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Shedding The Masks of Masculinity | Alex Holmes | Better Man Podcast Ep. 021

Shedding The Masks of Masculinity | Alex Holmes | Better Man Podcast Ep. 021

This episode with Alex Holmes discusses how us men can be healthier both mentally and emotionally by understanding the patterns that we engage in as men trying to live up to a certain image of how men are supposed to be in our society.

Men aren’t encouraged to talk about their emotions and vulnerabilities. They’re encouraged to bury them deep inside and “man up.” That mindset could lead to isolation, loneliness, emotional disconnection from loved ones, and all sorts of other problems down the road. 

Today’s guest, Alex Holmes, offers a different, more empowering solution for men around the world. Alex is an award-winning podcaster, mental health coach, and author of the book Time To Talk: How Men Think About Love, Belonging and Connection.

He’s on a mission to tackle the mental health and loneliness epidemic men are going through. That involves opening the door to difficult conversations that many people are afraid to have. 

In this episode, we go over why it’s essential to face your emotions to understand them, lingering myths about masculinity, the mental health challenges men experience today, and so much more.

The Better Man Podcast is an exploration of our health and well-being outside of our physical fitness, exploring and redefining what it means to be better as a man; being the best version of ourselves we can be, while adopting a more comprehensive understanding of our total health and wellness. I hope it inspires you to be better!

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Watch a Clip From Episode 021

Shedding The Masks of Masculinity with Alex Holmes | Ep. 021

Key Takeaways with Alex Holmes

  • To process difficult emotions, you have to express them, not hide them. 
  • Don’t be afraid to share your deepest insecurities with your male friends. Bottling them up can only harm your relationships and your self-esteem.
  • Opening up when you’ve been closed off your whole life isn’t easy. It’s a habit; do it long enough, and it will become second nature.
  • Challenge yourself. Have that uncomfortable conversation; step outside of your (emotional) comfort zone. 
  • It’s OK to push forward as a high-achiever. But you also need to learn when to slow down and reconnect with family and nature.
  • Men constantly change masks according to society’s and other people’s expectations. Do this instead!
  • Look around you. Do you have people in your life who you can trust and call in bad times?

Alex Holmes Notable Quotes

  • That drive is fine. That drive is powerful. That drive is what creates new things and gets you going. But when it’s to the detriment of your physical and emotional self, it’s a problem.” – Alex Holmes
  • Living up to the ideals and ideas of other people is the thing that genuinely kills us in the end because we consistently are striving not for ourselves, but for what other people think of us.” – Alex Holmes
  • Shame is the one thing that really keeps us tethered to this man box of just being the provider, being a tough guy, being all of the things that you saw in the 80s action movies.” – Alex Holmes
  • I think it’s a matter of just saying to ourselves, how do we become the best possible human that we can be? And what is it that is holding me back from doing that?” – Alex Holmes
Episode 021: Shedding The Masks of Masculinity | Alex Holmes – Transcript

Dean Pohlman: Welcome back to the Better Man Podcast. I’m your host, Dean Pohlman. Today, I am joined by Alex Holmes from the Time to Talk project. Alex, thanks for joining me.

Alex Holmes: Thank you so much for inviting me. I appreciate it.

Dean Pohlman: Yeah. So, let’s see where to start here. So, Time to Talk project is a whole thing. You’ve got a podcast, you’ve got a book. It’s a whole movement. I’d love for you to just talk about that a little bit more to just start us off then.

Alex Holmes: All right. Yeah. So, yes, I started that in, well, this year, pretty much. I took a step back from all the multiple things that Time to Talk was coming onto, because I’d written the book called Time to Talk: How Men Think About Love, Belonging and Connection. And then I had a podcast, which is called Time to Talk with Alex Holmes, and then I was doing a lot of conversations around what it means as a process. And I do workshops with young people, especially young boys and men around emotional education, emotional credibility, emotional maturity.

And I just thought, this is a project, this is a whole project that I’m just kind of working towards and doing. So, me and my friend, we got together. He will be coming on as a co-host with me on the Time to Talk podcast. But we got together. We just started thinking about the kind of ways that we can work with what’s going on and just with our shared experiences, both as men and both as people who work in mental health spaces.

And so, the Time to Talk project is a project that works to get conversations at the forefront of men, masculinity, and mental health and just being able to get men together, to be able to talk and have courageous conversations around what matters, especially when it comes to mental health and exploring and explaining emotions, the emotionality, what comes with masculinity, a manhood. To be a man today is a very lonely process. It’s a very lonely experience.

And it could also be argued that it has always been designed to be that way because of individualism. And you need to go be your own mind, you need to go your own way. You’re meant to do all these things that create isolation, disconnection, loneliness, lack of belonging, and all the stuff that I have experienced myself as somebody socialized into this culture in the West, but also just things I’ve observed from my father, from my grandfather, from my uncles, from my great uncles, from my cousins, and friends as well.

We’re just trying to understand that we’ve got all these connections, we’ve got all these people around us, yet the suicide rates are going up and they’re high. The rates of gender-based violence against women and girls and children are prevailing. The substance abuse, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, sex abuse, all of the stuff is happening. Negative portrayals of body image, all of this stuff is going on with men, and it just persistently looks like just a very lonely and disconnected and really challenging place to be right now. So, yeah, so…

Dean Pohlman: So, I’d like to ask you a little bit more about kind of this idea of a mental health crisis for men because I think a lot of men don’t realize that that’s where we are right now. And I’d like you if you could just give a– you talked about it already, but if there’s a few statistics or a few realities that help us understand why men are facing a mental health crisis today.

Alex Holmes: Various reasons, and a lot of the reasons stem from socialization. It stems from the perceived ideas and norms about who men are supposed to be and where they are supposed to stand in society. I think once we start to explore the history of masculinity and where it’s come from and the kind of masculinity that we have today, we can become quite aware of the fact that when it comes to men, it’s very hard for men to shift into change and to move in a direction that is “progressive” and is quite different to the masculinity that we know. And it’s been designed that way.

And as I mentioned earlier, it’s just about the challenges come when men are still feeling it’s challenging to speak about what’s going on with them. They still feel it’s less manly to be able to cry when something is happening with an intensity. They still feel it’s over vulnerable and uncomfortable to have intimate conversations with their friends and feel like it’s really challenging to even have friends.

And what I was finding when I was writing the book was that when a lot of men go into their marriages, typically heterosexual men go into their marriages, they tend to cut off any of the extra-familial relationships. So, there’s this whole culture of, bro, we’re losing you. You’re not a family man. You’re not with the wife. You’re away from us now. You’ve kind of decided that you’re going to leave the friendship group because you’re going to get married, and that’s your thing. And that’s of a very particular generation. And that seems to be a very common thing.

And then you become so absorbed, you can tell me if this is true in your experience. You become so I was older of the family, your dad in the family, you’re looking after the house, you look after the wife, you’re looking after the kids. And everything becomes about that nucleus. And then when do you get the opportunity to step out and say, I’m going to go and just hang with my friends. I’m going to go and just be with my community of guys who may be single, who may be married, who may be divorced, who may be widowed, who maybe whatever, but when am I going to get the opportunity to do that?

And so then, yes, I found that that was really something about maintaining and creating the social connections because when it becomes this thing of just I’m at home, I’m looking after my kid, I’m at work looking after work. Then I’ve got my work friends or even if you’re running a business, you’re trying to build that so that you can survive the rest of winter and that has all of this stuff. And then also, another thing I found just additionally was that…

Dean Pohlman: Well, I’d love to speak to that, if you don’t mind.

Alex Holmes: Yeah, I just wanted to add to the last little bit was that, you may be able to add on to is that when it comes to the wives in the relationship, I want to ask you, do you believe that women hold the emotional relationships of the family? Is it then, I guess, the grandparents together? Is it them that brings the cousins over? Is it them that brings the godparents and the godchildren and X, Y, Z when it comes to a party? Let me know.

Dean Pohlman: Yeah, I mean, so there’s a few things there. So, first off, yeah, I think I came from a family, I think my wife also came from a family where you kind of do everything as a family. And that’s like on the weekends, you hang out as a family, and I very rarely go off and go hang out with guy friends. And my wife rarely goes off and hangs with her friends on her own. It’s usually us going together, or she’ll go and get her nails done or get her hair done or something, but she always does it during Declan’s nap time. So, she’ll be back there when he’s awake and she’s not putting him off on me. She doesn’t want to feel like she’s putting him off on me by myself. So, that’s a big part.

And that’s something that we’ve been– I don’t want to say we’ve struggled with that, but we definitely have different opinions on what our weekend should look like. I think she, again, favors us being together as much time as possible. I’m kind of like, hey, you should go off and hang with your friends for a couple hours, and then I’ll go off and hang with my friends or I’ll play lacrosse or I’ll go do stuff that I enjoy doing or go for a hike or do something on my own or get in my own head a little bit. So, yeah, I found that that is true after marriage, like you’re together a lot.

And then the second part, as far as the wife getting together, the emotional relationships, we don’t have a lot of family around us. She has some family in Houston. So, she has her sister. She has her father who’s sometimes here. He’s back and forth between Iran. And her mom, unfortunately, died from lung cancer in 2018. And my family’s back in Ohio, so we don’t really have much family to pull together.

But I do find that she’s the one who’s texting my mom. But a couple of weeks ago, she had a conversation with my dad via text. I’m like, I don’t even have conversations with my dad via text that often. So, I do find that she is the one who’s keeping in touch with people more. But I think more so when you said the wife’s emotional, what I was actually thinking of was how their space in our relationship for her emotion is much more so than my emotions. So, yeah, I’d love to speak to the first part of that.

I have definitely noticed that once we became a family also, especially once we had the kid and once we realized the differences between parents and non-parents, also add on to that, the pandemic and not knowing what was safe and what wasn’t, especially as that was starting in the fear of infecting a small infant with a disease. Yeah, we’ve actually spent a lot more time together and we didn’t venture out at all, really. And I have actually spent the last– once things started getting a little bit better and we had our periods of right after getting vaccinated, and then also periods of where it’s just not surging. So, we had opportunities where we did start to be a bit more social, but we are still working on that.

And we definitely have differing ideas about what we should do with our time on the weekends. I’m kind of the opinion that we should have our individual time, like I should go out and hang out with my friends sometimes, go get coffee with a bro, or I still play lacrosse on the weekends. So, I’d like to go out and play lacrosse, and that’s my me time. That’s play, it’s a great opportunity to getting into flow and not worrying about things. It’s fun, it’s physical, it’s athletic. You get to hit people in the sanctioned activity, minimally violent, sanctioned activity, whatever you want to call it.

And my wife, I think, is much more about, okay, let’s get the family together. Let’s make sure that we’re doing things together, I want you here a lot. So, we definitely have differing opinions about that and we’re kind of still figuring out what that looks like. So, that’s definitely something to consider. And to the second point about the wife being the emotional kind of a– what am I? The emotional facilitator.

Alex Holmes: Holding the emotional relationships, yeah.

Dean Pohlman: Yeah. And I think a lot of that is because she doesn’t have as much family as I do. So, her mom unfortunately passed away from lung cancer in 2018. Her dad is back and forth between here and Iran a lot. He’s from Iran originally and moved here when he was 18. And her sister lives in Houston. She comes up about once a month. But yeah, I definitely find that she is the one doing more of the conversations. And I think part of that’s because I’ve just subconsciously when I was younger, that was just me. I was just kind of like my island of a self and I didn’t interact with people as much.

But I notice that I have to really try to interact. It’s doesn’t come as naturally to me as other people. And sometimes, I think I come off weird because I’m like, I’m just going to ask you a question because I’m like, this is what I want to know right now. And sometimes, Marisa is like, Dean, that’s weird, you can’t do that. I have this weird sense of humor where she’ll have to say, like, he’s joking. Don’t worry about him. So, yeah, I mean, you’re hitting on all the points so far.

Alex Holmes: Yeah, that’s very interesting. I was very similar growing up. I was very much. I went from a very like jubilant, happy-go-lucky boy and I went into a space where I was very solitary, isolated, very cold, standoffish, and stoic. I just focused on me. I was just like, oh, I’m not going to show anything.

Dean Pohlman: Were you rewarded for that? Did people were like, oh, he’s like…

Alex Holmes: Yeah, they would give me words like, oh, he’s strong but not like he’s a man. They look at me and like, well, yeah, but it would be more like, you can handle it. You can handle it. We don’t need to worry about you. I’m the oldest, so there was a lot I took on, but we didn’t worry about you. You’re fine. You’re okay. You’re this way. And I always had to make sure everybody else was okay.

I’m very much mature. I very much look after my siblings, look after my parents, and whatnot and care about people deeply, had a huge, huge emotional kind of internal world. On the outside, nothing could affect me. People would throw insults or jokes or jibes, whatever, and I would kind of just absorb it because in my socialization, to respond to that with something that was either an insult back to them or to respond to it with anger or to respond to it with a joke that was quite like sharp-witted, to respond to it was quite unseemly, it was very much like, oh, don’t do that. Like, you’re somebody that can take it. So, if you can take it, then just absorb it, and it’s fine.

But over time, that wore away, that wore very thin for me. And I feel like when it comes to men, there’s very few options that you have in these situations. And it kind of depends on your upbringing, your birth order of siblings, and your role in the family, generally. And yeah, like it was very strange.

Dean Pohlman: And I’m assuming typically if you’re one of the older ones, I see you can take more.

Alex Holmes: If we assume there’s three kids, that’s easier to do that as being the older sibling who automatically becomes the mature of a sibling child, typically. I’m quite sacrificial, does the stuff, shows up, gets people together, organizes the ones below. And you have the middle child who pretty much works as an in-between. So, they have kind of an in-between personality. So, it’s like, sometimes, they’re the joker, sometimes, they’re the one that goes kind of unseen. So, in order to be heard, they would throw a joke or throw this. They will probably act out. They’ll probably be a bit more misbehaved and probably be doing all these other things.

And the younger child tends to have more freedom to do whatever because they’re the youngest. By then, the parents have done it twice. And so, I think this is just I don’t want to have to do what I did the first one again and the second one. The range lessened, and essentially, it’s like the older to look after the younger, too, generally. So, that’s typically how it goes.

And that stuff does form the personality, forms your role in the world. And a lot of older siblings end up going on to be entrepreneurs or go headfirst into a career because when you’re the first to do stuff, I was the first to go to secondary school, first to get to university, first to a graduate job, first to travel, first to do X, Y, and Z. And they kind of live up to that role and expectation.

Then you have to add the different things, cultural differences. So, what happens in a Caribbean family might be different in a European family, which might be different in a Jewish family. So, it’s all very different. But it’s a wide generalization order, like in a typical structure, that’s usually how that kind of can pan out. So, yeah.

Dean Pohlman: I did want to point out. By the way, so obviously, I read the book. And I recommend everyone get the book, by the way. It’s really good about going into these struggles that men face. And Alex does it through the lens of his own experiences, as well as with the experiences of other men and also with other kind of commonalities that he’s noticed in his research. So, it’s a really good overview. It’s really good if you’re new to this, would definitely recommend you get into this and look at revising some of these commonly held beliefs.

But in the book, you talk about your background as a tall black man, and some people look at you and they’re like, oh, here’s a tough guy. Here’s this big, strong guy. And that projection made you feel like you had to act a certain way. And I’m assuming that was a big part of how you acted and how you felt like you were supposed to. Eat all these emotions and not express them and not express yourself.

Alex Holmes: Yeah, I mean, I talk about masculinity depending on where I’m speaking and who I’m talking to in various different intersections. And for those people who don’t know, an intersection is just when you have a core identity and where that kind of places in other identities at the same time. So, you can be a man, so then that speaks to you a masculinity. But you can then be a queer man, so that speaks to you masculinity and being a man that speaks to that inner space of sexuality. We’re also a Christian queer man, so that speaks to your part of a Christian background, but then you’re probably a black Christian queer man.

So then now, you’ve got all these different things happening to you. So that’s what I mean by intersections. Yeah, so intersections in that way. So, when I’m talking about intersections and I’m looking at like what black masculinity looks like and then what white masculinity looks like, and the things that white masculinity allows and the things that black masculinity doesn’t allow.

So, in the UK, for example, black men are more likely to be stopped and searched by the police and more likely to be sectioned. We’ve got something called the Mental Health Act, which means that the police can arrest you, but if they deem you to be not mentally sound, they can arrest you under the Mental Health Act, which doesn’t mean that they put you in a prison cell, but they take you to the local mental health institution, but they make that judgment.

So, if a black man is reacting to being harassed by the police, it doesn’t seem to be as rational as they deem. They can arrest you under the Mental Health Act. So, the medical institution can then take you away in that sense. And it’s usually a game of choice of whether there’s space in the prisons or not. So, I think…

Dean Pohlman: Oh, wow. And I would assume that just for the sake of my US audience that there’s a lot of correlations between men and masculinity in the UK and also in race and how that factors in as well as in the US and probably in Canada, in Western Europe.

Alex Holmes: Yeah, I think because when it comes to just Western cultures, in general, I think there are similarities, especially in the English-speaking ones because the root is pretty much England and the root is pretty much there and brought over. But yeah, that’s pretty much where it is. So, me being tall, me being black, there’s a question around how emotional I can be. I have to be perceived as strong always outside and stuff. But even when I’m not strong or feeling strong or whatnot, I’m considered a threat before I’m considered anything else.

I could be walking somewhere and I could easily be attacked. I could be harassed, I could be stopped and searched. I could be all of these things that I have to consider as I’m walking on the road. So, I’m a training psychotherapist and I’ve been doing a lot of conversations and working around work around safety and the difference between feeling safe and being safe. And you can walk down the road and feel safe but are you is the question because it’s a question of how we frame the world.

And I think that when I speak to my white friends or people with different racial makeup, to me, some of them don’t have the same concerns. Typically, black men have some very similar concerns. We walk down the road, anything can happen. So, we need to be aware of everything all the time. When I was at University College, for your audience, I had white friends, and they just didn’t have the same concerns at all. Like, they were able to just be safe. They felt safe.

Things that would happen to them would just be the catastrophes of what happens when you’re drunk on a night out, whereas there were things that could happen that just wouldn’t be necessarily to do with the event but to do with my situation and my condition in the world and how I show up in it. So, there’s a load of these different things, and that’s hard to present in a very particular way. And I just got to the point where I’d just done with it, I just opted out because it wasn’t me.

Dean Pohlman: What did that look like? What did opting out look like?

Alex Holmes: Opting out looks like saying, I’m done with any kind of normativity, I’m done with that sort of performance, the performance and the mask that men have to wear, me as a man has to have to speak for myself in this situation, the performance that I have to uphold in order for me to feel safe in this world because it’s a false feeling of safety.

Dean Pohlman: I’m curious, did that more involve you being yourself with other people? Or did it also involve you changing how you behaved with yourself and some of your deeply held beliefs and looking at those and thinking like, oh, this is causing me to do this, which is making me unhappy? So, I’m just kind of curious about what all of that usually affect.

Alex Holmes: Definitely, yeah. I mean, I went into therapy, and once I went into therapy, I started having these conversations with myself around.

Dean Pohlman: How old were you when you went into therapy?

Alex Holmes: I was 26. I’m 30 now. So, 26 when I went into therapy. Yeah, it just looked like me asking myself the questions. When I started finding myself saying, oh, I have to do this, I must do this, I should be doing this. I began sitting back and saying, why, why, and why? Inevitably, the answers were not matching up the stuff because someone had said and told me so because they think I should, because that’s what I’m supposed to do because that’s what they’ve told me to do. Because if I don’t do this, then I’m not a good person. If I don’t do this, then I’m bad, like all of these different beliefs that were showing up. And then I had to sit down and really reframe them and actually repair it myself, which just means being able to sit down and say, as you would sit down with your son, he was overthinking, overdoing over stuff.

Imagine when he gets older, had those conversations and be like, okay, so you think this way. Why do you think this way? Why are you going to think this way? You kind of do yourself all these things, I had to learn and relearn. And then once I’d spent the time doing all of that for me, I could show up. I could show up in a room. If I’m upset about something, I can explain why I’m upset about something, I can show that I’m upset about something. So, if I feel that I want to cry and I feel watching a film that is very sentimental or whatever, I can show that. I don’t have to care. I don’t have to care what anybody says because, I mean, I’ve got cousins, I’ve got brothers, my dad and uncles and whatnot. You just find that difficult to share in that way, but I just kind of conditioned myself and trained myself to be like I’m open enough to just be able to do that.

Dean Pohlman: What did that training or that relearning look like? How did you do that? Did you journal? Was this through self-talk? Did your therapist give you assignments or like what?

Alex Holmes: So, my therapist gave me assignments as such. I think, I’d say, with my therapist, the first thing that was really challenging for me was the idea of my personal relationships and who was there for me. She made me write down the list of who I believe were my friends. And she made me categorize them into close friends, good friends, wider acquaintances, friendly acquaintances, and then the wider world.

Once I did that exercise, I began to understand who was in my community, who I hadn’t spoken to in a long time, who hadn’t reached out when I was in a bad place, all these different things. Would I reach out to them if they were in a bad place? I started to kind of really assess that. So, doing that exercise was important in figuring out who is in your community. That was very transformative for me, and even my family, even looking at who was there for me in my family because we get absorbed with this idea of family and with the idea that blood is thicker than water and we’ve kind of been pumped that idea and that notion.

And there may be some people in your family who are not for you, really are not your people. Doesn’t mean that you can’t love them as a family member, but it just means that they’re just not your person or they’re just not your people, they’re not in your tribe or your time frame, but it doesn’t mean that you love them any less, it just means that that’s just a fact of the matter, like you might not like them. So, there’s that kind of stuff.

Personally, what I had to do myself outside of that was I always journal, I always sit down and give myself moments of reflective practice just to be able to say, all right, where am I at? What is going on, really? You cried today, why were you crying? What was that? What was that process of you crying? Looking at what triggered it? What created that feeling in you in order for you to come out that way? So, I would really sit down and write and write and write and just get everything out of me and just assess that.

Because the importance of journaling is this, I mean, I tell this to my clients as well, is that writing is your thinking laid out. You have to process the thought in order for you to write it. And that is the point of journaling. You get to sit down with your thoughts and get them onto paper. Once you start to get onto paper, you’re ordering them. And there’s this whole transpersonal idea of the fact that, is this kind of thing you’re just pouring out into the page and you’re getting out of you. But the actual process is that you are ordering your thoughts in a coherent, sometimes coherent way, but you’re putting words, you’re putting physical words to it.

Your thoughts are swimming around in your mind and they affect your feeling and they affect your mood and all these different stuff. For better mood regulation, get those thoughts onto the paper, order them, begin to write what is happening, and then you can start to structure the thoughts and get some clarity on the ideas that are coming up. I want you to pull them out and put them in the paper. They become this object there and they’re like, oh, it’s only two or it’s only four lines. Like, it doesn’t feel like it was 10 pages in my head, just kind of turning it back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, but it also gives you time to reflect on what it is when you read it back to yourself because you’re like, oh, did I really say that? Interesting. When is that coming from?

Dean Pohlman: Do you read it back to yourself immediately after you write it down? Or do you do it the next day or a few hours later or what?

Alex Holmes: I don’t anymore because I just trust my brain, not put it down and close the book. But I used to read it back to it because I was a journalist for five years, so I always used to read things back. I was like, how does this read? Does this read okay? And I don’t know. And then that was just part of my process.

Dean Pohlman: You were proofreading it, but you’re not like reading it for any mental benefit.

Alex Holmes: No, that was my process of learning to not be a perfectionist and learning to really kind of– and over time, I was like, yeah, I’ve written it. It’s out, wherever it goes. I mean, thing is tangible, like it just goes. So, yeah, and there’s also a practice called Morning Pages, a writer called Julia Cameron. She just says that you wake up in the morning, first thing you do is write three sides of A4 paper and you just write all of the thought, everything that comes to your mind, just write until the paper is done.

So, that’s one side, another side, and then another side. When you’re done with it, don’t read it back, fold it up, tear it up, put in an envelope or something, and throw it away. It’s done. It’s no longer yours. The idea is to have processes to create space for creativity. And that’s what we are. As human beings, we’re human beings filled of creativity in yourself, but we’re brought up with so many other preoccupations. So, that’s an interesting practice as well that I adopt every so often, actually every other week just to kind of clear my mind.

Dean Pohlman: Yeah, so I journal, and journaling has been a theme on this podcast. I don’t think I’ve spoken with anybody who’s went through something significant, some significant internal change that hasn’t journal. I think it’s just like a universal practice. It’s great, yeah. And I know for me, sometimes my journaling does look like I’m just writing out all these thoughts so that I can free up my head. Sometimes, it’s me like writing about something that I’m upset about or a conflict that I had. And sometimes, I’m like, you know, I’m feeling pretty neutral. I’m feeling neutral, too positive right now. So, I’m just going to write about things that are good right now. But there’s not much structure to it. But anyways, yeah, so that’s my journaling.

Alex Holmes: Yeah, that’s important. It just allows you to really just articulate the feeling, so yeah. So good.

Dean Pohlman: Yeah, I found it to be really helpful. I just noticed that there’s the month before that I wasn’t journaling at all, and now, I’m doing it every night or every other night. I just notice less self-talk, less of the chatter in my head. So, I want to bring up a few of the core beliefs in your book. So, Time to Talk has six kind of tenets or core beliefs or whatever they’re called. And we’re definitely not going to have time to get into all of them, but I want to bring them up so that if you are interested, you can go in and check out the book and learn more about these concepts.

The first one is it’s okay to be not okay. Second one is learning to just be, so that means just being okay with you, being okay with who you are, being okay with where you are right now. Finding strength in vulnerability is number three, which is so counter to what most men do as we think of not showing our emotions as being strong. Number four, there’s no body like your body. Me being in a fitness world, I understand how much negativity there can be toward your own body image. I would also say, though, the people who are working out a ton and look like fitness models, they have a ton of it, too.

It’s actually kind of interesting because not to divert away from this too much, but I got on TikTok recently and I actually started trying to understand it. And it looks like there is like this very big acknowledgment on TikTok among bodybuilders and fitness influencers that they are going through body dysmorphia. It’s just like a commonly acknowledged thing. So, anyways, that’s kind of cool to see.

Number five is redefining success. This is one that I want to bring up later on because I think it’s really, really significant how much pain men go through trying to make sure they’re being successful enough. It’s something that I struggle with. And I think it’s something that most men struggle with.

And then number six is learning to love courageously, talking about love, trust, and intimacy. And what I really like is each of these core beliefs is opposed by an existing real man myth. And I’m basically paraphrasing that straight out of your book right now, but these represent a powerful, toxic, and often subconscious voice in the heads of many men, it’s a hypercritical voice that encourages us to remain stuck in cycles of outdated self-limitations.

So, the point is there’s these deeply ingrained beliefs that make up a majority of how we think and how we act on a daily basis, and we start to look at those and question them, then we’re kind of holding ourselves back. And it’s a huge goal of a lot of these are the ideas behind the Better Man Podcast is that we can be successful. We can also take care of ourselves at the same time. So, yeah, is there any one in particular that you’d like to go into?

Alex Holmes: Any particular. So, you pick.

Dean Pohlman: Okay.

Alex Holmes: I spent months with this, so whatever you think, I’m okay. Just pick them out.

Dean Pohlman: All right, let’s just go into the one that scares me the most. Let’s go on to learning to love courageously.

Alex Holmes: Okay. Why does that scare you the most?

Dean Pohlman: And this isn’t in my therapy session. I don’t know. So, I’ve been in therapy for the last four years. I think, same as you, sounds like. I think I started in 2018, and a few months ago, I asked him, I was like, “You know what? I know you’re not supposed to, like, just tell me what’s wrong with me, so to speak, but just tell me, like what are the themes? What are the things that I can do? I don’t know if it’s supposed to be like a Mr. Miyagi situation where you don’t actually tell me what I need to do, but you just kind of guide me to it subconsciously. But I’d like you to just tell me, like, what can I improve?” He’s like, “You need to be open to love and you need to love.” And I was like, “Oh, that sounds hard.”

Because, I mean, for a really long time, I kind of was brought up in this family where love was icky. It was just like you didn’t express emotion. I remember writing an email to my mom when I was 19 and saying, like, yeah, I need to be better about expressing my emotions. And her reply said, like, we don’t do that in this family. I was like, it’s in writing. I’m like, oh, my gosh. I was fully expecting her to say something else. And I was like, oh, wow. Okay, so this is a problem. So, yeah, that’s why that jumps out to me, but…

Alex Holmes: Okay, I mean, I can tell you a story I think about when several times, I went through several friendships. Generally, I think friendships are, for me, more than romantic relationships, friendships for me have been very, very important and very tumultuous in my life because I’ve always found that, I don’t know whether it’s as men, but I find that as of me, as a host, I found that there are issues with deeply connecting with male friends, not necessarily as male friends, just friends in general, friends from all backgrounds. And like…

Dean Pohlman: And your book has a bit section of this.

Alex Holmes: Yeah. So, in that, I was very much like, I remember texting one of my female friends, like generally just friends, I heard it once or something, and she was like, oh, that would be soft and all this different stuff. And I laughed it off. I felt really bad about that because I was thinking if I’m sending that to you consciously, well, not even subconsciously, as a man to a woman, and you accept that I’ve done that. And that was really challenging for me just to sit down and think about it. That was before I went to therapy, before all of this. I process a lot of other things.

And we don’t speak as much now over the years, but I think about it and I’m like, that was actually really uncool, just as a form of rejection. And for a lot of men, rejection is really a big thing. I think, for anybody, it’s a big thing, but I feel like for men, it’s socialized that you cannot be rejected. If you’re rejected, that is not your big problem. And you’re not being accepted, you’re not being accepted at all.

But when it comes to love, trust, and intimacy, I feel like men reserve that for their children to an extent, their children, their partners, husbands and wives. And that’s pretty much where the buck stops. I may reserve a very specific kind of love for them, if that makes any sense. But there’s not always a deep and engaging kind of love. I’m a father, you’re my child, I understand that I have this position in your life. And of course, I love you.

So, I think rather than it being I love you for all the things that you are, and all the things that you feel you’re not, I love you. And that’s the kind of level of intimacy that a lot of men, like there are some men out there who are really like that and will kind of tap into that space and really talk about that. But you see, what I found was that you see that a lot with grandparents and their grandchildren because it’s like these parents skip a generation and they’re just like, yeah, my kid doesn’t need any of that, but my grandkids, I give them all of the love and all of the giant and everything, the part of me that– it was like this idea of this legacy that’s left of them, and they kind of want to make up for all of that time.

And yeah, I found that as men, as this idea that we reserve and hold back love because it makes us feel uncomfortable, but it shouldn’t make you feel uncomfortable. It should be a risk. It should be something that goes challenged and just changes in moods. And even recently today, I just texted two of my friends, sent them a message, and I said, I don’t say this enough to you, but I deeply, deeply love you. I love you. And I’m so glad that we’re sharing life like this together.

And where I fall short on that is saying that stuff to my parents. That’s why I fall short on that because there’s still a part of me that is like, oh, how do I say this to my parents? Because it’s like, I’ve lived with them for so long, I’m their child, and they should know this, but will they reject that kind of me? So, the idea of you sending that to your mom, and then your mom saying, “Don’t do that to this family.” But I’m okay with saying that, I’m okay with saying it, but bringing it up sometimes, I’m like, why haven’t I brought it up?

Dean Pohlman: Yeah. The thing is tough. That’s really tough. It’s really tough. I mean, I’m really resonating with the idea that putting yourself– I mean, what we say, you got to put yourself out there. There’s all these phrases, and we know logically that you put yourself out there like this is like something that’s encouraged. But when it’s in the sense of putting yourself out there, like you’re saying something to somebody you love and you’re trying to express gratitude for that relationship and you’re putting it out there, and it doesn’t get returned. Or like the return is not as what you expected or you gave more, then, yeah, it doesn’t feel good and it makes you not want to do it again in the future. You think to yourself, oh, that was dumb because I did this. I made an effort, and it wasn’t reciprocated or it wasn’t like– I mean, so yeah, that makes sense to me.

Alex Holmes: Yeah. So, again, it boils down to trust. It starts off with you trusting yourself. And I speak a lot with my clients when I’m coaching and when I’m talking just around the idea of being resilient and reframing what resilience means and way it looks like because sometimes, you’re going to say something and you’re not going to get the response that you want. And that’s okay.

It’s not about the response. It’s about how you respond to the response. And that has to be okay and that’s something that comes with time. And the more that it comes with time and experience, that creates wisdom. And you saying that to somebody, the more you believe that, the more you create those spaces to kind of give that element of yourself and that part of you. And yeah, you’ll be fine.

So, it’s like over time, I feel that people don’t pass on that because they’re frightened of the response. But I think that the more we do it, the more it becomes a part of who you are becoming something again. Well, this is easy for me to say. I’m cool with me saying it. How the person responds, I can hold that space, but…

Dean Pohlman: Well, kind of related to this is a question I have. So, it’s really easy for you and I to talk about this in this setting because it’s a podcast focused on men’s overall well-being. So, there’s an expectation that you and I are going to get vulnerable with each other and talk about stuff we normally wouldn’t talk about. Where this gets hard is where we’re doing it with our friends in everyday situations. It’s where we’ve had a few minutes to catch up, we’ve had a few minutes to talk about, hey, what’s going on in your life? Cool. Tell me about this. Oh, well, it’s like this. What new aspect of your business are you working on? Or, like, what’s going on with work life?

And then there’s that pause and like, okay, you’re searching for the next topic. And instead of asking something about like, well, hey, what’s your workout looking these days? Instead, you say something like, hey, your wife’s pregnant, how are you feeling about having a second kid? Or I saw this post the other day, I don’t know what it is, but like, the point is it’s much more difficult to bring up a topic that’s going to force us to open up and be vulnerable and potentially poke at some squishy emotions in everyday conversations, like with other men. So, I’m curious, like, what are some tips that you have for helping men have more of these conversations in everyday settings without it being, I don’t know, I don’t want to add anything. I was going to say, like, without it feeling forced, but I’ll just…

Alex Holmes: Yeah, I would say, read the room, first and foremost. I would say when we start reading the room, you can tell when somebody is uncomfortable talking about a particular thing. But also, there’s a lot of men, what I found is that there’s this big yearning to be asked how they’re doing, something very as simple as, oh, so how’s your training sessions going? How are you doing with that? I mean, just something that they take pride and personal joy and pleasure in doing, and they’re just showing an interest in what that looks like.

But it is about courage and it’s not about avoiding the issue of somebody who’s going through a period of grief or going through that. You don’t just avoid it. And I think there’s no problem in asking for permission to say, can I ask you about you having another kids? Is it okay if I ask you about that, how you feel about that or not? And what it does is it opens them up to say yes or no. And they say, don’t ask me about that seriously. They actually say, don’t ask me about it seriously. Then, okay, cool. We’ll get to that just yet. I’m the kind of person that is very much like, okay, we’ll get to that just yet, but I’m going to come back to that at some point. You have to get to that just yet.

And then over time, as the conversation comes, as you warm up, as you’re further into the conversation, they might bring it up, and then you talk about it. I think the whole point of a lot of this is showing, I don’t mean that you’re there and you’re able to share, but the only way that that works is when you’re vulnerable with another person. But you could be like, all right, you don’t want to talk about that just yet. I’d be like, okay, well, when I was having my first child and I was going through all of this anxiety and it was really stressful for me and I never spoke about it then, but I speak about it now because my wife is going through this much and I couldn’t afford this. I was going on and I didn’t know what to do. And I had all these stresses, but I don’t know what to say. I get it. I understand where you’re at, to some degree.

And what that does is that’s like, oh, he gets it, he understands. I’m saying, I want to share. Men love to feel that they’re contributing to something as well. So, there’s that. So, when we’re speaking to other men, it’s about sharing what we’ve got and then leaving it on the table and just being like, you can take that sandwich and take those chips if you want, but they’re there. I’m putting it there. I’m not going to force you to eat it. But if you want to, pick them up, and we can have a discussion, we can eat together, we can chat about what’s going on.

And that deepens the relationship because there’s so much that allow me to hold back and hold away from other men because they just don’t want to be seen as this shambolic, shameful, weak, vulnerable man. And you’re just like, well, come on. We’re all human. We have these emotions for a reason.

Dean Pohlman: Yeah. I mean that’s definitely the theme is that men don’t have emotions or they have them, but they can compartmentalize them and they can put them out when necessary. I mean, we all know how men feel about emotions. I don’t know if we have to reiterate that here, but on the other side, on the other end, I want to bring up that traditionally, masculine behaviors existed and they have persisted for thousands of years because they are also beneficial. It’s a double-edged sword. There are some things about masculinity that that are really helpful.

And then on the other end, if you look at it from a different perspective or if you act with masculinity in a different way, then it can turn into something that isn’t helpful or can turn more toward this idea of the toxic masculinity that is a hot topic even today. So, I’m curious, in your experience, what would you say to the idea of balancing the necessity of taking care of our emotional well-being, our mental well-being with traditional masculine behaviors that help us reach our goals?

Alex Holmes: Are you asking how to navigate the two?

Dean Pohlman: I guess I’m asking you to speak to your thoughts on the topic. You know, are there certain – because on the one hand, we don’t want to have masculinity with the idea that there’s no emotions involved that you do everything you’re supposed to do, that you do what’s expected of you, that you take care of your family. You never complain. You just do all the things you need to do. On the other end, we don’t want to go all the way to the other end where all we do is take care of our emotions. We don’t do the things that people expect from us to help with family, help with career, help with providing. So, I don’t know, do you have thoughts on balancing the two? Or am I asking the question from the wrong perspective? Am I asking a loaded question that doesn’t…

Alex Holmes: Yeah. I feel like it’s a question, you know, I think what you’re asking is how do we maintain what we already have and bring on something else to it? Or how do we it’s like a whole redistribution of all of this traditional idea of who we are versus this other idea of what we could be sort of thing. And my view on it is really just to be like you can maintain. I feel like it’s one of those things where you leave what isn’t useful at the door and we’re building it. We’re growing into a world that is a lot more collaborative and understanding of emotions and conversation and of who we are together and who we connect with. And I feel like we’re having more of these conversations around our interpersonal relationships. So, I think it’s a matter of just saying to ourselves, how do we become the best possible human that we can be? And what is it that is holding me back from doing that? And when you start to look at and thinking, “Is that to do with my masculinity? Is that to do with the ideas I have about being a man, about ‘what masculinity is?’ Does that really tap into what I think about other kind of men? What does that look like for me?”

Because I feel like it’s an adult human’s responsibility if they have a family to look after them, I think that that is something that goes without saying. If I was to go wider than that, I would always say that it becomes a community thing. I think that communities need to look after each other a bit more. I think that communities need to feel safe with one another a lot more. It should be okay for kids to go out in the street and like the neighbor to be like, “Hey, are you okay? Where’s your jacket? Where’s your coat? And your mum’s busy. Let me look after…” You know what I mean? That should be okay. But as adult humans, I think that we need to get to a point where we can actually feel the full breadth of what it means to be that. So, yeah, protect your families, protect your communities but also connect with them. Both of you in a relationship can be protective, can be caring, and can provide and can nurture. It doesn’t have to be one person that does that and another person, that is another thing. I think we get so closed off into this division of roles that it limits us from doing anything else, I think personally.

Dean Pohlman: Okay. I think that answered my question. So, yes, that answered my question. All right. So, the last question I want to bring up before we move on to part 2, the rapid-fire questions, which really aren’t that rapid-fire, when you were a journalist, so in your book, you talk about when you were a journalist and you were in these really high-stress situations and you were expected to perform at a super high level. And you were pushing yourself and you were doing all of that while also trying to do your workout and make sure that you were looking a certain way and you started experiencing panic attacks. You had crippling anxiety that prevented you from sleeping. And a big idea behind this was that you weren’t doing enough to be successful. And that’s what I want to talk about. And I never really considered not feeling successful enough as a form of shame until we had a guest on the show. His name is Nate Checketts. He is the co-founder, CEO of Rhone Apparel. It’s a company that I’ve worked with for a long time now.

And I asked him what he thought the number one challenge facing men was and he said, “Shame.” And I didn’t really think about it until I considered it from this perspective and kind of also from the perspective of you going through the anxiety and the stress about whether or not you were doing enough. And I’m kind of curious, like, is this something that’s something that most men are experiencing or in your experience? Can you speak to that?

Alex Holmes: Absolutely. I think shame is the one thing that keeps men in the box that they are socialized into. Shame is the one thing that means that men can’t dye their hair a funny color. For example, as a black man, my hair, I only really have one option when my hair is when I’m born. It’s black or brown depending on who I am. As a white man, there’s blonde, there’s brown, there’s black, there’s red, there’s ginger. There’s all these other colors. Should I get a color that is very different to what my natural color is? There’s automatically a, “Why is his hair a different color?” If you dyed your hair blue tomorrow because you felt like wearing blue, people will start looking at you and be like, “Isn’t he a dad? Isn’t he married to his wife?” Like, what’s he doing? Is he going through a crisis?” So, I think people start to judge who you are. But that’s a very basic thing. But like when we start to look at shame, we start to look at how it affects who we are as people. Because to say, “I am not man enough and other people are going to judge me because I don’t want to live or I’m not doing what is the normal thing,” which is why it goes back to what I said about opting out of this idea of what it currently means to be a man. And I’m reframing and reimagining what that looks like.

Shame is the one thing that really keeps us tethered to this man box of just being the provider, being a tough guy, being all of the things that you saw in the 80s action movies. That’s the shame. “You can’t lift that much, bro? What’s wrong with you? Like, your chest isn’t puffed out, isn’t developed enough?” Your belly hangs over your stomach, all these different things. And it just becomes this thing where people start to eat their shame. They start to feel their shame. It starts to consume them. And sometimes you can see once a man is stressed or anybody’s really stressed and really kind of down and out and they really don’t love themselves because they’re full of shame. They’re not earning enough. They’re not active enough. They’re not having enough sex or what they perceive to be enough sex. It’s probably just average stuff that everybody’s going through but they feel that they have to be this hyper-masculine, hyper-strong, hypersexual, hyper-successful, hyper everything in order for them to be seen as human, as somebody, as somebody of importance.

So, that’s why shame is so intrinsic in keeping men in line. I mean it’s even used in the military. It’s used in corporate jobs. It’s used in any kind of job where a man is. Just simply telling a man to man up dictates that there is a huge amount of shame attached to their identity, you know?

Dean Pohlman: Yeah. Makes a lot of sense. All right. Well, I want to get into my part 2 questions. I’m kind of excited for what you’re going to say here. So, first off is what do you think is one habit, a belief, or a mindset that has helped you the most in terms of your overall happiness or helped you significantly?

Alex Holmes: One habit, belief, or mindset.

Dean Pohlman: Or practice.

Alex Holmes: Or practice. Okay. Loving-kindness meditations. Loving-kindness meditations have been an important part of my self-compassionate journey. For those of you who don’t know what loving kindness meditations are, they are short, brief meditations, which is as long as 30 minutes whereby you’re harnessing a feeling of love and compassion for yourself by giving it to others. So, parts of the meditations are to think of somebody who’s really close to you, that you love, that you care for and shower them with love, shower them with affirmations, “May you be happy. May you be safe. May you be healthy. May you be at peace,” and all these other things that kind of shower them. Then you give that and then you change focus and you give that to somebody who you’re neutral with, like the postman or somebody that you see down the street that you see every day but you don’t have a relationship with them but you don’t dislike them because you don’t know them. So, then you give it to them. You do the exact same thing. And then you shift focus again to somebody that is a very difficult person with you like that you have a very difficult relationship with and you shower them with the exact same affirmation. Then you bring them back to you. And then you bring it out to the wider world.

So, you’re actively giving yourself the opportunity to shock, to understand what it means to give love energetically, and also because it gives you that focus so you kind of step into the day for I use it. I do it in the mornings. You step into the day in a really showering love. So, when a negative thought comes about somebody who bumped into you, for example, or somebody who, I don’t know, somebody looks at you funny on the tube, on the train, or something. And they say to you and you think about it, you’re just like, “You know what, may you be happy. May you be at peace,” because you don’t know what their story is. You don’t know where they’re coming from. And you’re there to just radiate that kind of compassion and you bring that back to yourself when you’re really becoming really critical. Huge, huge game changer.

Dean Pohlman: Are those self-guided or are they…?

Alex Holmes: They can be self-guided once you do it and after you know what you’re doing. I think it’s easy to go. You can just go on YouTube and just type in loving kindness meditations. If you have a Calm app on, you know, I’m not promoting that but if you have the Calm app, that’s on there. If you have Headspace or something, it’s on there. Any meditation app, you can find it.

Dean Pohlman: Okay. Cool. That sounds fun. What is one thing you do for your health that you believe is overlooked or undervalued by others?

Alex Holmes: Take time for myself. Yeah, take time for myself.

Dean Pohlman: What’s that look like for you?

Alex Holmes: It means going on walks for as long as necessary at any random point of the day because I have to do that. And people would be like, “Oh, where are you walking to? Can I come with you?” And I’m like…

Dean Pohlman: No.

Alex Holmes: I mean, you could if you wanted to. I mean, I don’t have a problem you coming but I’m going because I need to recharge, to reboot myself, get my steps in, keep myself active, and just keep moving. I don’t mind sharing that space because one of my huge, huge love languages is quality time and quality time for myself as well as quality time with other people. And I love doing that stuff but when I need it for myself, I just need it for myself. And people don’t really understand how I could go for these walks for myself because at the beginning of lockdown, that the early stages of 2020, we’re walking together as everybody’s working together and going out together and doing these walks together and talking and stuff which is valuable. But for me, I just sometimes wanted to just put on my headphones, listen to a podcast or an audiobook, and just walk as far as I could possibly walk and just to see what’s about and just kind of get my own kind of feelings together. So, yeah, people are now just accepted that I just do that. But, yeah, it’s important to me.

Dean Pohlman: Okay. Yeah. What’s the most important activity you regularly do for self-management, or sorry, stress management?

Alex Holmes: Journal.

Dean Pohlman: Journal?

Alex Holmes: Absolutely. We’ve talked about that.

Dean Pohlman: And we covered that. So, go back and listen to that part. What’s the most stressful part of your day-to-day life?

Alex Holmes: My day-to-day life is wondering whether someone’s going to pay an invoice. That is a huge stress for me. Okay. Outside of just the typical existence questions around who am I. Yeah. My stress of what my day-to-day life is that I’m always questioning what is next. And then I’m trying to train myself to be like, “Well, what is now? Where I’m at now?” I’m anxiously focused. So, I’m always worrying about what’s going to happen next. And I have to reframe myself, reframe and self-talk, and really bring myself back to center sometimes. Okay. Well, you’re here now. You’re enjoying what’s going on now. Anything that’s going to happen is going to happen whether I’m worrying about it or not. So, yeah.

Dean Pohlman: That’s a big theme in your book that we didn’t talk about here today on changing self-talk. So, again, definitely get the book, but there is a lot of course stuff in the book about self-talk and changing that. All right. Big question. And you’re an expert, so it’s better be a really cool answer. What do you think is the biggest challenge facing men and their well-being right now?

Alex Holmes: The biggest challenge facing men and their well-being right now is their ability to not be compassionate to themselves. Because everything with a lot of men I’ve spoken to, a lot of men I coach, a lot of my other clients is that they have to be in a particular place by X. I do this. I see that exact same thing sometimes and there’s no grace given to ourselves about, “Okay, well, I’m here now, so what am I going to do? Like, what can I do about it?” Can’t do much about it other than what I can actually control, what I can actually change. I think it’s the whole idea of self-acceptance. Personal kindness, very, very difficult. And I felt that’s challenging a lot of men’s well-being right now because it creates this feeling of urgency. It creates this feeling of restlessness, of consistent wanting to go, wanting to go into the game. That drive is fine. That drive is powerful. That drive is what creates new things and gets you going. But when it’s to the detriment of your physical self and your emotional self, it’s a problem. So, knowing when to slow down, knowing when to be like, “You know what, It’s fine. We can park that for a while,” knowing when to just switch off and be present with friends, family, communities. Getting out there and doing things that you would never have thought you’d have done before. Taking a class in something that’s very different.

Like, really challenging yourself to do other things rather than living up to their ideals and ideas of other people and other’s expectations is the thing that genuinely kills us in the end because we consistently are striving not for ourselves, but for what other people think of us. And that’s a huge, huge problem.

Dean Pohlman: Yeah. Well, that answer did not disappoint. Thank you. All right. So, guys, definitely go get the book. Time to Talk, Alex Holmes. But where are the other places that we can keep up with what you’re doing or check up more on the Time to Talk Project?

Alex Holmes: Well, you can go to my Instagram. That’s where I spend a majority of my days. My Instagram is BuyAlexHolmes. That’s it on Instagram, BuyAlexHolmes like Sherlock. I would just go to my website, AlexHolmes.co. And my podcast is the Time to Talk Podcasts so you can just google like everything’s on my website, but that’s where you’ll find me.

Dean Pohlman: Cool. All right. Well, Alex, thanks for everything you’re doing for men. Thanks for joining me on the conversation today. I got a lot out of it. So, if you’re listening, I hope you do as well. Be sure to check out the book and make sure to join me here on the next episode. Alex, thanks again.

Alex Holmes: Thank you so much.

Dean Pohlman: All right.



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