Try to remember yourself before you learned to read. If your memory doesn’t stretch back that far, how about a time when you saw a young child hungry to understand how his or her older sibling was making sense of the words in a book. Before we learn to read, we become aware that those little “word pictures” have some importance or meaning but we just can’t make out what it is. Once we begin to understand the words one by one, we realize they describe worlds we cannot see. We connect the sign with the meaning and begin seeing the world in a new way. Ultimately, we connect words in new ways and find that there is an almost unlimited number of possible combinations with each meaning something slightly different.

That experience is the path to becoming emotionally literate. We begin by understanding one emotion, then two and little by little connect them in ways that produce new understandings. With words, there are certain rules: Phonics, order and spelling. With emotions, there is the information they are giving us, their impulse and their purpose. Just as with literacy of the word, emotional literacy sets us free to explore new worlds and envision new possibilities. Just like our first literacy, emotional literacy is learnable if we have the desire.

There are 3 steps that can get us started on the road to emotional literacy. They are 1) Listen, 2) Reflect and 3) Articulate.

The first step is listening to our emotions. Often, we ignore or deny
emotions or override them with logic. Noticing and listening to our
emotions without judgment is essential to get their meaning.

The second step is reflecting on the information or message our emotions
are trying to get us to notice. Are we angry and what is the injustice
we are encountering? If we are joyful, what about our experience is
showing us that life is worth celebrating?

The third step is articulating emotions in our own words. Since we can’t see them directly, we need to find words to express them and what they are telling us. We will each do this a bit differently but you must be comfortable with your understanding the way you speak about each emotion. This seems like a simple idea but it turns out that we either may not have a word for the feeling we are experiencing or we may be calling multiple emotions by the same word. For instance, people often do not distinguish between anger, impatience and frustration. Once you begin to precisely name emotions you will see a richer world. There are several hundred emotions, so just like paint on a palette, they give us enormous range.

Once we can name our emotions we can begin to combine and distinguish them. We will learn that we have assessments of our emotions – some we consider positive and some negative – although all have the possibility to support us. We will learn that we have emotions about our emotions. We may feel shame at our anger or embarrassment of our admiration. We will learn that some emotions are connected to the past and some with the future. We will learn the difference between moods and emotions and which parts of life they take care of. In short, we will come to see emotions as a normal part of life and be able to embrace them as the tool they were intended to be. Like linguistic literacy, we will be able to leverage emotions for self-understanding and apply them to relationships with others.

A high emotional quotient does not guarantee wise choices any more than a high IQ. It is our ability to be at ease and work with our emotions that allows us to benefit from them.

Sign Up FREE at StudyEmotions to explore this amazing area of human learning. You will work individually and with other explorers to listen to your emotions, reflect on them and learn to articulate them so that they can become useful tools in every situation you encounter. Welcome to Emotional Literacy.

About Dan Newby

Dan Newby trains and mentors leaders and coaches, works with organizations to elevate their emotional literacy, facilitates emotions workshops and is co -author of “The Unopened Gift: A Primer in Emotional Literacy”. He lives near Barcelona, Spain and work worldwide with individuals and organizations.

Dan is the curriculum director at, which brings you a social learning opportunity that allows you to understand, reflect on and articulate your emotions more deeply.

Originally published at