How are you feeling today? Sometimes the person it is hardest to listen to is yourself. Use this Young Professional exercise to take an emotional temperature check of how you feel about life.
When we feel physically unwell, one of the first things many of us will do is to check our temperature to see if we have a fever or need to go to the doctor. But have you ever heard of an emotional temperature check? It’s a really useful and simple exercise that can enhance self-knowledge, increase empathy and improve communication in a group or team situation, and lead to better mental and emotional health.
Read on to learn how to do it.
What is an Emotional Temperature Check?
The temperature check begins with asking a simple question: how are you feeling today?
There are many different ways to use it. A work team might do a temperature check at the start of a meeting or in a weekly team “huddle.” A project group could do it before diving into a work session. Teachers and lecturers can run the exercise with their classes. Families, couples, and groups of friends can use it. It’s even something you can do by yourself, and we’ve included an exercise to help you do that at the end of this article.
Why Use the Emotional Temperature Check?
The temperature check exercise fulfils two main purposes:
Self-knowledge is the foundation on which stronger mental health and good communication are built. By pausing and asking the question, “how are you feeling today?” you give everyone the opportunity for a moment of introspection.
Knowing and understanding your own moods and feelings equips you to communicate them to others in a constructive way. I like to say that we are not always in control of our feelings, but we are in control of how we act on them. Learning how to interpret your own feelings and put labels to them is the first step in developing this essential skill.
The amazing educator Kate Kenfield (creator of Tea & Empathy) defines empathy as “The state of having curiosity about, and nonjudgmental engagement with, someone else’s emotional world.”
In other words, it’s being with someone else in their feelings and attempting to understand them, without trying to change or influence those feelings.
When we connect with each other in an empathic way, we build stronger relationships and enjoy better communication. The temperature check exercise allows everyone to practice and demonstrate empathy towards each other. It reminds everyone in the group that we are all human and all have an inner world that we might not always show.
There’s No Right Way to Do It
The great thing about this exercise is that it’s infinitely customisable. Here are just some ways you can incorporate it:
- Go around the room or table and ask everyone to describe their current feelings in 1 – 5 words.
- Divide into pairs or very small groups to ask and answer the “how are you feeling today?” question.
- Have everyone write down the words to describe their feelings. They can either keep this to themselves, or share it if they wish.
- Ask everyone to write down their current mood (without their name) on a Post-It note, then collect them in and share them anonymously.
Use your imagination and ask your group, then do the exercise in whatever way you prefer.
Allowing Space for “Negative” Feelings
The temperature check exercise only works if any honest answer is okay. At first, you or others may feel pressured to answer in a certain way, such as by saying you’re fine when you are not. Of course, no-one should feel pressured to reveal anything they do not wish to, and privacy must always be respected. But allowing and accepting all feelings, including those we often label as bad or negative, is a vital part of using this exercise successfully.
If you’re the one feeling something difficult
What happens if you simply name the feeling without attaching a judgement to it? Try saying or writing the words, “I feel sad,” “I feel angry,” or “I feel frustrated.”
The point of this exercise isn’t to eradicate difficult feelings or to change them into positive ones. You may find that, as long as the other people in the room respond to you with empathy, putting words to your emotions is much more helpful than keeping them bottled up inside.
If someone else expresses a difficult emotion
Resist the temptation to try and fix it! This impulse comes from a place of kindness, but it more often feels invalidating rather than helpful. And you should never say things like “it could be worse” or “you shouldn’t feel that way.”
Instead, try validating the person. Say something like, “I hear you” or “that must be difficult.” If you wish and it’s appropriate for the scenario, you could also say something like, “would you like to tell me more about that?”
Another great response is simply, “thank you for being honest.” Naming negative feelings is a difficult and vulnerable thing to do, and thanking the person for sharing shows them that it’s safe to open up to you.
Exercise: Emotion Freewrite
Time needed: 5 – 15 minutes
You will need: A pen and paper or computer, a stopwatch or countdown timer
How to do it: I recommend doing this exercise by hand if possible, as research has shown that writing with pen and paper has benefits for the brain. But if you don’t have a pen available or writing by hand is not accessible for you, it’s fine to use a computer too.
Write the question “how am I feeling today?” at the top of the page. Then set a timer for an interval of no less than 5 minutes and no more than 15 minutes (I find 10 is about right, but your mileage may vary.)
Then simply write whatever comes to mind until the timer goes off, using the question “how am I feeling today?” as the jumping off point. Don’t worry if your brain goes off on seemingly strange tangents – just keep your pen moving across the page.
Freewriting unlocks creativity, provides a safe outlet for all kinds of feelings, and helps you overcome emotional stumbling blocks.