For years I stumbled around emotionless. I rarely felt good but rarely felt bad. The only thing I felt was anxious — scared that I might feel something at some point. Even though there was a swamp of emotions buried deep within me, I didn't know how to feel them and harness their power.
I was officially a closed man. No one knew what I was feeling or thinking. Because I didn't know myself.
If people asked me how I was, I honestly didn't know. So I would just say 'yeh I'm OK, thanks'.
But how many of us repeat that line, over and over again, day in, day out, to everyone we meet? Sometimes it feels like guys mostly wander around on emotional auto-pilot. But why? Is it because we're afraid or because we don't know how to feel?
For me, it's because I didn't know how to feel. The stereotypical image of a man is one that is strong, calm and in control. But in reality, this is not how we feel 100% of the time, if at all.
When faced with a certain situation, there are feelings that people expect to see. If something sad happens you should be upset. If something scary happens you should be scared. If something amazing happens you should be happy.
This is a load of horse sh*t.
The word should is doing more harm than good. You can feel whatever you want, whenever you want — and just because you felt it doesn't mean it's true. Feelings aren't factual. They're just an emotional state of mind. You can feel stupid, but that doesn't mean you are.
It's important to feel and connect with your emotions. And understand them.
If you allow yourself to feel a positive emotion and enjoy everything about it, then you'll want to experience it again.
Whereas negative emotions give us an opportunity to learn more about ourselves. If we shut them off, and don't feel them — we end up fearing them. We use avoidance tactics to protect ourselves from feeling those emotions. We might stop talking to certain people, stop going to certain places or start using alcohol or drugs to dodge them.
You wouldn't feel pain from an injury at the gym, ignore it and continue to exercise. You would notice it, be mindful of it and do exercises to make it stronger.
So how can we apply the same tactics to our feelings?
The simple answer, write them down.
Grab a notebook or a plain piece of paper and at the top write ‘What do I feel?’. Take 3 deep breaths — in through your nose and out through your mouth. This will put your mind and body in analyse mode. Now begin to scan down through your body, from your head to your toes. Stop at each point in your body and jot down how it feels. Does it feel tense, relaxed, knotted or free? If you know there’s an emotion attached to those feelings, then write that down too.
You’re not writing a piece of Shakespeare here. You're writing a list of how your mind and body feel. Don’t try and over complicate it. The less you think about it the more freely and honestly you will write.
Now bin it, burn it or keep it. Or even better, turn it into a daily journal practice.
Writing is my way of dealing with stuff but it's not the only way.
The truth is, there’s no right or wrong way of doing any of this. As long as you're doing something and not avoiding how you feel, then you’re looking after yourself.
But writing has some brilliant benefits, that work specifically well for us chaps. As well as being a private space, just for us, writing accesses different parts of the brain, that don’t get accessed when we talk. We’re more honest when we write than we are when we talk. There’s no fear of wondering what someone else is thinking. Writing is an opportunity to talk to yourself, and practice what you might eventually feel ok to say to others.
Writing how I feel has transformed my life. I’ve achieved multiple successes in work, relationships and my own health through journaling. So much so I’ve even created a global men’s brand based on it. MindJournal now helps thousands of guys to change the way they look after themselves and live the lives they want to.
So grab some paper. Connect with how you feel. And be open.