Emotional styles, or how we adapt and respond to the world around us, contributes to our resilience, and our levels of happiness and health. With anything learned, your brain changes. New learning involves development of nerve cells (or neurons) in the brain and new connections between them. Sometimes this process involves “pruning” neurons no longer needed. Essentially a rewiring is occurring in the brain. Regardless of age, these changes can and do occur as we learn. Not terribly surprising; if I pick up a book on a particular topic or attend a class on something, I will come away with something new. If I learn a new skill, continued practice will further refine the new neural pathways and lead to faster and more accurate performance.
All dogs can learn new tricks
What may be surprising to some however, is we can learn and make changes to our emotional styles, too. Psychologist Richard Davidson describes six types of emotional styles where individuals vary on where they operate on the emotional continuum. Here Dr. Davidson, author of “Emotional Life of Your Brain,” describes how happiness and health are related to the emotional styles, adaptation and resilience. The six emotional styles include:
- Resilience: ability to bounce back from adversity
- Outlook: how positive you are
- Social Intuition: how good you are at reading others’ non-verbal emotional signals
- Self-Awareness: how aware you are of your own emotional cues, signals
- Sensitivity to Context: ability to adapt responses to the context
For example, compare the emotional styles of an attorney who effectively grills a witness in court but then uses the same approach when there is a difference of opinion with his wife vs. his law partner whom can switch out of the courtroom “bulldog” mode when he should.
Wherever an individual operates in one of the emotional styles, they will have some level of potential to change. Let’s say I am at the center of the Outlook style and I would like to become a more positive person. I can practice a couple of Davidson’s recommended exercises such as:
- Make home and workspaces optimistic. Place objects, photos or anything to trigger happy thoughts and feelings. After a while, they may not evoke as strong a response, so try to bring in new items every few weeks.
- Have a gratitude journal to remind yourself of what you are thankful for and what is good in your life. Take the time to thank and compliment others more. This will train you to look for and to see the good in others and yourself.
Whatever your goals are, having an intention and desire to change will start you off on the right foot. Continue to practice exercises like these or explore other with purpose and mindfulness, and see how far you can go!
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VITAL WorkLife, Inc.™ is a national behavioral health consulting company providing support to individuals facing life’s challenges, while also assisting organizations in improving workplace productivity. This approach of helping employees and their families, while also guiding organizations, builds healthy, sustainable behaviors. Visit us at VITALWorkLife.com.