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Health & Balance

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Are You Smart About Your Feelings?

Pinpoint the situations that shake you up.

Do you always flip out when your kids start whining in the grocery store, or when your mom offers unsolicited advice? "When something repeatedly bothers you, take time to reflect on why, and on how you reacted — then work on concrete ways to stay calm," says psychologist Maurice Jesse Elias, Ph.D., coauthor of Educating People to Be Emotionally Intelligent. For example, if you notice that your voice goes up when your temper flares, try controlling your tone. "Through deep breathing, make your tone drop from a 5 (on a scale of 1 to 5), which is 'out of control,' to a 4, which is 'upset,' and then work your way down to a 1, which is 'under control,'" says Elias. With practice, you'll be better able to catch yourself before you spin into a more negative place.

Play the "silent movie" game.

Whether you're at lunch or the airport, watch people and see if you can guess what they're feeling, suggests Freedman. Are their expressions glowering or glowing? Are they leaning in or back? Practicing being observant will make you naturally more so — and will increase your understanding of others' feelings.

Practice the what-if scenario.

Think of a frustrating event from your day and imagine two possible outcomes, says Freedman. For example, suppose your guy forgot to put his coffee cup in the dishwasher — a habit that grates on your last nerve. In the first scenario, you berate him for being a slob. In the second, you suggest that you'd appreciate it if he picked up after himself. Which is more likely to get a positive response? "Considering how consequences play out will help you make smarter emotional choices," says Freedman, "choices that facilitate outcomes you'll be happy with later."

Originally published on January 10, 2008

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