Creative Minds: Perception of Physical & Emotional Muscle Builders

man of steel figuring life out

HOW we perceive people who build physical and emotional muscle says a lot about us as a society. Mainstream media has failed to adequately explain the difference so I’m going to do it for them without using the S word. Buckle up. 

From our parents, our peers, to the media – our views and opinions are shaped by what we’re told and what we see and experience. Taking the time to educate ourselves and establish our own informed view requires effort, so many people don’t bother. The blinkers stay on and are passed on.

Every article you’ll read will probably discuss what the Government is doing about it. Why is that? Why do we immediately look elsewhere? The answer lies with each of us. We must take responsibility for our own outdated belief systems and for the love of kryptonite, improve it. You can’t run off Windows software forever just because you got it from a parent or friend for free. It was a dodgy copy to start with.

If we wait for a government to fix the problems of society we’ll have a long wait. It starts by challenging conventional wisdom and bad science. And if you hear bullshit, speak up and call it out. How else are we going to evolve ideas? All great characters have periods where they go through the wringer. That’s how you build character. It’s also how you build muscle.


BUILDING TWO KINDS OF MUSCLE snoopy-and-charlie-brown-inspiration

Building physical and emotional muscle really isn’t that different. How we perceive those engaged in personal improvement differs radically, however.

Take a man or woman who decides to increase their physical muscle. If he or she said they go to the gym, society generally thinks of them as strong – or at least getting stronger.

Now take a man or woman who decides to increase their emotional muscle. If he or she said they go to therapy, society generally thinks of them as weak – or at very least flawed and needing fixed in some way.

You can argue against those viewpoints all you like but it’s easy to take the correct standpoint when you have no relationship with the person in question.

What if you were a prospective employer? It’s easy to take a liberal standpoint when there’s no company revenue or careers on the line. What if you’re a friend? Can you stop yourself from being judgemental and place yourself in someone else’s shoes? Or is your own viewpoint too important to you to put it to one side. Unless there has been or there is the possibility of investment, you’re not engaged in the outcome.

That’s why the attitudes of employers can be held up as representative of wider society. They’re the ones who have hard choices to make. Ironically, as we transition to a more problem-solving knowledge economy, creative minds are even more valuable. For example, there’s an entire social media industry now that didn’t exist ten years ago. Content makers of all types and writers are in demand.

The Channel 4 reality tv programme of 2012 around employers’ attitudes to prospective employees with a history of mental health issues – which for some people is simply an emotional muscle issue – revealed the archaic attitudes and general ignorance around this topic.

Running a business is all about minimising costs and risk. No employer wants to take a risk where it can be easily avoided. That old chestnut of ‘perception is reality’ comes into play because ignorance and fear can easily create perceived potential risk where none exists. Let’s face it, hiring anyone is a risk. Hiring a creative mind with a point to prove is never a risk, yet that’s rarely how people who have come through emotional muscle challenges are treated. If we constantly referred to footballers as having “physical health issues”, we’d start thinking there was something wrong with them too.


mad-men-falling-smFans of the TV Show ‘Mad Men’ will be familiar with the tv character that is Don Draper. On the outside he’s handsome, strong and powerful. He looks exactly like the kind of man Microsoft or any global corporation would hire to run their business in a territory.

Yet in terms of emotional muscle he must be one of the weakest men ever to star in a tv series. He loathes himself so much that he even hires prostitutes to punch him in the face during sex. He self-destructs regularly only to be saved by those around him who, with the exception of Joan, choose to ignore his obvious failings. The man is a walking disaster.

Which brings us back to the idea that we too readily attribute positive connotations to surface image (physical muscles) and negative ones to the mind (emotional muscles).

So what’s so kudos-worthy about the physical work?

Going to the gym to build physical muscle does requires determination. Even with a fitness program tailored to your goals, it’s going to hurt a bit. Waking up the next day and getting out of bed only to feel your arms and chest muscles burn and ache is not pleasant. The sensation doesn’t last long thankfully and the more the body moves about, the more the soreness decreases. You get used to it. If people see you a few months later and notice that you look physically stronger, it’s because it’s easy to understand something when you can see it.

At some level there’s a degree of ego involved. You want to feel better about your own physical appearance and health. The entire multi-billion cosmetics industry worldwide will attest to that. Although the word ego has negative connotations it is very much part of all of us and how we form our identity. Whenever we tell ourselves who we think we are, or whenever we judge something, that’s our ego talking. Try going for 60 mins without judging anything and you’ll find it’s impossible. In the Western world it’s how we’ve been brought up, with reality tv exacerbating this to new depths.

Thing is, building physical muscle is very easy compared to building emotional muscle.


For example, you could go to the gym for two years and have amazing results to show for it. But as any mental health professional will tell you, you could have a patient in therapy for two years who still doesn’t acknowledge emotional dependencies. That kind of breakthrough takes seriously heavy lifting, the type of which you cannot imagine unless you’ve done it.

Instead of needing a day or two to recover from sore arms and legs, maybe a person would need to take a few months off from work to allow the mind enough space to perform its own recovery. The mind is no more broken than the arms and legs that are painfully sore. Muscles take time to heal and the mind takes longer.

It takes longer because it is the single most powerful “muscle”, tool and gift that we have at our disposal.

With it, we can have ideas that can change the world. Every remarkable journey by a remarkable person began with a simple idea. The mind is a muscle that creates ideas that can ease suffering (Mother Teresa), heal communities (Nelson Mandela) or even put a man on the moon (everyone at NASA). It is something we need to continue to educate ourselves about so that we can evolve beyond our prehistoric learned behaviour.


Anything as powerful as the mind needs to be calibrated and that takes time. Then awesomeness ensues. Any Mass Effect fan knows that.





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