Emotional Acuity

Knowing and naming what you are feeling is the prerequisite for being able to be in charge of your emotional life, and not have it be in charge of you
Self-awareness is a key Q1 capability for all organisational leaders; ‘know thyself’
A foundational component of self-awareness is your ability feel and to put a name to your current emotional state. This mental activity connects the physiological sensations arising from your body and organs to your cognitive processes.
This practice integrates the neurons in your body with the neurons of your brain and higher nervous system. This connection between body and brain is what it means to be 'embodied'; it is also a foundational part of 'being present' and 'mindfulness'.
Increasing your emotional vocabulary and the specificity or acuity with which you can differentiate between similar but nuanced emotional states is a critical part of self-awareness.
There are many different approaches to categorising emotions and creating a lexicon of emotion words. All have something to recommend them; each is probably deficient in some way. There is no one correct approach. We've chosen one we liked [1].


For each sub-category in the list of emotion words on this page (e.g. 'Suffering', not 'Sadness' or 'Agony'), choose one of the listed emotion words (e.g. 'Suffering', 'Agony', 'Anguish', or 'Hurt'), and for each that you have chosen, do the following:

  • Make sure you understand what the word means (look it up if you have to; I still need to do this every time for ‘Bemused’… not sure what that means about me...)
  • Imagine you are feeling this emotion:
    • Where would you be feeling it, in your body (e.g. between the eyes, stomach, guts, chest, heart …)
    • Describe the feeling however you can (e.g. sharp, dull, round, dense, heavy, broad... What shape is it? What colour is it? If it had a sound, what kind of sound would it have?
    • What else is going on in your body (e.g. temperature, heart rate, breathing, sweating, etc…)?
  • Think of a time when you felt this emotion in the past.
    • What had happened? What caused this feeling?
    • What did you do while feeling this?
    • What happened next?
Journal a few of the ones that feel most significant to you.


  • Affection: Adoration · Fondness · Liking · Attraction · Caring · Tenderness · Compassion · Sentimentality
  • Lust/ Sexual desire: Desire · Passion · Infatuation
  • Longing


  • Cheerfulness: Amusement · Bliss · Gaiety · Glee · Jolliness · Joviality · Joy · Delight · Enjoyment · Gladness · Happiness · Jubilation · Elation · Satisfaction · Ecstasy · Euphoria
  • Zest: Enthusiasm · Zeal · Excitement · Thrill · Exhilaration
  • Contentment: Pleasure
  • Pride: Triumph
  • Optimism: Eagerness · Hope
  • Enthrallment: Rapture
  • Relief


  • Surprise: Amazement · Astonishment


  • Irritability: Aggravation · Agitation · Annoyance · Grouchy · Grumpy · Crosspatch
  • Exasperation: Frustration
  • Rage: Outrage · Fury · Wrath · Hostility · Ferocity · Bitterness · Hatred · Scorn · Spite · Vengefulness · Dislike · Resentment
  • Disgust: Revulsion · Contempt · Loathing
  • Envy: Jealousy
  • Torment


  • Suffering: Agony · Anguish · Hurt
  • Unhappiness: Depression · Despair · Gloom · Glumness · Grief · Sorrow · Woe · Misery · Melancholy
  • Disappointment: Dismay · Displeasure
  • Shame: Guilt · Regret · Remorse
  • Neglect: Alienation · Defeatism · Dejection · Embarrassment · Homesickness · Humiliation · Insecurity · Insult · Isolation · Loneliness · Rejection
  • Sympathy: Pity · Mono no aware · Sympathy


  • Horror: Alarm · Shock · Fright · Terror · Panic · Hysteria · Mortification
  • Nervousness: Anxiety · Suspense · Uneasiness · Apprehension (fear) · Worry · Distress · Dread