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David Pace 0:01

Hi. My name’s David Pace,


Alex Barilec 0:03

And I’m Alex Barilec, and this is Pace Yourself, the University of Utah College of Science Podcast on Wellness. 


David Pace 0:10

And today, well, hello. First off, nice to see you. So very quickly today, we’re going to talk about emotional wellness and I looked up a good definition of that that I really liked and I thought I’d share that with everybody, our listeners. And that is it’s an awareness, understanding and acceptance of our feelings and our ability to manage effectively through challenges and change. That comes from the National Center for Emotional Wellness. So, Alex, how are you feeling today? 


Alex Barilec 0:45

You know, I’m going to be honest with you, David. I’m feeling a little nervous. This is a topic that is really interesting to me, but it’s really depthful. And as I was thinking about and preparing for this, I was getting a little bit worried that I didn’t want to miss something and I wanted to make sure that all of our listeners really got a value from it. And the reason I’m sharing this to start is because what maybe I hope to model and share through this conversation is that we can confront the things in our lives that scare us and we can push through them. And so I want people to know up front that like, hey, this makes me a little bit nervous, but I’m going to do this anyways. 


David Pace 1:20

You don’t look nervous. 


Alex Barilec 1:22

How are you feeling? 


David Pace 1:24

I’m actually feeling pretty good today. I mean, it’s, you know, just having to think about this has kind of put my mind into, you know, the notion of doing kind of a scan of my mental and emotional self. So, yeah, I think that it’s probably been good for me just to realize that we’re going to be talking about this, which we are right now. And it made me question a lot of the things that I do and don’t do that really inform my emotional landscape. And we’re going to be talking about those different components. I think you’ve got some ideas if you want to start out. 


Alex Barilec 2:05

Yeah, let’s do that. So when we start talking about emotions and feelings, sometimes we start to get into this world where people are like, Well, what exactly are those things? How do we define them and distinguish the difference between them? So I like to think of emotions as conscious mental reactions that are to our subjective experience, whereas feelings come from our body. So feelings are a part of emotions, but they’re kind of that like physical perception that’s always taking place in our body, but it’s not an emotion unto itself. It’s like a subpart of emotions, and we can group those two together when we talk about emotional wellness. And I think that the area that’s really growing today in a lot of areas is this idea of emotional intelligence. 


David Pace 2:51

As opposed to just, you know, intellectual or mental or those tests that we use to take. 


Alex Barilec 2:57

Those IQ tests. Right. For which for decades were kind of the standard of competence in a lot of different areas, and they’re still super useful. But emotional intelligence in the past few decades has risen to be on par. Some people would even say it’s more important in a lot of areas. But what is emotional intelligence comprise? So there’s five areas of emotional intelligence that we’re going to go through right now. And then we’re going to kind of talk about some tools and some ideas about how we practice them in our life and ways in which you can develop those. So the five areas of emotional intelligence are self-awareness, empathy, motivation, self-regulation and social skills. 


David Pace 3:42

All right. We got a plan. We’re going to talk about all five of those. One, two, three, four, five. Yeah, there are five. 


Alex Barilec 3:50

And there’s this area that you and I were talking about offline that relates to emotional intelligence that I kind of termed faux self-care, if you will. And I’ve seen the word toxic positivity thrown around and that really stood out to you. What stood out to you about that term? 


David Pace 4:08

Toxic positivity? I like that term because I think that I’m guilty of that often and maybe we all are. And I guess the way I think about toxic positivity is when we are determined to perform our life rather than actually live it. And so for me, I mean, we all suffer from that, if you want to call it that, you say, Hi, how you doing? And what are you going to say? Well, do you have 15 minutes, you know, and then and then you explore that. No, we just turn around, say, hey, doing great, you know, that sort of thing. So that’s fairly common. That’s social interaction. Right. But I think that when you’re lying to yourself about how you really feel and you’re performing positivity for any number of reasons, maybe you’re scared that people will judge you if you acknowledge in yourself even that you’re feeling kind of bad or ambivalent, then that can be an issue. And I think that it can also culturally and collectively be an issue When we do that, when we perform our lives for each other in such a way that, you know, it’s out of a movie or something really bad movie most of the time. Hallmark Hall of Fame movie. 


Alex Barilec 5:28

Yeah, those are. 


David Pace 5:30

Is that what you think about toxic positivity? 


Alex Barilec 5:33

Yeah, I think that I would totally agree with that definition. And I think for me, when I think about kind of like suppressing or pushing those things down, like I think that they have to go somewhere and, you know, I’ve spent periods of my life, particularly through undergrad and through my early twenties, I found myself just leaning into that because that was what you know, what I was taught and this is something that like culturally is really, really common. And as I was studying, you know, business management, really early on I learned that it was not super interesting to me. I was way more interested in psychology and wellbeing. But I, you know, I put my happy face on and I and I kept marching along until it didn’t work for me anymore. And these ideas and these interests that I had been kind of ignoring started to show up in ways of me feeling really dissatisfied or in despair or really unhappy with where I was at in my life. And I think that the highest highs in our life, we also have to have the courage to explore those lowest of lows. I think this toxic positivity idea thinks that we shouldn’t explore those. But the truth is, many people look back on really challenging experiences in their life and they think, Wow, I learned so much from that. I grew so much like this period that I’m talking about, you know, meandering through my early career and not enjoying my early field of study in business management. I learned so much about myself from the really, really dark, challenging periods of my life, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. 


David Pace 7:15

Right? It’s kind of the notion that I’m grateful for the experience that I’d rather not have had. You know, I think we all look back on that, and I think that’s a healthy thing, actually, because reflecting back on and maybe that’s one of the tools that we can use is self-reflection. You talked about the feelings that you had, which are rooted in your body and that maybe well, not maybe, but is definitely a component of what we are calling emotion or our emotional landscape. So when you said that if you stuff the things that it ends up coming up somewhere else, I am, I can personally testify to that happening. And sometimes we don’t even know it’s happening. Like, why are we kicking the dog when we go home or snapping at our spouse? So, yeah, I mean, I think that this whole notion of I like to say that, for example, I grew up in a household and to be nice was the ultimate value. There was no excuse not to be nice. And it was only until much later that I realized that there’s a big difference between, you know, language matters, right? Big difference between being nice and being kind. I experienced nice people as being some of the most cruel people in my life. And so I really had to make a distinction. And that’s where the self-reflection, I think, comes in. 


Alex Barilec 8:52

Yeah, I think self-reflection is when we think about tools to develop our emotional intelligence. That reflection can look like a lot of different ways. It can look like, you know, taking some time to just walk and be with our thoughts. But if we look at those, five pillars, it can also look like self-awareness and paying attention to what’s coming up in my body right now. So you talked about I can attest to those feelings getting stuck in certain places. And for me, they always get stuck in my throat. My throat gets really tight and I get a little bit, like, just unsure about my voice. And there’s a whole host of things. 


David Pace 9:29

That’s not happening right now, I don’t think.


Alex Barilec 9:31

Actually, I feel great, but the tool that I have used that has been very helpful to just pay attention to when that’s coming up is different types of mindfulness meditation. And, you know, one of the first ways to think about doing that is just paying attention to the sensations in our body and just being with them as a way to help you become in tune with what is taking place for you at this moment. And I think the underlying tool and value of mindfulness meditation when it comes to emotional intelligence is what it’s all about, is becoming friends with yourself. It’s really at the root is taking this kind curious approach to who you are in the same way that you would take that approach with people that you love and care about. And for me, that’s just been so helpful. Like when my throat I’m grateful that it’s not like that right now. But when it does get tight, I don’t get judgmental towards myself or I don’t, you know, start telling my stories like, Oh, you’re not good enough. That’s why you’re climbing up. It’s like, this is interesting. What’s going on? Yeah. What do you think when you think about tools to help you develop emotional intelligence? 


David Pace 10:39

Well, to piggyback on what you were just saying, I think Brené Brown is one of our touch points in in this conversation. We both are quite fond of her work. And I think that she makes the important point that if you don’t have empathy for yourself, then you can’t be empathetic to others. Really, it starts with being able to exactly what you say, kind of have a sense of where you are in the moment emotionally and in your body, which is all connected, lest we forget. And that you have to have some kind of a compassion for yourself and empathy for yourself first, in order for you to see yourself in other people and vice versa for other people to see themselves in you. So yeah, I think empathy starts with yourself and I think motivation and self regulation, those other and social skills that you are talking about as being part of emotional intelligence, it’s kind of a hand in the glove thing. So yeah, I’d like you to talk about motivation. I’m going to put you on the spot. What does that mean? 


Alex Barilec 11:49

Yeah. So when I think of motivation, the idea that comes to mind is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. And I’ll tell you how this comes across, so something that is really interesting about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs that people are very familiar with is it’s structured in a pyramid, as if getting to the top of the pyramid is like the goal in life. If you get there, you’ve won. The interesting part about that is and I learned this from a gentleman named Scott Perry Kaufman. Maslow never put his work in the pyramid. 


David Pace 12:25

No kidding. 


Alex Barilec 12:25

It was always sort of like diffuse and managers in corporations in like the seventies. 


David Pace 12:32

Those managers in corporations. 


Alex Barilec 12:34

They wanted to make it look pretty in a spreadsheet or, you know, in a meeting. And so they just put it into this pyramid. 


David Pace 12:40



Alex Barilec 12:40

And, you know, we started to get this idea that like motivation in, like moving toward something was to aim at the top of the pyramid and what I love that Scott does is he reframes that and he says, you know, life is actually like an adventure. We’re always growing, we’re always changing, and we’re always moving in a new direction. We’re not static like a pyramid. So he reframes that into a sailboat. I love that. 


David Pace 13:04

That is great. So we’re talking about self-actualization, right? Wasn’t that the ultimate goal? 


Alex Barilec 13:11

That is the ultimate goal, I think in the pyramid. But I think what I like that Scott has done is in reframing it into a sailboat, it’s less about getting to the top of the pyramid and it’s more about being able to weather the storms that come your way, right? So when we think of a boat, the hull of the boat is safety, it’s connection and it’s self-esteem. Okay? We need those three areas to be able to weather, you know, even the smallest lake. 


David Pace 13:40

It’s ballast. 


Alex Barilec 13:42

Like if we want to go out on the Pine View Reservoir, we need that. But if we want to go out in the Pacific Ocean, we’re going to need something bigger. We’re going to need a sail. And in his model, that sail comprises exploration, love and purpose, which are like those higher levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Okay, so to bring this back to motivation, I think that when I find myself feeling not motivated or I find myself, you know, emotionally challenged, I do a pulse check of these six aspects. And how is my boat doing? Like, do I have holes in my hull? Am I not connected to myself, to my community, to, you know, nature, to my wife? And so I use that as a barometer, if you will. And I just think it’s more active and powerful than the static pyramid. 


David Pace 14:30

So growth then is a direction not a destination. Is that your point or Maslow’s point? 


Alex Barilec 14:37

I think that sums it up perfectly. 


David Pace 14:40

Well that’s because I read it off your notes. 


Congratulations. I just came around to that. So let’s move along from motivation to self-regulation. What do you mean by self-regulation? I mean, I think you’ve answered some of those questions already because of the boat metaphor, but it’s all about self regulation in the sense and I think that’s the danger of this faux, what are we calling it, faux self-care, you know, faux toxic positivity is that you can overregulate, too. And I think what I’m hearing you saying is that, hey, you need to go with the flow a little bit, understanding that this is about managing an ocean, a sea, or maybe just a pond on some days, but you never the less have to manage it. And it’s not about solving anything. It’s not about reaching to the top of that pyramid. Is that what you’re saying? 


Alex Barilec 15:38

Yeah, you said that perfectly. It’s like there’s this really wide spectrum of experiences that we have as humans. Like sometimes they’re really great and positive and they’re, you know, excitable and we’re elated, but sometimes we get angry. Like the thing that makes me so angry is when I stub my toe, I don’t know why, but I get so mad at myself. 


David Pace 15:58

Yeah, What’s that all about? 


Alex Barilec 15:59

It’s like the simplest little thing, like that darn toe. What’s that doing there? What’s that door doing there? And I use that as an example because it’s just like the silliest little thing. But, you know, if we can let ourself be angry about those little things, it’s a part of the emotional experience. And I think that expanding our idea and our capacity to deal with those in small areas allows us to deal with those in big areas, it might be okay to be upset with the way that somebody is talking to you. And I think where self-regulation comes in as being able to be aware of that, but then also letting it pass through and not living in that anger for a period of time because there’s a whole host of, you know, physical, mental, emotional, physiological effects that will come downstream of that. 


David Pace 16:43

I think we have to teach our children that, too. I think that’s what we do when they do step their toe and they kick the dog because they stubbed their toe. I mean, we have to work that through with them and to say, oh, you know, that’s bad behavior. You don’t ever yell or you don’t ever feel this way. That’s not a good message to send even our children or grandchildren, which I’m very cognizant of because I am a grandfather. But we do, we socialize our children. But I wonder if we also overreach in self-regulation and we indoctrinate them in ways that are really damaging in the long run. You know, parents are terrified that their children are going to embarrass them. It’s like, really? Is that your motivation for saying what you’re saying to your child who just dumped her toe? You know, of course she’s going to feel that way, honor it, you know, and then move on and have them, you know, show them how to work through that. I have a question for you because I’m seeing it in the notes. There is a story lurking in you about midlife crisis. And I want to know how midlife crisis plays into this landscape of emotions that we’re all trying to accept, navigate, manage and move through. 


Alex Barilec 18:07

Yeah, it’s such a big term, isn’t it? and even when I wrote it, I think it’s kind of bold. But, you know, the truth is, that’s what brought me to Utah. You know, I had shared a little earlier about how I had studied business management in undergrad, and I’d known deep down that I really was interested in other things, but I just pushed that aside. And I had also had some other ideas of what I wanted to explore professionally And the first few jobs I took. I also, you know, ignored those and found myself in a graduate program that I was kind of just going through the motions of and then I broke up with my girlfriend of like three and a half years. And I was like in my mid-twenties and I had been ignoring my emotional needs or I hadn’t been tending to my sailboat that we’re talking about. Like my hull was. 


David Pace 18:59

You weren’t trimming it very well. 


Alex Barilec 19:01

No, I was just full steam ahead at the front of the ship. But what I wasn’t doing was paying attention to, my safety or the relationships around me. Were they trusting, was I connected to them? And I was just taking on water everywhere. 


David Pace 19:14

I love these nautical themes.


Alex Barilec 19:17

And I decided to abandon ship and I moved out to Utah and I really came here because I needed to take some time and space to build a new ship. And so really, that’s where that story comes from and I think the tool that led me to that was really this budding practice of mindfulness. So the tool that I used was Insight Timer. So if anybody is interested in checking out that. 


David Pace 19:42

You were talking about this, I think yesterday when we were listening to that sleep wellness. 


Alex Barilec 19:46

Yeah, it’s just a great free app that has really robust meditation tools and a whole wide variety of them. And for me at that time, it was my rock, everything around me in my life felt like it was really shaky. And so I started to lean in and to learn a little bit about that practice during that time. And that led me down into a lot of these other tools that we’re talking about. If people want to check out something a little bit more robust, like CBT is cognitive behavioral therapy is something that you can practice with the professional, but it’s also something that you can practice on your own. Some of the insight timer might even have some CBT oriented that it is a- 


David Pace 20:28

Tell us more about CBT, what does it stand for again?


Alex Barilec 20:29

Cognitive behavioral therapy. It’s really a practice to help you step back from your thoughts, from your feelings and your behaviors and just kind of witness them like that. Stubbing your toe thing we’re talking about, rather than being driven by them or being controlled by them. We just take a step back and we start to think and just reflect on what is happening right now for me and. 


David Pace 20:51



Alex Barilec 20:52

And reframing, Yeah. So reframing is like thinking about looking at the world through different lenses. So, you know, you’re wearing a pair of glasses right now and we’re inside. But if you had a pair of sunglasses on, which I’m sure you own, this room would look really differently, right? 


David Pace 21:05

How do I look in these glasses, by the way? 


Alex Barilec 21:07

You look great. 


David Pace 21:08

Be careful, because you might hurt my feelings. I’m sorry, guys. 


Alex Barilec 21:12

You look great. You look better than you would with sunglasses on. You might look too much like a rock star at 10:00 in the morning. 


David Pace 21:19

I don’t think so. 


Alex Barilec 21:19

But we can also borrow other people’s glasses as well, right. And one of the ways you do that is how might this person be feeling in this situation or what might the other person be feeling about the way that I have been showing up? So I just think this idea of reframing as a tool of being mindful is something that is really helpful for us to step back from our emotional reactions and getting hijacked by them. 


David Pace 21:45

Yeah, now I like that and I think that in terms of thinking about different tools, what about therapy? I mean, I know that I have a lot of male friends especially who think that that’s somehow frou frou or woo woo or whatever the phrase is. They’re not going to do that. So maybe therapy isn’t for everyone. I mean, I’ve had therapists that just tanked for me, you know, I think you have to shop around. What’s been your experience with coaching folks into or out of therapy, as the case may be? 


Alex Barilec 22:22

Yeah. So in my work as a life and leadership coach, I’ve worked with a lot of people that have worked with both a coach and a therapist. I’ve worked with both a coach and a therapist. And I think, you know, for for men, it can be really challenging to consider entering into that relationship. And I think you make a really good point. It is a relationship. So finding someone that you trust and that you really like and enjoy their company is super important. But we’re talking about a broad spectrum of wellness, right? We’re using the NIH format of eight areas of wellness, right? And in all of them we can identify professional practitioners that can help us in that area. They’re talk about physical wellness, right? Like trainers at the gym help you with your physical wellness. I think for men, when we talk about financial wellness, it’s really common for guys to talk about the conversations are having with their financial advisor. What one of my goals in my life is to normalize men talking about like, Hey, I also work with somebody on my emotional health and wellness too, and that’s my coach, that’s my therapist. And so maybe this is an opportunity to study, you know, share a little bit about my story and also normalize for people that, hey, you’re doing this in all other areas of your life. This is a foundational pillar that you can’t ignore or you do ignore at your own peril. So it’s something that is growing in awareness, I think, really strong. 


David Pace 23:41

Yeah. It’s not just it’s not just men that struggle with therapy. Therapy. I don’t mean to say that, but my experience with many women is that they’ve had abusive therapists that are can be, you know, And so I think the point that I wanted to make was that you have to shop around on that, just like you do a financial planner or something. 


Alex Barilec 24:06

Totally. Something like when you think about shopping around, you don’t have to go super far. There’s a lot of resources here at the U through the Resiliency Center, through the Huntsman Mental Health Institute. There’s a crisis line here at the U. And the Osher Center for Integrative Health and Peak Fitness and their website have a lot of resources that are available to students, to faculty and staff, like right here in our community. So you don’t have to go far to find these resources. And, you know, hopefully our conversation today serves as a jumping off point for someone out there. Any last thoughts that you have here on emotional wellness?

David Pace 24:43

You know, no, but I’ll probably think about some last thoughts after this is all over because you got the wood burning in me. So anyway, I really appreciate the fact that you have got the kind of expertise from actually actual formal training on this. So basically what you’ve said has inspired me to think that there are really people out there that could help me or help my friends that find themselves in crisis, which always has that emotional component. So, yeah, any last thoughts that you have? I mean, I have a couple of great quotes that we could end with. 


Alex Barilec 25:21

Yeah. Before you share one of those, I think, you know, in all of our episodes, we’re trying to distill this down to make sure that someone and anyone has just something to take with them. If you know, some of these concepts are too heady and the lowest, most effective thing I think we’ve talked about is just approaching yourself with this spirit of friendship and kindness. That’s kind of boils down to all of this emotional oneness. If you can just try that out every day, if you can just find, one moment in your life, in your day to, be kind to yourself, and you can do that for 365 days, your life might just change. 


David Pace 25:57

Yeah, No, I think that’s a really good slogan or tool. I guess it’s not too nautical though. Do you want to sign off with a nautical? So basically what we want to leave our listeners with is and what are we trying to leave them with an oar or a bucket to bail themselves out or. 


Alex Barilec 26:16

Maybe we’re trying to leave them with the awareness that they’re always in motion. Yeah, that they’re always moving, they’re always growing, they’re always developing. And the quote that comes to mind from the Buddha is that your own enemy cannot harm you as much as your own thoughts unguarded. So making sure that we’re tending to our self first to our boat and keeping ourselves afloat is the most important place to begin. 


David Pace 26:43

Yeah. You know, one thing that we haven’t talked about that I would like to end on is a quote from Brené Brown. And it has to do with grief. And we haven’t talked. We didn’t do a deep dive into grief. But, you know, for me, it seems like as I get older, that grief is something that I have to become a friend to because it’s about loss. And as you get older, of course, the ultimate loss is we all know what that’s going to be when we die. But her quote, which I like because it talks about the culture that we live in and this kind of toxic positivity is a part of that culture. She says that we live in a culture where people need us to move through our grief for the sake of their own comfort. But their grief does not have a timeline. And so each of us has to kind of be faced with that motion continual emotion out on the lake that you were talking about. It takes as long as it’s going to take. And I think that you can’t lock that in to Maslow’s, you know, triangle that those corporate people did. But I think the reminder from Brené Brown is that it’s going to take as long as it takes for all of our emotions and all of our feelings and our emotional life is constantly in flux for that reason. 


Alex Barilec 28:15

And when you can start with that, being kind to yourself, what you’re saying is you can extend that to other people as well, right? 


David Pace 28:22

The empathy. 


Alex Barilec 28:23

Hey, that’s beautiful. 


David Pace 28:25

What did you think? Did we do okay? It’s nice to see you


Alex Barilec 28:26

Okay, so to wrap up today, I think so, too. Thanks so much. Nice to see you, too. 


David Pace 28:30

Well, we’ll see you next time.