271 – Cultivating Connection: Stoic Insights on Loneliness

Do struggle with loneliness? Have the last few years of lockdowns and isolation been hard on you? Today I want to talk about loneliness, why it’s something that shouldn’t be ignored, and why it’s important for us to reach out and connect to others.

“We are waves of the same sea, leaves of the same tree, flowers of the same garden.”



The last few years have been a struggle for many of us. With the pandemic having made it necessary to curtail so much of social life, many of us have struggled to get our footing back and reconnect with our friends and community. As someone who is naturally extroverted, the pandemic was really hard on me and I know that I slipped into a bit of a depression. It’s taken effort over the past year to try and get myself out of the house and spend time with friends and family.

More recently though, I’ve ended up facing a more stark loneliness. About a month ago my ex partner moved out, and I’m living alone for the first time since 2011. And even back then, I had my kids with me part time, so I was only alone for part of each week.

Living alone in a house where I’m used to almost always having someone around has been far harder than I expected. Not having someone around to chat with and share both the mundane as well as the fun things of life feels very empty at times. Having no one else around for such long stretches makes it too easy to get lost in the darker parts of my mind. The house I live in is far too large for a single person, which makes it feel even more empty.

As I’ve been dealing with this loneliness, I’ve been doing my best to get comfortable with it. I know that this is not a forever situation. I know that once I sell my house and do some traveling, I’ll face other kinds of loneliness as I find myself in new places and have to make new friends. I accept that it’s a part of my life right now, and I’m taking steps be comfortable with it, as well as reaching out to friends and family to meet up and spend time together.

So it was interesting that last week I stumbled on an article in the Atlantic that talked about how last May, the Surgeon General Vivek Murthy published an advisory about a growing epidemic of loneliness and isolation. According to the report, even before COVID, around 50% of American adults reported substantial levels of loneliness. Over the past two decades Americans have spent far less time engaging with family, friends, and people outside of their homes, with just 16% of people saying they felt attached to their local community.

Then the pandemic hit and pushed the accelerator on our loneliness.

Among my friends it was really challenging for those of us who are extroverts. Since we feel regenerated by spending time with others, not being able spend time with others felt like being deprived of a central part of living. For me, weeks began to blur and feel like they were just repeats of the week before. Cabin fever set in, and even though I would go for walks through the woods near my home, what I missed was spending time and connecting with people.

As the lockdowns continued, and the rates of infections skyrocketed, feelings of isolation felt even more pronounced. Many of my friends who are introverts even talked about how at first they thought it such a relief because they prefer to be less social. But over time, they realized that even though they prefer their alone time, they missed social connections from work and other activities.

According to the surgeon general, when people are disconnected, they have a significantly higher risk of developing heart disease, dementia, depression, and stroke. Research has also shown that loneliness creates anger, resentment, and even paranoia. When you are disconnected from others, you also have less empathy and tolerance for others because you aren’t exposed to other opinions and ideas. Friendships help us support each other even when we disagree on things.

Research over the last few decades have shown in multiple studies that one of the key predictors of living and longer and healthier life is how connected we are to our fellows humans. Having a strong friend group and support system is right up there with eating healthy and not smoking as far as predicting longevity. Community is one of the healthiest things you can have in your life.

We Need Connection to Survive

I remember when I watched Castaway with Tom Hanks, and thinking about how loneliness would be one of the hardest parts of being stranded out on deserted island. If you haven’t seen the movie, I’m going to give you a few spoilers, but they help illustrate my point. Tom Hanks plays a FedEx employee who gets stranded on an island in the South Pacific for 4 years after his planes crashes in due to a violent storm. To deal with the loneliness, Hanks’ character, Chuck Noland, creates a friend out of a volleyball, and names him Wilson, after the brand of volleyball.

When I first saw how they brought in the character of Wilson, I recognized that it was a way for us to have dialogue in the movie rather than just having Tom Hanks walk around in silence for most of the movie. But as the movie progressed, I also began to see how it was a way that a person in such a situation would be able to help keep themselves sane. Besides the procuring the important things like food, water, and shelter, the need for connection with others is one of the most important things that we need as humans.


“Life’s three best teachers: heartbreak, empty pocket, failures.”

— Haemin Sunim

“You don’t suffer because things are impermanent. You suffer because things are impermanent and you think they are permanent.”

— Thich Nhat Hanh

Loneliness is something that we often experience when change is happening in our lives. There’s often a transition that is going on. For me, it was that my kids grew up and moved out, my last relationship ended and my ex partner moved out, and I was laid off a few months ago.

Talk about massive change.

There are plenty of other scenarios where we may find ourselves lonely. We may graduate from school, losing or starting a new job, or moving to a new city or even a new country. Then there’s getting divorced, losing a partner, or the death of a loved one. There are so many things that can disrupt our connections with others, which is why it’s easy to fall into being alone and finding ourselves struggling with loneliness.

So what are the downsides of loneliness personally as well as in society? Why would the Surgeon General, the top doctor in the U.S., think this was so important as to marshal resources to study and to warn us as was done in the past with smoking and heart disease?


One of the most important factors that contributes to addiction is loneliness. People will use alcohol or drugs to escape loneliness in their lives. Then, because of guilt and shame around their addiction, they isolate themselves even more. This becomes a vicious cycle which takes its toll on our society.

Last year around 106,000 people in the U.S. died from drug related overdoses. That’s almost the size of Bend, which is the 5th largest city in Oregon. When you look at the research on addiction, it’s been shown that the biggest contributor to people breaking the cycle of addiction is community. Being connected to a supportive group of friends and family helps people to feel less alone, and have other to lean on when life feels too much.


“Everything comes and goes in life. Happiness and unhappiness are temporary experiences that rise from your perception. Heat and cold, pleasure and pain, will come and go. They never last forever. So, do not get attached to them. We have no control over them.”

— Krishna

Loneliness is also a key factor for those who commit suicide. Around 800,000 people worldwide kill themselves every year, and the rate in the U.S. has been increasing for the last 15 years. To put that in perspective, the city I live in, Portland, Oregon has a population of 600,000.

What surprised me the most when I was doing some research on rates of suicide, is that in the U.S. the group with the highest rate of suicide are men in their 40s and 50s, which is my age group. This is the group who are in the prime of their careers, who have weathered a lot of life challenges, and yet find life too overwhelming to hang on. Men also commit suicide at 4 times the rate that women do, which often has to do with the cultural stigma that men need to be tough, and that asking for help is a sign of weakness.

So how do we deal with loneliness? How can we get better about managing loneliness, and what are some strategies for finding the connection that we need in our lives?

Get Comfortable With the Uncomfortable

“Today I escaped anxiety. Or no, I discarded it, because it was within me, in my own perceptions – not outside.”

— Marcus Aurelius

One of the things that we need to learn in this world is how to be comfortable with uncomfortable things. This includes both physical discomfort as well as emotional and mental discomfort. The better we are at not running away from discomfort, the stronger we become. The more we are able to sit with our emotions, the less control they have over us.

If you feel lonely, listen to it. You feel lonely because you’re missing connection with other people. That’s not a bad thing. Emotions are flags, they are guides that help us see where we need to go, and what we need to do. It’s when we try to avoid our emotions by suppressing or ignoring them that we get into trouble.

Often, when we are struggling with loneliness we are hard on ourselves and feel like we deserve to feel awful. We feel like maybe we’re alone because of whatever awful reasons we create in our minds. Treat yourself like you would treat a friend. Be kind to yourself. Be supportive and make sure that your self talk is helpful and not denigrating or harsh.


One thing that I always recommend in any time of difficulty is that you take care of your physical health. If you aren’t feeling well physically, then it’s much harder to feel well mentally. Remember, we experience the world through our bodies and if we’re out of shape, it’s going to impact our mental well being.

Start by doing simple things like getting rid of junk food, making better meal choices, and reducing alcohol consumption. Find ways to improve your fitness by going on walks and doing some basic weight training. Is there a sport that you used to enjoy? See if you can pick it up again. Try to do something that works your body out every day. It amazing how just 20 minutes of physical effort can improve your mood and make the day feel just a little easier.


“A gem cannot be polished without friction, nor a man perfected without trials.”

— Seneca

Often times when we’re feeling lonely, it’s because we have extra time on our hands. Time spent with previous partners or at a job is now idle. Take this time to rediscover old hobbies and interests, or pursue some new ones. Did you play trumpet in middle school? Find a cheap one and start to practice again. Maybe pick up painting or woodworking. Doing something creative has been a practice for centuries of dealing with the vagaries of life.

For me, I enjoy making music so I try to play piano for at least 30 minutes a day. I also purchased some gear to make some electronic music because I find that music production engages my mind and my creativity in a way that helps uplift me. Even if I never finish a song, just the act of trying to create something is immensely satisfying.

Reach Out

“Pain is neither intolerable nor everlasting if you bear in mind that it has its limits, and if you add nothing to it in imagination.”

— Marcus Aurelius

The best thing that we can do when we’re feeling lonely is to reach out to other people. This is not always an easy thing, but it is vital if we want to alleviate the loneliness we might be struggling with. Some people struggle with depression or just find it hard to reach out to others when they feel like they are struggling. Even though I don’t consider myself to suffer strongly from depression, there are times where I feel like because I’m not at my best, others might not want to hang out with me. I let insecurities get the best of me and rather than reaching out, I just stay at home and watch Netflix or play video games, which only exacerbates the feelings of loneliness.

Reaching out to friends and family is an important part of pulling ourselves out of loneliness. The problem is that it can be kind of a vicious cycle. We convince ourselves that they don’t want us to bother them, so we don’t reach out. Then we feel even more lonely. But the thing is, others also feel lonely at times so reaching out to them is something they probably need as well. There have been plenty of times where I’ve reached out to friends and they’ve been grateful because the’ve been struggling as well.

If you find that you’re really struggling and it’s interfering with your daily life, then I also recommend that you reach out for professional help. There are so many resources out there, and there is nothing wrong with asking for help. I’ve been going to therapy for a few years now I as have been working through a lot of the trauma I grew up with.

Get Involved

“As long as we live, let us cherish each other. For, when we die, the opportunity of aiding one another is lost for all eternity.”

— Seneca

If we struggle to reach out to friends or family, there are plenty of groups and activities that we can get involved with where we can make new friends. There are organizations that need volunteers such as soup kitchens, youth sports, or visiting the elderly. If you’re looking for something more fun, you can take dance classes, marshal arts, or join an adult sports league.

There are also plenty of groups online that you can join to connect with others. While it may not be as fulfilling as meeting in person, it can certainly offer a place where you can meet others with common interests that you may not have run into otherwise. I mean, during the pandemic, my oldest child was involved in an online Dungeons and Dragons group that met regularly on Discord. Part of the reason why I started the Stoic Coffee House community is to create a space for my listeners to meet and chat about stoicism and how to live the principles a little better. There are so many opportunities both in person and virtually that you can be a part of to connect with others.

For any group activity that you get involved in, I would recommend that it be something that is positive and uplifting. Often lonely people fall into groups where the thing in common is who they hate, and they usually blame others for what is wrong in their lives. Remember, stoicism is about taking responsibility for yourself, and in this case, it’s about taking responsibility for your loneliness. Find a group that brings out the best of you.


Loneliness is something that many of us will face throughout our lives. Oftentimes it happens in the midst of already big changes, which makes it feel like it’s compounding already difficult situations. Reaching out to others whether in our real or virtual lives can help us maintain healthy connections to our fellow humans. If you’re struggling with loneliness, and even if you’re not, reach out to those around you, because it’s not just good for you, but it’s also good for all of us to connect with each other.

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270- Benefit of the Doubt

Do you give others the benefit of the doubt? When other people disappoint you do you cut them some slack? Today I want to talk about why it’s important to give people some grace, and how it can make you happier with yourself.

“Everywhere, at each moment, you have the option: to accept this event with humility; to treat this person as they should be treated; to approach this thought with care, so that nothing irrational creeps in.”

—Marcus Aurelius

My Story

One of the things that went wrong in my last relationship was that I was not very good about giving my ex-partner the benefit of the doubt. When we would have arguments I would often take what she said and twist it into something that was done to hurt me. I would often assume that actions she did that took that I didn’t care for would done out of spite or meanness.

She often complained that I didn’t give her the benefit of the doubt. That I was so sure what she meant by what she said or what she did, and unfortunately, it was usually that I assumed the worst, and gave everything a negative spin. And to be honest, she was correct.

Now, the reason why we reached this state of affairs was because of me. Having grown up in a culture where I had to conform to fit in, whenever things got challenging, I would always try to figure out what I thought was the right thing to say was so that I didn’t get into trouble. This meant that rather than telling the truth about what I thought about something, I would try to figure out the answer that would please the other person, in this case, my ex-partner.

But the thing is, when you live this way, you erode trust with other people, especially those closest to you. When you are constantly lying about how you feel and what you think, it makes it challenging if not impossible for someone to trust you.

What happens in this situation is that the person who has to pretend to be something they’re not feels resentful because they feel like they can’t be themselves. The person that is being lied to is resentful because they feel like they pretender doesn’t trust them, and that they cannot trust the pretender.

To put it mildly, this creates a very unhealthy relationship dynamic. Even if you love the other person deeply, and you want things to work, this kind of dynamic doesn’t foster trust on either side.

I know this is a bit of tangent, but I want you to understand where I’m coming from so that when I dive into what things you can do to be more graceful with people, you can understand how I got to place where I really had to make an effort to work on this. I’ve talked to other people who’ve grown up in similar situations and they’ve talked about how they’ve had similar relationship issues. I hope that by sharing some of these things, that if you see yourself in a similar situation, you might be able to learn from my mistakes.

Road to Ruin

What happens when we don’t give others the benefit of the doubt is that we can ruin relationships. It erodes trust because other people feel like they can’t make mistakes around us. Because we assume the worst of them, they feel like they can’t be vulnerable around us. It means that they can’t have a bad day around us when they aren’t at their best.

When we don’t give others the benefit of the doubt, it also makes them less willing to want to give us some grace when we’re not at our best. This may not even be a conscious act on their part, but more that they start to become protective of themselves. When others, especially those who are close to us, feel like they cannot be vulnerable around us they put up emotional barricades to keep us out because we aren’t safe.


“It is our own opinions that disturb us. Take away these opinions then, and resolve to dismiss your judgment about an act as if it were something grievous, and your anger is gone.”

—Marcus Aurelius

One reason why we may not give others the benefit of the doubt is that we are so sure what we know what the the other person really means by something they do or say. We assume that our judgement about them is correct, regardless of what they do or say to explain themselves or their actions. And really this is just us projecting our thoughts and opinions on someone else.

In my case, I would project what I thought my ex partner thought of me onto every word and action. Not what she really thought of me, but I what I assumed she thought of me. Since we can never truly know what others think of us, I would assume what she thought of me, and unfortunately, because I was so hard on myself and didn’t think that I was all that great of a person, I just assumed that she felt the same way. I was so sure that I knew the truth it didn’t matter how much she protested and tried to tell me what she really thought.


“The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook.”

— William James

So why is it important that we give others the benefit of the doubt?

We are all fallible and make mistakes in our lives. Just as we want others to give us some grace when we screw up, we should be willing to do the same for others. None of us are perfect and none of us will ever do everything perfectly. In order for us to get along with others in the world, we need to be willing to trust others, and let them make mistakes.

When we don’t cut others some slack, then they will usually start to disconnect from us, and feel like they have to protect themselves from us. What might have been once a warm and caring relationship, becomes more fraught with distrust and full of resentment. Even in professional relationships assuming the worst of others makes it challenging when you need trust to help each other in challenging situations. I know that I was far more willing to step up and go the extra mile for managers who I felt were kind to me when I messed up. I was also far more willing to step up and own my mistakes when I felt like there was room to do so.

Face Value

“When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: the people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil.”

— Marcus Aurelius

One of the things that we should be willing to do is to take others at face value. Now this is not an easy thing to do because we will often try to read into what other people actions mean or interpret what they say to have some other kinds of meaning. In most cases we’re just better off taking people at face value, and trust them until we have reason not to.

Now in my case this has been challenging. Because the environment I grew up in was never really about being honest about how you felt, you felt like you could never really trust what someone else was saying. At church you never really spoke about your real opinion on something, but rather found the right answers so that everyone thought you were a good member. It was about saying and doing all the right things in front of the right people.

At home, with my father, it was about making sure that when he was angry about something that I figured out the right thing to say to try and calm him down so I didn’t get hit. Both of these factors taught me that people can’t be trusted because they will say what the need to say, and not what they really mean.

When we decide to take people at face value, there will be those who lie to us. In most cases, it doesn’t cause us harm to let them. For example, someone might break a date with us and make up some excuse for it rather than simply telling us they’re not interested in us anymore. We could get upset and call them out on it but what good would that do? The end result is still the same, and it doesn’t do us any good to think poorly of them. I think we’re better off being a little more gracious than assuming bad intentions of others.

And funny enough, I’ve had situations where I ran into people who had broken off dates with me, and because I handled it graciously at the time, they owned up to why they broke things off. A few became friends because they felt like they could trust me.

Self Compassion

Ironically, one of the ways that we can get better about giving others the benefit of the doubt is to practice self compassion. Often the reason we don’t cut others slack when they need it is because we don’t do the same to ourselves. When we make a mistake, often we can be very harsh on ourselves, and beat ourselves up for our screw ups.

Often we aren’t kind to ourselves because we have low self esteem and we carry a sense of shame about ourselves. When we carry a deep sense of shame, we feel like we are a bad person and need to be punished when we mess up. While we need to accept the consequences for our actions and do our best to fix things when we screw up, shame pushes us beyond that to a point where it becomes unhelpful and even destructive.

When we practice self compassion, we are better able to step up and take responsibility for our actions. We’re able to see that just because we made a mistake it doesn’t mean that we are a bad person. While our actions might have been harmful, we recognize that we are not our actions, and we can step up and do our best to fix the situation. When we can have that kind of compassion for ourselves, we are better able to extend that to others as well. It’s like when we practice it on ourselves, it’s easier to give it to others.


Giving others the benefit of the doubt is something that can go a long way in helping others to trust us. It can help create stronger relationships where they can be vulnerable with us. It also helps us assume the best of others, and if you’re like me, I know that I really appreciate it when others assume the best of me. Giving each other some grace, and cutting each other more slack would go a long way in repairing some of the rifts that we see in society. It would mean that we could be more tolerant and forgiving for each other when we are not at our best, and as we all know, no one is ever always at their best.


243 – All the Feels: How to Ride the Emotional Waves

Are you afraid of your feelings? Do you avoid, numb, or shut down your emotions? How much stress and anxiety do you create trying to avoid uncomfortable emotions? Today I want to talk about the power of emotions, and how to reduce your suffering by feeling your emotions all the way through.

Too many people believe that everything must be pleasurable in life.

— Robert Greene

Emotions are powerful forces in our lives. They are the drivers of the actions we take. Those actions lead to the results get in our lives. The better we are at managing our emotions, the more control we have over our lives, and more likely we are to achieve the things that we want to in our lives.

What are Emotions?

Emotions are complex mental states that are often a result of the interaction between our physical responses to external stimuli and our own thoughts, beliefs, and memories. Physical stimuli such as a perceived threat, pleasant touch, or intense sound can trigger a physiological response in the body, such as an increased heart rate, sweating, or changes in hormone levels. These physiological changes can influence our emotions, as our brain perceives and interprets these physical sensations and maps them to an emotional state. At the same time, our own thoughts, beliefs, and past experiences can shape how we perceive and respond to these stimuli, creating a feedback loop between our thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations.

When we have a strong emotional response to something, it is not just a thought in our minds, but something we also feel in our body. It’s this physical dimension which often makes emotions so scary. Our brains perceive a physical threat, and reacts as if there is the possibility of actual physical harm, even if we know rationally that we’ll be just fine.


If you were to describe what an emotion felt like to an alien, you probably describe it as something like a vibration that you feel in your body. Some of those vibrations feel nice and pleasant, and others feel negative or distressing. But really, it is more or less a vibration that comes as the result of the thoughts in your mind, and the physical circumstances around you.

So why is it important to understand and manage your emotions? I want to propose the idea that most of the suffering in the world comes not from just physical pain and injury, but through emotional pain and anguish. And that suffering is made worse because we try so hard to avoid uncomfortable or painful emotions, and it is this avoidance which causes more suffering than the emotion we’re trying to avoid in the first place.

Feeling our emotions is also just part of being human. When we learn how to actually feel our emotions when they come, and not avoid or suppress them, we get to experience the full range of being human. If we don’t feel sadness or grief, then it also limits our ability to feel happiness and joy. For me, this is part of what the stoics mean when they talk about living according to nature. We all feel emotions, which means they are part of our nature, and repressing or ignoring them is not living in alignment with nature.


We are more often frightened than hurt; and we suffer more in imagination than in reality.

— Seneca

One of the interesting things about humans is that we will go out of our way to avoid painful or uncomfortable emotions. And it’s this avoidance which causes us to suffer far longer and deeper than if we just felt the original emotions in the first place. We often cause more damage than the emotions themselves. When we try to avoid the emotions we’re feeling, we will often distract ourselves with activities that either numb what we’re feeling, or keep us focused on something else. Alcohol, drugs, food, sex, or porn, are just a few of the things we use for numbing ourselves. We may overindulge in other activities that keep our minds off of feeling the emotions we have. Working extended hours, binge watching Netflix, and even spending too much time in the gym can distract us from processing and feeling emotions we’re uncomfortable with.


An inability to regulate emotions can lead to substance abuse as a form of self-medication to manage difficult emotions. Addiction and emotional suppression are often interconnected, as individuals who struggle with emotional regulation and coping may turn to substance abuse or other compulsive behaviors as a means of numbing or avoiding their emotions.

On the other hand, chronic substance abuse can result in further suppression of emotions, as it alters brain chemistry and interferes with a person’s ability to experience and regulate their emotions. This creates a vicious cycle, where substance abuse and emotional suppression reinforce each other, making it difficult for individuals to break the cycle of addiction and regain control over their emotions. Effective addiction treatment often involves addressing the underlying emotional and psychological issues, as well as addressing the addiction itself.

Psychosomatic Disorders

Your emotions are the slaves to your thoughts, and you are the slave to your emotions.

— Elizabeth Gilbert

Our emotions have such an impact on our bodies that we can suffer what are called psychosomatic disorders. Psychosomatic disorders are physical conditions which are caused or worsened by psychological and emotional factors. They occur when psychological stress or anxiety manifests in physical symptoms, such as headaches, digestive problems, and fatigue. These disorders are thought to result from the interaction between the mind and the body, where psychological stress can affect the functioning of the nervous and immune systems, leading to physical symptoms.

Examples of psychosomatic disorders include, but are not limited to, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome, and tension headaches. Treatment usually involves a combination of psychotherapy to address the underlying psychological factors, and medication to manage physical symptoms.

Toxic Masculinity

The unwillingness and inability to just feel the uncomfortable physical sensations in our bodies has caused more suffering in the world than all the wars humanity has ever fought.

One of the ideas I want to explore a little is toxic masculinity, which for me, is one of the most damaging things in our culture. Toxic masculinity is a cultural construct that refers to harmful and restrictive norms associated with masculinity, such as the suppression of emotions, aggression, dominance, and the expectation of being tough and unemotional.

The inability of men to manage or sometimes even to feel their emotions is one of the most damaging behaviors in society. These toxic norms can lead to negative behaviors such as violence, bullying, and the objectification of women, and can result in negative consequences for both men and women. When men are unable to deal with their emotions in healthy ways, those emotions don’t just disappear. In my own experience, the more I try to suppress or ignore how I feel about something, it doesn’t just go away. In fact, it usually feels like it gets worse. It’s very much like a pressure cooker building up steam, until it finally finds a way to release all that energy.

Toxic masculinity contributes to poor mental health and a limited expression of individuality. When you are unable to manage your emotions, then your ability to feel the fullness of being human becomes highly limited. Toxic masculinity is not synonymous with masculinity itself, but rather represents a narrow and harmful definition of it.

I remember one time in college I was having a discussion with some friends about how men really have very few emotional states. At the time, I was of the opinion that men had about 5 emotions: Happy, okay (neutral), anger, fear, and sadness. The reason I thought this way was because my own emotional repertoire was very limited. Because of the emotional toxicity in my own home and the culture I grew up in, the range of emotions I knew how to safely handle was very limited.

When I was married, my ex wife often ask me how I felt about something. When I would respond with just one the 5 emotions I mentioned earlier, she would ask if I felt anything deeper, if I had a broader range of emotions. I would try to dig deeper, but often found that I really didn’t know what I was feeling.

There were two aspects to this. First, I often just shut off emotions I didn’t know how to deal with. This meant that the range of emotions I allowed myself to feel was pretty limited. Second, if there were other feelings outside of happiness, sadness, fear, or anger, I often couldn’t recognize them, and didn’t have the words to express how I felt. This often led to unresolved emotions which would come out in expressions of fear and anger.

Riding the Waves

The more you know about your feelings, the more power you have to direct them.

— John F. Demartini

So how do we get better about feeling our emotions? What can we do to improve our ability to regulate our emotions, rather than try to suppress or avoid them?

We need to become masters of feeling. We need to ride the waves our emotions.

Have you ever watched big wave surfers? They’re pretty amazing to watch. When you see a master surfer out on the ocean and a big wave comes along, they get nervous and excited. Sure, that big wave is scary, but it’s also thrilling, and the more time they put themselves in the path of these waves, the better they get at riding them. And it’s the power and the energy in that wave that makes it exciting to ride.

I like to think of emotions like waves on the ocean and we’re all surfers, and we are not allowed to get out of the ocean. These emotional waves are going to come at you whether you like them or not, which is pretty much how life is.

So you have choice.

When these waves come a long you can try to avoid them. But if you spend your whole life not learning how to deal with your feelings, those waves are still there and will still pull you under and knock you over, especially you’ve never really learned how to handle them.

Or, you can decide to try and get on that wave when it comes along. You’ll get knocked over sometimes and it’ll feel like you’re drowning. Sometimes you’ll get on the board and start riding the wave and make some progress only to fall off and biff it. As you get better at riding the waves of your emotions, you’ll find you’re able to handle even larger waves and come out the other side feeling the thrill of handling yourself in a way that is so much healthier. You’ll even start to look forward to all emotions that come your way because you know you can handle them, and they make life feel so much richer and fuller.

Practical Steps

Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.

— Kahlil Gibran

The first thing is to recognize that emotions are natural. Every single one of them, so rather than fear them, we should welcome them. We need to recognize that we’re going to have positive and negative emotions, and that we should welcome both of them. We can’t cancel out the dark or negative ones and only accept the positive ones. And the thing is, we want to feel all the emotions in our lives, and not just the positive ones. There are times we want those negative emotions, such as grief, for example, when someone close to you dies, or feeling the heartbreak at the end of a relationship.

Second, we need to recognize that emotions are just a feeling, a physical sensation, a vibration in our body. They can often feel overwhelming and terrible, but that vibration in your body is not going to kill you, even if your mind is trying to convince you otherwise.

Third, is that when we have an emotion, the best thing we can do is to step right up and do our best to embrace it. The more we try to avoid or suppress it, the longer it will hang around. The healthiest and honestly the fastest way to deal with emotions is to feel them. The harder we try to avoid emotions, the longer they stick around. Emotions don’t go away, but will show up in other ways. When we stop resisting, we allow our mind and our body to process how we are feeling, and let it move through us like it’s naturally supposed to.

The last thing to remember is that emotions show up in physical ways, and processing them is a physical act. We need to find physical ways to let them through. I know for me when I’m feeling an incredibly strong emotion, positive or negative, I will often cry when I just let it pass through. It’s what I need to release all that energy, and afterwards I feel so much better. I may feel tired, but I usually feel calm. I feel clean like I’ve just purged a whole bunch of heavy energy which was weighing me down.

Learning how to manage and regulate our emotions is a skill we all have to learn if we want to live our best lives. Emotions are a fabric of our lives, and are not something you can avoid. Try as you might, those waves are going to keep on coming for as long as you’re alive. So you have a choice. Are you going to try and avoid them only to get pulled under gasping for air, or are you going to turn into the wave, ride it like a pro, and feel the fullness of your life?

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173 – Change Your Perspective, Change Your World

Change your Perspective, Change Your World

Before I begin today’s episode, I want to let you know that I’ll be discussing an attempted suicide. While I believe in talking about things honestly and directly, I know that this topic can be difficult for some people.

“It is not so much what happens to you as how you think about what happens.”

– Epictetus

This last week I read a very powerful and moving story about a baseball player name Drew Johnson. Growing up, baseball was one of the most important things in Drew’s life. In his professional career he bounced around in the minor leagues, occasionally being called in to play in the major leagues. But even when he was succeeding, Drew still felt like a failure. Last spring, after years of struggling with his mental health, Drew tried to take his own life, but to his surprise and luck he failed.

After having survived a bullet wound in his head, Drew was surprised to find himself still alive the next day. It had been almost 20 hours. As he sat there thinking about his situation, he held the gun in one hand, and his phone in the other with 911 typed in. He had a choice: he could use the gun to finish what he started, or he could hit the green dial button and call for help. As he weighed his options, Drew suddenly had the will to live. He decided that the fact that he had survived this long meant that he was supposed to stay alive. He had to figure how why, and what he should do with this second chance.

When he called 911, the operator was surprised that he was still alive after 20 hours. The police quickly arrived to check on the situation.  As they waited for the ambulance, an officer asked him why he had tried to kill himself. He said, “Because I hate myself.”

“When you arise in the morning think of what a privilege it is to be alive, to think, to enjoy, to love.”

– Marcus Aurelius

The next morning when Drew woke up from surgery, he felt gratitude and love: towards his family and friends, the breath in his lungs, even the blanket that was keeping him warm in recovery. The failed attempt had given him a clarity in his life that many people never find. He found a new courage of being as honest as possible to everyone in his life. He tells them how much he loves them. When he struggles he talks about his emotions instead of keeping them hidden. He makes the most of his second chance.

Drew takes responsibility for himself and his actions. He doesn’t blame others for his choices. When his parents asked what they could have done to stop him from trying to kill himself, he said, “Nothing. It was my responsibility, not yours.” When asked how they could have missed the signs, he said “Because I worked hard to hide my sadness.”

“Accept the things to which fate binds you, and love the people with whom fate brings you together, but do so with all your heart.”

– Marcus Aurelius

It’s taken months of steady work for Drew to recover. There are good and bad days, but he’s grateful for them all. And what was amazing to me is to see how once Drew’s perspective on himself and his life changed, how he was better able to handle the circumstances of his life. In fact, his life in many ways should be harder than before. He lost his right eye to the bullet that entered his head. He has scars on his face from the many surgeries.

For some, such challenges and pain would weigh them down, and possibly make them withdraw even further. Drew found that by opening up and being vulnerable and asking for help, he has built a strong network of support for himself. This has also helped members of his family to open up and share their own struggles that they were ashamed to admit and to seek help as well. His relationships with his family and his girlfriend are closer than they have ever been. To him, every day is a good day to be alive.

When Drew talks about his experience, he doesn’t glorify what happened, but recognizes what he learned from it. He embraces his fate. “I was supposed to go through that. I’m supposed to help people get through battles that don’t seem winnable. It was completely supposed to happen. There’s no other answer. It doesn’t make any sense. It was supposed to happen. I’m free now. I shot myself, but I killed my ego.”

“Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself in your way of thinking.”

– Marcus Aurelius

In the last episode, I talked about how to be responsible for our own emotions and actions. We do this by making active choices in our lives. We may not like our options. We may not have many options. But we always have the ability to make a choice.  When we can recognize this, and actively choose, we are taking control of our lives. If we don’t actively choose, then we are simply reacting to life. We are allowing ourselves to be acted upon. We are letting ourselves become victims.

Once Drew changed his perspective, he saw the things he had control over and took control of them. He makes a choice each day to be honest with himself and those around him. He chooses not to feel shame or to hide what happened, but instead shares his story in the hope that it can help others who are struggling. He tells himself and others that asking for help is not a sign of weakness. That it’s OK to not be OK.

Most of us will never have to experience something like what Drew went through. But we can learn that how we view ourselves and the challenges in our lives is far more important than the actual circumstances. We can also recognize that when we are struggling, we can reach out for support and help.

Not everyone one that attempts suicide are as lucky as Drew. Sometimes things can feel so painful and overwhelming that suicide feels like the only way out. If you are struggling, please know that there are people everywhere who are willing to help and support you. Reach out to friends or family if you have someone you can trust. You can also call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or at

Drew Johnson’s Remarkable Second Act

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152 – Vulnerability and the Real You

Vulnerability and the Real You


Get Uncomfortable With Yourself!

Why is it hard for us to be vulnerable, especially when it comes to those we care about the most? Partners, children, family, close friends – if these are the people we are the closest to why would be afraid to be ourselves around them? In this weeks episode we’ll talk about vulnerability and the real you.

One of the hardest things in this world is to be vulnerable around others. To show people the messy, honest, truest parts of ourselves. And why is this? Why are we often so afraid to be ourselves around those that we consider the closest to us? If these are the most important people in our lives, why do we feel like we need to protect ourselves and not share the deepest, darkest, and most intimate parts of ourselves?

Who do You Think You Are?

“I have often wondered how it is that every man loves himself more than all the rest of men, but yet sets less value on his own opinions of himself than on the opinions of others.”

—Marcus Aurelius

I talked about this quote on here before, with regards to worrying about the opinions of others, but I want to talk more about the opinions of ourselves.

A few weeks ago I was discussing the idea of identity with a good friend of mine. He’s struggling at the moment with figuring out who he is and who he wants to be. Basically, he’s going through a midlife crisis. In talking about letting go of all the expectations that were heaped upon him by his family and church while growing up, he feels a bit lost because he lived with a mask, an identity of who he felt like he was supposed to be for most of his life. Over the last few years, he’s been shedding a lot of those ideas and beliefs, and while he knows who he isn’t, he’s not sure who he is. Just as people who’ve suffered job losses or divorce and other kinds of loss, often find themselves lost as a core piece of their identity is gone. He’s struggling through this difficult process of self-exploration and is finding it both exciting and very scary. Exciting because he’s exploring the world and beginning to choose who he is, but also extremely scary because the identity he has is no longer reflective of who he truly is.

And this idea really struck me, that when we hold on so tightly to an identity of who we think we are, it makes is very difficult to become who we want to become. When we’ve built up an identity, and presented this idea of who we are to the world, then when we find discrepancies with that identity, we try to defend who we think we are. And I think holding onto this identity, the ego, is the root of why being vulnerable is so scary. Because much of this identity is created from the expectations that we think others, especially those that we love, have about us. Whether or not these have been explicitly communicated or not, I think that many of us feel like we’re supposed to behave a certain way and do certain things. We’re afraid if they knew that we aren’t necessarily the person we present to the world, and if they knew how deeply flawed we truly are, they might reject us. They may no longer love us. But the thing is, we judge ourselves more harshly than those around us. We think they notice every flaw, count every mistake, and keep a tally of every fuck up we make. But the truth is, they don’t. Most people are too busy with their own thinking and their own business pay that much attention to someone else. And if they are that kind of person, they aren’t people we want to be around. If their love and acceptance are conditional, they are probably not people that we want to spend time with.

Unapologetically You

“Above all, keep a close watch on this — that you are never so tied to your former acquaintances and friends that you are pulled down to their level. If you don’t, you’ll be ruined. … You must choose whether to be loved by these friends and remain the same person, or to become a better person at the cost of those friends … if you try to have it both ways you will neither make progress nor keep what you once had.”

— Epictetus, “Discourses,” 4.2.1; 4-5

What would happen if you were just unapologetically yourself? What if you didn’t hold onto this identity so tightly? This is a scary proposition for sure. I know in my own life, I find it often difficult to admit what I truly think or feel about something for fear of being rejected by friends and loved ones. But we should be open to the idea that being truly ourselves may mean that we need to change our lives. We may need to end friendships. We may get divorced. And that’s scary. That may mean a lot of change. Far too often we hold onto these identities far longer than they are useful, often to the point of damaging ourselves and relationships. I’ve seen friends stay in relationships that were not working for fear of change. I’ve done this myself. But living your life as someone else means that you may get to the end of your life never having really lived.

Brené Brown, a social scientist and researcher, has delved into the area of vulnerability rather deeply, and written several eye-opening books on the sense of shame that we internalize which keep us from loving and being okay with the person that we truly are. It’s this fear of rejection and a sense of shame that others will judge us that makes it so hard for us to share that deeper side of us with those that we love.

“Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”

― Brené Brown, Daring Greatly

What if we could own our flaws and just recognize them as a fact, that they are simply an attribute of who we are at this moment? How much more confident could we be in our life if we could just accept who we are, warts and all? The first step to being vulnerable is to learn how to love ourselves. I know that sounds all kinds of new-agey, but think that there’s a lot of truth in this. If we don’t like ourselves, then it’s going to be hard for us to accept that others can like us.

Now self-acceptance doesn’t mean that we give ourselves a free pass when we make mistakes, because that is much more about self-delusion and ignoring our mistakes. What I’m proposing is shine a light on our flaws, and own them. When we can do that, we take away the shame of our flaws. Self-love is the shame killer. The more we can accept ourselves, and see ourselves as we truly are, the easier it is to be forgiving and accepting of others.

Get Uncomfortable with Yourself

“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”

― Brené Brown, Daring Greatly

I want you to take some time this week and write down some of the uncomfortable and scary thoughts that you have running around in the back of your mind. Things that you’re afraid that if others knew about you, they may not like you. Things that you’re afraid of addressing because you’re afraid of where those thoughts might take you. And I want you to take some time and just sit with those thoughts, and practice being okay with them. Look at them without judgment, just as facts about you. Admit those truths to yourself, because I think we all lie to ourselves to some degree. We gloss over the uncomfortable parts, the dark parts of us because we want to present this beautiful picture to the world. We’re scared of what others might think about the darker parts of us. We want to look like we have it all together. It’s okay if we don’t. Nobody really does. Everybody has some area of their life where they struggle.

And the thing is, we often find that those things aren’t really so bad once they put down on paper. They are much scarier and darker in our heads. Getting them out and on paper is like shining a light on a shadow. It’s not nearly as big or scary as we made it out to be.

Owning who you are is a very uncomfortable thing. It means that you accept that you are full of flaws, that you aren’t nearly as great want others to think you are, and that you let other people down. It means may mean making choices that shake the very core of who you think you are. It means that those closest to you may not even recognize who you really are. But if they only see the person that you pretend to be, do they really love the real you? Why not give them the chance to know the real you? Why not give yourself the chance to know the real you?


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