So far we have talked about 4 of the 6 techniques for becoming more aware of our feelings or emotions. In this post, we are going to talk about technique #5, Backtracking.
Backtracking is when we retrace our steps to determine why we are feeling a certain way. I find it most helpful to understand when I am feeling negative emotions like sad, angry, or scared. I will sometimes feel a vague sense of unease, like there is a dark cloud hanging over my head. By using the backtracking technique, I can often connect the dots on what I am feeling and why.
This is similar to the process you follow when you lose something. What would you do if you were to lose your keys? You would stop and retrace your steps leading up to the point where you lost them. Usually, you find that there is a logical place for the keys based on the steps you took.
The process of backtracking works the same for our feelings. In a recent case where I used this technique, it was at the end of my work day. I was on my way home and I felt disturbed. I had a sense of unease that I could not attribute to anything specific. I then reflected back on the day and the exchanges I had with various people on my project. I thought about all the meetings and the conversations I had throughout the day. And then it struck me very clearly. In my meeting with my manager, he was critical of one of my team members. That criticism hurt.
It actually hurt on several levels. First, I knew it was true. My manager was right in his assessment and I knew it. I was feeling personally criticized, as if I should have done a better job. I felt like I should have acted sooner to address this performance issue. I felt scared on some level that I was viewed as not performing at my highest level. Second, it hurt because I liked this particular team member. I felt defensive because there were so many positive things he was doing. Third, it hurt because I knew I needed to act on it and I was reluctant to do that. I knew that it would mean taking this resource off the team. That made me feel sad.
When I backtracked over the day and identified this exchange, it was easy to understand how I felt. There was a mix of negative feelings at that moment. After the meeting, I moved on with other meetings and discussions and those negative feelings moved to the background. It was as if my subconscious didn’t want me to dwell on those thoughts. That worked until I slowed down at the end of the day and I was unable to keep the negative feelings at bay any longer.
My wife sometimes helps me to backtrack. If I come home from work in a less than positive state, she may say something like “so what is going on with you?”. She will force me to think back over the day and why I am sad, angry or scared. It works. By back tracking through my day, I can identify what happened to cause me to feel the way I do.
Whether you do it alone or with the help of another, the backtracking technique can be helpful to understand what you are feeling in the moment. When you feel some discomfort or unease and you are unable to pinpoint the cause, review your day and the interactions you had with others. This will often help you to identify the source and the specific feeling you are experiencing. That will put you in a position to do something about it.
Try the backtracking technique and see if it helps you to get in touch with your feelings. In the next post we will talk about using technique #6, Quiet Time.