Three Steps to Emotional Fitness - Step 1

Step One: Notice the feeling

Now the rubber meets the road. What do you actually do with feelings? What is the solution to having “no words for feelings” (Alexithymia)? What are the practical steps for a man to take? The answer is: the Three Steps to Emotional Fitness. They are:

First: Notice the feeling. Stay with it.

Second: Name the feeling. Pick a name to identify what you feel.

Third: Express the feeling. Get the feeling outside you.

I want to emphasize at the outset that human emotion, its origin and its expression, are very complex and these three steps are not intended to be magic bullets. They are not a simplistic answer to a complex question. They really are not an answer at all, they are a practice; a practice for life, a process for health, an exercise for emotional fitness. They can begin to open the way, grease the rails, and establish the habit of a healthy feeling life. The three steps can give you an immense advantage on your road to integrating your astronaut with your man-in-the-moon. Let's look briefly at each of these steps.

First Step: Notice the Feeling. This first step can seem too easy, almost self-evident, and quite unimportant. But too often we skip it without knowing that we're skipping something. We just don't notice that we're having feelings. We avoid or ignore them or convince ourselves we don't feel anything. We simply do not notice.

Manual is a 42-year-old divorced airline pilot who was in a custody conflict with his ex-wife. When he lost the case and his two children went to live with their mother in a distant city, he said he felt "nothing," that "everything is OK, they're probably better off with her." But he quickly slipped into a deep depression.

He did not notice what he was feeling and so practically ruined his chances of dealing with this difficult situation in a successful way. This not-noticing, while understandable because the feelings he avoided are no fun, is just plain disastrous.

So: when a feeling comes to you, just feel it That's it–just feel it. You don't have to do anything more. But there are two important things not to do: Don’t run. Don’t cover.

Don’t’ Run. Running from a feeling is often done by distracting yourself, with work or television for example, or with any one of a million things that need to be done, that need your attention, and are often worthy things to do. Running from a feeling can happen so fast–instantaneous and automatic–that the runner has no idea that he is running. This kind of response is often a deeply engrained habit.

Don’t cover. Covering a feeling is similar to running but not quite as effective. It's easier to spot. A common cover for many men–young and old–is joking or other forms of humor. The joker is almost stereotypical; we all know guys like this. He just can't seem to get serious, to tell you what's really going on for him. It's always a joke. Now a sense of humor is one the really likeable traits of neat people; it's what makes us fun, life funny, and other people enjoyable. But there is a time to be serious.

This three-step theory is built, in part, on the idea that the feeling "knows" what's best for it–and for you. The feeling can help you know just what to do with it. But it can only do this if it is allowed to stay around for a while to build a relationship with you, its owner. Your emotional well being depends upon the successful completion of this first step.

© 2008 David Kundtz

Related information: Issues, Feeling Books: anger, assertiveness, depression, fear, forgiveness, general, grief, joy, loneliness, shame

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We know too much and feel too little. At least we feel too little of those creative emotions from which a good life springs. - Bertrand Russell


David Kundtz is a licensed family therapist in Berkeley, California. He presents seminars, workshops, retreats, and conference presentations in the areas of men's emotional health, stress management, and spirituality. He is the author of Managing Feelings:  An owner's manual for men and has recently completed a second book, Nothing's Wrong: A Man's Guide to Managing His Feelings. He makes his home in Kensington, California and in Vancouver, British Columbia. You may contact David at E-Mail or visit his web site at www.stopping.com

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