Friday, March 26, 2010

Emotional Fitness

Many years ago, I found myself coining the term "emotional embody building." I go to the gym all the time, and watch people trying to attain physical fitness. Yet, there are no gyms for us to work out in to develop our emotional fitness. Sometimes developing one's physique is actually part of an emotional defense structure, to keep others at a distance. We need to strengthen our hearts in other ways to be emotionally healthy, and to create a relationship between our emotional fitness and our physical fitness.

Emotional fitness includes developing a healthy sense of who we are. Narcissism seems epidemic, sadly, starting with school age kids. My son brings home countless tales of his 8th grade classmates who are so self-absorbed, they have no clue about the impact of their behavior on others. Without some healthy feedback, and relational coaching, these kids will grow into relationally insensitive, self-absorbed adults.

We hear so much of "entitled" twentysomethings, who have carried on their middle school narcissism, without the benefit of emotional contact and mentoring to help them grow into adults who are both self-defined and relationally conscious.

Emotional fitness also includes the ability to see many sides of any conflict or dilemma. If we take the time to ask what it is like to be in another's shoes, we may see that different experiences, different cultures, different values and different understandings inform why this other person acts as s/he does. When we too quickly move into a "blameframe," we are likely to find ourselves in an escalating conflict where hurt and anger build, and ultimately, nobody really wins.

To truly resolve and move through a conflict, we need to create the safety, the space and the compassion, to hear what it's like from both sides. This expands our frame of reference, and allows for workable solutions we might never have imagined. Mutually empowering conflict resolution requires the complete information that comes from supporting two people to articulate and define their deeper needs.

Emotional fitness includes an authentic humility. If we are truly introspective in life, open to honest and respectful feedback, and allow ourselves to learn from our relationships, a natural sense of humility will start to evolve over time. No one knows everything. We all have blindspots. Well-intentioned behavior may still need tuning to connect with another human being. We all make mistakes. Perhaps it is a paradox that the more we are open to constructive coaching, the more humble and relationally competent we become at the same time!

Emotional fitness cultivates a value for mutuality, collaboration and partnership. When we can truly team with another person, the possibilities of what we can create together expand exponentially. When mutuality and partnership are lacking, we too easily end up competing, polarized or in win-lose scenarios. Mutual, collaborative relationships are self-sustaining and energizing. Competitive and polarized relationships deplete life energy from one or both parties.

Emotional fitness is built on a foundation of respect. This includes respect for self, other, the larger context we share, the things within our grasp and the things beyond our control. Respect and humility go together. We do not take others for granted. We allow ourselves to be open and vulnerable to the moment. Yet, by being grounded in our sense of selves, this vulnerability creates an emotional vitality, a heart power, that expands to include others.

As we become more emotionally fit, we build the foundation to really LIVE in our bodies, and appreciate our innate capacities including intuition. A relationship between two emotionally fit individuals is likely to have clearer and cleaner communication, and feel more enlivening to our hearts and minds.

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