We all know that if we want to be physically fit, we have to train our physical muscles through cardiovascular exercise, strength training, stretching, and so on. We also know this takes great discipline. We can’t just work out sporadically and expect great results.
While much societal emphasis is placed on the importance of having a strong, fit, healthy body, less attention is paid to developing healthy emotional muscles. Control over our feelings needs regular exercise to stay strong as well.
Why does emotional fitness matter?
Have you ever been having a perfectly fine (even wonderful!) day, only to receive an upsetting phone call or rude email that instantly "ruins" your day? I know I have. I recently received a phone call from my agent alerting me to the fact that a client was refusing to pay me for a job I had already performed, making all kinds of excuses and trying to justify withholding payment.
I found myself getting irate—taking their unprofessionalism personally and feeling attacked, saying "How dare they mess with my money!" While I had a valid reason to be upset, nothing is worth getting that worked up over.
It's one thing for someone to go back on a commitment. It is another to allow that person to steal our joy. I literally gave away my good mood for free, and there is no price tag we can put on our peace and happiness. It is invaluable.
I learned a huge lesson that day. I saw how little control I had over my own well-being. I gave someone else the keys. I knew I never wanted to feel this way again. While none of us will go through life without experiencing hurts and frustrations, it’s important to embrace the fact that we are responsible for our reactions to upsetting events. In other words, most of us need to bulk up our emotional muscles.
Here's how to start:
1. Give yourself emotional timeouts.
If you’re a parent, you’re familiar with giving your children a "timeout." Sometimes adults need a timeout, too. Rather than acting on emotional impulses and saying or doing something we will later regret, we can resist the temptation and see our reaction as an opportunity to grow and develop character.
There will always be opportunities to lose our temper and get upset, but when we feel our emotions rising, we can choose not to act on them and to stay calm instead. It's like going to the gym when you don't want to, just because you know how good you'll feel afterward.
2. Take the high road. Forgive.
When someone is rude to us and we don’t engage, we pass the test. When we are willing to take responsibility even though it's hard, we grow up faster and build strong character that attracts abundance into our lives.
We will always be tempted to overreact in the areas where we are the weakest.
These situations shine a light on our own limitations. It is easy to love people who are loving, but the challenge is to love those who are not. They teach us how to love better and be stronger. Forgive them. They are building your character.
3. Don't get on board.
It’s hard to overlook an insult, keep a positive attitude, and be patient when nothing seems to be going our way. We think if those rude people would just stop being rude, everything would be great. But when we allow ourselves to realize that this rude person or upsetting situation is perfect for us because it allows us to change for the better, we take back our power.
It may not feel very pleasant to do 100 burpees at the gym with your personal trainer, but think how strong your body will look and feel if you commit to exercising your physical muscles this way on a regular basis. You know when you’re sweating to death and out of breath during your workout and not really enjoying it that much, but afterward your feel great? The same applies to our emotional workouts, too.
So, the next time somebody does you wrong and you want to get upset, send an unloving text or email, scream at the top of your lungs, or completely shut down, try instead to take a deep breath and see it as an opportunity to heal an old wound and grow. With practice, you will begin to become less and less reactive and feel a greater sense of peace and freedom.
Kate Eckman is the author of The Full Spirit Workout: A Ten-Step System to Shed Your Self-Doubt, Strengthen Your Spiritual Core, and Create a Fun and Fulfilling Life. She is a broadcast journalist and TV personality who brings her expertise in communications, performance, and mindfulness to her practice as a success coach for business leaders and professional athletes. She earned a B.A. in communications from Penn State University, where she was an Academic All-American swimmer, and received her master’s degree in broadcast journalism from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. She graduated at the highest level from Columbia University’s executive and organizational coaching program and is a certified ICF coach (ACC) and a licensed NBI consultant. Passionate about mindfulness practices for both brain and body health, she is also a meditation teacher and course creator for Insight Timer, the world’s number one–ranked free meditation app.