Welcome to episode seven, How to Feel Better Now Part Two. Today you'll learn a counterintuitive way to experience your emotions. One that puts you back in the driver's seat.
Welcome to Habits On Purpose, a podcast for high-achieving women who want to create lifelong habits and feel as good on the inside as they look on paper. You'll get practical strategies for mindset shifts that will help you finally understand the root causes of why you think, feel, and act as you do so you can learn to create habits that give more than they take, and now, here's your host physician and certified life coach Kristi Angevine.
Hello there, it is so fun to be here for the seventh episode of the podcast. I'm going, to be honest; I wasn't expecting the volume or kind feedback that I've received so far. Number one, the volume is so much more than I expected to receive, and number two, it's feedback to the tune of I feel seen. You're talking straight to me. It's bite-sized and digestible for the busy doc on the go. This is exactly what I needed. Where has this information been?
It would have been so nice to know this years ago. And you'd think in response to this type of feedback that I would have a swelling of joy and pride, but what's fascinating is what my mind did in response to these numbers and reviews. I did not have a swelling of joy and pride. In fact, I had a microscopic flash of joy and pride followed by a title wave of thoughts like, is this real? This can't be real. Maybe there is some tech glitch. Maybe they're just being really nice?
Maybe they meant the review for someone else's podcast? Maybe it's a collective prank being played on me, or maybe it's real for today, but it's not going to last. The next episode better be good. Oh no, what if so and so listens and tells me the truth that it's awful, and so am I. What I experienced here is similar to what Brené Brown refers to when she describes joy becoming foreboding. Where we fear the joy will be taken away.
It goes like this; things are going really well. You recognize that something is amazing or it's so beautiful, and then as you're recognizing it, you immediately think, uh oh, what bad things are around the corner? When is the other shoe going to drop? This phenomenon indicates, as Brené Brown says, quote "When we lose our tolerance for vulnerability, joy becomes foreboding. What we do in moments of joyfulness is we try to beat vulnerability to the punch."
Now, in my pre-coaching days, I would not have even noticed what I was thinking. I would have just felt terrible and not known why in the face of something so good that I felt so off-kilter. But today, my experience of this phenomenon was fundamentally different than how I would have experienced it in the past. So, what makes it so different?
Well, I know myself well enough to anticipate this to occur, especially when I do something new. Familiar themes surface foreboding joy, feeling like a fraud, comparison, my inner cynic, worst-case scenarios, etc. I now know that just because these thoughts present in my mind, it doesn't mean they're necessarily accurate. They're just well-worn reflexive ways of thinking, and they could be very, very persuasive, but I know that they're not objective, and I also now know how to notice these familiar old thoughts for the old patterns that they are.
I now know how to go, oh, hi there. I know you, you're that old 1987 top 40 songs that should've been a one-hit-wonder, but I just keep playing you in my mind, and I know it happens when I binge-listen to you. Thanks for showing up, thanks, but no thanks. So, now, once I notice these thoughts as thoughts, that's when I have the space to decide on purpose, what I want to think and how I want to feel instead.
In this case, it meant that I deliberately worked on savoring the good feelings. I allowed the feeling of vulnerability, and I decided what I wanted to think on purpose. That was I decided to think that this podcast has the potential to be more helpful than I realize—end of story. In doing so, the habit I'm rewiring is the habit of avoiding vulnerability, of dismissing accomplishments in the habit of believing my own harsh self-talk.
I share this here so that you have a real-life example of what it looks like to have a normal human brain with normal human habits and what it looks like to apply the tools that I'm teaching you about. So, all of this to say if you've left a review or you've sent me a message, thank you so very much. It's been really moving to me to read every single one. If you've left a review, but you haven't yet filled out the form that's referenced on the website habitsonpurpose.com/podcast go do it today because I'm going to be announcing the winners of the audible gift cards and the day designer planners starting in a few episodes.
Now, for today's topic, the way you respond to your emotions directly shapes your habits. Reacting to, resisting, and numbing emotions are habits in it themselves. The habit of reacting looks like a habit of complaining, blaming, stewing, defending. The habit of resisting can result in a whole range of habits, suppressing your feelings, judging yourself for having them, people-pleasing, second-guessing, harsh self-talk, perpetually trying to fix your feelings.
The habit of numbing looks like alcohol, or food to take the edge off of stress, shopping as entertainment, busying yourself, overworking, over tidying, mindless screen use just to check out, and if these responses, if reacting, resisting, and numbing were highly effective approaches I'd be all in. Here's the thing when it comes to an understanding of why we do what we do and authoring real changes in our lives, these responses actually make things so much harder than they need to be, and they prevent us from learning what our feelings and emotions have to teach us. This, in turn, makes habit change and being intentional harder, slower, and less fun.
So, since that's the case, why do we respond to our emotions like this? Well, we simply weren't taught a different way. Growing up, I saw all sorts of models for reacting, resisting, and numbing, but no other ways were that common. No one sat me down and taught me about how to do it differently. Remember that film in the early 1990s; it was called A League of Their Own? It had Geena Davis, Madonna, and Tom Hanks.
If you didn't see it, it tells this fictionalized account of the all-American girl's professional baseball league, and Tom Hanks plays Jimmy Dugan. He's the manager of the Rockford Peaches, and there's this scene where one of the players is crying during the game, and Tom Hanks’ character famously says, there's no crying in baseball. Now, even though I grew up in a very secure, kind, loving family that never shamed emotions, I definitely internalized the idea from a culture that feelings and emotions weren't necessarily that helpful.
You don't cry in baseball. Feelings are soft, and they belong in the realm of touchy-feely things that have a connotation of being a little bit wimpy and frankly quite problematic. So, when it comes to navigating emotions, at least in the particular western capitalistic society I grew up in, we weren't usually taught or shown anything other than reacting, resisting, repressing, or numbing. My theory is that these three common ways of responding are simply normalized and socialized into our culture, but there is another way.
And learning this new way is an essential component for changing many habits. This other way is deceptively simple-sounding. It's called allowing. To allow emotions means tuning in to how an emotion feels in your body when it occurs, and that's it. It sounds almost too basic to be worth your time or to be effective, and that's part of the beauty of this skill that you're going to learn and apply this week. It's very basic and yet quite profound when it comes to self-understanding and changing your relationship to your emotions, thus changing your habits.
Before I explain exactly how to do it, let me paint a picture that will help explain what it means to allow and tune into how emotions feel in your body. Have you ever seen a kid, maybe at a store, home, or playground, trying to get his parent's attention, going, mom, mom, mom or dad, dad, dad, and maybe the parent is distracted or in a conversation on the phone with somebody else engrossed in something different and absent-mindedly says, sure honey in a minute or not right now, just a second, hold on? Maybe the kid waits, but then resumes mom, mom, mom louder than the first time. Are they maybe tugging on the arm or the pant leg?
I want you to envision sometimes our emotions are just like this little kid. Emotions are trying to tell us something, just like the kid is trying to tell their parents something. When an emotion arises, if we resist or suppress it, it's the equivalent of silencing the kid, saying shush, not now. If we try to escape or numb our emotion, it's the equivalent of giving the kid a lollipop so they'll be quiet, but never actually taking time to see what they really want it to say, and when you react to an emotion, it's like that at their wit's end parent taking their stress from their kid saying mom, mom, mom taking that stress out onto the store clerk, onto other drivers, onto their spouse.
Now, think about what happens when the parent ignores their kid. The kid gets louder. Emotions are the same way. When we don't allow and tune into them, they eventually get louder like the kid at the store. They're essentially saying, hey, you. I have a message for you. Think about it, have you ever felt anxious, and you try your best to ignore it or make it go away, but it just gets worse? Or an emotion that you suppress may subside only to come back later, perhaps in a totally different set of circumstances that don't really seem congruent to the emotion.
Perhaps you've had a great day, and yet for seemingly no clear reason, you have a wave of anxiety or frustration or resentment that seems totally out of the left-field? So, let's go back to that kid who's saying mom or saying dad 297 times in a row. Picture what changes when the parent stops, kneels down, says, hey babe, it seems like you really want to tell me something, and I haven't been able to give you my full attention, but you've got it now. I am all ears; what would you like me to know?
Now, this is no parenting podcast, and I'm not suggesting that this is some gold standard parenting move, and if you ever ignore or shush or get snippy with your kids, that you're doing it wrong, but when it comes to emotions when we pause, name what we notice, tune into what sensations we actually feel in our body without judging them we allow that emotion, the collection or hormonal, neurotransmitter sensations to be present without being shushed, pushed down, judged, or fixed.
This pause to tune in to how we feel opens ourselves up to learning and understanding. So, what does this process of allowing that I'm describing, what does it actually look like? How do you actually allow an emotion? If you've done mindfulness meditation, this may ring familiar, but there are four simple steps.
2. Name the emotion you're feeling.
3. Place your attention on the sensations you feel in your body.
4. Choose your own adventure step. Where you will make the process your own.
So, let me explain each step and then give you a couple of real-life examples. Once you notice that you're having an emotion or feeling a feeling, step one is to pause. This can be just a couple of seconds, but it's essential to interrupt your usual pattern or response. Step two, name the emotion. This is anxiety. This is overwhelm. This is guilt. This is contentment.
If you know the name of the emotion, great. If you don't, just skip this step. Like I referenced in the last episode, the word that you use for the feeling, the name of the emotion, is not essential in this process. And sometimes can be a source of distraction. So, just move to step three either way. Step three is tuning in to what you feel in your body. What this looks like is drawing your attention to your body, finding where in your body you actually feel a feeling. Maybe it's a pressure behind your eyes or a buzzing butterfly feeling in your upper abdomen?
Maybe it's a gripping in your upper palette or your neck? Wherever it is, just draw your attention to the physical sensations that you feel. Now, if you're one of my super productive busy listeners and you're thinking, I don't have time to pause and tune in. I hear you, but it actually doesn't take much time at all. When you actually don't take this time, and you're perpetually busy and disconnected and disembodied, you're actually going about trying to fix your habits the long way. And it's quite expensive when it comes to your time and energy reserves.
For some of you, this will be easy. For some of you, this will feel really bizarre or confusing and won’t feel like you’re doing anything. And it will take some practice. For others of you, it may bring up intense emotion, memories, thoughts, and none of this is bad or wrong, it’s all just information for you to notice.
Now if tuning into your body doesn’t feel familiar, this is really common so just ease into this practice. If tuning in doesn’t feel safe, if you’ve experienced trauma, if your body hasn’t been a safe place for you, if connecting to your body doesn’t feel safe, and connecting feels wildly uncomfortable or too intense, only do what’s comfortable for you.
Sometimes placing a hand on your body, on your chest or abdomen, holding your own hand. Placing a hand on your face or forehead and just noticing that contact between your hand and your body can be a really grounding technique to self-regulate, as you ease in to paying attention to the things you usually don’t pay attention to. And remember, the goal of this process isn’t to change the emotion, to fix it, to make it go away, but just to tend to the often neglected somatic experience and gather information.
So, step one is pause, step two is name or don't name the emotion, step three is tune in and attend to your body. Now, for step four, once you pause, name, and tune in, there are a few options for step four. Option (A) describe to yourself the objective sensations that you feel. This is like the narration technique that I mentioned in episode four, but specifically focusing on physical sensations. The way it works is you describe to yourself what you feel like you might tell a martian, an alien, a research student, or a child who doesn't know what the emotion is like in your body.
Now, if you're medical, think about the different ways a patient would describe the physical sensations of receiving Adenosine versus receiving Morphine. One is like being kicked by a horse, and the other makes you feel like you're melting or nauseated. Think about what are the characteristics? Is the feeling sharp or dull? Undulating or constant? Heavy or light? Tight or loose? Is it a constriction or a release? Does it remain in one place or radiate or move? Does it have a color, shape, temperature?
Now, here's option (B); after you pause, name the emotion and tune in to your body. Instead of narrating the sensations in words, just bring your awareness to the bodily sensations without using words. This is similar to what's taught in meditation practices that focus on enteroception or awareness of how your body feels inside. So, say you feel a constriction in your shoulders, just bring your awareness there and just focus on that without words. And when your attention wanders, or your mind starts to chatter with thoughts or to-do lists or starts forecasting to the future or recalling things from the past, just gently bring your attention back to that constriction in your shoulders.
Option (C) is what is called the mantra technique. You tune in to whatever you feel, tune in to those feelings, and just repeatedly say this is this emotion, meaning this is frustration. This is joy. This is what shame feels like. This is what grief feels like. This is anger. Now, how long do you spend in step four? It is variable, but it doesn't have to be long, and you'll know how long feels right to you.
The point of doing this isn't to wait it out and to get the feeling over with or to make the feeling dissipate. The point is simply to tend to your emotions and feelings differently than you usually do. So, it might be just 30-seconds or a couple of minutes, and just trust yourself that you'll know what seems right to you in each instance that you do this. So, here's an example of what it could look like, say you're going about your day and the task you thought would take an hour has actually taken three hours? You're overwhelmed, and instead of having a mental tailspin and freaking out about how behind you are, how nothing ever goes as planned, how you don't ever feel productive, you pause.
You notice that you're experiencing the emotion of overwhelm, and you think to yourself, this is overwhelm. Then you do a quick body scan and mentally note there's a fast hum all through your torso and pressure in your face. It's constant, heavy, and has a restless quality to it. It doesn't radiate. There's no particular color. It's just a fast constant heavy hum that has a restlessness to it, and it's in your torso and face. This can take 20 seconds, maybe a minute, and you don't have to stop what you're doing. You don't have to tell anyone what you're doing. This is all an inside job.
Or here's what I did the other day I was in the middle of some focus time for writing, and I felt a strong urge to reach out and check my phone. I noticed that I wasn't focusing on my task, and I had this yearning, and I paused and thought this is desire. This is an urge. I closed my eyes, and I took a second to locate where the feeling was in my body, and it was this vague pulling sensation in my face, my palette, and my shoulders.
I didn't narrate it; I just directed my attention to that pulling and kind of mentally invited that pulling sensation to take up as much space as it needed, and I added in a normalizing statement, and I thought to myself, everyone feels urges to focus elsewhere sometimes. It's totally okay. This is just the part of my day where I have an urge to check my phone instead of stick to the task of writing, and as I did this, the pulling sensation lessened, and probably about 30-seconds later, it subsided, and I just got back to work.
This is what you'll notice when you do these four steps. First, you'll notice that the feeling in your body doesn't usually last forever. Just like the child who's listening to you usually stops saying mom, mom, mom or dad, dad, dad once he/she gets some attention. You'll also notice that once the emotion is just simply allowed, it's usually not as intolerable as you imagine. We might say I hate feeling overwhelmed, or I hate feeling dread or anxiety, but when it comes down to it, feeling a buzzing or a pressure isn't actually that bad.
Then, when we create a space to feel the feeling, it's like opening a door, and then we have access to the quiet subconscious thoughts that created the emotion in the first place. So, as you do this and as you tune in to how your body feels when you're having an emotion, you may notice thoughts that you didn't notice before, and these thoughts are worth paying attention to.
So, how does this relate to your habits? Your habits encompass your habituated thoughts, your habituated feelings, and the habituated things that you do and don't do. In order to be deliberate, you have to understand why you do what you do. The reason you do what you do stems from what you're feeling emotionally. What you feel emotionally comes from what you're thinking. So, when you slow down enough to notice your feelings, you can notice the thoughts that aren't as easily accessible when you're trucking along not paying attention.
Once you have this expanded awareness of your thoughts and feelings, that's when you can start to be curious about if these thoughts and feelings are driving the habits you love or are driving the ones that you want to change. And if they're driving ones that you want to change, then without judgment, but with just a curious perspective, you can begin the work of examining your thinking, questioning your thinking, and eventually changing it if you want to.
This is one of the ways that you change habits that seem deeply automatic. For me, the other day, when I had the urge to check my phone when I slowed down and just felt the sensations of that urge, I noticed a few thoughts like, I wonder if so and so has written back? Maybe I'll go do that Wordle game? That would be fun. It will just take a few minutes. And just by tuning in to how my body felt, I noticed what I would ordinarily not have noticed, and when I could observe these sentences as the permission-giving sources of my urge to check my phone, I was able to basically watch these sentiments pass and also remind myself, no that's not what we're going to do right now. That little word game is actually not going to be fun. It's going to be a distraction and ultimately the opposite of fun.
So, if this is a new practice for you, it's going to take some time to get comfortable with it. Many of my clients are really intellectual, really cerebral, and sometimes may go through life feeling like they are ahead floating above a body, which is to say they're not used to dropping into their bodies. There's no real appreciation for interoception, and they're used to ignoring and pushing through and not wasting time with "emotions."
So, if you're listening and you're feeling like you walked into the wrong classroom or all the sematic stuff is just outside of your comfort zone, I can totally relate. I was initially drawn to coaching because of the relationship between mindset and how we behave and all the feelings and emotions stuff that was something I'd like to give a polite nod to, and then I like to get back to the real stuff. And as someone who has spent decades using intellect and hustling and ignoring touchy-feely stuff, it took me a while to appreciate the sematic aspect of this work and what an integral role it plays inhabits and habit change.
So, if the sematic feelings work seems unusual, you are in great company, but it's not an exaggeration to say that learning how to pay attention to how your body feels is one of the most important life skills you can learn when it comes to being intentional with your habits. And as a skill, it's just like learning a physical skill. You will need to practice it and repeat it in order to see the results of it, just like we can't go lift weights for a week and then stop and go back to the gym and stand in the middle of the gym by the weights and wonder why we're not getting stronger.
This skill is one that you have to implement over and over regularly. Not just think about implementing it if you want to see it change. Now, there's a growing body of knowledge about mind, body relationships, and we're learning the extent to which culturally that we're often quite disembodied and disconnected more than we are embodied and in tune with our bodily experiences, and I find this is especially true with those of us who are high achieving, hustle culture experts.
I recently heard an analogy from Bo Forbes, who I'll link in the show notes that work so well here. Bo Forbes is a psychologist who does a lot of work with embodiment, emotional health, and mind-body medicine, and she said, in many ways, our body is like a vacation home sometimes. Maybe you don't go back to that home, and maybe it's been a year or two, and maybe you've left the doors and the windows right open and animals have come in and done their thing, and there are cobwebs, and people have helped themselves to the food, and as you approach that home that hasn't been inhabited in a really long time, who wants to enter that kind of place?
But, if you want to learn a new approach to the habits that seem so tenacious, practicing the skill of allowing your emotions feeling your feelings is not one that you can gloss over. Treating your body like a vacation home and your emotions like a little kid who won't stop tugging at your sleeve will just slow you down.
So, here's what I want to invite you to do this week, pay attention. Pay attention to how your body feels when you notice an emotion is present. Or set a reminder on your phone to have you pause and stop and tune in to how your body feels. Go through the four steps, pause, name the emotion if you want to, and then tune in, drop in, give attention to the physical sensations of your body, and then either narrate to yourself, focus on the physical sensation itself, or use the mantra technique; this is what shames feels like. This is happiness. Do this once or twice a day.
Now, remember this is not to make your emotions go away, but it is simple to give them space to exist and start changing your usual relationship and response to them. And when you do this, you'll notice none of them last indefinitely. The sensations aren't usually as intolerable as we think they are, and you may start noticing some subconscious thoughts that weren't previously accessible to start becoming conscious.
Then, once you do this, come find me in all the places, in the Habits On Purpose Facebook Group, on Instagram @kristi.angevine and let me know what's different when you do this instead of react, resist, or numb. Thanks for listening, and I'll see you in the next episode.
If you like what you're hearing and think others would benefit from the Habits on Purpose podcast, I have a huge favor to ask. It would mean so much to me if you would take a few minutes to rate and review the podcast. Reviews are especially important in helping a podcast be discoverable. And I totally understand that it's really easy to not take the time to do a review.
So, to give you a little incentive to help me get this podcast off to a great start, I'm going to be giving away five-day designer planners and audible gift cards to listeners who follow, rate, and review the show. Now, it doesn't have to be a five-star review, although I really hope you love the podcast. I want your honest feedback, so I can create an awesome show that provides tons of value. So, for all the details about how you can win, visit habitsonpurpose.com/podcastlaunch, and I'll be announcing the winners on the show in an upcoming episode.
If you know someone who you think would get value from listening and you feel called to share it with them, I would be so very grateful.
Thanks for listening to Habits on Purpose. If you want more information on Kristi Angevine or the resources from the podcast, visit habitsonpurpose.com. Tune in next week for another episode.