BY: T. Franklin Murphy | June 16, 2021 (edited April 22, 2022)
Life is challenging. Mindful practices can enhance our emotional stability and strength to work through the challenges.
Life is full of wonderful surprises and nasty gifts. We process these encounters with our biologically inherited apparatus. However, we're not doomed to our biology. We can find techniques that assist with regulating our over or under-stimulated minds.
A fit mind draws on the strengths of the brain to enhance overall wellness. Emotional fitness manages incoming emotions, logically evaluates, judges circumstances, and draws upon analogies to utilize experiences in wellness enhancing ways.
Emotional Fitness is a term derived comparing the mind to the body. Just as our physical bodies need regular exercise and training to be fit so does our mind.
Six Realms of Emotional Fitness
Emotional fitness is an on-going practice. We must remain committed to the health of our mind. Just as a fit body slowly becomes flabby with extended periods of inactivity so can a neglected mind.
Emotional fitness is a way of living, mindfully attending to the wellness of our mind through practice and healthy emotional regulation during distressing events.
"Emotional fitness is not the same as emotional intelligence. Although the two are related, emotional intelligence is the capacity for empathy. Emotional fitness is the capacity to think on your feet when the ground crumbles underneath you."
Raul Villacis | Entrepreneur
Practices for Emotional Fitness
Just as the different muscles in the body must be targeted for balanced and healthy development so must the different realms of emotional fitness. There are many practices for exercising our minds. Many practices just add mindfulness to ordinary daily experiences. We do the same things that we always do but with mindfulness we focus on every aspect, examining sensations and emotional reactions.
A common example is adding mindfulness to doing the dishes. Instead of simply washing dishes, slow down, feel what is going on. Give attention to the sound of running water, feel the water and soap on your hands, curiously explore the popping bubbles. As you do the dishes with mindfulness, giving complete attention to the task, we experience the chore much differently.
"To extend the physical fitness metaphor into emotional terms, perhaps emotional fitness is the ability to experience emotions as they arise but not to be overwhelmed by them (in the same way that physical exertions don’t overwhelm us if we are physically fit)."
Tim Hill | Psychotherapy and Counseling
Mindfulness practices during communication can be particularly enlightening as we give attention to our emotional reactions, a partner's facial expressions, and many other small particulars we have missed during conversations in the past.
See Mindful Breathing for another mindfulness practice
Checking In With Emotions
Regular check-ins are beneficial, essential for emotional fitness goals. Quietly focusing on feelings without judgement or labeling, allows us to experience emotion without the drive to react. We just curiously examine and accept.
See Mindful Check-In for more on this topic
"At least two or three times per day, take a minute to check-in with yourself and figure out what you are focusing on. Follow that focus and see what the emotions are bringing up."
Raul Villacis | Entrepreneur
Sometimes emotions overwhelm. We get beat down by excessive waves of arousal, beyond our capacity to just quietly sit with and explore. Cognitive restructuring may be helpful during these moments of overwhelm.
Cognitive Restructuring is regulating techniques that help people identify and change negative thinking patterns.
Cognitive restructuring involves changing the way we think—and that, hopefully, improves the way we feel. Cognitive restructuring is a staple and foundational objective of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy.
"When thought patterns become destructive and self-defeating, it’s a good idea to explore ways to interrupt and redirect them."
The main idea behind cognitive restructuring is catching faulty thinking and replacing it. Our thinking patterns are habitual. We incorporate modes of thinking based on untested or unchecked beliefs.
Some common faulty thinking patterns are:
"If our thoughts determine the quality of how we feel on a regular basis, that means that by changing how we tend to think about things we can change how we tend to feel about things."
Cognitive Restructuring Techniques
Several techniques are used by counselors, therapists and self taught individuals. Each techniques begins with basic self-awareness of faulty thinking patterns. This is often a stumbling block for many. We masterfully hide, justify thoughts and continue to our sorrows.
Our own tendency for personal deceptions often demands we find a caring friend or paid professional to help identify the obvious flaws demanding attention.
Common cognitive restructuring techniques:
Existing behind overwhelming emotions is often misguided assumptions. If our thought is "I know I'm going to fail," we can challenge the basic assumptions. Often judgmental thoughts that undermine our abilities and strengths cloud our judgement and darken our moods. By challenging these fundamental thoughts, we can change the emotion.
Instead of blindly accepting thoughts, we can examine evidence that support or refute the underlying beliefs. Our examinations may completely discredit a belief. Other times the gathering evidence may support the belief but provide practical guidance for improving the situation.
Worst-Best Case Scenarios
Considering the worst case scenario often relieves much of the worry. When we break down worries into best and worst case scenarios, we often find that the problem isn't as big as we were making it.
We are meaning making machines. We experience something and assign a much deeper meaning to the event. "She didn't call me back because she hates me." Our meanings bend and twist reality to create a theory of 'why' something happened. Our theories tend to impact emotions more than the event itself.
We can challenge these self-imposed meaning with something more graceful. Alternative meanings can stop emotion enhancing thoughts, and provide a more reasonable and kind explanation.
The practice of acceptance is a gem in the wellbeing arena. Life doesn't march to our expectations. Our firm grasp on what we wish the world to be often interferes with emotions. We litter our minds with "shoulds." We complain they shouldn't do this or that. We self-righteously proclaim, "I shouldn't have to do that."
Most of our shoulds are completely baseless. There are no universal laws proclaiming what we should and should not get. We grant our self a right and demand the world fulfill it. This practice creates a continual flow of disappointment. We become habitual victims to violations of impractical laws of our own creating.
A practice of accepting the world as it is does not imply cowardly submission. We still work for change. We still hope for the better angels of human nature to lift. However, we know that these improvements take time, effort, and sorrow.
See Accepting Reality for more on this topic
Emotional Fitness is a Way of Life
We never become masters. We just live healthier lives. We constantly find new ways to flexibly implement techniques and practices. Life is dynamic. No single technique works for every situation. Sometimes something that previously worked now doesn't. No fears. Our emotional fitness gives confidence to sort through different responses to meet new challenges. We become adapt and responding to the unpredictable and challenging world that surrounds us.
We are fit. Fit for life. Fit for love. Fit for the array of emotions flowing as an integral part of life.
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