Abbreviations to Live By, Part One: I.U.M.

We all want to get a little better at living our own lives, and for most of us, developing the necessary skills is hard work that we don’t always make time for.  If you can’t take a class or dive deeply into a structured practice, where do you go for lessons that teach you how to be your authentic self, how to effectively communicate and connect with others, and how to steer through adversity with grace and resilience?  You’ll find them in the stories of your loved ones and heroes; in songs, books, and movies; in traditions and beliefs of age-old communities; and, as it turns out, in succinct acronyms and initialisms.

SMART goals.  IDEAL problem solving.  TAMFASA learning (I just made that one up, it describes The Abbreviations Method for Actionable Self-Awareness).  Over the next few weeks we’ll look into a few of these quick-recall abbreviations that can be used to remind you how to engage in time-tested practices for living a life you’ll want to slow down for and enjoy.


First up, how to grow mastery over your emotions and actions through I.U.M.

Our brains are wired to react to difficulty or threat by increasing stress-inducing emotions and decreasing rationale.  Without our express consent, we are often controlled by emotions like anger, fear, and sadness, and act out of them instinctually (often to our disadvantage).   Over time those reactions can become so deeply engrained  that it’s hard to even realize we can show up differently in triggering events.  Increasing self-awareness around our emotions allows us to respond to people and situations with intention and integrity.  I.U.M. is an initialism that describes a simple technique you can practice in any situation – especially charged ones-  that will disrupt automatic reactions and have you ruling your emotions instead of being ruled by them.

The Practice: When you notice something seems off or you’re feeling emotions that are causing tension, pause and run the situation through I.U.M.


Challenge yourself to define the emotion you’re feeling.  Take time to describe the effect it is having on you.

    • How does this emotion make you feel physically?  Does your body send you signs that this emotion is starting to take over, peak, or subside?
    • What behaviors do you engage in, consciously or unconsciously, when you’re experiencing this emotion?


Get curious about the emotion you’ve identified.

    • What event or situation triggered it?
    • How has this emotional reaction protected you in the past, and how has it hindered you? What is it doing for you at this moment?
    • How do you tend to act when you’re feeling this emotion, and what is the result when you act that way?
    • How do you feel when you experience other people having this emotion?


Use the knowledge and understanding of your emotion and the actions they inspire to take a step back to create choices for yourself on how to act or respond in the situation.

    • What do you hope will happen, how do you want yourself and others to feel on the other side of this?
    • How will this play out if you react instinctually?
    • What other actions or behaviors could help you achieve your end results? What’s exciting or frightening you as you think about trying them?
    • Knowing what I know, what action can I commit to and what values will I need to guide me?

Resist the urge to label your possibilities as “right” or “wrong.” Gravitate towards the choices that feel a little uncomfortable but not distressing, that’s where you’ll find the most growth.  Take some risks and learn from what happened by IUM’ing how you feel when it’s all said and done.

If you use this tool frequently, and apply it to various situations, you’ll be able to I.U.M.  yourself more quickly and naturally.  For greater success with this, track what you’re learning in a journal or share it with someone you trust.  Stick with this practice, and you’ll experience a better relationship with yourself, and more satisfying and deep connections with others.  It’s amazing what three little letters can do!

I.U.M. comes from the field of emotional intelligence.  There are countless great resources on EI, if you’re interested in learning more, this article on explores the definition and theory, and this page from Skills You Need delves into EI’s practical application.  While not the originator of the field of study, Daniel Goleman wrote the seminal book on it, aptly titled Emotional Intelligence: Why it Can Matter More Than IQ.


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