I personally admire anyone who’s willing to keep on trying to outdo themselves, especially in the daily grind when it feels like the odds are stacked against you. Regardless of whether you’re an entrepreneur or not, making your dream a reality does not necessarily require you to be self-employed, but it requires dedication, will, and effective time management.
But what happens when your chips are down? When you’re at your weakest moment when you lapse in judgement and feel the temptation to give in.
Does having a cigarette make you feel more energized and focused? Does having an alcoholic drink make you feel less anxious or help wind down tension at the end of a long day? Do you use food, cigarettes, or alcohol to handle negative emotions?
The reality is, people use substances because they have an effect that they appreciate. Right? Like, think back. I know for me, I indulged in all the above, it just felt too good not to. At work, we would go to our local KFC for lunch, even breakfast, it was almost evil to work above a mall where they had every fast food option, or I would always follow my colleagues for a smoke, and as soon as it hit 8 or 9 on a Friday, I was thinking about drinks.
The problem for me, however, is that the effect of substances is short term. Sure you can always take another vodka shot, order another chicken drumstick. You can go to a club and let your friends cheer you on as you chug down half a bottle of vodka, we’ve all been there. But once the effect has passed, you may find that you want to feel those effects again and again, because you haven’t addressed the underlying state of how you’re actually feeling.
Everyone has investment banker friends who have to order a bottle at a club every weekend, it’s how they say they relax and blow steam, and sure, they work hard and play hard. And damn, I bet everyone knows someone who parties too hard unless that person is you. But one weekend without their outlet and I’ll be hanging with them and feeling how tense and irritable they are without partying. They just need more and more to fix their unhappiness.
If you use a substance to help you feel socially relaxed, then when you don’t use, you may find yourself experiencing withdrawal symptoms, avoiding social situations and then feeling like crawling into a ball and hiding underground. Around last year I stopped clubbing because the hangovers got so bad that I would have to spend the whole day indoors managing the pain in my brain. And I didn’t do a very good job of that either, I was grumpy and withdrawn from my friends for most of Sunday. It felt like there was construction work happening just inside my ears. But no one ever told me to slow down, so if you’re someone who feels terrible after a night out, then listen on. I’ve been there, done that. It may be that you have been using substances for so long that you feel like you have lost all the skills at managing your feelings alcohol or other compulsive behaviours like sex or buying lots of things.
Everyone has their way to release, to let steam out, and in your 20s it’s really easy to be tempted by indulgent food or alcohol that allows you to escape or cigarettes that can be a coping mechanism to stress. But at some point, you have to ask yourself is the comedown and pain worth that little high? Is your behaviour sabotaging your looks, intelligence, mental wellbeing, and friendships closest to you?
If you are trying to reduce or stop using substances you will probably find that you have to learn to deal with your feelings in a different way. So this is the meat of what we’re going to talk about, really about how you can manage your feelings without resorting to substances.
For me, it was a learnt skill and for you, it’s going to be shaped by your experiences and by your willingness to make small changes to your lifestyle. I used to be so bad at this, I’ll be the first to say it, because I had gone from being incredibly lucky by selling my company at the age of 21, to then starting a new company which was failing. I pretty much did everything wrong the second time around, made every mistake an entrepreneur will make. And I was looking everywhere else except myself to place the blame, and I was taking it out in really unhealthy ways, often at the expense of my mental and physical health. It took me about 5 years before I had the maturity in me to recognise that I had a problem with dealing with failure, the worst for me was not being able to hit these incredibly high expectations that I had set for myself. Does this sound familiar to you too?
This is really important especially now because most people think that their life should be perfect, especially when you go on Instagram and you see that all of your friends are doing really well in life, they’re constantly on holiday, or they’re constantly over-achieving. There’s no normalcy, there are no posts about the hard work that goes on behind the scenes or the risk of failure to achieve a goal. There’s no vulnerability, only fake strength and hiding behind filters. And then it really hurts when you look in the mirror and you’re not matching up to those same standards. But you have to recognise that those Instagram standards are artificial, you should really be worried about yourself, and only be measuring yourself based on your own expectations of yourself – don’t compare yourself to other people and don’t be so hard on yourself.
The issue of not knowing how to manage your feelings may go back further than when you started drinking or smoking or eating. It may be that you didn’t learn how to manage your feelings because you grew up in an environment, like me, where feelings like sadness and disappointment were not addressed or they were even actively swept under the rug. As an adult, you may not have “learned” how to deal with your feelings effectively long before substances became a way that you managed them. This is definitely the case for a lot of migrant families or minorities because it’s not so obvious in our culture to talk about these things, especially with a parent. We’re trained to only display our achievements and to shun our disappointments, but that’s really unhealthy. A lot of us are expected to be overachievers and it’s crazy when for example, Japan’s suicide rate among teenagers has been the highest in 30 years. One teenager committed suicide nearly every day last year, think about how crazy societal expectations and bullying must be for you to make that decision to end your life. This is definitely a problem that our generation is facing, not only in Japan but in other Asian countries too.
If you’re like me and you’re going to have self-teach ways of dealing with negative emotions, give yourself some slack and go easy on yourself as you start the journey of learning how to deal with your feelings without putting unhealthy things in your body. You might be asking, “Why on earth would I want to let myself feel bad?!”
Feelings are beautiful things but they can definitely bring you down to your knees. Going through your 20s is like hitting the highest of highs, and the lowest of lows, as you leave very comfortable spaces like High School or university where you were at the top of the food chain in your final year, and go out into the Adult World where you suddenly start again at the bottom of the food chain. Everyone seems to treat you like crap.
Feelings are not the enemy, even though they sometimes feel bad. They are simply data that tells you something about your environment or experience. You have to be able to separate your emotions from your decision-making abilities. Put them in a compartment in your mind labelled emotions and learn to be able to access them when and how you want to. You can turn your emotions from a weakness to a strength, depending on how well you can manage them. You can’t let your emotions cloud your judgement. But when you’re young, it’s easy to let your mind be hijacked by these persistent and sometimes overwhelming emotions. I know for example that when I was younger, I used to be the really jealous boyfriend like I would constantly be paranoid that my girlfriend was cheating on me if she was out. Sometimes I would have to smoke a couple of cigarettes if I knew that she was at a party. That’s why when I hear my friends complain that their boyfriends are constantly on their case and being jealous, I always ask how old their boyfriends are, and if the answer is in their early 20s I’m like, don’t worry this guy is just young and still figuring out his emotions, because that used to be me.
Instead of thinking that feelings are the enemy, you must begin with awareness. Awareness can begin with just classing emotions into two categories, good or bad. If you do not put an emotion into one of these two buckets, then it might sneak up on you like a ninja and hijack your state. At least if you can put an emotion that you’re feeling into one of two boxes, good or bad, you’ll know how to deal with it adequately. This might sound really easy for really simple emotions but take a moment and try practising it with something more complex, like for example if your colleague was promoted instead of you, or someone that you care about or love did something that didn’t match up to your expectations of them. Then it becomes more complicated. But you still have to internally categorise your emotions so that you can properly manage them. You’ll be a runaway train if you don’t, reacting uncontrollably to every little thing that didn’t go your way.
The second thing is to be able to rate in your mind how serious you should be treating a Feeling. It’s just like how in your day you might have 10 things to do, and you’ll categorise those tasks based on how important they are. So if you’re really annoyed that somebody at a restaurant like a waiter is ignoring you, how important is that compared to the other feelings in your mind. Why should one waiter’s ignorance ruin your entire lunch? I used to easily get annoyed at the smallest things but then I thought, this waiter ignoring me should really take up maybe 2 out of 10 of a care factor in my mind, when before it was a 7 or 8, then class it as a low priority suddenly freed up my mind to focus on other things like how good the food or company was.
Being aware of feelings, rather than just avoiding them, can also open you up to be more responsive to certain situations. Food, cigarettes, or alcohol allow you an outlet to escape reality, but eventually, you have to come back to it. Feelings are a way of your mind to tell you a response to a certain situation, and what are your strongest weapons in your arsenal is your intuition and your gut Instinct. A bad reaction is typically a sign that something in your environment is distressing or dangerous and needs to change. For example, I was working at a newspaper in Hong Kong where I was denying to myself how bad the company culture wise, everybody was treating everybody else like crap, everybody was sabotaging and throwing each other under the bus, my colleagues were resigning every month. I continued to block my awareness of this shitty company culture and I put myself at risk of missing important information that could help me make good decisions, which was to leave that place and save my mental health.
Thanks for listening to part one, where we were able to break down why negative emotions exist and how you can change the way you think about them, in part 2 to this series I’m going to explore ways that you can replace food, cigarettes or alcohol with healthier alternatives that will set you up for a life of success, it will make you feel and look more beautiful.
Thank you so much for listening and if you got anything useful out of this podcast episode, please share with a friend, family or colleague. That would be the greatest gift that you can give to me. Have a great day!
Music Attribution (CC/Royalty Free)
Watch this space… (ft. Doxent) by robwalkerpoet (c) copyright 2014 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license. http-//dig.ccmixter.org/files/robwalkerpoet/46866 Ft- Doxent
Forgotten Land by Doxent Zsigmond (c) copyright 2014 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license. http-//dig.ccmixter.org/files/doxent/45486 Ft- Gurdonark, Joanne Gabriel
Unknown Things by Robbero (c) copyright 2016 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license. http-//dig.ccmixter.org/files/Robbero/53070
“STAY IN THE GREAT” by BOCrew