Now that the dust has settled just a bit on last week's surprising and historic election, whatever your opinion of the outcome, you're probably starting to try and sort through how exactly you feel about what happened and decide how to respond to the challenges and opportunities of the next four years.

Blog Science of Us has a suggestion for how best to do that. It comes from Lisa Feldman Barrett, author of How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain and head of Northwestern University's Interdisciplinary Affective Science Lab. In essence, her advice is be as specific as possible about your emotions. Just 'angry' or 'happy' doesn't cut it. A whole lot of righteous indignation mixed with a healthy dose of fear, and a little bit of embarrassment and alienation, for instance, is better.

Finding just the right terms for our feelings in this way is called "emotional granularity" and it's not just about the precision of your language, but also about available options for action. "Emotional granularity helps your brain figure out when to act ... and what to do," Feldman Barrett explains. "Your actions are better tailored to the situation you find yourself in."

3 steps to improve your emotional vocabulary

All of which is great to know. But what if you're not exactly a natural wordsmith when it comes to your own state of mind? A great many of us, after all, have been encouraged to push past our emotions rather than dwell on them. Some may feel like "emotional granularity" is way too close to "self-involved navel-gazing" for comfort.

But according to Susan David, founder of the Harvard/McLean Institute of Coaching and author of Emotional Agility, this is a hard-nosed business and life skill that can be learned at any age. "Having the right vocabulary allows us to to see the real issue at hand - to take a messy experience, understand it more clearly, and build a roadmap to address the problem," she wrote recently on the HBR blog, agreeing with Feldman Barrett. She goes on to offer three suggestions to those looking to increase their "emotional granularity."

  1. Broaden your emotional vocabulary. "If you're experiencing a strong emotion, take a moment to consider what to call it. But don't stop there: once you've identified it, try to come up with two more words that describe how you are feeling," she writes. The post also includes a handy list of emotional vocabulary words.
  2. Consider intensity. "As you label your emotions, also rate them on a scale of 1-10. How deeply are you feeling the emotion? How urgent is it, or how strong? Does that make you choose a different set of words?"
  3. Write it out. A ton of science shows writing about your emotions will help you feel better and think more clearly. David suggests taking 20 minutes to write out your feelings whenever you're struggling with strong emotions. "Don't worry about making it perfect or readable: go where your mind takes you," she instructs.

How are you feeling? OK, now what are two more words you could use to describe the how you're feeling this week?

Published on: Nov 15, 2016