A post I had written earlier this year that is now making it to my blog. As much as I have tried to stay on top of my website and blog, life certainly gets in the way. Enjoy!
As a current doctoral student in clinical psychology, I am continuously learning about human behavior, how the mind works, how to assess clients, and how to apply the art of the work. Put differently, I am consistently applying what I am learning in the classroom out in the field working with clients, which is exciting stuff. Through my current training, I am reminded of the beauty and complex internal emotions of the human mind that can cause emotional pain or emotional health. With my curious mind, I ponder questions such as: How does an individual’s internal experiences and emotions shape how they show up in the world or how they experience their environment? In fact, the content of cognition influences emotion and behavior (Hayes et al., 2011). That is, how one thinks impacts how one feels, which in turn influences how one behaves. To learn to control what one can control can be a partial answer to this question on how one is shaped by one’s thoughts and emotions. However, self-awareness, according to Ravizza et al. (2021), is the first step to gaining control of a situation. I have learned that self-awareness is the first step to begin to modify a situation should a change need to be made.
As I gain self-awareness, I am able to attune to my thoughts, feelings/emotions and behaviors to then control what I can control within myself. For example, if I am able to control the ‘controllables’ (a mental toughness principle), I can focus on my attitude, effort, preparation, and emotions, to name a few (Favero, n.d.). Therefore, the more I focus on what I can control, such as my internal thoughts or inner dialogue, I can enhance and/or improve my emotional health.
Emotions are central to the human experience (Kesebir et al., 2019). One’s emotional patterns have an impact on every aspect of one’s life, and are quite intertwined with one’s well-being. To have a healthy emotional life – what does that look like? What qualities do I need to have to attain a healthy emotional balance besides being able to control what I can control? I know for me I continue to tap into my daily practices that are grounded in mindfulness; however, what about others that have yet to attune to daily practices that work for them? I believe by having intention and remaining curious on how one’s thoughts impact how one feels, one can start the journey of working towards optimizing the mind and build practices to stay on the path of emotional health.
Nonetheless, and more importantly, what does the literature say about emotional qualities that are relevant to optimal functioning and better life outcomes, such as emotional health? According to a theoretical model drawn from neuroscientific studies of emotion by Davidson and Begley (2012), there are six major dimensions of emotional life, which are relevant to psychological well-being. These are the following: Outlook, Resilience, Social Intuition, Self-Awareness, Sensitivity to Context, and Attention. One’s Emotional Style says a lot about the individual, but it is dependent on where the individual falls along these six dimensions (Kesebir, et al., 2019).
The article by Kesebir et al. (2019) describes and explains the six dimensions and for the purpose of this blog post, I will write about three dimensions: Outlook, Resilience, and Self-Awareness. “Outlook refers to the ability to sustain positive emotion over time” (Kesebir et al., 2019, p. 1235). Individuals at the high extreme of the Outlook spectrum tend to be positive individuals. For example, once a positive emotion, such as joy, rises for them, it will tend to remain with them for a longer duration. The emotion of joy, for instance, which per definition remains with them for a longer duration, has a strong carry over effect and, generally speaking, translates into a positive and optimistic outlook on life. Resilience, on the other hand, is the ability one can recover from a negative emotion. Individuals high on this spectrum are quick to recover from negative emotions, such as fear and sadness, while those in the low spectrum will take longer to recover from negative emotions. Last, Self-Awareness is the ability for one to “perceive one’s bodily signals that reflect emotions” (Kesebir et al., 2019, p. 1235). Individuals high on this dimension are attuned and sensitive to their internal states, such as their physiological and emotional cues. They not only are sensitive to their physiological and emotional cues but they can also recognize and interpret their internal bodily cues for what they are. On the contrary, those who are low in this dimension have less insight into their emotional life and low reason on why they act and behave the way they do.
Each dimension described inspires me to continue to work on becoming more self-aware of my thoughts, feelings, and behaviors so I can be my best self. At the root of psychological well-being lies a healthy emotional life (Kesebir et al., 2019) – an emotional life that would seem balanced, nurtured, and attuned to. As I think about controlling the ‘controllables’, learning about the different dimensions relevant to psychological well-being, and emotional health, I am reminded of the beauty and complexity that the mind carries. I have found that connecting to awareness is an opportunity to begin to increase what is working and what is not working in my emotional and internal environment. I have learned that the more I can play present, attune to my inner world, and acquire daily practices to hold myself accountable, the more I am able to have a healthy emotional balance. What will you do, starting today to control the ‘controllables’ and feed your emotional health?
A few starting points of inspiration to control the ‘controllables,’ increasing awareness of self, and feed your emotional health.
The mind wanders often into the past or future. The mind does what it does by the stream of thoughts that it has on the daily basis. For example, I can find myself on “autopilot” during the day, such that I get “caught up” in the routine of things/events during the day. Put differently, when I don’t play present I remain in ‘autopilot’ throughout the day and I sure do not like that as it keeps me away from the present moment. A practical tip to play present that has helped me: when you feel your mind has wondered, you can begin to train your mind to come back to the present moment by cueing yourself to look down at your feet. That is, be where your feet are (a concept I learned from Dr. Ken Ravizza in one of the many Professional Development Seminars I attended during my MA sport psychology program). By looking down at my feet, I have found that it allows me to get out of my cognitive thoughts or headspace and shift to presence or my body. So next time you want to bring attention to your own awareness of where your mind is, remind yourself “Be where your feet are” and look down at your feet.
Start journaling or doing voice memos on your phone as a usual routine to capture your thoughts. Every week or bi-weekly (frankly as often as you desired – the biggest thing is to start) do reflective practice. Reflective practice is being mindful of the self, either within or after an experience, as if looking retrospectively at an event to confront, understand, or gain insight of event for the future (M. Hodges, personal communication, March 22, 2019). By reflecting on what has occurred throughout the day or week or month, you begin to build your self-awareness; after all, in my experience it is awareness of the self that begins a modification or change. Without being aware, how could you know if something is “wrong” or needs change?
Reflective practice can look as simple as asking the following questions:
What went well?
What was challenging?
What is next?
These three simple questions can begin your reflective practice. I picked up these there questions from my former supervisor during my second sport psychology internship – I have used these questions very often when doing my own reflective practice. As time goes on, of course, you can modify, add, or change to have a more expansive template of questions to work with.
Shift the spotlight
By shifting the spotlight to one’s inner world and not on all things external to one, one may be able to attune to what one can control. Begin to take abstract thoughts and feelings into more concrete and tangible items. For example, begin to connect your feelings, thoughts, and behavior. For example, similar to reflective practice, write down in the moment when you are feeling “off” or unfocused: What you are thinking in precise moment? Second, that thought/thinking brings what feeling onto you? Last, how does that feeling in that moment influence how you behave or react? For instance, let’s say I am feeling sad and lonely (the activating event) so my thought is “Well, this suck,” which in turn may bring up feeling of loneliness and worthlessness – I then behave sluggish, slower, and withdraw from my day. By shifting the spotlight to my inner thinking and feelings, I begin to become aware of what I can control, which is my feelings and thoughts. My identifying the feelings and thoughts (the ‘controllables’) that may be challenging me, I can begin to control and grow in self-awareness of my behavior or how I show up in the world
Pay attention to what you are feeding your mind
There are so many distractions on a daily bases from social media, movies, news, political upheavals, etc. Being intentional of what you watch, read, and the conversations you interact in can make a difference. Feeding your mind with engaging, mindful, and intentional information could be the difference of a healthy emotional mind. Take note when you are engaging on too much external stimuli, such as social media and the news.
Buckner, R. L., Andrews-Hanna, J. R., Schacter, D. L. (2008). The brain’s default network: Anatomy, function, and relevance to disease. In A. Kingstone & M. B. Miller (Eds.), Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences (pp. 1-38). Blackwell Publishing.
Davidson, R. J., & Begley, S. (2012). The emotional life of your brain. Hudson Street Press.
Favero, J. P. (n.d.). Controlling the controllables. https://www.coachestoolbox.net/mental-toughness/controlling-the-controllables
Hayes, S. C., Villatte, M., Levin, M., & Hilderbrandt, M. (2011). Open, aware, and active: Contextual approaches as an emerging trend in the behavioral and cognitive therapies. Annual Reviews of Clinical Psychology, 7, 141-168. https://doi.org/brsst6
Kesebir, P., Gasiorowska, A., Goldman R., Hirshberg, M. J., & Davidson, R. (2019). Emotional style questionnaire: A multidimensional measure of healthy emotionality. Psychological Assessment, 31(10), 1234-1246. https://doi.org/fn87
Ravizza, K., Fifer, A., Bean, E. (2021). Increasing awareness for sport performance (8th Edition). In J. M. Williams & V. Krane (Eds.), Applied sport psychology: Personal growth to peak performance (pp. 176-188). McGraw Hill Education