What is the first image that comes to your mind when you think of fitness? Someone sweating it out in the gym or running in a park? But that is only the physical aspect. What about emotions? How do we exercise those muscles? Recently, while surfing the internet, I came across articles by Katherine Gordy Levine. She is the founder of Emotional Fitness Training Inc. and has written, spoken and provided counselling on parenting and social work topics for 30+ years. She has suggested 12 powerful exercises which should be done on a daily basis to improve emotional fitness. I got in touch with her and she has very kindly agreed to let me put these up as a GUEST post. For me, although I was aware about these things, I never thought about doing them daily. I hope I can implement at least some of them out. You can know more about her on her blog and website.
Just as physical fitness exercises improve your physical health, practising these exercises daily will strengthen your ability to control negative feelings.
Practice gratitude. Remember all you have to be grateful for – life, love, a beautiful world. List in your head at least 3 specific things you are grateful for.
Remember what matters. We are all charged with moving the world forward. Some say what matters most is buying the newest car, the latest fashions, the most up to date gadgets; others say how you look; still others think it is how smart you are or what school you went to, how much money you have, have many jewels you wear, or how fancy a car you drive and life’s important missions. They are wrong.
Research shows these are less important than being kind and caring, forgiving others for their flaws, forgiving yourself for not being perfect, and working with others to make the world a better place. The importance of caring is a long recognized value. Across all ages, throughout all religions and all philosophies it is believed the good life cannot be found unless it involves being caring and just. You care for yourself when you care for others. Such selfishness is not bad.
Move your body. Moving your body for only 20 minutes a day and just hard enough to raise your heart rate not only improves your emotional fitness, but helps you stay physically healthy. Brisk walking works well. So does some heart raising dancing. Two 10 minute periods work as well as one 20 minute period. A quick stretch off and on during the day or before and after walking, is also important.
Practice Kindness. We need positive connections to others, and kindness builds those connections. Practising kindness is a major self-care skill. Being kind to others almost always gets repaid with kindness. Smile at someone and most of the time you will get a smile in return. When they don’t, at least you have done the right thing. One of the easiest ways to practice kindness is to compliment strangers. Giving and getting kindness is not only essential to your health, it is a way to act on The Mission.
Value all you do. Modern life disconnects us from the fruits of our labor. For some, paychecks are often the only concrete measurement of work done; for others it might be a grade or a report card. Sometimes the full results of all our work will not be visible for years. In the helping professions we might never know how we have helped. This is not good for our souls. Doing something, no matter, how small, that yields an immediate, concrete, and positive result nourishes our well-being. Folding a basket of laundry, cleaning out one messy drawer, washing dishes, pulling some weeds, chopping wood or writing and mailing a postcard to a distant friend are examples of small goals.
It also helps to make one of the small goals you reach for each day, exercising your creativity. Write a few lines in your journal, work on a poem, start a painting, knit a few rows of an afghan, add some lines to the great American novel, sing a song, dance a dance, tend a garden, bake some bread, carve some wood. As always remember to take pleasure in all your small steps toward fulfilling The Mission.
Finally, several times during the day, stop and review all you have done. We often complain about our to do list, but don’t keep adequate track of all we do. Stop right now and start a little list of “done that” for the day.
Here’s how mine would go for the first hour and half of a day when I care for my grands: up, showered, combed hair, brushed teeth, dressed, put coffee on, walked Punky the pup. while walking picked up trash littering complex’s lawns. Made breakfast for self and hubbie, ate, answer 5 emails, read about a 100 tweets, re-tweeted 10; pinned 2 items to my Pinterest Board and then my two grandchildren arrived. And I am retired. My daughter-in-law had followed much the same routine without the tweets, but also had to get two kids up, dressed, fed, put in their car seats, drive half an hour to our apartment, cart the kids into the house, and then drive another 20 minutes to her job.
Everyone of us does so much and are valued for so little. Make a point of valuing all you do.
Honor past gifts. This exercise asks you to pay special attention to those responsible for all you have or are right now. We are the continuation of all the generations leading up to ours. We are the continuation of the caring our immediate, extended families, friends, and teacher gave. Some gave a great deal, others gave less. Each gave all they could.
The most powerful way to honor past gifts is to focus on a memory of one person from your past who gave the gift of caring. That person may not have always been nurturing; nevertheless, the gift she gave became part of who you are today. You can honor the gift from a different person each time you do the exercise. You honor gifts by taking a calming breath, shutting your eyes, and recalling a time you and the person spent together when you felt cherished, cheered on, or otherwise nurtured. When you honor such past gifts, you give yourself the gift of caring all over again.
Be with beauty. Look at a beautiful picture. Listen to music that stirs your soul. Recall a song you love. Watch a bird soar. If you cannot actually do any of these things at the moment, remember the last time you did.
“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” What is beautiful to you may not be beautiful to the next person. There is no world-wide standard for beauty. One person’s slender star is another’s bag of bones. One person’s scenic view is another person’s desolate and lonely vista or barren desert. Surround yourself with what you find beautiful in every way you can and take the time to be with that beauty.
Laugh and play. The day is empty that does not hold a few minutes of play and laughter. Make room for such time in your day. When possible, include others in both the laughter and the play.
Playfulness is another important component of self-care. Play is thought by many researchers to improve intelligence. Minimally, it helps build the social skills needed to get along with others. Finally, play is also a useful way to move your body, combining two Emotional Fitness Training® Exercises in one.
Indulge in a healthy pleasure. Do one thing each day that you consider a luxury or an indulgence. Do it in a healthy way. This might involve giving yourself a hand or foot massage, eating and fully savoring a favorite food or a cup of tea, doing a cross word puzzle, letting one piece of chocolate melt in your mouth. The important thing is this be something just for you and that it be an indulgence of your needs.
Practice forgiveness. Forgive another. Forgive yourself. Past hurts wound only if you keep the hurt alive. Practising forgiveness daily is important. Review the day. Maybe some hurt or anger lingers on from when someone said something unkind. Did someone treat you unfairly? Take without giving in return? Break a promise? Betray a hope? Embarrass you in public? Say or do something cruel? Forgiveness does not mean forgetting, or staying with those who are abusive. As Bishop Tutu tells us, forgiveness means letting go of revenge and stopping the circle of hurt. To practice forgiving another see the person coming to you as a small child, sad and upset, and asking you to forgive them. No one is perfect and all of us start our march through the world innocent.
Perhaps the negative you need to let go of is some wrong you did. Maybe you treated another unfairly. Maybe you were angry or thoughtless and now regret your actions. When you need forgiveness, it means stopping the wrongful behavior, not repeating it and sometimes making amends. We all fail to do or be our best. We all make mistakes. We all need forgiveness for one thing or another. When you need forgiveness, see yourself as a small child approaching the person you want to forgive you. See that person smiling down on you with forgiveness and acceptance.
Observe the now. Yesterday is gone. The past cannot be changed. What was good in the past can and should be savored. The hurts of the past should be honored for their lessons and then laid to rest. The future has not yet come. Worrying about what will be is useless. As the humorist Mark Twain noted: “I have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.” Making thoughtful plans for your future is reasonable. Worrying about what might happen is not. Do what you can and then let the future take care of it self.
Observing the now is a way of letting go of the day and preparing yourself for sleep. In fact it works so well for some that they often don’t stay awake long enough to practice the next exercise. If as you are observing the now, you find yourself drifting off, be grateful.
- Take a calming breath
- Breathe normally and just notice what it feels like to breathe in and out.
- As you breathe in and out.
- Notice how your body feels.
- Watch how thoughts come and go.
- If a negative thought seems to get stuck in your head, take another calming breath
- As you breathe out, say “Now is all.”
- Notice again what it feels like just to breathe.
- When you are ready, take a final Calming Breath and go on.
Hold on to the positive. End every day by spending a minute honoring your strength, your ability to endure and to stay on the side of good, to keep caring and striving to do what is right. Then remember all you have and be grateful. Fall asleep holding good thoughts in your heart and mind.