Every emotion you experience has a purpose, and although it may seem at times that emotions interfere with your thinking, they actually contribute significantly to your intelligence and your ability to navigate through your life. An emotion will provide you with information, direct your attention, motivate your behavior, protect you and help you to reach your goals. And knowing how to interpret them is essential to your psychological well-being.
There’s an abundance of information that you must process every day, and your brain does it for you passively and unconsciously. If something in your environment needs your attention, an emotion is reflexively and automatically triggered by your brain, which sends a general but vague signal in the form of feelings and the subsequent thoughts that they create. Physiological changes, such as the energy you might feel when you are anxious before a competition, motivate and prepare you to take action. However, your ability to think about what you feel gives you an opportunity to alter your response according to the situation.
Thus, when an emotion is activated, ask yourself a few questions, such as:
Why did my brain trigger that specific emotion?
What are the feelings created by the emotion directing me to do?
Is the emotion correct for the situation or is it exaggerated?
Did my brain possibly consider a past situation when it decided to trigger the emotion in the present circumstance?
And is the emotion letting me know something I’d prefer to ignore?
The feelings involved in emotional expressions motivate you to pursue a specific goal or direction, and they also send a signal to others. Although, technically, emotions are not positive or negative, since all emotions serve a purpose to provide information and inform your actions, emotions that enhance positive feelings about yourself have been shown to also have a positive effect on people’s lives.
Here are some fascinating ways emotions can guide teens to succeed:
Focusing on your feelings, instead of details, may lead to better decision quality for certain complex decisions. Pay attention to how you feel about a decision rather than just what you think about it.
Understanding your response to anxiety is important since the same anxiety that can lead some to succeed (because it helps you focus and motivates you to get things done) can lead others to fail (if you get caught up in how it can make you feel uncomfortable).
Listen to your sadness. Sadness informs you to accept reality and to realign your goals; it alerts you to be cautious and it gives you an opportunity to slow down and self-reflect.
You needn’t be embarrassed by a friend’s behavior; it won’t reflect on you.
Guilt serves as a strategy for repairing relationships when slights occur and guilt helps you to maintain your relationships. Your apology helps the other person let go of your intentional or unintentional wrongdoing.
Showing the pride you have in achievements can help you. The non-verbal expression of pride itself can help you socially: Standing tall with chest extended, head tilted back and a small smile on your face.
Taking risks to communicate with others is necessary to end loneliness.
Venting anger doesn’t help you; it only stirs up your emotional brain.
Your emotional memory of a smell that’s connected with something you enjoyed counts a lot. But spraying yourself with scented products won’t necessarily make someone like you more.
Envy can lead you to focus on the details of those you envy and may later interfere with your thinking.
When focusing on reading material for a test, pay attention to unappealing sentences because your emotion of interest will help you remember the ones that are appealing.
Overvaluing happiness can possibly lead you to be less happy, even when happiness is within your reach. Teens often struggle with emotional highs and lows, yet few realize those very feelings could be the keys to their success. Knowing how to interpret and respond to your emotions will give you an advantage socially, academically and personally.
Dr. Mary Lamia is a clinical psychologist and a professor at the Wright Institute. Her book for young adults is Emotions! Making Sense of Your Feelings (American Psychological Association Magination Press, August 2012).
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