3 Exercises To Practice Emotional Awareness

Chris and I are in the business of helping you get emotionally fit. 

We built The Unshakable Man because we know that men can be better partners, brothers, fathers, friends, coworkers, and leaders when we learn how to slow down and open up. Men need help!

And we’re here to teach you how to take emotional reps.

So... if you’re like Max <read about Max here.> and you haven’t practiced emotional awareness, ever. 

Or you’re like Chris and I who have been doing men’s work for several years.

Or you’re like Dan Doty and Owen Marcus who have been doing men’s work for decades.

This work is for you.

It doesn’t matter where you fall in the emotionally literate spectrum, every man needs to practice taking emotional reps, daily. This is the work.

Athletes dedicate so much time and energy into practicing their sport. The Steph Currys and Tom Bradys didn’t just pop out of the womb firing 3’s and hail-marying touchdowns. They practiced. And practiced. And practiced. In fact, they were super underdogs before they became super athletes.

We, men, are underdogs when it comes to emotional fitness. But don’t worry, we’re here to support you in your emotional growth.

At The Unshakable Man, we follow the R.O.C. formula.  R.O.C. was introduced to us by our brothers over at EVRYMAN. And it is what we use to help men go deeper into their emotions in our men’s groups and retreats.

It’s simple:

  • R: Relax your body with your breath.

  • O: Open up your heart.

  • C: Connect to the emotions, feelings, and sensations you are feeling.

R.O.C. is the foundation of this work. And we use it daily. 

Here are the 3 most important exercises to practice emotional awareness and build your emotional intelligence:

1. Checking-In

In our men’s groups we have a round of 30-second check-ins. During these check-ins, men are asked to share the physical sensations and emotions they feel in the present moment without diminishing or dismissing what they feel with modifiers. It sounds simple… because it is simple. And it is super effective.

Chris and I use this exercise before we have business meetings. And we do it in our daily practice. 

Start with R.O.C.

First, close your eyes and take 5 deep belly breaths--inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth. After your 5th exhale, return your breathing back to it’s natural breathing rhythm--inhale through the nose and exhale through the nose. 

As you breathe, notice the different physical sensations and tensions you feel in your body. And start to label and name these sensations.

Maybe your hands are clammy, feet are cold, and you feel a pressure on your chest. Or maybe there’s a sharp pain in your right shoulder blade, fingers are tingling, and legs are relaxed. Or maybe your face and shoulders are tense and your stomach is sucked in.

After you’ve labeled and named the physical sensations, do your best to try to name the emotions you are feeling right now. Remember, you’re the expert of your emotions. Only you can say how you feel.

Also, it’s ok if you can’t name the emotion. Just notice and acknowledge that you are feeling something.

Here are a few emotions to help build your emotional vocabulary: joy, excitement, awe, disgust, surprise, anger, frustration, shame, fear, elation, elevation, sadness, grief, embarrassment, irritation, calmness, grounded, steadiness, frantic, scared.

And that’s it! You just did a check-in. This simple practice improves your emotional awareness and it makes you more emotionally intelligent.

2. Observe your feelings without trying to fix them.

This is the same as being emotionally agile. (See what is emotional awareness)

Men have been taught to be fixers. We problem solve and make things work.

But when it comes to our emotions and feelings, we don’t always need to fix them. Rather, we just need to allow them to be.

So now that you’ve practiced a check-in and you’ve labeled your feelings, you might be wondering what to do with them…

And the answer to that sounds simple, but in practice, might be difficult.

You allow yourself to just be. Have you ever heard someone say, “just sit with your emotions”?

That means to allow these emotions to pass through you. Ignoring emotions and distracting yourself from feeling an emotion only suppresses the emotion.

So we practice observing our emotions as if they were objects outside of us.

Imagine that you’re feeling anger and frustration. And imagine that that anger and frustration are two blue blobs of goo that float in front of you. They’re both the size of a tennis ball and if you touched them, they would feel smooth and cold. 

Go ahead… I’ll give you a few seconds to imagine this.

Now imagine the blob on the left represents your anger. And the blob on the right represents your frustration.

These blobs of emotions are not you. They are parts of you. And they do not define you.

All you need to imagine are those blobs outside of you. Sometimes they’re in front of you. Sometimes they’re next to you. And sometimes you can’t even see them.

As you move through the day, you might notice the anger blob trying to distract you from your task. Perhaps someone says something that brings that anger back out in front of you. Or you see a billboard that reminds you of that anger. 

And that’s ok. Just observe, name/label, and acknowledge that they’re there.

That’s it? Yes, that’s it... for now.

Soon those blobs of anger and frustration get smaller and smaller. And finally, they disappear.

3. Ask what, not why.

You just learned how to check-in with your body and emotions. And you’ve learned to label what you’re feeling. You also learned how to sit with and observe your emotions.

Now let’s go a little deeper.

After you’ve labeled your emotions, you’ve given yourself time to sit with them, and your nervous system is back to neutral, you can now start to reflect and gain more information about these feelings. 


For guys that are new to this work, it might not be productive to practice this last exercise in the heat of the moment. It’s way more constructive to practice this several hours or even a few days after being in conflict.

When our nervous system is activated and we’re in fight, flight, or freeze mode, we’re not in the right mindset to think critically. Give yourself some time to calm down.

Ok. So you’re calm. Your nervous system is back. You’re not ruminating on what you should’ve, could’ve, would’ve done or said if they had done this or that. And you’re ready to learn about your actions and reactions.


Your first instinct might be to ask, “why the hell did I yell back at them?” or “why did that make me so frustrated?”

Great instinct. 

However, asking yourself a “why” question might lead you down a path to shame and guilt. When we ask “why” questions, we’re often asking for a reason or cause for that behavior. They also show us our limitations, bring up negative emotions, and can trap us in our past.

Think about the last time someone asked you a “why” question. 

How did you respond?

When I get asked a “why” question, I either get stuck and contemplate forever, editing my words so they come out right or I ramble on and on, processing as I think out loud, while trying my best to land on something that sounds a little right. Do you have a similar response?

  • “What” questions are different and more powerful.

  • “What made me angry?” is different from “Why the hell did I yell back at them?”

  • “What was I frustrated about?” is different from “Why did that make me so frustrated?”

  • “What” questions help us see what’s possible, they keep us curious, and help us create a productive, better future.

Here. Try these out the next time your ready to do some deep reflection:

  • What was I feeling?

  • What made me feel that way?

  • What was I embarrassed about?

  • What am I responsible for?

  • What’s important for me to learn?

  • What are my needs?

  • What are my wants?

  • What wasn’t being heard?

  • What wasn’t being said?

  • What triggered that outburst?

  • What can I do differently next time?

BOOM! You just did several emotional reps. And your EQ score just went up a couple notches.

Congratulations. Celebrate. You’ve started the work.

We want to continue to help you on this emotional fitness journey. 

We just threw a ton of information at you. It’s normal if you feel confused. Let’s chat, we can bring clarity to your life.

And if you want help with these exercises, set up some time to talk with us.

We’re here to help.