G'day mate, how's it goin'?

Carla Ford

Mates 960x450

“G’day mate, how’s it goin’?”

The quintessential Australian greeting.

In other parts of the world, you might use a different phrase – ‘how you doing?’ or (if I go back to my English roots) ‘Alright?’ We generally don’t expect (or desire) an honest answer, and we might not be willing to give one. Often, these questions act merely as a polite social lubricant and are rarely intended as a catalyst to unpack one’s current emotional state!

Which may be just as well. I don’t know about you but I don’t think I’ve ever been on such a rollercoaster of emotion, especially not with so many people. It’s like we’re strapped in alongside every human being on the planet, turning left and right and upside down, making loop the loops, white knuckling all the way. Within a very short space of time, I can feel anxious, sad, overwhelmed, grateful, relieved, serene, angry, confused, hopeless, hopeful...

There’s no doubt our emotions impact our lives. Our abilities to focus and learn, make smart decisions, build good relationships, think creatively to problem solve, and even nurture our mental and physical health are often dependent on our emotional state. So, taking time to work out how we’re feeling is important, as is finding out how others are feeling –that’s probably why we frequently ask, ‘how’s it goin’?’ We instinctively know its value, even if we’re not equipped (nor prepared) to dig any deeper.

Since 2006, Dr. Brene Brown has been asking people to name emotions they recognise and identify in themselves and others, and the average is three – angry, sad and happy (or, as she calls it - the Mad, Sad, Glad Trilogy). Yet, the ability to become more granular about our emotions, putting feelings into words with a high degree of complexity (which Todd Kashdan and colleagues call emotional differentiation or emotional granularity) can act as a gateway to greater wellbeing (Kashdan, Barrett & McKnight, 2015). In his book, Permission to Feel, Dr. Marc Brackett, the founding director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, highlights the importance of this emotional literacy for wellbeing. He suggests we begin by broadly identifying our emotions into pleasant/unpleasant (or approach/avoid) and high/low energy. This Mood Meter is a useful tool (and there’s an app too: Mood Meter App)

450px Mood Meter 1

Check in with how you’re feeling right now. High energy and unpleasant? That’s the red quadrant. Not much energy but fairly pleasant? You’d be in the green. And what about your loved ones? Can you recognise which quadrant they are currently in?

Recognising how we, and those around us, are feeling is the first crucial step in developing emotional literacy. We can use Yale’s RULER framework (Recognise, Understand, Label, Express, Regulate) to assist us further (Brackett, Bailey, Hoffmann & Simmons, 2019):

Recognise – stop and notice the changes in your own thoughts, energy or body, or in someone’s face, body or voice. Which quadrant are you in? And what about those around you?

Understand – why are you feeling what you’re feeling? It’s not a time for judgement (I shouldn’t be feeling happy or angry, and neither should you), but understanding why you, or others, are feeling that way.

Label – this is when we begin to get more specific and zone in on the appropriate language to describe the emotion. Being unable to identify how we feel is associated with an inability to regulate our emotions (Vine & Aldao, 2014).

Express – knowing the appropriate way to express our emotions depending on the social setting

Regulate – using strategies to manage emotions.

Students who can recognise, understand, label, express and regulate their emotions have better relationships, perform better in school, and are less anxious and depressed, and the same is true for educators (Brackett et al., 2019; Kashdan et al., 2015; Durlack et al., 2011). It gives me pause for thought: Do I even know how I’m feeling? Have I given myself permission to ask? Have I ever really asked my partner, my child, my colleague? Of course, physical distancing makes it trickier, but can we still pick up on those behavioural cues?

All of this is especially relevant for children. Help your child recognise their emotional state (the Mood Meter is a useful tool) and ask questions designed to reveal the underlying reasons. It might be that the anger being expressed is actually frustration or shame. Then, see if you can help your child label their emotions with words – model doing this yourself – before problem solving appropriate ways forward.

How’s it goin’? – Give this a try:

  • View yourself as an ‘emotional scientist’ and dial up curiosity about your emotions.
  • If you’re at home, recreate the Mood Meter and, throughout the day, check in with yourself and those you’re with, to see which quadrant you’re currently in.
  • Brainstorm emotional vocabulary that fits in each quadrant. In our home we’ve stuck a big grid on the fridge and each night we try to add new emotions as we talk about our day.
  • Next time someone says ‘how’s it goin’?’, take a moment and ask yourself ‘how am I, really?’ Give yourself permission to see what you notice, without judgement, and if possible, Recognise, Understand and Label your emotional state.

References

Durlak, J. A., Weissberg, R. P., Dymnicki, A. B., Taylor, R. D. & Schellinger, K. B. (2011). The impact of enhancing students’ social and emotional learning: A meta-analysis of school-based universal interventions. Child Development, 82(1): 405–432.

Kashdan, T. B., Barrett, L. F., & McKnight, P. E. (2015). Unpacking emotion differentiation: Transforming unpleasant experience by perceiving distinctions in negativity. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 24(1), 10–16

Marc A. Brackett, Craig S. Bailey, Jessica D. Hoffmann & Dena N. Simmons (2019) RULER: A Theory-Driven, Systemic Approach to Social, Emotional, and Academic Learning, Educational Psychologist, 54:3, 144-161, DOI: 10.1080/00461520.2019.1614447

Brown, B., Unlocking Us podcast, 14th April 2020.

Brackett, M., (2019) Permission to Feel


Carla Ford


Carla Ford is a Consultant with the Institute of Positive Education. She has designed and developed curriculum and training programs in Australia and the UK, and is passionate about creating light-bulb moments of understanding. She is a qualified teacher and adult-educator, and holds a Masters in Applied Positive Psychology.