In the area of work-life balance, the U.S. ranks 27 out of 36 countries in the Better Life Index issued by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. Finding a better balance is, without a doubt, one of the biggest challenges most of us face today.
While we cannot control all of the conditions that cause a work-life imbalance, there is one area within our control, and that is our emotional fitness. Many focus on physical fitness, but don't give emotional fitness a thought. So what is emotional fitness? Emotional fitness is our ability to take control over our choices and to have the emotional strength to cope with whatever hand is dealt to us. Being emotionally fit makes us more resilient and helps us avoid many of the self-induced traps that rob us of precious time—time better devoted to pursuits that enhance the quality of our life.
Here are some practical tips for improving your emotional fitness.
Become aware of your hot buttons. Hot buttons are triggers that make us feel frustrated and annoyed, such as, for example, when we have to put up with people who don't respect punctuality. Knowing that this is one of your triggers, you can prepare for this so that you don't continually experience the same frustrations. If the offender is a friend or family member, you can arrange to meet them at home where their late arrival will not infringe on your activities. If it is a business prospect, bring along electronic devices that will keep you productive while waiting. Becoming aware of recurring emotions prevents you from being derailed and wasting emotional energy. Manage disturbing emotions rather than letting the emotions disrupt your day.
Take the sting out of criticism. Criticism, even when merited, is one of the most difficult things to accept. It often elicits a defensive response which can become an emotional drain. No one can avoid criticism—as Elbert Hubbard humorously put it: "To avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing, be nothing." So, a worthwhile life skill to acquire is the ability to cope with criticism. In The Feeling Good Handbook, Dr. David D. Burns, M.D., advises that the simple, most important technique for dealing with criticism is to find some truth in the criticism. When you acknowledge the criticism, no matter how small, you disarm the person who is criticizing you. This immediately calms the interchange.
Curtail lunch engagements. Be discriminating about how many invitations to lunch you accept from people you haven't met. While it may seem hard to decline, consider that the time you save is time that you can devote to more worthwhile pursuits. The same applies to time spent with virtual acquaintances—guard against being dragged into online involvements, being signed up in different networking groups. Many can end up being digital one-night stands that lead nowhere. Being selective about how you spend your time is an important component of self-management; having the fortitude to decline without feeling bad about it is a part of emotional fitness.
Avoid pointless arguments. In Mojo: How To Get It, How To Keep It, How To Get It Back If you Lose It, Marshall Goldsmith says that "many of our arguments fall into classic patterns that, if looked at from a distance, would seem silly and beneath our dignity." One such argument is what the author calls "Let Me Keep Talking." This is when we go too far, and just can't stop. For example, the decision-makers have heard your point and want to move on, it can be difficult for a hard-driving, smart person to let go. Instead of accepting that we weren't successful in selling our point, we may find attempts to silence us as insulting. So we keep fighting after the bell has rung and ignore the many subtle signals we get to give it up: a decision-maker interrupting us, someone trying to change the subject, a colleague rolling his eyes. Part of emotional fitness is raising our self-awareness so that we recognize when it's time to pull back.
Don't magnify your flaws. Much mental energy is wasted in self-recrimination. If something went wrong in a situation, do you dwell on it exclusively, discounting the positives? If you have a habit of self-recrimination, you end up losing sight of your strengths. This is guaranteed to sap your mental energy. Make it a habit to acknowledge your values, your drive, and the energy and commitment you put to get to where you are today.
Temper your expectations for reciprocation. When you do something for someone, it is normal to expect a thank you or some sort of acknowledgment. When this doesn't happen, we notice it and we experience a negative emotion. This is another energy leak that is best plugged. Most likely the absence of a thank you is due to forgetfulness rather than lack of care or incivility. Do for others without expecting anything in return. Adopting this attitude adds to your emotional strength. It's liberating.
Long ago, Benjamin Franklin said: "Life is 10 percent what you make it and 90 percent how you take it." This is perhaps one of the best definitions of emotional fitness. A lot of what happens in a day is colored by our thoughts. Emotionally fit people understand this and use it to manage themselves so that they can enhance the quality of their life. In the process, they save countless hours that would otherwise be lost in unproductive mental states.
On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the most fit, where would you place your emotional fitness level?
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