Embracing Intensity

Emotion Series #2

October 8, 2021
There are emotions inside all of us that can sometimes be difficult to fully feel — anger, sadness, fear and even joy often have an intensity that causes us to brace ourselves against them. What if instead of running away from a feeling, we leaned into it? How would it change our experience to turn towards the thing giving us discomfort, asking us to expand in some way? In today’s episode, we will explore how to embrace intensity in order to allow transformative change to flow into our lives.

Episode intro:

The person’s willingness to embrace intensity will mark the amount of change they will feel in their life in the short term. It’s a great leading indicator.

Welcome to the Art of Accomplishment, where we explore how deepening connection with ourselves and others leads to creating the life we want with enjoyment and ease.

My name is Brett Kistler. I am an adventurer, entrepreneur and a self exploration enthusiast.  I am here with my co-host, Joe Hudson. Joe is a business coach who has  spent decades working with some of the world´s top executives and teams developing a unique model of human patterns that underpin how we operate with ourselves, each other and the world. A good entry point into this model is a mindset called VIEW, vulnerability, impartiality, empathy and wonder.  

Through understanding and cultivation we learn to easefully drop into the VIEW state of mind, deepening self awareness and increasing our connection with the world around us. To learn more about this podcast or courses, visit

Brett: Good morning, Joe.

Joe: How is it going? It is actually afternoon here.

Brett: Morning here, afternoon there. Hawaii, California. I hear you are taking your daughter on a road trip.

Joe: She’s 15 and a half, and she got the learner’s permit. I was like, how do you want to learn to drive, and she was like let’s drive across country. We are going to drive from California to New York. I am really excited for it. You get these moments with your kids, especially as they get older, where you get to really deep sink in with them on a topic. Those road trips are the best way to do it.

Three days ago, I am sitting in this café. Covid, it has opened up. I am sitting in a café with my 12-year-old. We are talking about embracing intensity in this café, where she is trying to figure this out. What do I mean when I say to her you are running away from a feeling there? Lean into the feeling. We are having this conversation. It is one of those epic conversations you have with your kids every once in a while. There was this lady who was sitting near us, and it was like watching her jaw drop, like what the hell is happening, how is this conversation happening between a dad and a 12-year-old. It was really amazing. It was that conversation actually, that is the reason that I said to you, let’s talk about embracing intensity.

Brett: Is that when you told her that she is going to be doing this drive all in one go in 36 hours?

Joe: No, different daughter. The younger daughter is the one I had the embracing conversation with.

Brett: The 12-year-old is not doing the driving.

Joe: That wouldn’t be embracing intensity. That would be creating intensity.

Brett: An important distinction.

Joe: Big distinction.

Brett: This is something that comes up a lot in our courses as a principle for ESF and a principle for any of the courses, and it is one of the things that really attracted me with my air sports and extreme adventuring background. Okay, embrace intensity, let’s do this. Can you, for the audience, define what you mean by embracing intensity as opposed to what I just suggested on the road trip, creating intensity?

Joe: Embracing intensity assumes there is never a moment where there isn’t some intensity to embrace. There is really nothing to create in the situation. I use the word intensity, so that people don’t think it is a difficulty, because I find that once people really move through and embrace their anger, their sadness or their fear, they find, it is more challenging even to embrace things like peace and joy and to allow that in.

The intensity is really about the thing inside of you right now that has some discomfort. It is like being asked to expand in a way that is slightly uncomfortable. It is embracing that. I think the best way to think about it is, if you just close your eyes for a minute and take a deep breath, and you say am I bracing or am I embracing? That is the felt sense of it. The felt sense of it is how much I am allowing my experience to occur and how much I am resisting my experience.

Brett: That points to an important thing where that concept of creating intensity– If people are learning, as they go through these courses and they do this work, and they find there is a lot of intensity in them, so then they are like, when there is intensity, that must mean there is growth. I am going to start by creating intensity. You can tell if you are creating intensity and not just letting it come up, there is a bracing to it. Here it comes. I am ready for this intensity.

Joe: Right. Also, I like creating intensity every once in a while. Don’t get me wrong. I think it is a really useful tool, but it is not a principle to live life by. You know what we have done in some of these courses, and it can be quite intense. I don’t steer away from creating it, but that’s not a sure-fire way for transformation. What is a sure-fire way for transformation is embracing intensity.

As a matter of fact, I was sitting with a whole bunch of CEOs, and we were discussing what we want to be able to measure. I said one of the things I would love to be able to measure is transformation in different ways. They asked what the leading indicator of transformation was in my mind. I said the person’s willingness to embrace intensity will mark the amount of change that they will feel in their life in the short term. It is a great leading indicator.

Brett: That seems like one reason for the benefits of embracing intensity. What are reasons we might want to drift towards living in this principle?

Joe: It’s funny because my daughter asked me the same question when we were sitting there. What are the reasons? I came up with three, and then as we were talking, there was a fourth that showed up. I am going to give the three, because those are the only ones that I remember, and then we will see if the fourth one shows up in this conversation as well. It is incredibly good for decision making. It is incredibly good for joy, increasing the amount of joy you feel, and it is incredibly good for effectiveness. The fourth one has come. It is really good at effectiveness, and it is really good at curbing unhealthy patterns. Those are the reasons to do it.

Brett: Making decisions, let’s start with that first one then. Can you elaborate on that one further?

Joe: I think I have talked about it in a different podcast. Basically, our decision making is actually an emotional situation. It is not an intellectual one. We are not making intellectual decisions. In 2012, the guy wrote a book called Descartes’ Error where he shows, if you take the emotional center of the brain out of a person, they will cease to make decisions even if their IQ stays the same. It will take them a half an hour to decide what color pen to use or four hours to have lunch. What that means is we are making decisions as a way to feel what we want to feel. It means that we want to feel good, and we want to feel loved, and we don’t want to feel like a failure. We don’t want to feel shame, so we make decisions based on that. We are using our logic to figure out which way we are going to feel.

The key to great decision making isn’t logically thinking it through or being non emotional. It is actually being completely willing to feel any emotional state. If you are scared to take risks, because you will fail or if you are scared to speak your truth, because you are scared, you won’t be loved, or if you are, more commonly, scared to take a risk, because the joy of success would be overwhelming to you and you feel like it would be taken away from you, so you avoid that feeling of accomplishment, which seems antithetical to people, but it happens all the time. If you are willing to feel all that stuff, and you learn to embrace all that intensity, then you make decisions far more clearly.

Brett: There seems to be a link here between emotions and intensity. For many of us to feel an emotion is intense, and to feel more emotion feels more intense, and this is our common pattern. It tends to be that we suppress it at some point before it reaches some threshold that we are afraid will be dysregulated or lose our shit.

Joe: There is no real intensity in an action. There is only intensity in a feeling, physical or emotional.  If you are jumping off a cliff and you didn’t have any emotional experience, it wouldn’t be intense with or without a parachute, outside the wind on your face and that experience. We know, psychologically speaking, that we make decisions based on the feeling that we get from the decision making, and particularly if I have this right, let’s see if I can remember correctly.

It’s the avoidance of negative feelings that is more powerful in the way that we make decisions than the positive reward, even though positive reward will change behavior quicker. If you look at the way people act, it is like trying to avoid negative feelings is actually more powerful.

Brett: That’s a really good one. Looking back on my life, the times where I felt in the flow with the universe were the times I was following what I actually wanted, and the times I was avoiding what I didn’t want, or emotions, was when I found myself feeling the most lost and disconnected. Back to decision making, something that is really important for decision making is being context aware. You can decide who I am going to hire for this particular role, and you could also ask yourself what is important about hiring somebody.

Something we talked about in the Feel over Figure episode in the AoA series was how our emotions create the context in which our logic works, and so becoming aware of what that context is. I am afraid of my business failing. I am afraid of being perceived as a failure. I am afraid of being abandoned. I am afraid of my partner leaving me. Recognizing the context in which we are making decisions helps us process that underlying context to allow us to make a different set of decisions, because we are aware of the underlying pattern.

Joe: Yeah, just intellectually that’s true, and then on a more physical or emotional level, what is also happening is the more we embrace it, the more sensitive we become to it. The more sensitive we become to it, the more aware of it we are. We have had an episode about this too. You didn’t think you felt fear for a while, and then you were like, holy crap, I am feeling it all the time. It is the same thing with my world. It was like, I am not feeling that emotion, and then, oh wow, I am feeling it. You just become more and more sensitive to these emotional states from embracing intensity.

We will make that a subcategory, number five, for reasons is, that increased sensitivity is amazing, because it is not just sensitivity towards your own, but it is your sensitivity towards others. You will be in a conversation with a counterpart in a business situation, and you are so aware of their emotional state, because you are so aware of yours. It is an incredible thing to be able to hang out with people and be aware of that in a way that allows you to create healthy, amazing relationships.

Brett: It makes you more perceptive to the energy in the room.

Joe: Exactly.

Brett: Moving on, what is something along the lines of curbing addictions or stopping unhealthy patterns?

Joe: The thing about all addictive cycles is, there is a moment when you are feeling something that you don’t want to feel that you move to the addiction. I don’t want to feel the want for a cigarette will bring me to the cigarette. I don’t want to feel the negative voice in my head or the shame that the negative brings to me. I don’t want to feel that. Therefore, I am going to move to television. I don’t want to feel out of control, so I move to anger.

But if you are good with feeling all those things, then there is no reason to move to the addiction. There is no reason to particularly have the shame around the addiction. If you just feel into it, it really helps curb negative behaviors.

Brett: This is speaking to addictions, but it can also be any behavioral patterns we have, like drama triangle patterns. I am not willing to feel my helplessness, so I try to avoid that by solving everyone’s problem and infantilizing them.

Joe: That’s the second way in which it curbs negative behavior patterns. It isn’t just the addiction. It’s this thing where, if I got taught by my family ‘I am going to be emotionally abandoned.’, then I am going out into the world trying to avoid that emotional abandonment, the feeling of emotional abandonment. The way I am trying to avoid it, I will create it.

For instance, when I was recreating the pattern of emotional abandonment, I would get angry whenever I saw that I was starting to get abandoned as a way to avoid feeling that feeling. Obviously, the anger made more people abandon me, because who wants to be around someone who is yelling at them. Therefore, I would invite it in.

If you just go, “I am going to feel that abandonment, I am going to sit in that, I am going to learn how to make friends with that, learn how to fall in love with that.”, then you don’t really recreate the pattern over and over again. What’s happening in our system is, we are a cell that’s trying to get back to homeostasis. If we weren’t allowed to feel something, we are going to recreate that negative pattern in our life over and over again until we feel it. Then once we have felt it, then we don’t have to recreate the pattern.

You see this happen all the time with people, recreating the patterns all to avoid a feeling. In my work, all the time I see this. As soon as somebody fully falls in love with the feeling they are trying to avoid, the negative pattern stops. It is the quickest way to stop a negative pattern in your life.

Brett: It brings me back to a metaphor I have had for emotions, which is they seem to be a way for our nervous system and for ourselves to self-organize back into homeostasis and the avoidance of them is these patterns we have learned, like an electric fence with a dog. If you teach the dog, that if it goes near this edge of the property, it is going to get shocked. Eventually, the fence can be turned off and the dog just won’t go there even though through that fence lies freedom. Each of our emotional movements is the system trying to find homeostasis, and to the extent that we avoid them, we are blocking it.

Joe: I like the idea of the electric fence too, because if you actually touch the electric fence, it is uncomfortable, but it doesn’t actually harm you. What’s different with the emotions than the electric fence is the emotions actually become more and more comfortable. They change. One of the greatest things about embracing intensity is that when the emotions are welcomed, they feel very different in the system. The discomfort of most emotions, negative or positive, is the resistance to them. It is not the actual emotion themselves.

Sadness in itself is quite joyful. I remember in AoA once where somebody was talking about how they learned to enjoy their own sadness and how it opened up this flood gate of sadness and moved all this trauma out of their system. Similarly, you can have a deep joy for it. It changes. Sadness doesn’t look the same way. It will go from poor me to a deep grieving and gratitude. Anger will move from a passive aggression or a “Rah rah rah.” to a, “No, I am not going to allow this to happen right now.”

As we learn to embrace the intensity, those emotions become so much more fluid, and they change. They are so much more comfortable. They don’t take control of us the way that resisted emotions do.

Brett: It’s interesting that resistance, it is really about the dissonance. If part of our system is trying to move towards homeostasis in one direction and the other part of our system is pushing against it in an equal and opposite direction, not wanting it, not only does it persist, but also it is just increasing stress fractally throughout our body and our emotional system and our thoughts.

Joe: Wow, I hadn’t thought of it that way. Exactly, that’s cool. I guess that’s benefit six. It changes the way your emotional experience is, far more fluid.

Brett: I guess that would have an impact on your body, too. A lot of the diseases associated with ACES, like adverse childhood experience scores, a lot of that just comes from there being a lot of chronic dissonance in the emotional and physical body.

Joe: Definitely in the musculature. You can tell. Lots of people did it. The guy who invented micro expression, that whole theory, his teacher understood this as well. You can look at the way somebody holds their musculature and their musculature holding is based on what emotions they don’t want to feel. You can tell so much about a person just from that. You have seen this with ECF. You have seen it so that you see someone’s face completely change as it releases.

Brett: That brings us to I guess the fifth one. We have gone through improved decision making. We have gone through getting out of unhealthy patterns, including addiction. We have gotten to feeling more intensity, more sensitivity, including to things like joy, positive emotions and experiences, and then effectiveness. It seems like this all comes together in effectiveness.

Joe: I would say effectiveness and joy. There is another way it increases the joy in our experience, but let’s do effectiveness first. I would just say we are more effective when we can do the things that are uncomfortable for us. One example of this that I think is quite obvious is when you are working with somebody and you say we have got this new project that we have never done before, they will do the things that they know how to do first instead of doing the things they don’t know how to do first. That’s really, really common, and it is the least effective way to go  about doing it.

In MIT, they have a principle that says, you look at the part of the problem you understand the least about and you start your work there. It is the same in a company and a CEO. It is the thing they don’t want to look at, that if they look at it, they will be most effective if they look at it first. It is the same thing in a marriage. If you have a marriage and there is that elephant in the room, to approach that, to talk about that, and to feel into that immediately as quickly as you can will make you more effective, have a better marriage, be happier, be better to each other, be more loving.

If you are willing to embrace the intensity, then you are far more willing to go into the thing that everybody else is avoiding. You will be more effective at it.

Brett: That makes a lot of sense. Coming back to joy, I was combining with increased sensitivity as a category, but then you say there is something more to it. What is that?

Joe: I think my most repeated phrase is this phrase that says joy is the matriarch of a family of emotions, and she won’t come into a house where her children aren’t welcome. Somebody else once told me it was like you have one or two docks in your port and one emotion can be there at a time. If you are not fluid, then joy never has a place to come and park. That’s what I am speaking to. I am basically speaking to the fact that if you embrace the intensity and don’t repress it, then you don’t get this low level of the unfelt emotions sitting in your life all the time. Then you are moving in your natural state, which is joyful and loving.

I see this all the time. It is why when people have these big emotional movements, they feel all this relief. They feel all this joy in the short term, but it is also long-term, people who are joyful are people who can cry easily. People who are joyful are people who are very fluid with their frustration and anger, and who can let their fear move through them very quickly. It is not people who have repressed the fear.

We can all close our eyes and think about that person repressing the fear. They are kind of anxious all the time. They are not joyful. That person who is repressing their anger is kind of depressed or they are angry all the time, depending on how they repress it. If they repress it by, “Er, er, er,” or if they repress it by, “I am such a bad person.”, either way, or the people who repress sadness all the time. That need for perfection and that rigidity that happens in their system and their whole body. Joy just happens naturally when everything else is moving fluidly.

Brett: It seems like everything happens more fluidly if everything is moving fluidly in your life, whether it is joy or motivation or connection or swiftly moving on from something that’s not working.

Joe: Definitely, as compared to not feeling it and trying to manage it all the time. There is this great saying I learned in venture capital, which is, the amount of effort it takes to create a deal is the amount of effort you need to maintain it. Basically, if you have to do a whole bunch of work to get the deal done, then you are going to have to do a whole bunch of work to make the deal successful.

Brett: That’s so true.

Joe: It’s so true, not just in venture but in creating a project in a company, and similarly, if you have all this effort to keep your emotions in line and in check and you have to hold muscularly and emotionally and mentally, that’s a lot of effort being put towards something that isn’t effective and that isn’t joyful.

Brett: I’m curious to get three integration questions from you that can help people recognize, if they are bracing or embracing their intensity or creating it or embracing it.

Joe: The best one is: Right now, are you bracing or embracing? Are you embracing or bracing? That’s a great question. I ask myself that question. There was a time I asked myself that question 10 times a day. It was like this beautiful question that I just loved asking myself.

Another great integration question would be: Go and feel. Go and have a moment of feeling and experience that you don’t want to feel. Have the feeling of abandonment and sit with it a good 10 or 15 minutes. Then ask yourself: What was so bad about that? What made it, that you didn’t get destroyed by it? Have the experience that you have been avoiding your whole life and then ask yourself what made it that I could survive that. What made it that I possibly even feel better after I have felt it? That’s another great way to integrate this way.

A third way to integrate the work, I would say: What are the emotions? I think feeling them more than labeling them would be good, but what are the emotions that I don’t want to feel that send me into my bad habits? Those would be the three.

Brett: Beautiful. Thank you, Joe.

Joe: Thank you, Brett. Good to talk to you again.

Brett: Yeah, you too.

Joe: I am going to finish packing for the road trip. Our truck is halfway packed.

Brett: Get to it.

Thanks for listening to The Art of Accomplishment.  If you enjoyed what you heard today, please subscribe & rate us in your podcast app. We would love your feedback, so feel free to send us questions and comments. To reach out to us, join our newsletter, or check out our courses at


Antonio Damasio, Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain,

Episode 12: Feel over Figure,

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