Learning from the Inside Out


A few weeks ago I attended a coaching course that focused almost exclusively on emotions. This may just have caused some of you to recoil and wonder why in the heck I would choose to do something like that, but I can say with all honesty that it was transformative for me personally and has set the stage for me to be a much better coach. We have, for years, not appreciated emotions as a territory for learning. Descartes really screwed us with his “I think, therefore I am” as it ‘placed reason over emotion as the basis of knowing’. (from The Unopened Gift, Daniel Newby). Over time, we grew to believe that ‘having emotions’ was irrational or weak. This has put us as a species where we are today – emotionally illiterate.

The course was taught at an off-the-grid location in New Mexico. The beauty and quiet of the setting provided the perfect atmosphere for truly immersing us in learning emotions – as well as learning “about” emotions. We often think about ‘learning’ as something that happens in our head. Yes, it is true that we can take a class, read a book or simply have an instantaneous insight that helps us ‘know’ something. Our body can learn as well. Consider athletes who repeat the same move, stroke, or shot over and over. To embody something somatically requires practice. To “learn” emotions necessitates immersing one’s self in them over a period of time. Being with them, experiencing them and embracing them.

The brain gathers and sorts information. E-motions choose the associated action

As a coach, and a human, I regularly try to be aware of the emotion I am in. There are times when this is extremely easy, like when an NFL referee makes a bad call against the Packers. That emotion is anger or occasionally indignation. When I stop yelling and settle down a bit, I am able to see that the three pillars of emotions are present with each of these

  • there is a ‘story’ attached to the emotion (a perceived injustice associated with the bad call)
  • I am predisposed to ‘take action’ (yelling in order to punish the source of the injustice)
  • it tells me something or takes care of me in some way (that I love the Packers and want them to win)

If these three are not present, it isn’t an emotion. And, this is where the beauty lives –

Acknowledging an emotion allows you to set it aside – or not.

This is so darn empowering it makes me want to cry! (the emotion of exuberance perhaps?) Think about it. Isn’t it great to know that you are in the driver’s seat here? For instance, when you have a particular goal, what emotion needs to be cultivated to end up there? If you know that fatigue amplifies emotions, you can plug into something that you know recharges you. When you are aware of the emotions that produce a sense of wellbeing, you are in a position to be the author of your own life!  This is great news!

Over the coming days, spend a little time reflecting on your relationship with emotions. Just like everything else, we all have different capacities to sense and shift our emotional state. Pick a few and try to trust them to do their work. Remember they all come and go – no need to rush them. Emotions have the potential to be your life long friend – they already are your lifelong companion.

This likely won’t be my final word on emotions but I would like to share with you this wonderful poem by Rumi…


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