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We are told to talk about feelings and not bottle up emotions. We talk to friends. We journal. We find yet another way to distract ourselves. But we can’t escape feelings.
We recycle emotions. What we need instead is a framework to release emotions.
Without a release, emotions harden into moods. Fear becomes anxiety, anger becomes bitterness, and sadness becomes apathy. These moods can last for years.
By simply talking about feelings we end up recycling emotions. I’m not suggesting we stop talking. But talking isn’t enough. We need to learn to feel all the feels.
Expressing emotions is the key to releasing them.
I think I’ve found a framework for better emotional health.
This week, I share what I’ve learned about emotions. We’ll cover the purpose of emotions, what they teach us, and how to express them. I also share a few thoughts on judgment, hard work, and how I’m selecting what to work on next.
Let’s dive in.
No. 030 - On expressing emotions, reframing judgment, and the value of hard work
1 — Emotions. At its simplest definition, emotion is energy moving in the body. Emotion is “e-motion”. Energy in motion.
When you experience an emotion, you feel it in your body. Emotion is merely energy moving in the body. The body is a natural instrument to feel emotions.
There are five primary emotions: Anger, Fear, Sadness, Joy, and Sexual Feelings 1. Each primary emotion lives on an intensity spectrum. For example, anger can be felt as an annoyance on the low-end of the spectrum, resentful in the middle, and vengeful on the high end. The same spectrum exists for all five primary emotions.
Every other emotion is a combination of these feelings. Hurt is anger and sadness. Guilt is fear and sadness. Jealousy is fear, anger, and sexual energy.
The five primary emotions show up in certain parts of our body and serve a purpose:
Emotions last 90 seconds according to neuroanatomist Jill Bolte-Taylor. When we repress, recycle, or avoid them, they harden into moods that can last for years.
I learned a framework to release these emotions. Here it is:
Locate the sensation in your body. Ask yourself: What are you feeling right now? Where is the feeling in your body? What is your body doing?
Now that you’ve found the emotion, breathe into it. Take a few gentle full breaths as deeply into your belly as possible. Bring awareness to the emotion.
Allow the sensation. Whatever sensation you’re feeling, allow it to flow through.
Move and make a sound that matches the sensation in your body. The last step is the release. Anger is a deep loud growl. Fear is a loud shriek. Sadness is a somber whimper. Find the sounds and movements that work for you. Let it out.
Punching a bag feels good when you’re angry. Crying feels good when you’re sad. There’s a reason the expression is called jump for joy. Kids cry, dogs growl, and cats hiss—they don’t hold on to feelings. Let your emotions go.
We’ve been taught to talk about feelings. But that leads to recycling emotions.
If you call a coworker and complain about your boss and your performance review and talk about how afraid you are that you're going to get fired, you are actually recycling the feelings and that won't help release them at all. You'll get stuck in thought-generated, drama-based emotion. Don’t do that.
What we need to learn is how to express and release our feelings.
I think this framework helps.
2 — Reframing Judgement. I judge. So do you. You may be judging this statement right now—labeling it to categorize it neatly in your mental model of how the world works—and that’s perfectly normal.
We are wired to judge. It’s a survival mechanism for our primitive minds. We label the things we see and experience, to know what to avoid and what to seek more of.
We judge when we know we shouldn’t. We receive the judgment of others and give them more weight than it’s worth.
Instead of trying to turn off the judgmental mind, consider this:
Judgments about the world tell us a great deal about ourselves and very little about the world.
For example, I judge people who binge Netflix. It doesn't mean my judgment is right. All the judgment says is that I don’t consider binging Netflix worthwhile. Depending on your worldview, you might think I’m wrong about this, and you’re probably right. I miss a lot of great storytelling and entertainment as a result.
We get into trouble when we begin to think judgments are right. We enter a vicious cycle of disconnection. For example, I judge an employee as lazy. I withhold this judgment and withdraw from the relationship. I don't trust them. From this place of withdrawal, I see them through the lens of my judgment. Once I see them as lazy, I look for evidence to prove that they are lazy. What I seek, I find. I have more judgments about them being lazy and the pattern continues. I project my judgment onto them and find more and more evidence that I'm right.
The inverse is also true. When we feel judged—and accept the judgment—we enter a cycle of projecting someone’s judgment onto ourselves. We begin to think it’s true.
I’m going to remember this next time: A judgment may not be true. I can allow it, accept it, and appreciate it as feedback—then determine for myself whether it’s right.
3 — Hard work is massively underrated. I wrote a Twitter thread about this. Basically, you can be lazy and get rich. But you can’t make an impact without hard work.
I’m going to contradict myself here. There’s a secret for impact without hard work:
Work on what makes you most energized and happy, leverage your special skills, and do what you love and are good at. The hard work is understanding what these are.
This is where I’m spending the majority of my time.
4 — The zone of genius. A few weeks ago I wrote about the zone of genius:
Your genius has been in you all of your life. It’s your uniqueness. Your genius is what you do effortlessly and easefully. When you do it, you lose track of time. When you're in your zone of genius, you get a disproportionate return on the energy expended. Genius is that thing that you do, whether you got paid for it or not.
In other words, hard work isn’t hard for you when you’re working in your zone.
Self-identifying when you’re “in the zone” is hard. Because it seems easy to me, it's hard to self-identify. It's like telling a fish it's a great swimmer.
Here are two exercises that helped me:
First, I sent questions to friends, family, old bosses, clients, and exes. I asked them:
What am I doing or talking about when you experience me MOST energized
When you experience me at my best, the exact thing I'm doing is __________.
What do you see as a special skill I'm gifted with?
What are your three favorite qualities you see in me?
What reliably shows up in the room when I do?
How have I most contributed to your life?
What would you miss most about my presence if I passed on?
People reflected back on what they saw. I got tons of good material to work with.
Next, I wrote 9 stories about times in my life where I was in the zone. There’s a common theme that’s emerged. I’m in the zone whenever I’m creating and performing.
I plan to use these insights as a filter to choose what I work on next.
5 — Product of the Week: Luna Coffee. All this hard work needs plenty of coffee. We’ve been enjoying this stuff by the kilo at home. Founders Laura Perry and Nathan Welland have been roasting Luna since 2017, but I only started seeing them everywhere a few months ago. The beans are exceptional.
6 — Music: Deep Listening (Spotify, Apple) In 1989, Pauline Oliveros coined the term Deep Listening to describe a practice of radical attentiveness. She paired up with trombonist Stuart Dempster and vocalist Panaiotis to release an album that same year. Deep Listening was recorded in a massive underground cistern in Washington State. The space, which once held two million gallons of water, has a 45-second reverberation time. The recordings are defined by a surreal smearing of tones, and the effect is hallucinatory. Thanks to Julien Thomas for pointing me to Deep Listening.
7 — Quote
Take a walk at night. Walk so silently that the bottoms of your feet become ears.
The next time you’ll hear from me will be Monday, March 15.