How to Use the Feelings Wheel – A Practical Guide

Seeing how people were happier and healthier after shifting movement patterns to align with their natural structures, gave him the deepest sense of reward he’s felt professionally. Having built impactful and successful businesses in consumer health as well as clinical laboratory, his passion and mission have led him to founding Way. Check out his work and learn more here.

Have you ever wondered how to use the Feelings Wheel? 

In helping over 11,000 people on their intuitive eating journey, I’ve been noticing that there is a lot of confusion over when and how to use tools that can help us with more clarity on what we’re feeling.

One popular and truly genius tool is the Feelings Wheel. It’s popular for many reasons. One is that it’s been around for a long time in practice with professionals.

And, because a lot of the young adults in the US are making the decision to change their lives and our collective cultural future, by becoming more aware of their mental health and more specifically, their emotions and feelings.

Before looking at the Feelings Wheel, do some mindful breathing to get a better sense of calm, which can help with clarify around what emotions you’re feeling. (Credit: Way)

I couldn’t be more impressed or more supportive of this whole movement – it’s about time we as a society welcome these powerful feelings of nature that come through our bodies, minds, and souls.

And this Feelings Wheel is a genius tool because it creates a one-stop-shop to give you a strong direction, at very least, of what emotions you’re currently feeling in a single simple tool. 

It may not be perfect and I’ll talk about those imperfections later on in this article. f You may not feel the Wheel you’re looking at is showing you the emotion you’re feeling. But if you know how to use the Wheel, it may hint or inspire you to become curious and dig a little online to find what you’re feeling.

Practical Guide to Using the Feelings Wheel (Also Called, The Feelings Chart)

Start with Mindful Breathing

First, I believe that the most commonly skipped step before using the Feelings Wheel is to do some mindful breathing before starting. In Way, we have many Sessions that offer a simple, 30-second breathing practice from one of our favorite Registered Dietitians (who’s also a Registered Yoga Teacher), before doing deep reflection on how you’re feeling. For now, I’ve put a video at the top of this article that you can use right now for free if you’d like.

The reason why mindful breathing is so important is that our brains and consciousness are highly imperfect – even the smartest human who uses the highest percentage of her brain, is still using only a fraction. 

When we breathe slowly and truly allow ourselves a small amount of time – 30 seconds, 1 minute, or even better would be 3-5 minutes – we are more likely to bring our body and mind into alignment, by calming our central nervous system (CNS) from Sympathetic mode (i.e. Panic, Stressed) into Parasympathetic mode (i.e. Calm, Relaxed). This can be super helpful to garner the power of your consciousness and allow you to become more aware. 

And it’s generally a simple practice – just inhale, hold, exhale, hold. Do 4-6 seconds at each of those positions, and watch how calm you feel in a few minutes.

Once you’re calm, before you look at the Feelings Wheel, do your best to identify the major feelings that you have – are you happy, sad, angry, excited, confused, frustrated, overwhelmed, energized? 

Having a general idea of the main feelings you have will make it a lot easier to dive deeper into those feelings when you look at the Wheel.

The Feelings Wheel which is an Emotions Chart with 114 different emotions to choose from

Diving Deeper into the Wheel and Trace What You’re Feeling

Now that you have a general sense of the major feeling(s) you have, try to find that emotion in the center part of the Feelings Wheel. There’s a good chance that it’s not there – there are only 6 emotions that the Wheel shows (again, I’ll dive into the imperfections of the Wheel later). 

So, the emotions you’re feeling may be super easy to find or they may seem lost in the abyss. If you see your major feeling in the center of the Wheel, start to look for that 2nd layer emotion. For example, if you’re feeling Happy, are you feeling “Playful” or are you feeling “Powerful”?

Those are very different feelings and yet, they usually both feel good. I hesitate to get into the “good”/”bad” feelings debate, because at the end of the day, judging a feeling can make each of us attach a higher meaning to the feeling. Labeling feelings like we’re learning to do here is super important, but the practice of Labeling the emotion is even more powerful because it allows us to understand how feelings change and to let go. More on how Feelings are Fluid, below.  

While you can go more specific in the Feelings Wheel from where your major feeling is, you can also learn by going more broad. For example, if you felt like you were “Inquisitive”, you might feel like you were “Angry”, but the Wheel will trace back to being “Happy”. This can be super helpful! Because curiosity and inquisitiveness is such a neutral emotion, you may have felt it’s not a happy one, when someone else may have felt it’s very happy. 

This experience can be so illuminating, because now you have the freedom to explore your Inquisitiveness, and possibly reframe your emotion. More on this later.

Feelings Can Be Fluid

Like I mentioned above in the “Diving Deeper” section, Feelings can be fluid and they can change minute by minute or day after day. And when we’re aware of what we feel, it can often put us at more peace, which can make it easier to detach our identity or our current experience from the feeling or emotion. 

Attaching to an emotion can cause us a lot of pain, anguish, and less enjoyable moments of life, because we’re often not present, distracted by the emotion. Like, if you’re driving your car down a crowded highway and someone nearly swerves into you – you might get mad (hello, road rage!), but if you hold on to that feeling, you might end up yelling at your friend or significant other when you reach your destination.

Instead, if you breathe, label the anger as “anger”, or the sadness that you have for humanity as “sadness”, then it may and often does make it easier to allow that emotion to move through you, so you can move forward and into more enjoyable emotions.

Also, by labeling the feeling or emotion and allowing it to pass through us, we can start to trace and track our emotions, so that we know when the same exact emotion pops back up. 

This may be a sign that there is some deeper or more consistent reason why you feel the way you do, which can inform your next step, your next words, your next questions about yourself, the person or people you’re with, about the experience you’re having, so you can uncover and find a deeper peace, resolution, or acceptance.

A rare view inside the Way app, so you can see how the Feelings Wheel is translated into a more interactive experience. (Credit: Way)

Reframing Emotions After Using the Wheel

As you being to label your feelings and emotions with more clarity, you open yourself up to a very powerful possibility – reframing.

This concept is one you probably already do, but may not even realize you’re doing it. If you’ve ever had a bad day and said to yourself, “you know, today was not good, but I did enjoy saying hi to my friend for 20 minutes,” or, “I didn’t get that job at work that I wanted, but at least I still get to work with Mary and I really like her.” 

Those are reframes.

Basically, by having an increased awareness, we just get more opportunity to “flip” the situation into something that aligns with what we want. And of course, there are limitations to this and each person will have their own level of comfort and ability in reframing.

But just imagine the power of reframing – if you realized before that you were sad because your family member passed away, your felt the natural grief so deeply, but also held a deep sense of joy and gratefulness for all of the love and good times you had together, that may save you days or even weeks of heartache, stress, and discomfort. Or more simply, you get an email at work that the person on your team has just taken credit for work you did – you may feel angry, mad, even jealous. But if you reframe as success on your part – the work you did got high marks – you can feel good, maybe even happy. And, that may give you the confidence to continue the good work, walking through the office knowing that in time, everyone will know you’re the high performer.

The opportunities are endless – reframing how you look at your emotions can give you so much power.

The Imperfections of the Feelings Wheel

Nothing in life is perfect. The Feelings Wheel is no different. 

The shortcomings of the Wheel primarily stem from the finite amount of emotions it encapsulates, the variations of so many different Wheels and how each of them show different emotions, and the one that really gets me – that ⅔ of the Feelings Wheel has negative emotions 

While the first shortcoming of having a limited amount of emotions is true, I think the way of looking at the Feelings Wheel isn’t to view it as a 100% complete list of emotions. More so, that you can find some at least close to the emotion you’re feeling, giving you a quick-reference to explore more deeply. From there, you can research on Google or Psych Central, or a host of other very reputable websites and professionals who can give you more specific detail to identify precisely what you’re feeling.

The second shortcoming is a tough one. There isn’t a “standard” Feelings Wheel, at least not that I’m aware of. People make up their own, media sites make up their own, and professional organizations make up their own. And that’s ok, because emotions are open to interpretation. Find the Wheel that makes the most sense to you – the one that has the highest consistency in giving you the clarity you seek. And, respect when your friend or someone you’re talking to needs a different Wheel. Feeling safe and nonjudgmental is like rubber and you’re like glue – give kindness and it will bounce back and stick to you.

Finally, the high proportion of negative emotions in the Feelings Wheel is problematic. I simply believe that we need to have more focus on finding the positive emotions. For example, I don’t like that on the Wheel above, that I can’t find the word “Gratefulness” or “Gratitude”. To me, that emotion is so fundamental to living a healthy life. Gratitude can create more joy, it can also create a healthier relationship with Stress. This is an imperfection but again, using the Wheel as a starting point in your self-discovery process and not a final destination, is the best way to get the most value from this tool.

Final Thought(s)

The Feelings Wheel is a practical tool and using it the right way can really help you grow in your self-exploration.

Doing mindful breathing before looking at the Wheel can be really helpful, and make sure to do your best to think about what you’re feeling before looking at the Wheel.

Identifying feelings is key to labeling your feelings, so you can detach from them or even reframe the emotions that are coming up.