Using A Wheel Of Emotions To Redirect Your Emotional Flow

What exactly is a wheel of emotions, you ask?

There are several different versions of the wheel of emotions. The most notable include the Plutchik wheel, the Junto wheel, the Geneva wheel and the feeling wheel. 

These various wheels of emotions are very helpful tools. However, my coaching company has built on the foundation they have provided and developed its own even more useful wheel. On my company’s wheel, the core emotions are

• sadness

• contempt

• disgust

• anger

• anticipation

• joy

• trust

• fear

• surprise

Each primary emotion forms the basis for several secondary feelings, which then feed into multiple tertiary feelings. We find that this selection and arrangement is ideal for improving awareness and providing a specific roadmap of emotions and feelings, along with their antecedents and consequences. All this, of course, is tremendously beneficial in improving problem-solving specifically, increasing emotional intelligence generally and fostering long-term personal development holistically.

The way the wheel is used in practice is to move from the feelings (outer and middle circles) we experience in our bodies toward their core emotions (central circle).

For example, having identified feelings of being terrified/anxious and having identified fear as a core emotion of those feelings of being terrified/anxious, we can go deeper by identifying a driving thought and examining the typical features of fear — fight, flight and freeze, which can protect us from danger, prepare us for action, keep us safe or show us that we need more resources for what is to come.

Our wheel allows us to use our emotional data and its signals to engage in the most meaningful self-talk about the intensity of emotions and feelings, which might range from nervousness to panic, in the case of fear, as well as their related feelings and emotions. And it also allows us to identify which feelings and emotions are not presently relevant and to save time and energy by not dealing with them.

Recognizing how limiting unidentified (or mistakenly identified) and unchecked emotions can be — for example, allowing fear to inhibit motivation, impair rational thought and lead to procrastination — a full exploration of fear and its associated feelings, triggers and results can help us redirect energy into a resourceful purpose, such as increasing awareness of potential harm, seeking more resources to deal with threat, establishing a coping strategy and taking prompt and effective action.

A significant benefit of my company’s wheel is that it provides a more accurate reading of feeling than do the other wheels. For example, rather than thinking that dancing well at a party made you feel happy, you may be able to deduce, more specifically, that dancing well made you feel confident. You can then use this more precise information to make more useful inferences and take productive actions. 

Using The Wheel Of Emotions To Redirect Your Emotional Flow

Some of the most beneficial uses of the wheel include:

• Allowing negative emotions to be identified and named so as to make them less intense and threatening. This alone is a great reason to engage with a wheel of emotions to pin down the feelings you experience and identify their root emotion.

• Creating awareness of exactly what emotions and feelings are being experienced, to the exclusion of others. Recognition and naming is often the first step toward improving any situation. Anything that heightens that awareness, such as a wheel of emotions, will help you move forward. And, of course, you need to exclude from consideration any feelings and emotions that are not necessarily involved.

• Helping to regulate and modulate emotional responses so that they are effective and efficient. This leads to better decision-making, better actions and more happiness. Once you have used a wheel of emotions to get a handle on your precise emotions and feelings, you can be more objective and manage your reaction to that emotion.

• Providing an accurate terminology for describing emotions/feelings, you can better and more descriptively communicate with others.

Remember, these wheels are not called wheels of just negative emotions. Labeling your positive emotions is valuable, too. Every emotion is important. Learn from identifying each of them and each of the others to which they are related. Doing so can provide useful insights into your values, thoughts and actions, as well as how you feel about results and consequences. 

Also, by starting on the wheel with the core emotions and working outward, you get a look at the big picture and can readily identify which emotions and feelings were recently experienced. Glaring disproportions and imbalances will be readily apparent, perhaps warranting remedial action. Further, comparisons over time can help you monitor improvements, check deterioration and be aware of stagnation.

Interesting also is the wheel’s ability to call attention to opposites, which, because of the wheel’s graphic nature, are readily apparent. That awareness, coupled with the knowledge that different people can react to the same situation or event in markedly different ways, can go a long way in increasing your ability to “read the room,” emphasize and relate. 

By using a wheel of emotions to gather more information about your emotions, you access better information for redirecting your emotional flow. This makes a wheel of emotions a handy tool for any course of emotional intelligence training. It can help users recognize the signs and symbols of an emotion — e.g., motor responses (like hand gestures) and physiological responses (like increased blood flow, resulting in visible flushing), as well as individualized characteristics 

So use a wheel of emotions to check in with yourself regularly. It’s quick to do and can provide emotional data with which you can improve your self-awareness, self-expression, reality testing, impulse control, stress tolerance and decision-making.

This article was originally published in Forbes.

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