Do you know what it is you are really after? A lot of people don’t. And those that think they do, might be chasing the wrong thing. This article looks at using your bodily reactions to provide data that can be used to improve your life.
Why Use Emotion Logs?
By monitoring and logging your emotions you can turn intangibles into data that can then be tracked. You can then spot the patterns to make better decisions which can help you improve your life.
You can (hopefully) avoid repeated detrimental reactions/behaviour and increase your chances of reaching positive states.
Many years ago I noticed certain things made me smile and decided to make a note of them. I didn’t know what the point was at the time but I knew that data would come in handy at some point. I have been tracking for about 5 years and have expanded the metrics to cover the main human emotions and a few others.
These emotions (and the triggers that cause them) are clues to your inner desires and values.
One of the (up)side effects of emotion logging is mindfulness. Nothing too woo-woo, it is just the ability to be aware of what is going on with your body and mind. This is a useful muscle to build up as any change always starts with awareness.
This concept differs slightly from a mood log or diary in as much that it is more about longer-term tracking and one-off occurrences rather than constant monitoring. That’s not to say both approaches can’t be combined.
Which Emotions To Track?
Some studies say there are only 4 basic emotions, some say 6 and other studies show there are many (Robert Plutchik has a brilliant diagram entitled the Wheel of Emotions which shows how multiple emotions all relate to each other) that cause a reaction in the human body.
The majority of the emotions on the list below have some sort of external physiological reaction that can be seen from the outside but I have also thrown in a few emotions that are more feelings or states (an outside person may struggle to spot what is going on on the inside).
The general idea is to log the people, places and things that cause each one of the following emotions.
I have added a few examples from my logs to give you an idea of what kind of things can trigger the reactions. Everyone is different and you may be surprised by what comes up.
I touched upon the “smile list” in my article on Self-Credit and I’m starting with this as it’s what I started tracking initially.
This is obviously based on the emotion of happiness and it’s one of the easiest to start tracking.
What makes you naturally smile?
Examples – The sun (light and warmth on my skin), being funcomfortable, salsa music, nerdy humour.
One of the core emotions. Although it is a negative emotion, it can give great clues as to your values and triggers.
What makes you angry?
On a slightly lower level you can also log:
What “grinds your gears” or “rubs you up the wrong way”?
What exacerbates you?
Examples – Poor planning, cliches and predictable language, imitation (be original ffs).
Things I don’t like to think or talk about. Usually a sign of where you need to go and/or an area for potential growth. If you didn’t care about it then it wouldn’t be causing a reaction.
What makes you uncomfortable?
Example – people asking me about my long-term plans (sometimes I don’t even know as I tend to work over a shorter period and iterate. But I like it like that).
Although this is predominantly an internal reaction there can be noticeable physiological reactions. It can be the thought of something you are planning to do but also a reaction to something that is currently happening or has already happened for example.
What gets you excited?
What gets you jumping out of your seat? And ready to get cracking?
Examples – learning new things, going into new situations and meeting new people, trying new things, Drum & Bass music.
This one I guess has less of an external reaction but can lead to some external behaviour. Still worth tracking though because usually, the things that you envy in friends, family and others point to a lack of something that you desire.
What makes you envious?
Examples – My friend’s nice car, my other friend’s nice house, that other coach who has authority in a niche.
This is probably the next level up from discomfort.
What scares you?
Examples – Spending money, approaching that hot girl, I have a random fear of deleting something accidentally while I work on it!?
This one has less of an obvious physiological reaction but I thought I would still add it as it is good data to have.
When are you in the zone?
What are you doing when you lose track of time?
What makes you forget to eat and poop? (Not my phrase but a question I have as part of my Ikigai document)
Examples – Playing 5 a side football/futsal, reading, collating and creating (usually when doing Deep Work).
Probably one of the strangest physical reactions but a cool one to log nevertheless. I think these can come from a memory but also can happen with the first experience of something.
What makes your hairs stand on end? [Insert joke about Sam’s head here]
What gives you “chicken skin” (for all my European readers)?
Examples – my favourite DJ’s opening track, the Colombian flag, James Rodriguez’s volley.
Again, based on happiness and joy.
What makes you laugh?
Examples – Quickly Kevin podcast, Karl Pilkington (and a load of other comedians), certain friends I have that crease me up.
This one doesn’t have to be about love in the pure, romantic sense. It could be something like “I love stationary” or “I love Wednesdays”. Sometimes these can be discovered as part of the next section.
What people, places and things do you love?
Examples – touching matte finishes, libraries (so calm), the smell of a freshly poured beer.
I’m not sure if this is just me going mad or from spending a lot of time in my own company but I have noticed I say things aloud quite often (apparently it’s a sign of higher intelligence – I googled it because for a while I genuinely was concerned I was going nuts). It is usually when I am on my own (but sometimes in public which can be funny) and also when I am tipsy.
What do you catch yourself saying out loud?
Examples – “Wooooooo!” (when running in the sun with tunes on), “F*ck, that’s cool” (when looking at a Digital Nomad Conference), “I need to get into that” (when reading about digital products).
Could be from frustration or anger but also from desire in a romantic sense (think of a dreamboat). I’ve only just added this to my log but I it is a reaction that could be useful to track.
What makes you sigh?
Examples – An attractive person of the opposite sex, “not this again”.
One of the purest forms of physiological reaction. This can come in two stages – welling up (not quite crying) and full on crying. It can also cover both sadness AND happiness so worth logging all 4 aspects of the water coming from your eyes.
What brings you to tears?
Examples – Other people crying from joy and happiness, Latin music, when an underdog wins (quite a few UFC victories have brought me to tears).
How To Track The Emotions
Be mindful. Whenever you notice one of the reactions, make a note of it. I have a document in the cloud where I am constantly adding the data. Having it in the cloud means you’ll never lose that scrap of paper you have been jotting the data down on and that if your machine dies or gets stolen, you still have a copy.
As you can see from some of my examples I have the triggering item but also a note in brackets about what I think the real trigger is or the specific event that caused it.
The more often you do this, the more data you have to work from.
How To Use The Emotion Log Data To Improve Your Life
Simple, try to do more of the things that prompt the positive reactions. This can be done in terms of your job, spare time, relationships and so on.
Try to do less of the things that cause the negative reactions. The negative reactions can also give clues as to what you really desire and which values are currently unmet. By looking at what you don’t like, you can simply flip it around and now you have a clearer idea of what you would like. This is especially helpful if people don’t know what they want, yet.
Try to spot the patterns and common themes. You may be able to spot the patterns in my examples and it is no coincidence that I am now a digital nomad/coach who lives in the sun is now creating a lot of content and plays a lot of football. I have improved my life using this data.
You can also use the data to proactively change your state/emotion. If you are feeling a little down, go and do something on your smile list. If you are feeling somewhat lethargic, consult your excitement list. If you are fee..yeah you get the idea.
If you have a decision to make in any area of life then it can be useful to consult your emotion logs (as well as your values – you know what your top 5 values are right?).
Sometimes you can distil the reactions or themes into one single word (sometimes called an End Goal, from the phrase “A means to an end”). This can then give you more of an idea of your values (what you feel is important to you). Sometimes what you think they may be can be quite different to reality (what your body/mind is telling you).
These Ends Goals are what you are really striving for.
Essentially your body is telling you what it (you) really wants.
So, once you have been tracking for a while and have some metrics, ask yourself:
What sense do I make of all this data?
How might I use it to improve my life?
You get to decide which emotions to track and how. Feel free to track more using Plutchik’s model.
Start small, possibly with just smiles. As happiness and contentment seem to be the aim of most people in life, smiling is a great starting point.
By following your emotions toward your values you can close the gap between unmet values and your current state and therefore improve your life.
What else do you think is worth tracking?
How has your life changed since tracking the data?
As always, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
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