5 Ways to Activate Your (and Your Kid’s) Emotional GPS Tracking System

“This situation here is terrible,” I heard myself say.  My finger was pointed and making broad circles towards the big pile of things that my son was asked to put away repeatedly this morning.

The problem was that he was sitting in the middle of the pile and my finger was more or less pointing at and around him.

“I’m not terrible”, he said frustrated and clearly upset. His reaction baffled me.

“I never said YOU were terrible. I said THIS was terrible,” I said defensively and taken aback.

I straightened up and walked away.

“Not ok,” I squeezed in, feeling like I had to have the last word.

Since that morning’s encounter, about a year ago, I’ve been hard at work connecting to the “me” in that moment. It’s not that I’m still frustrated, or that I’ve not stopped hearing Brené Brown’s voice in my head teaching about shame, and the importance of separating behavior from the person, or that I truly don’t like conflict. It’s not even that I’ve needed a lot of time to let go, process, and make decisions about how and what to auto-correct for the future.

The truth is that I really don’t know where I was in the moment. My honey was trying to run out the door already late for work, baby was hungry, breakfast was on the stove, and we were running short on time, and looking like we’d be late to our first morning school appointment. Looking back at myself, I think I was impatient, irritated, agitated, authoritative, unyielding, and rigid. Also, I must have had a big frown, and my voice was strong.

There are days when I want to hold the power button on my iPhone and ask Siri, “Where the heck am I?” I tried it and, as expected, it showed me my precise location on the local map.

I also asked, “How am I feeling today?” Here’s what I got:

You seem ok to me.

You are great.

Hmm, let me think … Ok I found this on the web.

I don’t know what you mean by how am I feeling today.

I found an article on Wikipedia about feelings, would you like me to read it to you?

(Ok, that last one made laugh out loud.)

In my tough moment with my son, I desperately needed an activated emotional GPS tracking device. I needed a blue dot to move from Mildly Irritated Avenue to Now I’m Pretty Annoyed Street. Ideally it would have had some kind of alarm when I turned into You’ll Regret You Said This Dead End.

All this made me wonder, what is my emotional map, and how do I launch my inner GPS?

Most of us hang around within the same predictable geographic radius on a daily and weekly basis. Most of us can tell with accuracy where we’ve been – home, work, after school activities, meetings, doctor appointments, and grocery store.

The same, however, is not true about our feelings. Ask me how I felt two weeks ago, or even yesterday, and I can’t remember. That’s why we say things like, I’m doing fine.  Or, I’m feeling stressed. Fine and stressed are the all-encompassing words that mean, either I really I have no idea, or there’s so much to say, I don’t think I can summarize it in one word.

I suspect, however, that if we kept close track of how we feel on a regular basis not only would we be more present, and better equipped to handle each moment, but also we’d be able to build a pretty comprehensive, detailed, and intricate map.

Here are my favorite ways to practice and activate my inner emotional GPS system.

  1. Notice triggers

One of the benefits of not liking conflict is that I pay attention to it very closely. I generally know my triggers, but once in a while I notice my emotional reaction to something new. I’ve become very curious and interested in noticing deeply. I pay attention to sensations, vibrations, heart beats, tone of voice, environment and situation. I can tell when I’m being triggered or whether the person I’m talking to is. This gives me choices. I can either choose to acknowledge or choose to ignore. I’ve done both, and dealt with the consequences both ways. What’s noteworthy is that I generally feel I have a choice. I don’t have to be swept up by my triggers.

  1. Allowing myself to feel whatever it is I’m feeling

I used to be extremely hard on myself. When I felt irritated, or unappreciated, or felt I was being treated unjustly, I used to feel like I had to pull myself together fast, and be tough, strong, firm. I used to get very quiet with people I don’t know, and very loud with people who are close to me. The problem with that is I never liked the way I felt. Now, I’ve gotten to the point where I generally try to be open and honest about how I feel.  I notice my physical reaction, my heart beats, my shallow breathing. I am able to tell myself to breath deeply, notice and fully feel my emotions. I’m still working on making this feel easy and graceful, but I’m working on communicating how I feel clearly in the moment. Shutting down, putting up a barrier, and a tough face have not served me well in the past. My approach now is to communicate openly. I work hard to use the precise words that closely describe my moment. I don’t shy away from saying things like overwhelm, confusion, sadness, angry. They may not be words we frequently use in our “well put together, professional way”, but I’m embracing them fully. I also embrace delighted, enchanted, joyful, and inspired.

  1. Lean in

I have a standing date with myself. I like to spend some time digging in deeply. I ask questions like, how did I feel, why did I say that, what’s really bothering me but I’m too embarrassed to admit? What do I not want people to know, and why? I sit with the chairwoman of my board  – my inner wise self – at a coffee shop and I lean in.

  1. MOVE

You know me! I believe deeply that the secret to figuring out just about every challenge we are going through can be unlocked through movement. Whether it’s taking a walk in nature, or playing a fun tune and dancing in my kitchen, moving my body unleashes torrents of positive chemicals in my body that make me feel happy, present, strong, and confident. I believe five minutes of squats and wall pushups can be miraculous. I believe that a super tough argument with a kid can be solved while walking, running, or throwing a ball. Action talk is profoundly more impactful than stationary alternatives.

  1. Getting Things Done with Core Desired Feelings

I am a big fan of Danielle LaPorte’s Core Desired Feelings (CDF) as well as David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD). Fridays, when I do my weekly GTD review and planning for the next week, I first take a look at my CDFs. I look at how things went, what new feelings came up for me, where I want to be next week. I try to make adjustments, schedule clean-ups (emotional ones), and celebrate successes. Roughly once a month, I include my kid in this process.  We make a date of it and get ice cream together. I make it fun, and he rolls with it.

To me, this journey is about small steps. Don’t get me wrong. I am still a work in process. I have great weeks, and I still have pretty uninspired and energy draining moments. These steps have served me well.

How about you? How do you activate and fine-tune your emotional GPS?

With love and appreciation,


About the Author nataliagabrea

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