Your Emotions Are Notifications. What Are They Telling You?

Emotions As Notifications

by Jeff Perera

Don’t judge, but if you’re like me, you have your phone in your hand more often than not which presents a series of issues – one of which is not being fully in the moment. Between FOMO, constantly checking our emails, and ‘doom scrolling’, staying on top of everything (probably to a point of excess) puts us at risk of being ‘frozen’ by everything that is happening around us and losing touch.  Ignoring things isn’t a better answer. There is a sweet spot we can strive for, where we aren’t stuck in hyper-arousal mode, or being numb and disconnected. 

In my work inspiring men towards helpful ideas of manhood, I talk about thinking of our range of emotions – which pop up throughout the day – like notifications on our phone. What is our way of either reading or ignoring our ‘emotional notifications’ when we feel something? Do we have a routine of doing  a self-scan to read and address how we are feeling physically and emotionally, suppressing our surfacing emotions, or do we turn them off completely when we are numb with overload? How does our way of navigating the daily ‘pings’ of emotional notifications impact our daily interactions and the decisions we make?

“Emotions are data not direction” – Susan David PhD

Captains & Poets programs talk about the relationship between our assertive lets-get-it-done and perform side, and that side of us that asks ‘what is happening inside and wants to be expressed?’  The collaboration between our Captain and Poet, which can mirror and inform the kind of harmony and working relationship we want to have with others, starts with our Poet informing the course of action our Captain takes in things big and small.  We can work to process our ‘emotion notifications’ instead of ignoring them or turning them off.

The problem with suppressing our emotions is that it doesn’t do what we think it does. This kind of pursuit of control, ends up controlling us.  We can instead find that ‘optimal performance zone which athletes strive for, allowing us to handle highs and lows with coping strategies and skills in place. We can work to manage our emotions and not be managed by them. Just like our notification settings, we all have a conscious choice to make about how emotionally self-aware we want to be.

Men are coming to terms with the reality that emotions, like notifications on our phone, are incessant. When we find ourselves in the middle of a conversation as something impactful is happening, we as men will get an emotional notification and tend to say something to retreat and ‘excuse ourselves’ like “Oh, I’m getting emotional…” It’s helpful to realize that it is natural to be constantly feeling and expressing a wide range of emotions, all the time. In the words of a 12 year-old boy in a recent workshop: “We need to harness our inner Captain to help us talk about our feelings.”  When we do this, we give one another as men permission to have a wide range of emotions, modelling how we can ‘feel what we feel, then deal’

This era of uncertainty finds too many men and boys grasping for any kind of certainty, including retreating back to narrow ideas of manhood that in the end leave us limited to a reduced version of who we fully are. Men: this is why I say the pursuit of ‘control’ ends up controlling you. When we perceive a loss of complete control, we might even become out of control as we seek to re-establish it in some fashion. And for some, if we feel powerless, verbal, emotional, or physical violence might feel like a quick and short path towards seizing a false sense of control. When we embrace our inner Captain and inner Poet as teammates working together to lead both ourselves and one another, we can find a way forward so we don’t feel lost in a sea of emotional notifications. Acknowledging our inner Poet helps us give ourselves permission so we don’t become stuck in self-judgement; and, our inner Captain then helps us stay on purpose in our actions and not be emotionally adrift. 

As men, we can take on this journey together, and model that a course of action isn’t fueled by the need to dominate or force an issue, but rather allow our Captain and Poet to work in tandem to help us navigate everyday moments in a more balanced way and be present in the moment.


Jeff is the founder of Higher Unlearning and renowned expert, speaker and facilitator on topics around masculinity.  Jeff has spoken to tens of thousands of people across North America and has delivered two TEDx talks on subjects related to the construction of gender, helpful versus harmful ideas of manhood, race and masculinity, empathy building and men helping end gender-based violence.