I’ve been revisiting some work I did four years ago as a doctoral student. One eye-opening project was emotion mapping, the process of labeling emotional experiences across situational contexts or across a timeline. In this particular experience, I mapped a dinner at a crowded restaurant in Saint Louis, Missouri with my brother and his (now) wife.
The exercise was particularly useful to me in that it demonstrated how multiple emotions can be felt in a tight time-frame, even though they appear to be somewhat contradictory of each other. For instance, upon entering the restaurant, the large crowd invoked more intense, anxiety-like emotions, which were felt almost simultaneously with cool emotions brought on by the thought of having a drink.
To map the experience, I used Adobe Illustrator to construct the following map of hot and cool emotions across the different time points and situations dining out. I used the blue color to signify cool emotions, and red to signify hotter anxiety-invoking emotions.
I am a cognitive-dominant person – that is, I tend to be most aware of my thoughts, and less aware of my feelings and emotions. The exercise helped me in a therapeutic sense, in that it gave me a template for following and attending to my emotions in real time. I had to work at it – my brain will naturally drift back into being preoccupied with thoughts. In this sense, using a self-talk strategy, like a simple question: “what am I feeling right now?” This helped me build my awareness of a whole set of emotional experiences that I would normally not attend to.
I have to employ the process deliberately, and it’s hard to remember to do it, because it’s not something I will naturally attend to. But when I do, I find it helpful to see how my emotions color my experience of a reality, and to take stock of just how much our emotions – often far beyond our control – shape our reality.