- How and why our emotions are causing us problems.
- The shame of not being happy.
- Addiction as emotional escape.
- Regulating emotions and creating more joy.
Hi everyone, my name is Dex Randall, and this is the Burnout to Leadership Podcast, where I teach professional men to recover from burnout and get back to passion and reward at work. Hi. Dex here, and what we're gonna get into today is a little bit of pleasure and pain, and sorry to disappoint anyone in the SM community, but here, we're talking about emotions, not sex. And we're really talking about the pleasure and meaning we give to positive emotions, and equally, the pain, judgment, resistance we give to negative emotions. So, sounds like fun,eh? 'Cause here's the first question:
How intimate are you with your own emotions? What is your relationship with them like? And for many people, it's a little bit fraught and possibly even evasive, and certainly for those of us tackling burnout, at some point, it's useful to look at how we manage our emotions, or more accurately, how our emotions manage us, because we have a lot of expectations about how we should be feeling. Wherever we live in the world right now, we've all been exposed to the American dream, that life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone with opportunity of each according to ability or achievement regardless of social class or circumstances of birth. No pressure, then. And this isas well a reflection on the US Declaration of Independence:
"We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal. That they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." I mean, really? Well, in that case, we must be better than all other living beings who don't necessarily enjoy such rights. We've also been encouraged to believe the success imperative of sustained ultra high performance, perfect health, fame, and wealth. And I find those ideas contradictory; I don't know about you. I think we've been sold a pup there. So, to look at emotional pleasure and pain, let's revisit for a moment the motivational triad where we animals are motivated to seek pleasure, avoid pain, and conserve energy, the survival advantage. The problem is these days, we've taken things to extreme. It becomes too easy to take pleasure, avoid pain, and be, well, a tiny little bit lazy. So we can, obviously, these days, indulge in unprecedented levels of pleasure, modern dwellings with all the creature comforts, concentrated food products packed with sugar and chemicals delivered to our doors, Internet for 24/7 entertainment, gaming, gambling, porn, not to mention drugs. And to avoid pain, we've got this sedentary lifestyle, a huge array of pharmaceuticals, amazing advances in medical care. I remember being in a tiny village in Malawi in the '80s, and a baby had just died, and the people there told me the mortality rate of babies in their village was one in two. Anyhow, very little wildlife left as well to put us in any kind of danger, and we got buildings with advanced security to minimize that kind of attack, sophisticated weapons to keep our enemies at bay, and on saving energy, we've got little or no need for manual toil, hunting, gathering, and so on. We can just acquire everything we need on the Internet and somebody brings it. We've got cars to avoid the inconvenience of foot travel. Other people build our homes, make our clothes and our tools. Our devices and our phones think for us. Even finding a mate can be done without leaving home. When you think about it in evolutionary terms, it's absolutely staggering, but along with that we've become complacent, lazy, and disconnected, and I think also discontented. Many of us feel entitled these days, these resources we're used to, and we over consume just because we can. And a big part of that, of course, is because we are all seeking happiness and it's natural to do that, but we can't be happy all the time. Because then we wouldn't even know we were happy, there'd be no contrast. I imagine that many of you don't have that particular problem with an excess of happiness, and I can't say I did in burn out. It's more likely that the quest for happiness makes us a little bit ashamed of not being happy, of having what we call negativeemotions:
Stress, anxiety, impatience, anger, resentment, frustration, disappointment, shame, fear, doubt, blame, guilt, overwhelmed, despair, emptiness, failure, depression, the list goes on. I'm sure you got plenty of your own. We think we're supposed to be happy all the time. And by the way, let's not demonize negative emotions; they all have a place and a season in our lives, and they all have a function. So, the presence of what we call negative emotions is not of itself a problem, sometimes we want to have them, like anger or grief. But the hallmark of burnout is an excess of negative emotion, if you like, chronic negative emotion, which naturally is worsened by our desperate need to suppress it or avoid it, or hide it. And then when we have these unwanted emotions, that's when we reach out to over eat, over drink, over anything, to find relief in changing emotional state, or at least disrupting our emotional experience in the moment. When we hit eject, though, from the present moment, here's whathappens:
We pick up our favorite quick fix, and we distract ourselves with it, then very soon, that empty feeling returns and we feel disenchanted again, urgent, needing always more, because blocking emotions doesn't work. In episode four, on anxiety, I talk about how to work effectively with anxiety, to work with it directly in a way that disperses the charge of it, the energy of it, the urgency. It basically allows the anxiety to be there, to fully resolve, and fall away naturally. And the method I talk about works for any emotion. So if you're having difficulty processing an emotion, pop back to episode four and listen in. But for now, it's enough to know that an emotion, energy in motion, can't be destroyed; we can avoid it only temporarily, and then it bites back, is really what I think of it as, it becomes bigger, it becomes louder, it becomes more insistent, a more frequent visitor, and that's usually where the addictive cycle escalates. Further, you know that experience when you've checked out for a bit with your favorite diversion and you see yourself doing it? Corrosive to the self esteem, isn't it? That's when I get feeling a little bit hopeless and helpless and despairing. So seeking pleasure, we can go right over the top, and having too much, next time, we want even more. Hollow pleasure it becomes. And then finally, nothing much gives us pleasure anymore. And it's not your fault, by the way, modern life stacks up this way. Craving, shame, and fear sell really well. But the opposite to over pleasure is simple pleasure, the joy of giving, watching a leaf twirling in the sun, the smile of a loved one, honest toil, laughter shared. And that's still available. It's always available. That kind of simple pleasure, that kind of simple joy, might seem tiny in the moment, but it's a source of deep satisfaction when you repeatedly seek and appreciate it. That's where peace of mind lives. And I think that was a long way of saying that if you're stuck in over pleasure, you can have your simple pleasures back, once you begin to work effectively with emotions. If you're interested in developing more joy, you're gonna need first to attend to the negative emotions you've been blocking, because they're still kind of stacked up in there on a hair trigger, aren't they, and you could use that technique I shared on episode four, which basically allows you to feel your emotion all the way through so that the energy of it can leave the body. And when you do that, if you would like to develop more joy and you've kind of lost the habit, which, in burnout, of course, that's what we do, there's a really good book by Chade Meng Tan called Joy On Demand. Chade Meng Tan used to be, one time, the happiness officer at Google, teaching all the technicians to access their sense of well being at work. And in the book, you can learn a simple three breath practice that strengthens your joy, so it's really quick, if you're impatient, you can still do it. And I do recommend that book as a starter. But whatever. If you're in burnout, the huge burden of emotional pain you have is probably unbearably large and unbearably present at the moment. You can manage it to the point that joy re emerges. And actually, it's surprisingly quick and easy to get to that place. It's not an insurmountable problem at all, even though it presents as kind of terminal. Rebalancing your emotional system and becoming willing to feel your emotions as they come and go is just a matter of learning some new practices and techniques that release the old emotion and make room for the new. And you can do that. If you stick around here, I'm gonna be talking about a lot of ways that you can improve your experience from burnout and how you can learn to overcome your experience of it. So, that was a short and perhaps not very sweet episode today. Nonetheless, thank you for being here and listening. Always appreciate that. You can visit my website at dexrandall.com for the show notes, and please subscribe and rate this podcast, thank you so much. If you're in burnout and ready to recover, come and join my Burnout to Leadership program. You can look in to talk with me at burnout.dexrandall.com. Just tell me what's bugging you, and let's make a plan to fix it.