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Excellence and Expertise

Feel lost? How to find your feel for life

How we lost the inner experience of being human and how it can be found again

Excellence and Expertise

Feel lost? How to find your feel for life

What happens when we prioritize consumerism and conformity over freedom and exploration? Or when we exploit feelings and emotions to create artificial wants and desires? On this episode, Miami University associate professor Jay Kimiecik discusses how we lost the inner experience of being human and how it can be found again.

To learn more, check out the new book, Exploring the Concept of Feel for Wellbeing and Performance.

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Read the transcript

James Loy [00:00:00] The views and opinions expressed in this podcast by the hosts and guests may or may not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Miami University. This is reframe the podcast about building a better society by embracing fresh perspectives and new ideas from the campus of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. There are so many common words and sentiments that we throw around every day and without ever really stopping to think through what they mean or the impact they can have on our lives. Take words like feel and feelings, for example, or what we want versus what we may actually like. And the seemingly insignificant differences between the two, which may not be so insignificant, at least not to Miami University Associate Professor Jay Kimiecik. In the new book "Exploring the Concept of Feel for Well-being and Performance," dr. Kimiecik, along with coauthor Doug Newburg, take a groundbreaking look into this often used and often misunderstood word.

Jay Kimiecik [00:00:59] The book really is about the inner experience of being human and how it's been forgotten about how we lost it. What we can do about it, basically.

James Loy [00:01:07] The book also combines work in neuroscience, linguistics, philosophy and psychology with case studies and real world examples to explore how aspects of modern society can leave many of us feeling simply lost. Because what happens when we prioritize consumerism and conformity over freedom and exploration, when we exploit feelings and emotions to create artificial wants and desires, or when our ideas of success ignore individual growth and personal meaning in favor of quantifiable measurements of productivity and acquisition?

Jay Kimiecik [00:01:40] What's the one area of our life in which mental health issues have risen dramatically over the last number of years? It's in young people. They are really being pummeled by a society that says in order to be successful, you have to do this, this, this and this. And there's absolutely no freedom to explore what you like. The inner experience, the subjective experience which we say is captured by feel has to be brought front and center if we're going to address some of these serious issues.

James Loy [00:02:12] And these issues are affecting more than just young people and students, adults, children, working professionals are all feeling increasingly worn down and disconnected. But even putting mental health aside, understanding feel can also help leaders and athletes and musicians and people from all walks of life improve their performance, health and well-being. So how did we lose this connection to some of the most important parts of being human? What can we do about it? How are elephants involved somehow? We'll get to that. And what does it all have to do with this curious difference between feel and feelings? Well, let's start there.

Jay Kimiecik [00:02:58] Feel really is the experience. So everything else is second order reality, thoughts, feelings. Those are images of experience, but feel is the experience. So feelings is really just the feelings you have about something. So for like with basketball, let's say I can have feelings about playing basketball like my coach stinks or I like my coach or I like my teammates or whatever. I mean, those are feelings about something. But feel is the experience with playing basketball. And you need freedom to develop that feel because it takes trial and error, it takes experimentation, it takes like Steph Curry, I mean, for him to become a great three point shooter, you know, best shooter in in the history of the NBA. He talks about how he just messes around and shoots half court shots. And it's the feel of that shot that has helped him rise to being the best ever. And that's just sport is one example. But there's examples of in medicine and other areas. But this feelings and feel distinction is that we have a lot of people walking around that are being guided by their feelings about stuff rather than actually having the real experience of feel.

James Loy [00:04:18] Yeah, sports are a great example, but I think a lot of people who aren't athletes or don't play sports would probably recognize this in their own lives in lots of ways too, I think. And the example that you bring up early in the book that I like was your coauthor driving with his mother in the car, right where he was anxious about worrying her, you know, driving... May be ... she's getting older, maybe not as proficient as it used to be. And he's starting to work himself up into a frenzy. But then he has to stop and catch himself and realize, no, these are just my feelings. You know, it's not the actual experience. If I stop and think about the actual experience, the feel of the drive, everything is just fine.

Jay Kimiecik [00:04:53] Yeah. And you know, his mom saying, Doug, I'm a very good driver. This happens all over the case in education, where if students are continually told that to be successful, you have to do this, this and this. They have all these feelings about education, but they have no feel for the actual "What does it feel like to really learn something?" Because they're always worried about what they have to do in order to get to this point, which they've been told by parents and whoever. Right. That this is what you need to do. So that's full of feelings. But the feel of actually experiencing, well, how would I know that I might like physical therapy? How do I know that I might like being a physician assistant or a nutritionist or whatever? Like that takes a lot of immersion in the experience. So there's a huge difference between feelings and feel. And right now we have a culture that's full of feelings. If you don't have a deep kind of feel of your own experience, you're at the whim and mercy of feelings all the time. So in the end, who we are is based on really how we feel things and how we live. If we're not good at who we are, then there's going to be a huge gap between who we are and how we live. Instead of them being synchronous, like I experienced my authentic self and then I go out and live in that way. But if you have really no notion of who you are because you haven't really developed your own skill of feel, then how you end up living is going to be really determined by other entities.

James Loy [00:06:37] So it's almost like we've emphasized or prioritized feeling so much that they've completely taken over. And not that the feelings are bad. It's just that they've driven us for so long that we've almost forgotten that there's another way to live.

Jay Kimiecik [00:06:50] I would say, on the money with that. Yes.

James Loy [00:06:59] This shift in perspective might be able to help people that may sense of lack of belonging or feel like an outsider, or for those who may already practice mindfulness or yoga or gratitude or anything and everything that you're quote unquote supposed to do and still wonder what's wrong with me? For many of us, this may in part stem from a lack of feel which can lead to an underdeveloped ability to distinguish between the things we may want in life versus the things we may actually like about life. And this is another important distinction between two seemingly related yet deceptively different concepts.

Jay Kimiecik [00:07:34] These words, you know, want and feel and like they're very small words, but they are some of the most complex words that you'll ever run across. 

James Loy [00:07:44] It may seem strange to consider, but how do you know what you may truly like versus what you may simply want? Is it because you've experienced the freedom to explore, to wonder, and to wonder on your own, to discover what you may innately like or even love? Have those passions blossomed organically through a journey of personal self-discovery? Or have various social mechanisms and established conventions like cultural expectations or decades of clever advertising just convinced you that you should want to acquire certain items or achieve certain goals or to like certain things. For all its advancements and benefits, modern society still presents plenty of equally problematic challenges, especially to our mental health and well-being. For one, it's led to the rise of a powerful and omnipresent marketing society that can easily prey on our feelings to create artificial wants and desires that can conjure up unrealistic standards or fears of being judged by others, or even idealistic illusions of what happiness or achievement are supposed to mean. And if you've never developed the ability to feel which can help you distinguish between what you want versus what you may actually like, if that feel is minimized ...

Jay Kimiecik [00:08:56] Then we have no defense. The marketing society is based on taking advantage of our thoughts and feelings.

James Loy [00:09:04] So that we lose feel? Like we used to have it and then we lost it. And now maybe we're now slowly recognizing the absence of it? Or is this somehow like an entirely new phenomena?

Jay Kimiecik [00:09:14] We started to get a culture and society that focused on wanting things. In that process -- so what we just talked about in terms of feelings. In that process feel was relegated to the back seat and there was more of this splitting up between who we are and how we live. And now, unless we do some things, it's going to keep going. So some of the issues that people are dealing with in our society at the moment relating to mental health, physical health. Unless we can bring that back together, those issues are going to continue to escalate in various ways and shapes and forms. So to answer your question, as humans, we had feel. We have it, and then we created a culture that seems to go against the very essence of the experience of being human. It's a really challenging issue. Many people have written about, you know, marketing, society and consumer culture and have observed it in some way. But what I don't think they're really looking at close enough is the inner experience is being stifled by the marketing society. So when students come into my classes, they're like, Oh, I'm majoring in this because, well, my parents said, do this, and, you know, I want to make money. And then they wonder why they're feeling a certain way or feeling out of sorts. So the marketing society has restricted us by telling us that what we tell you what you want is really the most important thing and they really don't care about what we like. In fact, they don't really want us to become good at liking because if they can get us on the "want," they'll just keep coming up with more and more things to convince us of what we want. And so we'll keep buying stuff. There's a lot of good parts to that, but it's really at the detriment of being able to discover your expressive self or your authentic self unless you can feel.

James Loy [00:11:22] It's almost like we've been told for so long. And I don't even mean like in our own lives, like generationally speaking, of what we should want, that we've almost replaced that in our own brain and started believing that that is what we actually want. But we've really just been told that we want that, and that's how we've lost the distinction between what we actually like.

Jay Kimiecik [00:11:40] As you can see, this can get pretty complex.

James Loy [00:11:43] Yeah, and it seems to perfectly represent a lot of the modern challenges we see with social media, right? These unrealistic or idealized versions or snapshots of people's lives. You know, they say it's ... social media is people's demo reel. You're comparing their demo reel to your day to day existence. And we just feel like my life doesn't compare to theirs. How come I'm not all these wonderful vacations or have these happy relationships? And it just leads us down this rabbit hole of feeling less than or not doing it right somehow. You know, back to that disconnect.

Jay Kimiecik [00:12:14] Yeah. I mean, think about FOMO or a fear of missing out. That's all driven by feelings about something. But it really has very little to do with who you are, really, as a person. So, you know, we just have a lot of people walking around where we really don't know who we are. We have to get better at it and we have to try to begin to structure environments that give people permission to feel free to discover those things. Now, I would like to think that everyone has permission to do that. But again, if you're a young person -- I don't want this to just be focused on young people, but it's who I am around -- their feelings would lead me to believe that they don't think they have freedom. They might tell you that they do. But in reading their writings and having discussions in class, they are being driven by "a do this so that you can do that, so that you can do this, so you can do that, so you can get to this point." It's all future oriented, so I have to work my butt off to get them to focus on the present and the experience, so they can feel something, so that they might get an "aha." So I give them the permission based on the structure of the environment to feel.

James Loy [00:13:34] Ultimately Kimiecik and Newburg say our survival and our thrival, both personally and collectively, may depend on our ability to understand these distinctions between want and like, and why feelings may be overpowering our feel. But how do we do that? What can we do about it? And where do we even begin? In the book, the authors do present many examples and case studies and stories, both metaphorical and biographical, from authors and athletes and more who have found success by approaching life in this way. But for now, one example can be found in the elephant metaphor. There are actually a surprising amount of research-backed similarities between humans and elephants. Elephants, for example, are highly intelligent and social, with at least some degree of self-awareness. And to the best of our understanding, at least, elephants also possess an ability to feel deeply. They play, they bond, they seek social status. They even grieve the death of one another. So all of these factors, in addition to, of course, just their sheer size and mass, make the experience of riding an elephant much different than, say, riding a horse or a camel. It's complete folly to simply try and overpower an elephant through sheer strength or force of will, and just letting an elephant roam freely will be unproductive and maybe even dangerous. Instead, both the rider and the elephant must find a feel for the flow of movement to guide and influence the way forward. There needs to be balance between the rider and the elephants, between feelings and feel.

Jay Kimiecik [00:15:05] As humans, we are designed to be both kind of rider and elephant. So feel and feelings are designed to be together. We have feelings for a reason. We have emotions for a reason. We have feel for a reason. And if you were just guided by feel all the time, you would probably be impulsive, for you would be all over the place. And if you're just guided by feelings, you're just always going to be anxious or nervous or stressed or whatever about what might happen or what occurred in the past. And you can never really bring it together. 

James Loy [00:15:40] So where do we go from here? Do you have any actionable steps for anyone who may want to get started right away? Just saying like, what do I do?

Jay Kimiecik [00:15:49] If you feel like you're out of sorts, if you feel like I've done what I was supposed to do, it doesn't feel how I thought it would and I don't know what to do about it. That means you should explore a little bit more of feel in your life. So when do I feel free? You could start with that. When do I feel free? What do I like and how do I know it? How do I want to feel today? Instead of waking up saying, What do I have to do today? Now, again, that might seem like a simple thing, but if you try it, which I have, it kind of changes your orientation as you get going in the course of your day. So in the course of their day, are there moments where you feel like, Oh, this does seem kind of nice, this does seem like a rhythm. Pay attention to that. That's giving you clues about how you might want to feel. The other thing is, look, if you're talking about there's the game, like we're all kind of somewhat playing the game, right? Like, I want people to like me. I want to do well. I want to be successful. I'm not against that. But within that, how can you play your own game that's feel driven? So we sometimes call that play the game with no name, like it doesn't have a name until you experience it, right? So there may be ways that even within kind of more of a marketing society, that there certainly are people who have figured out how to have a fulfilling kind of feel in their life. So, you know, if you're stuck, step off the path that significant others have told you that you should be on. And if you're feeling kind of anxious or blasé about that, step off the path. Sometimes -- and this may be harsh, not for everyone -- but sometimes in life you just got to let go. If you're hanging on to stuff and metaphorically, like if you're hanging on to these feelings and they're just really not getting you where you want to go. And I know I'm sounding self-help ish now, but just let go. For many people, it's just a matter of letting go.

James Loy [00:17:53] It makes me think of how we're so often the architects of our own prisons. Right. And you mentioned college students a lot. Just because of the nature of your role as a university professor. But it's so applicable to everyone. I can think of so many friends, family members, just people I know who are always striving for that next thing, right, whether it's a material possession or the next promotion to get to the next job, to get to the next level because the neighbors have it, or society says you should or whatever, and on and on and on, and they're imprisoned on that same path as well.

Jay Kimiecik [00:18:21] I remember ... It sticks in my head. A student in one of my classes, wrote something where it said, We're just waiting to be happy. That one really got me. I mean, you're waiting to be happy. So think about what your point is. Is that: do you think that's going to end in college? No. And again, there are a number of people who have written about these kinds of things, obviously, but I don't think they've really appreciated the power of ignoring feel in all of that. So to conclude. Feel is the experience. Everything else is about the experience. That's the challenge facing us. And that's why Exploring the Concept of Feel for Well-being and Performance was written.

James Loy [00:19:10] Jay Kimiecik is an associate professor of kinesiology at Miami University, and he, along with Doug Newburg, are the authors of the new book Exploring the Concept of Feel for Well-Being and Performance, which is available now. And this is the Reframe podcast. Thank you so much for listening. Many more episodes are available right now wherever podcasts are found.