Getting emotionally literate is a highway for access to our full potential. What blocks us to some extent is our intense investment in our left brain activity. Over-identified with our work, we run the risk of becoming actively de-skilled in being simply ‘present’: here, now. Just in touch with all of ourselves, and open to being in touch with the Other. How to check whether this is what’s going on for you, at least a little?

Start observing your movements throughout your day: from attached – defending something, an argument, an ideal, a Truth – to detached – simply overwhelmed or disinterested, movements to get out of touch – to the open middle: present, and in touch with yourself and the Other:

Nowhere to go, nowhere to be. Simply in touch.


1. Over-using Our Left Brains: Unable to Sit Still…

Due to over-identification with and over-using of our analytical left brain area we tend to lose touch with our bodies, our embodied experiences and our emotions. Sometimes, influenced by our direct circle of colleagues, we even get actively deskilled in empathy and emotional literacy. Talking about emotions becomes suspect, something academics simply don’t do. We become overexcited and find ourselves restless, unable to slow down, ponder and stare out of a window, unable to sit for more than five minutes on a couch without feeling the internal pressure of having to do something, having to process something, having to deal with something.

It’s like the first evening of sitting on your couch after you’ve finished decorating and moving into your new home. You sit down only to find out how hard it is to simply sit and rest while awake. This inability to sit tells you that you’ve actively unlearned to take a real break. Resting is something we can easily get estranged from. We find ourselves literally unable to sit still for more than one minute.

Our bodies get alienated from ‘resting while awake’ during intense projects. Many academics live like that every single day: unable to rest without being totally worn-out. As long as their not worn-out, they might just as well start… [fill in the blank].


2. Checking-In With Yourself: Body, Feelings, Needs

You may have noticed that I’m on a mission to bring emotional literacy to the academic field. I believe that if we have full access to our energy, and we dismiss ourselves from the harshness of ranking and comparing, we’ll enable ourselves to work effortlessly and playfully. Fully inspired, instead of on the brink of exhaustion.

And yes, of course: structurally, we need a better deal along the lines of what #WOinActie proposes. This does not exclude the path of individual freeing up, however. Not at all. Wonderful if the field changes, and there would be Room for Everyone’s Talent.

Let’s exert our influence where we have it: 100%. How we relate to the field ourselves, and what we bring to our day, today.

So, let’s just start right now. Check-in with yourself. Just make sure you have 7 minutes of undisturbed time. Get comfortable in the chair where you are sitting, preferably with your feet on the ground. Take a deep breath.

Please, close your eyes, let yourself fall still.

Scan your body from your toes to the crown of your head. Just observe yourself – as is, no fixing or changing.

Simply, non-judgmental observing:

1. What do you notice in your body in terms of tenseness, spaciousness or numbness or something else?

2. What feelings are alive? Let them rise to the surface.

3. What needs are alive?

Don’t kid yourself.

Observing your needs… it may take practice…

So, please, don’t get cross with yourself if you can’t readily articulate them.

  • Body: check.
  • Feelings: check.
  • Needs: no clue…

For some of us, even simply feeling our bodies is challenging right now. Cut yourself some slack. Don’t become judgmental. Simply decide to be aware and observe however you find yourself right now. Try to agree with it, without having an opinion about it.

If you’ve observed yourself, and you can’t articulate a need, let’s try something different then. Get in touch with the question that is most alive in your particular ‘swamp of thoughts’ right now. And no worries: we all have our swamps of thoughts/convictions.

Let the question that is alive in you just rise to the surface, and then translate it into what need may be beneath it.

An example?

  • What should I choose right now? I can’t decide on A or B.
  • Why am I so [angry/sad/scared/euphoric/happy] whenever [supervisor/colleague/student] knocks on my (virtual) door?
  • What will my next steps be? I feel lost?
  • The first questions may hint at a need for deciding/choosing.
  • The second may refer to a need for clarity of getting a little derailed by a certain relationship.
  • The third may inform you that you’re longing to level up.

3. Emotions by Numbers Assignment – New Round

Take your particular question in mind. The one that is most alive. Get in touch with the question:

  • Register anything and everything that rises to the surface right now: a memory, a fantasy, a smell, a flavor, a sensation, a thought.
  • How does of all of this make you feel? Observe which emotions become alive.
  • Write down the numbers that correspond most with what you feel while deeply contemplating whether you feel you belong in academia.
  • Yes: you can pick multiple answers.
  • You can even pick contradictory answers.
  • You can also observe if none of the answers apply. Then you are invited to:
    • take the list as inspiration: just read the list and just get precise about which word does apply.
    • look out for my upgrade [work in progress as we speak]
    • send me a confidential e-mail with the emotions that are alive. I don’t always respond immediately, but I always respond. We will figure it out together.
    • check Vera Helleman’s Encyclopedia of Emotions – she even has an app for you to get emotionally literate with.

For now, let’s just work with what we’ve got.

Don’t try and ‘make sense’. Don’t try and formulate the conclusion before even gathering the data.

Just sit with this question once more, and observe without judging which emotions are triggered in you.

For this to be an interesting assignment for reflection and contemplation: do not scroll down before taking at least 3 minutes for deciding upon the numbers. Don’t overthink! Stick with your primary responses.

Take your question in mind…. and start registering your feelings.

What feelings were triggered? Please choose 5 to 10 answers.

Did you feel:

7Edgy – Touchy
38Knot in your stomach
Based on: Vera Helleman, Encyclopedia of Emotions. Using Your Feelings as a Navigation System Towards a Happy Life (LiV 2019)

As always: feelings are here to be observed, to be addressed, to become literate in.

Your feelings are just smoke alarms, calling for your attention, indicative of an unfulfilled need.

This inch of reflection can lead to a helpful request for support, a request for understanding by you or someone else, or both. For a request to be helpful and nurturing, we need to know what is alive in us in the first place. Usually, it takes a bit of slowing down to get in touch with what is actually going on internally.


4. Emotions: What They Are Telling You

So. If you are up for it, let’s find out which groups of emotions are most alive in relation to the question whether you feel you belong in academia.

In organizing yourself internally to such an extent that you feel in touch with yourself, act according to your core values, open to being in touch with others, embark upon your academic journey this year, let’s not move around our more unsettling feelings. Let’s address them empathically, allowing ourselves to get full access to our energy.

In discerning which groups are most alive in you regarding whether you feel like a legitimate member of the academy, look at the numbers that you’ve written down once more.

  • How many numbers you’ve chosen are below or above 20?
  • Per set: how many of them are even and how many are odd numbers?

Maybe you’ll clearly see how this theme triggers anger for you: possibly all of the numbers you chose were odd and below 20. Or, actually, fear is most alive: you chose even numbers up to 20. Or aversion: even numbers above 20. Or shame: odd numbers above 20. Or… your feelings are scattered across these groups of emotions.

Rest assured: there are no ‘wrong’ or ‘right’ answers. This test is not about ‘good, better, best’. It is about raising your awareness to what is triggered in you by this theme of belonging in academia. Whatever the dominant emotions are for you, please take all of this along with you, into your week, the upcoming days. As slow questions. As something to kindly pay attention to, and to start with addressing the needs underlying the feelings.

All emotions, even aversion, have positive intentions. Some of them are connected to our survival strategies, our resilience. In order to transition from surviving to thriving: our feelings invite us to start addressing the underlying unfulfilled needs.

Take this quadrant below about what emotions tell us as a point of departure for working with these feelings as slow questions the upcoming days.

Develop your response-ability regarding your feelings, by signaling these feelings as moments to slow down: observe, choose and then act. Our response-ability helps us to stop reacting, being reactive. It helps us to start acting, in line with ourselves.

Based on Vera Helleman (2019) and Brené Brown (2012)


5. In Touch with the Wise Person in You

Don’t have your inner critic grab your microphone as the only internal voice:

‘Who do you think you are? You’ll never get recognition for your sorry contributions to the field.’

Sure, ranking and comparing always triggers our inner critic. In this example the critique is kind of hard to miss. Your inner critic may be far more subtle, yet… present.

So: make sure, you have the inner wise one enter the room as well:

‘What are the three biggest possible small steps that I can embark upon today, to get myself closer to meeting my needs?

So once more: you are here to carve out your niche, embark upon your path and contribute exactly those things that deeply fascinate you and you want the world to learn about. There is no given certainty that you’ll manage, and bring your projects to successes.

Academic work is about the willingness to go on that adventure, about taking risks, about not knowing the answers up front. It’s about observing, choosing and then acting, with the best intentions of enriching both your knowledge, that of your students, peers and supervisors.

Organize yourself internally to such an extent that you have access to your time and energy for your key projects, your core interests, for being generous and kind to the ones around you, and embark upon your academic year on your terms.

In touch with yourself, following your personal goals, loving your life.

With love, Anna




  • Vera Helleman (2019) Encyclopedia of Emotions. Using Your Feelings as a Navigation System Towards a Happy Life
  • Brené Brown (2012) Daring Greatly. How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead (Avery New York)

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