth developing and learning more about.

Emotional intelligence in the everyday

All of us have gone through challenging times and all of us can point to a specific low point in life. But, along with the bad times, we have also enjoyed beautiful moments and happy memories with different people on different days.

Emotions aren’t bad. It’s true that they can be painful, and it’s true that they can greatly affect our day-to-day living.

A single message can make us smile the rest of the day. A single word can break our hearts, or move us into a blinding rage that makes us want to burst.

Emotions are powerful. But they don’t have to take control of our decisions, our lives, and ourselves.

This is where emotional intelligence comes in. And it starts with being aware of the self.

The importance of self-awareness

Emotional intelligence starts with self-awareness.

Emotional self-awareness goes beyond realizing that you’re happy, upset, or anxious. It involves recognizing and understanding your own emotions, their causes, and their effects on your thoughts and behavior.

You can’t manage your emotions if you don’t recognize them. You can’t empathize with others if you’re not familiar with emotions. You’ll struggle with relationships if you can’t control your emotions or read them in others.

People with a good sense of self-awareness are willing and able to look at themselves honestly. They’re constantly aware of their moods, why they have those moods, and how they affect their performance and interactions.

They are also aware of what affects them.

Awareness of emotional triggers

Sometimes, we can predict how something makes us feel.

We know what makes us feel better or happier. Seeing a best friend after a long time makes us happy. Waiting for our favorite food makes us feel excited. Listening to a certain song can make us comforted.

We also know what makes us sad. Perhaps our first disappointment has made us scared to join competitions again. Or perhaps our  first loss or heartbreak has made us hesitant to form close relationships with others.

Some things affect us more, or more often than others.

For example, speaking in front of a crowd can bring out extreme nervousness or anxiety in us. Or perhaps certain words can make us think of a painful memory, making us feel dejected or angry the rest of the day. Failing a test can make us feel like a failure.

Emotional triggers can be anything. They can be places, situations, people, objects, etc. that bring out a negative emotion in us. It will be helpful for you to think about what triggers strong emotions in you.

Emotional triggers aren’t always external. They can stem from within ourselves too.

We may not realize that our own ways of thinking further bring us down a negative emotional spiral. You may have a tendency to fall into patterns of negative thought, including:

1. All-or-nothing – Seeing things in black and white. You rate your action or situation as a failure if it isn’t perfect.

For example, if your boss gives you mixed feedback on a report, you focus only on the criticism and disregard the praise.

2. “Should” statements – “I should have…” “It should have been…” “I shouldn’t have…”

People too frequently stop at these statements instead of using them to improve themselves, bringing down self-esteem.

3. Personalization and blame – Taking all the blame. It’s healthy to look at a situation objectively and take responsibility for our actions.

But, personalizing failure or blaming yourself (or others) beyond a point that’s constructive is neither healthy nor helpful for anyone.

With that said, self-awareness involves recognizing your feelings, their causes, and their effects on you. This is a foundation for all the other competencies that together make up your emotional intelligence.

The benefits of self-awareness

Being aware of our feelings and figuring out our triggers can help us move forward from painful experiences, and in improving ourselves.

Being aware of your feelings lets you:

1. Understand how emotions affect your behavior – Anger can prevent you from perceiving a situation clearly. It may cause you to overlook facts and make rash decisions you’ll regret.

Our thoughts and actions have consequences we have to be responsible for. If you recognize your emotions and the ways they affect your behavior, you can take steps to control them and to ensure your reactions are appropriate.

2. Learn from them – Recognizing your emotions and observing how they affect you enables you to learn from them. Recognizing that frustration, anxiety, and anger affect you in particular ways can also teach you how best to manage these in different situations.

3. Choose how to express them – Being aware of your emotions is the first step to formulating conscious reactions to them. Instead of reacting impulsively or in potentially inappropriate ways, you can choose when and how best to clearly express your feelings.

As you can see, self-awareness not only lets you understand yourself more, but it also helps you in your personal growth. All other components of emotional intelligence build on this foundation.

Self-awareness and moving forward

We all get affected by emotions, but we’re not always aware of them and we’re not always able to manage them. However, we can learn to be more in-touch with ourselves, our thoughts, and our emotions.

Self-awareness helps us balance our emotions with rational thinking. Self-awareness lets us acknowledge and respect our emotions, while letting us learn from them.

However, it is only the first step to truly moving forward, recovering, and becoming better. It is the first component in building up emotional intelligence, an essential skill in life.