Most people give some thought to their physical fitness. But few consider the notion it might have an emotional equivalent.
“Emotional fitness is not something lucky people have and unlucky people don’t. It’s not a quality bestowed on us by our genes or life struggles. It’s a skill you can develop, cultivate and improve,” entrepreneur Nataly Kogan writes in The Awesome Human Project.
Instead of training your body, as with physical fitness, it requires training your brain to navigate the roller coaster of your life.
Her belief in its importance derives from her own life, in which she says struggle was her religion. Her brain was a cyclone of conflicting thoughts, but she pressed on relentlessly, oblivious to how overwhelmed and exhausted she was. Now she propels herself with the view that challenges in life are a constant, but struggle is optional.
To uphold this perspective yourself, you must fuel your energy reservoir, stop believing any negative or deflating stories your brain feeds you, and prevent your brain’s fear of danger from clouding your judgment and causing stress. Seek positive feelings when you can. (Her coaching company, not incidentally, is called Happier Inc.)
She stresses that emotional fitness is not about being tough or never having difficult feelings. Indeed, trying to always be positive will likely increase your stress and anxiety. It’s about experiencing the full range of emotions but having the underlying emotional ability to support yourself properly.
That begins by recognizing you have an emotional whiteboard hanging in front of you all day, visible to everyone you encounter, whether you acknowledge its existence or not. If you’re tense or exhausted, you pass it along to others. You need to become aware of these feelings so that you aren’t the only person oblivious to them. You also need to acknowledge you are not meant to feel good all the time. So don’t run away from difficult feelings, because that won’t make them go away.
She stresses that when you don’t clarify your emotional whiteboard, you make other people struggle. “Being more open about your emotions is an act of kindness toward the people you care about,” she says.
Like physical fitness, emotional fitness requires practice. It has five elements, and as a starting point your fitness plan should involve one week devoted to each:
- Acceptance: This involves two steps, and might be the hardest of the fitness skills. Acknowledge the situation you are in with clarity instead of getting caught up in the story your brain is telling you. Then, given the facts, identify one thing you could do to move forward.
- Gratitude: This is the corrective lens for your brain’s negativity bias. Through gratitude you notice the small, positive moments in everyday life, even when times are challenging, and share your appreciation for other people with them. “When you are grateful for the little things they become the big things that fuel you with so much meaning,” she writes.
- Self-care: Your energy keeps you going, so you must take time to refill your emotional, mental and physical energy. She used to think this was for other people who weren’t strong enough to power through like her. But that’s misguided. We all need self-care. It’s not an indulgence or luxury, but essential.
- Intentional kindness: Become a kindness champion, not through grand gestures, but regular daily interactions in which you are kind toward others without expecting anything in return. “Trade some efficiency for kindness,” she advises.
- Connect to meaning: You must keep in touch with what she calls “the bigger why,” your sense of meaning and purpose. Identify how your daily activities and skills support your bigger goals, help others, or contribute to something greater than yourself. Look at your to-do list as chances to contribute rather than just stuff you must do.
- To get better support from your boss and other executives, ask for exactly what you need. Consultant Karin Hurt says that, like you, they are super-busy. So be clear, be easy to help and follow through, which will leave a lasting positive impression.
- Seeking out difficult problems is far more effective than avoiding them, argues entrepreneur Seth Godin.
- After slipping on ice buried beneath a recent snowfall, trainer Nick Miller came away with this thought for salespeople: “Before jumping into what looks like a dazzling, picture-perfect present, whether snow-covered field or client sales effort, dig in to both the sequence of past events and their implications which, even if hidden from view in the moment, can lead to a slip and fall.”
- The strategies that made you successful in the past will at some point reach their limit, warns author James Clear.
Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He, along with Sheelagh Whittaker, former CEO of both EDS Canada and Cancom, are the authors of When Harvey Didn’t Meet Sheelagh: Emails on Leadership.
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