For years I stumbled around emotionless.
I rarely felt good, but I rarely felt bad, either. The only thing I felt was anxious — scared that I might, at some point, feel something.
Even though I was aware of the swamp of emotions buried deep within me, I didn't know how to feel them or harness their power. I was officially a closed man. No one knew what I was feeling or thinking. Mainly because I didn't know myself. If someone asked me how I was, I would simply reply, "I'm okay, thanks."
How many of us repeat that line, over and over again, day in, day out, to everyone we meet?
Sometimes it feels like most guys wander around on emotional auto-pilot. But why? Is it because we're afraid or because we don't know how to feel?
"Feelings aren't factual. They're an emotional state of mind. You can feel stupid, but that doesn't mean you are."
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I didn't know how to feel.
For me, it was because I didn't know how to feel. The stereotypical image of a man 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.
The word "should" often does 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 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, but it's also important to understand them.
If we shut negative emotions off and don't feel them, we end up fearing them. We use avoidance tactics to prevent them from surfacing. We might stop talking to certain people, stop going to certain places or start using alcohol or drugs.
However, this is only creating further problems. Think about it, you wouldn't feel pain from an injury at the gym, but 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 is: write them down.
Grab a notebook or a plain piece of paper. At the top, write 'What do I feel?' Take three 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, free? If you know there's an emotion attached to those feelings, then write that down too.
"As well as being a private space to offload, the process allows you to access parts of the brain that don't get tapped into when we talk."
You're not writing Shakespeare here. You're writing a list of how your mind and body feel. Don't overcomplicate 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 has been found to have some brilliant benefits. As well as being a private space to offload, the process allows you to access parts of the brain that don't get tapped into when we talk. We're also more honest when we write than we are when we talk.
Writing is an opportunity to talk to yourself, and practice what you might eventually feel okay 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 that I've even created a global men's brand based on it.
For me, 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.