"Fine" Is The Enemy Of Fine, Or, How To Build Self-Awareness




Luke Hanson, Academic Advisor and postbac at University of Alabama at Birmingham


"How are you doing?" "Fine."


"How are things going?" "Fine."


"How are you feeling?" "Fine."


As an academic coach and advisor, this has gone from my least to favorite response from students. It's unquestionably the most common.


As humans, we're predisposed to default to some version of "Fine" or "Ok" when asked how we're doing, whether it come from a parent, peer, supervisor, barista, bartender, neighbor or complete stranger. In my experience, saying some iteration of "I'm fine" can be the biggest enemy of and obstacle to being fine. It's a default term for transactional communication, a mover of the proverbial chains.


Sometimes, often even, this is perfectly normal and, yes, fine. But, when used as a default to ignore one's actual emotional state, or to prevent sharing it with others, fissures begin to form and spread in our relationships with ourselves and others.


Our relationship with our emotions is a key foundation of self-awareness. Being able to explore our emotions, including their causes and manifestations, and indeed to put words to them, is absolutely necessary.


Dr. Robert Plutchik was a psychologist who did extensive research to develop a theory of emotions, contributing greatly to the scientific literature about them. In 1980 he created a "wheel of emotions" based on his vast expertise. The wheel is based on eight primary emotions: anger, anticipation, joy, trust, fear, surprise, sadness and disgust. It features three concentric circles and 24 emotions.


The key element of the wheel is that, if considered thoughtfully and honestly, it provides a visual that allows us to put names to our feelings. As I'm taking my own journey with Capsule and reflecting on how I can use it personally and professionally, my favorite element thus far is being greeted by the mood wheel every time I login. It forces me to consider how I'm feeling, inherently leading me to consider and explore why I'm feeling that way and developing action plans around those feelings.


I've used some version of this strategy with students for years now. I tend to interrogate fine, asking, "What does fine mean to you right now?" But, having utilized the wheel, I now have words to put along with fine, to prompt or pull out emotions that ultimately build the base on which we collaborate. It's a tremendous tool to have in the advising toolbox. And I don't just use it with them.


Yesterday, I felt unsettled. I wasn't sure why. I took some time to consider my emotions, based on my experience and later when checking in with Capsule. I realized the discomfort came from a mixture of fear and apprehension from feelings of vulnerability stemming from some issues with my job. It was a heck of a lot easier and even exciting to come up with a plan moving forward based on that awareness. Way better than if I'd settled on, "I don't feel great. Oh well. I'll be fine."

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