One of the things I thought was cool about my first car (unfortunately, not the one pictured here) is that it had lots of gauges on the dash. In addition to the standard warning lights, it featured a gauge for the engine temperature, oil pressure, and alternator output, among others. Beyond the style factor, I learned that monitoring those gauges on my car was pretty useful. More recently, I’ve discovered that increasing my self-awareness by checking emotional gauges is also very beneficial.

Increasing self-awareness by checking emotional gauges is very beneficial.

After owning my car for a while, I noticed those little meters usually registered the same every time I drove. However, if the reading moved out of its normal range, even though my car was still running well, I needed to pay attention. It was warning me of trouble, even before the “check engine” light came on. Fixing the problem early, before it became a big problem, prevented me from getting stranded.

What checking emotional gauges means

Keeping my emotions steady is a lot like keeping that car running smoothly. Sometimes I react too strongly; then later I regret what I said or did. When I look back, I’ll see that I was stressed or in a bad mood. My emotions were operating out of their normal range, even though I didn’t realize it at the time.

So here’s the idea: what if by periodically checking emotional gauges, we’re able act quickly while those problems are still small? Time-outs work well when conflict escalates, but this self-awareness strategy prevents many of those situations from happening altogether. Catching trouble seething inside of us gives us more options, too. Rational thinking and creative problem solving increase, and we keep our sour attitude from leaking out to others.

The self-awareness gauges to watch

I identified three gauges that are key for me to watch. I try to routinely ask myself questions about these areas and measure my status. 1) How am I feeling about myself? 2) Where is my stress level? 3) How am I feeling about my relationship with my partner?

You should select the gauges and questions that are important to you. Zoom in on the factors that caused strong emotions that led to your hurtful words or poor reactions in the past. Create answer scales that will help you measure those levels. I use a scale of 1-5, with 1 being my calm, feeling good state, and 5 being my highly agitated and uncomfortable status.

Check your gauges regularly. Psychologists say we’re most likely to form a new habit when we stack it onto an existing one. You might consider checking emotional gauges right before every meal, or maybe every time you to go to the bathroom.

A participant in one of our groups told me about a free app from How We Feel which I’ve started to use and I love it! It sends reminders to my phone to check my emotional state, helps build my emotional vocabulary, and provides some great analysis of the user’s emotional state over time.

What to do when your gauges are moving

When you notice an adverse change, act to soothe yourself. This is our best, most effective response. When we take care of ourselves, we don’t have to rely on anyone else to say or do anything in particular to feel better.

When we take care of ourselves, we don’t have to rely on anyone else to say or do anything in particular to feel better.

Here are three good self-soothing responses:

Address the issue. Certainly if there is a good, clear, and easy solution, by all means, pursue it. Performing a random act of kindness eases negative thoughts I have about myself. If I’m stressed from having too much to do, I can prioritize, delegate, or stop saying yes to so many obligations. Planning a fun date with my wife may be just what we need to reconnect.

Challenge thoughts. Much of our stress, shame, and issues with relationships are because our thoughts are distorted. We’re telling ourselves lies and believing them. “I’m not smart enough,” “I have to accomplish more,” and “my partner never gives me credit” are distorted thoughts. We can often break free from feeling bad by challenging the truthfulness of these thoughts.

Accept what you can’t change and focus on actions that make your life great. Some things in life stink. Everyone experiences disappointment and hardship. Those circumstances don’t have to define you or limit your happiness, however. Make a list of things that bring you joy and spend your time, energy, and thoughts on doing more of them.

Faith note

My relationship with Christ is literally a Godsend when checking emotional gauges warns me about trouble brewing. When I don’t like myself, I remind myself that God loves me. If my marriage hits a rough patch, I remember that He blesses me when I love and serve others. I handle stress better when I trust that God is walking with me in the big and small challenges of life.

Get to know God and discover how that relationship can steady your gauges.

I encourage you to get to know God and discover how that relationship can steady your gauges. He wants to speak wisdom and love into your everyday situations so you can experience peace in your life.