How To Discover And Flex Your Empathy Muscles

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• Reading literature may actually make you a more empathic human being. It can reduce bias and prejudice and literally change your brain physiology. The key is in the ability to switch perspectives.

• Choose literary fiction, preferably written in first person. Try authors who are different from yourself, or books about characters that are unlike yourself.

• Read actively and engage with the story. Pause to ask questions to investigate the character’s point of view, switching perspectives and exploring motivations and desires. Ask yourself, “What does the human experience feel like for this specific human? Why?” Instead of asking how you would feel in their shoes, ask how they feel in their shoes. However, be discerning about what kind of perspectives you delve into!

• Another way to build empathy is to create “emotional literacy.” Emotional literacy is the ability to identify and verbalize complex emotions. It is an act of self-awareness. With greater emotional identification and awareness comes more clarity, insight, and mastery—and better empathy.

• The emotion wheel is a helpful tool that helps you develop increased self-awareness, empathic mastery, and precision when it comes to emotions. It outlines shades and nuances of the eight primary emotions: sadness, anger, disgust, joy, trust, fear, surprise, and anticipation.

• We can use the emotion wheel both to identify and explore our own emotions and to identify and empathize with the emotions of others. To empathize with others’ emotions, pause to become aware, notice their body language, then identify a primary emotion on the emotion wheel. Keep asking questions, making observations, or offering emotion labels to home in on exactly what they’re feeling.

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