FOCUS: Emotions

DISCIPLINE: Personal Mastery, Mental Models, Systems Thinking

The little emotions are the great captains of our lives and we obey them without realizing it.
—Vincent Van Gogh, 1889


Emotions are with us every minute of every day. Stop for a moment right now and ask yourself what emotion you’re feeling. If you have trouble naming the emotion, here’s an exercise that might help. Write for 5 minutes non-stop, listing every emotion you can think of. My friend Sharon Lippincott, author of The Heart and Craft of Lifestory Writing, recently suggested this exercise on her blog.

“Five minutes, now that’s something I can do,” Sharon said. And in five minutes she had dumped out a list of 64 emotions. “I was pumped, stoked, thrilled, energized. I was also hooked,” she said. Later her list grew to hundreds.

Always interested in emotions, I decided to try my hand. “Anxiety, joy, exhilaration, love,” I wrote. The addictive part is that once you start, you can’t stop thinking about emotions. Their subtleties, the tangle of emotions, thoughts and actions. What you feel and how you respond. I woke up the next morning with “invigorated, irritated, grateful.”

As an executive coach, I work with highly efficient, fast paced men and women. Almost without exception, when something very emotional comes along, they feel derailed and their energy is drained. Usually it’s a conflict with a colleague or a direct report. The trouble with emotions is that they seem to have a life of their own. You can ignore them, but they don’t always go away. The evolution of the field of emotional intelligence, popularized by Daniel Goleman, makes it clear that learning to identify and manage one’s emotions is among the most important skills of a successful person. Goleman talks about the basic families of emotion: anger, sadness, fear, enjoyment, love, surprise, disgust and shame. Other emotions may be seen as extended family members.


I recently met a delightful, little boy named William. He is in the third grade and has severe autism. This means that he doesn’t easily pick up social cues from others or know what is appropriate. But he’s learning fast. He told me the thing that helps him most is his “emotion meter.” This is a little strip of paper he carries in his pocket with the numbers 1-5 on it. “Whenever I feel an emotion coming into my body,” he says, “I pull this out and figure out where I am from 1-5, so I’ll know how to act.

  • If it’s a 1, like maybe a tag rubbing on my neck, I’m just irritated. So instead of tearing off my clothes and screaming, I just ignore it.

  • If it’s a 2, I’m frustrated, and instead of calling 911, I walk away.

  • If it’s a 3, I’m angry and deep breaths really help.

  • If it’s a 4, I’m furious and need a yellow break card, so I can go out of the room and do wall pushups.

  • If I’m at a 5, I’m enraged and use my yellow break card to leave the situation, do wall pushups and get a big drink of water.”

Jonatan Martensson said, “Feelings are much like waves, we can’t stop them from coming but we can choose which one to surf.”

Emotions are at the very heart of our lives. They lift us up and toss us down. Every thought and relationship and piece of art has emotional color. One definition of mental health is the ability to experience a wide range of emotions without getting stuck in any one.

Coaching Tips

  1. See how many emotions you can list in 5 minutes.

  2. Follow William’s tip and pay attention to when an emotion is coming into your body. See if you can name it.

  3. Ask yourself where it is on your emotion meter.

  4. Ask yourself if this is one you want to surf or not.

  5. Imagine capturing your emotion in a piece of art. What color would it be? What would you use to make it? If it feels really clear, make it.


You may remember the last Fresh Views was about “Enough.” I received many fascinating thoughts and experiences from you, the readers, on this subject. Here are two particularly worth sharing:

From Mary Poppins, this quote: “Enough is as good as a feast!”

And this link takes you to Catalog Choice, a wonderful website that lets you unsubscribe from catalogs you receive. I’ve already unsubscribed from 31 and am feeling lighter already!


Please e-mail me your list of emotions. When I receive yours, I’ll send you mine. Together maybe we can create a huge and interesting list.

Please join me for a 45-minute telegathering to explore the topic of emotions in more depth. Call Wednesday, December 19 at noon Eastern (11:00 a.m. Central, 10:00 a.m. MT, 9:00 a.m. Pacific) 1-641-678-3404 x968 No need to register….just call at that time!

Read an excerpt from Liberating Greatness, the Whole Brain Guide to an Extraordinary Life, the book Hal and I wrote, at

Sharon Eakes | 720 Maple Lane | Sewickley, PA 15143

Fresh Views E-zine Index

720 Maple Lane, Sewickley, PA 15143
TOLL-FREE: 1(888) 769-3494
FAX: (412) 741-2159