For guys: Learning to communicate your feelings

One of the struggles that has characterized my late twenties/early thirties has been learning to express my feelings. To be sure, I was (and maybe still am) more emotionally inept than most, but it does seem like this is something a lot of others (especially men) struggle with, so I’d like to take a minute to share what I’ve learned about it with you.

DISCLAIMER: I’m not a cognitive psychologist. I’m sure there’s a well-documented body of work that explains everything I’m sharing here, probably in a more helpful, useful way. If you’re aware of any such resources, I’d love to read them.. Otherwise, please enjoy my story for whatever it’s worth 🙂

My background
Those who know me know that I was a computer geek and a gamer for most of my young life. I had some serious dress/style problems that lasted at least until I was married when my wife took away my velcro wallet. I had some strong (albeit uninformed) opinions — it still makes me cringe to read some of the stuff I used to write about. All I knew about “emotion” was that some people sure had a lot of them (not me, of course) and they seemed to get in the way a lot, causing perfectly normal/smart people to do and say illogical things.

Becoming aware of my emotions
I have to credit my wife with first introducing me to the ideas of emotional awareness and intelligence. The polar opposite of me on every personality test we’ve ever taken, she’s a pillar of purpose, love, meaning and humanity. She’s not much for facts & figures or to-do lists & calendars, but she’s an incredible human. Over time she began introducing me to emotion, but I still didn’t really believe that they were an important concept, so it was a long struggle. I think one of the first real “breakthroughs” she had with me was when she got me to read “Daring Greatly” by Brene Brown. Long story short, the book teaches that when we are unwilling to feel/experience negative emotions, we also inadvertently deaden our ability to feel positive emotions, and that most people have developed a series of numbing “shields” that prevent them from feeling more deeply

As this idea started to solidify in my mind, I took another step and enrolled in an online “Leadership through Emotional Intelligence” course from Case Western University. I didn’t actually finish the course (oops!), but one concept really stuck with me — in order to teach emotional intelligence, the teacher didn’t just go through concepts but instead invited students to remember and write about specific types of experiences from the past. As I wrote, those emotions were recalled, and then the teacher would say “That was the emotion of fear.” I learned that to learn about emotions, I needed to feel them — not just read about them.

The biggest step of my emotional intelligence journey so far came from making the decision to participate in an encounter group or “T-Group” put on by instructors at Stanford University in October 2014. I’ll explain more about the impact of this experience below, but essentially it amounts to putting 10 strangers in a room to practice communicating with each other while simultaneously paying close attention to the feelings that the conversation generates. As we communicated, I learned a whole range of emotions I could feel, and I remember being surprised at (1) how nuanced they were and (2) how many I could feel simultaneously or in short succession.

Noticing the effects of my emotions
Emotions are a big part of life at home, but I think I first started becoming aware of them in the workplace. They just seemed more obvious at work — probably because they kept either helping or getting in the way of work to be done. I credit my business partner, John Gough, here, because for whatever reason he has always been extremely emotionally intelligent and has probably helped me hundreds of times in business meetings to consider how others are feeling, be aware of how I’m feeling, etc.

As I began to notice the effect of my emotions, one of the first things I realized is how much my emotions were related to my underlying beliefs about people/things. It was around this time that I read Ownership Spirit by Dennis Deaton, which turned out to be a fantastic read that I now highly recommend to just about anyone. In the book, Dr. Deaton teaches precisely this — that what we believe about a situation dramatically impacts how we feel about it, and that our beliefs are not always right. For example, someone cuts you off in traffic and you curse at them — how could they be so rude? But if you instead imagine to yourself that they’re speeding to the hospital with their mortally sick child in the back seat, you suddenly feel empathy, patience and helpfulness instead of anger. The same thing happens at work — are your co-workers lazy and out to get you? Or are they just busy trying to keep their own lives together and doing their best to work with what they have? Dr. Deaton encourages readers to examine the thoughts/beliefs that are giving us negative emotions, then practice seeing them in a new light that puts us back in control, which is what “taking ownership” means.

One other thing I’ll say that I’ve noticed about emotions is that, at least for me, they are heavily influenced by how tired I am. Over 90% of the fights Katie and I have had have occurred after 9pm, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. When I’m tired, I can’t feel as well, and I notice that my negative emotions are amplified. I think for others it happens when they are hungry (“hangry”). Conversely, I’ve found that early in the morning is the best time for me to do my most important work, because I’m bubbling with energy, creativity, positivity and patience — before the work of the day has run me down 🙂

Learning to share the emotion
Once I had learned to name my emotions and became aware of the effect they were having on me, the next step was to learn to share them. Again, the T-group was instrumental here. I learned that an amazing thing happens when we share our emotions — others can feel the same too! In T-Group we were encouraged not to use the word LIKE, but instead to name the actual emotion. So for example instead of saying “I feel like you don’t care” (which not only implicates the other party, but also doesn’t really tell us how you feel about your observation), try saying “I feel hurt because the story in my head is that you don’t care.” When you express the second one, the typical response is remorse, empathy, care and concern whereas the response to the first is typically defensiveness, anger and retaliation. You tell me which one you’d rather have others feeling towards you 🙂

After being taught this concept, I began to notice others who were really good at sharing their emotions, and I started to join in on the fun. My bishop, Bishop Ken Bawden, is awesome at this. I’ve watched him in dozens, maybe hundreds of interactions with others where he has simply expressed his feelings — be they love, gratitude, care or concern — and the other party has responded in incredible ways. It has been powerful to me to see another man who is so comfortable expressing his feelings, and has gone a long way towards dispelling my own mistaken notions about how men should handle their emotions. There have been others too: John Gough, Ben Skinner and Russ Perry to name a few. I’ve also watched with sadness people who are unwilling to share their emotions — either because they can’t or don’t know that they should, and I’ve felt sorry for all the life they’re missing out on. I hope in time they’ll get to experience what I have experienced.

Conclusion
I don’t mean to get all soft on you here, but I do think there’s way too much societal pressure on men to keep up a stern facade and never let their emotions show. If they’re anything like me, they may not even realize they have emotions, although of course everyone does. And as long as they’re ignoring them, they’re not feeling them, which is perhaps the greatest tragedy of all.

Thoughts? Experiences?

Can video games hurt relationships?

As someone who has spent a lot of time both playing video games and interacting with gamers, I feel pretty qualified to say “Yes, of course they can.” Not all video gaming behavior is bad, but I’ve seen people and families get anywhere from a little to way messed up by too much screen time.

My sense is that as a society we’re still not entirely sure what to think about people who play too much. If it’ll help someone out there who is wondering about this, I’d like to share my story:

My story:
As a teenager, my video game behavior could definitely have been classified as an “addiction,” although I definitely didn’t see it that way at the time. I played the occasional Nintendo game as a kid, then progressed to computer-based strategy games during junior high. In High School however, I started playing a new kind of game called an RPG (“role playing game”) where you control a character who lives in a world of his/her own. In a short period of time, the game completely consumed me. I would play from the minute I got home to the minute I went to bed, and I would often get up later in the night to play again after my parents went to bed. When my parents cracked down, I’d get up really early to play for a few hours before school.

There was no meaningful purpose behind the gaming, but I felt compelled to get to the next level, find the next item or score the next kill. It didn’t help that this was the kind of game that allowed you to interact with other gamers, so I soon felt like all of my friends were in the virtual world too. My parents (bless their hearts) probably didn’t know what to do. Knowing how I was as a teenager, they probably didn’t have a lot of power to stop me anyway. But I do remember them explaining to themselves and to others “Well, there’s worse things he could be doing,” and I think I kinda used that story as a way to justify my behavior to myself as well.

I pretty much continued to play day-in and day-out for 3 or 4 years. The game kept a log of how long you had played for, and I remember it saying near the end that I had logged the equivalent of over 180 continuous days played during that short time period. At the height of my addiction, I actually turned to caffeine pills to keep myself awake during class. That’s crazy to think about now, but that’s where I was at at the time.

How did I finally quit? It’s pretty simple — I got a job. With the new job came a desire to make money and do different things, and I just didn’t have time to play anymore. Also randomly (or perhaps by divine providence), the first person games started making me dizzy/sick after 10-15 minutes of play, so I couldn’t really do those anymore either. But it’s not like I came to some realization — like I said, it wasn’t until much later that I realized I had been addicted, so really it’s just lucky that life got me out or I’d probably still be playing :).

The cost of playing
I try not to think about it, but sometimes I wonder what this addiction ultimately cost me? For sure, I can’t say I had a very good high school experience. I didn’t have a lot of friends. I didn’t do ANYTHING extracurricular. I got good grades, but I suspect that was more about knowing how to beat the system than it was about actually learning anything. I didn’t think about college or scholarships until it was way too late to apply to anywhere prestigious. I didn’t have much social skill (in fact, I think I was in my mid 20s before I really started to care what others were feeling). I wrecked a few high school friendships, but I think I regret even more than that the close relationships that I never developed. I could’ve been much closer to my siblings, my parents, my teachers and my friends. It hasn’t been a total tragedy, but I’d say I probably only reached 50-60% of my total potential coming out of high school and it has taken me years to recover. That’s an incredible price to pay for an experience that gave me so little in return.

Conclusion
I hear people say they are just playing video games to “blow off stress” or “relax” and I get that. I think the shorter, offline games are better. At work, we play a quick game of soccer on the xbox at lunch time to bond as a team and to get our minds off work for a bit. I still enjoy playing the occasional strategy game with my brother too, but I’ve noticed something different about my gamer behavior now — I play to spend time with people I care about, not to avoid them. I also feel like I’ve developed enough self control to say confidently “It’s just a game” and turn it off whenever I need to. Perhaps most importantly though, I’ve got enough other stuff going on for me in my life (my wife, my kids, my business, my ministry) — stuff that honestly just blows any video game out of the water — that I don’t feel nearly the desire to play that I once did.

I can’t tell you whether or not you (or someone you love) is addicted or simply playing too many video games. But it’s scary stuff and unfortunately it seems like the kind of problem they just have to realize and get out of on their own. For me, having to face the realities of life did the trick. It wasn’t painful at the time, but I can tell you that it’s painful now. Be careful out there!!

Why is it important to tell the truth?

Telling the truth, being honest and living with integrity is an important social concept in almost every culture, but why? Sometimes it certainly seems easier to just tell a lie. There are some obvious reasons to tell the truth which I’ll explore first, but stay tuned through the end of this article because there’s one really BIG one I’ve discovered as well.

Telling the truth has social consequences
One problem you’ll quickly discover with any form of lying (including the “gray area”) is that it never lasts. Think about it — YOU know when you’re being lied to, even if you can’t put your finger on it. It may just be in the form of a “bad feeling” you get about someone.  The same thing happens when you lie to others, and it causes them to trust you less and respect you less, which is bad for you in the long run. It may get you some of what you want in the short run, but eventually you’ll be isolated and alone, which is a painful way to live your life.

This problem is further compounded when “everyone does it.” If everyone were a liar, modern progress would essentially come to a halt as nobody could do business with each other. Relationships would fall apart. Trade would cease, or at least slow to a crawl. Things like credit cards, mortgages, even eating food at a restaurant is based on trust to some degree. Without honesty, we’d all be living in the stone age.

Telling the truth has personal consequences
You should tell the truth because it’s good for your own health, too. Nobody’s memory is good enough to keep up with a web of lies, but you’ll sure spend a lot of mental energy and physical effort trying.

Man was created by God, and God also gave us all a conscience. You may be able to dim your conscience, but it’ll never fully go away. Lying goes against your conscience, and doing it will just cause your conscience to eat at you over time. It’s harder to sleep at night when you have guilt on your conscience.

People who routinely tell the truth are happier because the Light of Christ can come into their hearts to comfort and guide them. Add that to the social benefits, and it’s clear that the long-term losses are not worth the short-term gains.

Telling the truth will help you avoid the trap of self deception
Ok, here’s the big one — I have found that the biggest reason to be honest is that it helps you avoid the trap of self deception.

What is self deception? It’s subtle, but I have found it to be one of the most destructive forces in your life. Everyone is subject to it in some way, but most aren’t even aware that it’s happening. Self deception happens when we succeed in convincing ourselves that something that true is in fact untrue OR that something untrue is in fact true. For example, an alcoholic may say “I don’t have a drinking problem” when in fact they do, or a womanizer may say “I was justified in chasing other women because of how my wife treated me.” It happens on a smaller scale too when we say “I was only speeding because the speed limit is ridiculously low here” or “I only cheated a little bit on my taxes because the government already takes too much money from us.”

Once we have rationalized, we can effectively stop worrying about the lie, but at much too high of a cost. In the case of the alcoholic, he/she will continue to be a slave to the addiction, and help isn’t even on the way because he/she doesn’t even realize there’s a problem. The womanizer will continue to injure the relationship with his wife, which will only lead to more “bad treatment” and more justification. Next year, you’ll cheat a little MORE on your taxes because you got away with it last year, and your lie is only further cemented in your mind, and you’ll be hurtling towards some serious life problems. Self deception is a virus — a disease. And it doesn’t stop there, either. I’ve seen that in time, these lies start to pull others in as well, and soon entire groups and communities become self-deceived.

I don’t like to speak often of Satan, but in scripture he’s referred to as “The Father of Lies.” I think that sounds right. I realize that when I tell a lie, even a small one, it’s Satan’s behavior I’m emulating and not God’s. That may not bring immediate consequences, but I realize that when I’m willing to lie to others, I’m willing to lie to myself, and THAT’S a big problem. It’s a problem because the behavior may very well get me into a very messy trap of self deception that I may not be able to escape — at least not without years of pain and suffering.

Why do you think it’s important to tell the truth?

Read more about this topic on LDS.org

Is it bad to pray for material wealth?

There’s one question that I think most believers ask themselves at some point — especially those of us who are responsible for the “breadwinning” in a family — and that question is “Is it bad to pray for material wealth?”

What do the scriptures say?
At first pass, the scriptures can seem somewhat contradictory. Jesus taught “a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven” and that “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:16-25) On the other hand, Amulek taught that we should “Cry unto him over the crops of [our] fields, that [we] may prosper in them.” and “Cry over the flocks of [our] fields, that they may increase.” (Alma 34:24-25)

After lots of study and prayer on this topic, I’ve come to the belief that God doesn’t care so much about our actual wealth, but rather how we feel towards money. I don’t believe that money is good or bad in and of itself — it’s our attitude that matters. This is further supported by something Dallin H. Oaks said recently: “The possession of wealth or significant income is not a mark of heavenly favor, and their absence is not evidence of heavenly disfavor.”

My prayers for material wealth have been answered
A couple of years ago, I was working really hard to get my web development business off the ground. As anyone who has started a small business knows, there can be some REALLY long days and weeks — especially as employees are hired and payroll needs to be met. I remember one month in particular when I had been working really hard on sales but it just seemed like the deals weren’t coming in. Typically we’d get a lead or two each week, but for some reason it had been a couple of weeks with no real prospects and I was starting to get worried.

I remember kneeling down to pray one morning after scripture study and having the distinct impression come to my mind that I needed to “Pray for FIVE leads today.” At first this seemed crazy.. first, why such a specific feeling? Also, I couldn’t remember ever getting five leads in a single day. I doubted whether or not I had heard the prompting right, and I was hesitant to ask for a material blessing. But as I pondered asking the question, I felt peaceful and decided to go ahead with it. What’s the worst that could happen, right?

As the day progressed, I had a lead or two come in fairly early and then another one after lunch. I was pretty satisfied at that point, and said to myself (and to God) “Three leads is fantastic!! What a blessing. I don’t need any more.” Towards the end of the day, another lead came in and I thought “Wow, FOUR leads! This is amazing. Thank you, God” and was ready to go home content that I had seen a miracle. Literally seconds before I closed my laptop lid for the day, an email came in from an old friend of mine indicating that she needed some web work done. My eyes welled up as I realized that my plea for material wealth had not only been inspired, but had been answered in a completely miraculous way.

Does God care about our material well being? Absolutely.

My pursuit of material wealth has also gotten in the way of my spiritual growth
I’ve also had experience teach me that the pursuit of wealth is definitely NOT always a good thing. Again, in the process of getting my business off the ground, I had to work some pretty late nights. On one night in particular, I had just logged a 16 hour+ day and I was exhausted. It was dark outside when I left the office and I knew my wife and kids were already in bed at home. I had spent the ENTIRE day at work. As I got on to my motorcycle and headed for home, I wondered to myself “What am I doing? This is no way to live.” At that moment, the Spirit confirmed my feelings.. I was indeed pushing too hard, and the Lord was not pleased with my imbalance.

I have since had that experience called to memory by the Spirit on a number of occasions. I believe it’s God’s gentle way of remind me not to get too consumed by wealth. Perhaps the reason we are cautioned so strongly against riches is that they can and will corrupt.

Conclusion
At the end of the day, wealth is neither good nor bad. If you think about it, money is just a tool — something that comes automatically when value is created. I love the way my business is able to help people. A natural consequence of us getting really good at offering that help is that we’re paid money in exchange for the value add.

I believe that God doesn’t want us to have money necessarily, but that it’s part of a larger concept that he does very much want us to have — Righteous dominion. In the parable of the talents, the first steward is praised for having taken what the Lord gave him and turned it into something greater. To me, gaining righteous dominion means building reputation, experience, knowledge, relationships and yes — wealth. I believe that the most important part of obtaining material wealth without losing our souls is to carefully listen for God to tell us when we’re taking it too far.

What are your thoughts on praying for material wealth?

Religion vs. science

I want to speak to you from the heart for a minute about the age-old “religion vs. science” debate. It seems pretty bold to tackle such a big topic with a single blog post, but… well, here we go.

The great debate
As a believer, I feel like I’m constantly on trial when I interact with the more science-based crowd. I hear questions like “the Bible says the earth is only a few thousand years old, but science knows its millions of years old” or “There is no scientific record of a global flood, especially not in recent history” or “if Adam and Eve were the first man & woman, why do we have fossil records going back millions of years?” A lot of people seem to assume that as a believer I probably don’t ever ask myself these questions, but I do. The difference for me, however, is that I’ve also had some very real, powerful experiences with religion from which I have gained an immense amount of knowledge, so I’ve come to appreciate what spirituality can add to the search for truth.

To me, that’s what it’s really all about — the pursuit of truth. I love truth. I love what knowing truth does for us. The more we know, the more we can live according to that knowledge, which brings us happiness, peace and impact. Science and religion are both deeply concerned with truth, so I love them too.

True religion and true science will never be at odds
I believe strongly that, as Henry Eyring stated, “there can never be any genuine contradictions between true science and true religion.” Both efforts are centered around the pursuit of truth — religion is just a top down “here’s what God has revealed, let’s see how that explains what we’re seeing” approach versus science which is a bottom up “here are the facts as we know them, what conclusions can we draw from them?” approach. The problem, of course, is that we live in a world of bad religion and bad science.

The effects of bad religion are obvious. Countless wars have been waged in the name of God. Individuals, communities and nations have done (and continue to do) terrible things to each other under the belief that they are serving God. Lives have been lost because believers wouldn’t accept blood transfusions or take medicine because they believed that in so doing they would offend God. With religion, people act on faith, and bad things happen when our faith is misplaced.

The effects of bad science are a little less obvious, but still very real. Before columbus sailed, common knowledge held that the earth was flat. In early America, it was common practice to attach leaches to sick people to remove their poisonous blood. In today’s age, science is constantly discovering new drugs like Phen/Fen that are touted as miracle substances but turn out to have horrible side effects. When we act according to bad science, we’re in no better position than those who act according to bad religion.

Religion isn’t provable, but neither is science
Proponents of a “science only” approach often use the argument that science is repeatable and provable where faith isn’t. That seems logical at first glance, but in my experience, science is no more provable than religion. It’s not uncommon at all for a “conclusive” study to turn out to be flawed (in fact, 1 in 20 are, statistically speaking). It’s also not uncommon for a study to find its way into a peer review journal not based on merit but because of politics and “good ole boy’s club” dynamics. In science, just like in religion, you have to decide who and what you’re going to believe. Science is the new religion and that “scientists” are the new oracles, and there’s an entire generation of believers who are casting aside their traditional religions to embrace a new one.

My conclusion
I believe that God is only God because he’s the smartest, most powerful being in the universe, and that he acts in complete and perfect understanding of the physical world. I reject the idea that you have to choose whether to believe in faith or to believe in science — I have found both to be deeply valuable to me. I believe that as a society we’ll be better off with science, better off with religion, and BEST off when we use both of them together.