Simple Ways to Build Agility and Emotional Fitness

One beautiful autumn evening, after a full day with clients, I was carrying the groceries through the living room when I noticed my dog's peculiar pawprints
on the carpet. I quickly dumped the bags on a nearby table and walked into our kitchen, which now resembled a toddlers' wading pool. The floor was covered with 
an inch of water, and it was rapidly seeping into the dining room carpet. Where the heck was the water coming from? Quickly I ran down to the basement to grab old towels to soak up the water—and was greeted with the horror of another flood, water gushing from above and multiple boxes dripping water from the shelves.
Small floods are minor setbacks in life, of course, but there are also major setbacks: loss of a job, break-up of a relationship, a sudden illness, an emotional letdown. 
What we need at times like these is resiliency—the ability to bounce back. Fortunately, emotional resiliency is a learned skill that we can develop and refine. 

Emotional resiliency is a quality that allows us to greet new circumstances,
no matter how difficult, with grace and courage.

Hiker with a backpack jumping across rocksThink of this trait as a set 
of muscles that needs to be exercised. The ability to bounce back is vital to our sense of well-being, and it is worth investing some time in developing it.

Another description for being resilient is emotional agility.
The dictionary defines agility as the ability to move quickly and easily; nimbleness; acuity. Emotions are fluid. They are intended to move easily through us and help us draw helpful conclusions to take actions that make our lives better.

Below are some ways to help you spring back when confronted with challenges,
big or small. Practice them regularly, even with little annoyances like detours on a highway or a small flood like mine, to develop more mindfulness and resiliency in your life. (See how I translated and applied each of the tactics to my kitchen fiasco mentioned above.)

Ways to Build Emotional Resiliency and Mindfulness

    1. Practice gratitude.  Studies have shown that the regular practice of gratitude increases happiness, improves health, and expands overall well-being. You can make it a habit to begin or end your day with thoughts of gratitude, or make a formal ritual out of writing in a gratitude journal. Journaling is an enjoyable practice with many benefits. It's a great way to empty your mind and process emotions that may be brewing but cloaked by a busy day.

      Once appreciation becomes a habit, you are more likely to respond with gratitude to the curve balls of life. ("Good thing this flooding didn't happen last week when we were on vacation. Now that would have been a disaster!")

    2. Look for and find the good in everything.  I'm not talking about pretending everything is okay when it's not or only seeing life through rose-colored glasses. I'm referring to what makes us uniquely human—the power to choose what we will think and how we will feel about anything. When something we consider negative happens, it is a good practice to look for the good. This simple shift and reframe provides us with a more balanced viewpoint. ("Well, I guess I can kiss this ugly linoleum good-bye.")

    3. Accept what is. Many times, the real culprit in difficulties is not what has happened but our refusal to accept what happened. Denial, even in small doses, inhibits our natural ability to learn from our mistakes and prevents us from bringing our strengths forward to assist us.

      Look at the situation squarely with eyes wide open and accept
      what is. Feel your feelings fully. Acknowledge your pain and then determine to shift before getting stuck in a negative whirlwind. ("What a mess! Total bummer! ... Hmm. But then again, I've been wanting to replace this kitchen floor for a long time.")

    4. Train yourself to respond instead of react. Often when confronted with difficult people or situations, we tend to react in a kneejerk way—and regret it later. One of the most helpful emotional fitness skills to develop is the ability to push our pause button, self-calm, and regroup before saying or doing anything.

      Young girl peering out a windowGetting too emotional can keep us from thinking clearly and make the situation seem worse than it actually is. Many times we even misinterpret something. Once
      we get some distance from the situation, we often discover that
      it is not as bad as what we had initially thought or imagined.
      Space increases perspective.
      Give yourself time to center before acting. ("Whoa... The dishwasher
      is still oozing water. Looks like it's stuck in refill mode and the buttons are unresponsive. I'm calling the plumber right away.")

      5.  Focus on what you can change, not what you can't change.
      In problem solving, it's possible to get stuck trying to change things that we have no power over. Or sometimes we waste time and energy trying to fix someone who doesn't want our help and has no intention of changing. It is vital to focus our time and energy on what will move us forward, even in small steps. Action primes the pump and draws unexpected opportunities to us. ("The water damage is something
      I can't change. However, I can check our home insurance to see what's covered. I'd really like to install some nice tile instead of linoleum, but it's more expensive.")

Purple pansy growing in a crack of sidewalkJust like a flower pushing
through a crack in the sidewalk,
we can develop emotional agility. When we do, our happiness increases. Emotional fitness is an asset that cannot be monetized but gives us enormous benefits that are enduring. Every experience holds an opportunity
to grow, learn from our mistakes, shift our attention to what really matters, and build an internal compass that isn't dependent on outside circumstances.

Oh, and the ruined linoleum tile? I got a new kitchen floor with beautiful Italian tile that we got at a 75% discount from one of my husband's contractors. And the home insurance covered the majority of the bill. Not such a catastrophe after all!

Try practicing one or two of the above tips for greater emotional well-being, and enjoy an increased clarity in all areas of your life. You'll be able to bounce back when you get discouraged.

For more tips on emotional intelligence, listen to our free webinar.


Posted in Brain Fitness, Mindfulness and Perspective, Emotional Intelligence & Fitness