Everyone has emotions—it’s a universal human experience.
But even though we all HAVE emotions, it can be difficult to TALK about them, or even to be consciously aware of them. The Emotion Awareness Board provides a framework for thinking about and talking about all kinds of human emotions.
What is the Emotion Awareness Board?
The Emotion Awareness board is a visual map of emotions, laid out in a clear, logical format. The original is a physical magnetic board that you can hold in your hands or at a table, and there’s also a free online version.
Mild feelings have pale colors and are close to the center of the board. As you move outwards from the center, the feelings get stronger, and are shown with more intense colors. The X axis represents positive/negative emotions (how pleasant it is to feel the emotion), and the Y axis represents active/receptive emotions (how much personal control you feel during the emotion). These axis divide the board into four navigational quadrants, and each quadrant has a matching color scheme. Within the quadrant, each emotional state is assigned a unique color and position, to make it easy to see and understand. The positions of the various emotions show us how they can affect and flow into each other.
Besides being visual and spatial, the Emotion Awareness Board is also a vocabulary tool. Each emotional state is labeled with an open-ended descriptive term, to kick start further thoughts and conversations.
The vocabulary terms are “target neutral,” meaning they describe HOW you feel, but not ABOUT WHAT. You could feel any of these emotions about yourself or about someone else, or about an object, situation, or action. You could have feelings about the future or the past, for obvious reasons or subtle reasons, in a group or all alone. Often, we even have feelings about having our feelings!
There’s no right or wrong way to feel. The Emotion Awareness Board doesn’t tell us what our emotions should be, or make us try to change them. It just helps us recognize our emotions and gives us a shared language to talk about them.
How do I use the Emotion Awareness Board?
It’s easy to use: just pick it up and start exploring!
Most of the emotions will seem familiar. Some of them may be feelings you’ve had before, but didn’t have a word to describe them. Some of them might be emotions you wish you had more often, and some of them will be ones you have all the time. Everyone has areas of the board they feel more comfortable with and areas they feel less comfortable with, and that’s totally ok. Your emotions are personal, based on what you notice and you experience.
After exploring, the simplest way to use the board is a basic check-in activity. Thinking back on the past day, what are some emotions you’ve felt? Try marking one positive emotion and one negative emotion. Sometimes if we have one really strong emotion, it can keep us from noticing other ones, but we’re still experiencing them. The emotion board helps us practice “Yes, and...” thinking.
If you’re using the emotion board with a partner or in a group, take turns sharing your answers. When you hear someone share their emotions, you’ll find out what’s on their mind and what’s important to them, and that helps everyone feel heard and valued.
If you’re a parent or teacher using the emotion board with your kid or student, be sure to listen to the younger person’s emotions without arguing about them or trying to convince them why they should or shouldn’t feel that way. This is a tool for sharing and listening, not bossing or convincing. It’s a chance for a teen, tween, or child to experience their voice being heard in a meaningful way. Lead by example, and share your own recent emotions with your kids as well. (If you’re embarrassed to share, just mark “embarrassed” and show your teens and tweens that even adults feel vulnerable sometimes! You’re modeling how to talk freely about human feelings without judgement.)
If you’re using the emotion board by yourself, try doing a check-in when you’re upset or uncertain. When we’re feeling overwhelmed, sometimes there’s an emotion we’re trying to ignore because it’s difficult to think about. Use the board to mark what you’re feeling—it can help you understand your situation and gain mental clarity. Or, if you want to encourage yourself, choose a positive emotion and try to remember a time you felt that way, where you felt it, with whom, and why. Maybe you can replicate what brought you that positive emotion, or you can simply enjoy the memory, remembering that life brings good feelings as well as difficult ones.
Who is the Emotion Awareness Board for?
Anyone! If you’re a human being, you will definitely benefit from having an Emotion Awareness Board of your very own!
The board is especially useful for teachers and therapists. It’s compatible with Social-Emotional Learning, CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy), and other therapies and curriculums. The Emotion Awareness Board is also beneficial for parents and kids, romantic partners, roommates, and work teams.
The Emotion Awareness Board helps people with communication, empathy, personal growth, and relationship-building.
Can a simple magnet board really do all these things? Yes, because the emotions are a gateway to every other aspect of human experience. The power isn’t in the board, the power is in ourselves and in our relationships. The board gives us a way to start the conversation.
How was the Emotion Awareness Board developed?
The Emotion Awareness Board was designed by Seattle artist and neurodiversity advocate Kester Limner. It was originally created to be used by teens and tweens at Leadership Preparatory Academy in Seattle, WA. The school uses the boards daily for check-ins, as well as for conflict resolution and SEL classes.
The layout of the Emotion Awareness Board is based on the Geneva Emotion Wheel, an empirically tested research tool developed by the Swiss Center for Affective Sciences at the University of Geneva.
The Emotion Awareness Board is published by Kester Limner with permission from the Swiss Center for Affective Sciences, and is published under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. That means you’re free to share, print, publish the image for any non-commercial purposes, as long as you include an attribution line.