Maintaining emotional fitness is an ongoing, proactive practice that increases self-awareness, positively affects relationships, and prevents mental and emotional health struggles down the line. If you want to lead a satisfied life, communicate your needs clearly, have healthy relationships, and improve your ability to handle stress, it’s time to work on your emotional fitness. Think of it less like going to the doctor and more like going to the gym.
Through extensive research, Coa's Co-Founder & Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Emily Anhalt discovered that emotionally fit people exhibit and practice these seven traits:
Self-awareness is the ability to understand our emotional triggers and biases. It’s the foundation for emotional fitness, because if we can’t reflect on our own experience and whether or not it’s impacting how we interact with others, the rest of the traits are tough to develop.
Research shows 95% of people believe they’re self-aware, but only about 10–15% really are. The truth is, there’s so much we don’t know we don’t know.
While this trait can be difficult to develop, start by creating a regular routine of self-inquiry. Set up a 10-min debrief at the end of each day to reflect on what felt good and not so good.
Journal, meditate, or go for a walk to check in with yourself and notice what’s coming up for you.
Empathy is the ability to understand the emotions, needs, and perspectives of others. It requires us to allow ourselves to feel what others are feeling, and it’s a key skill for building relationships.
Empathy helps us recognize that how we feel about things might not necessarily be how others feel. It also helps us seek to listen and understand even when things get difficult.
Empathy is not an endless well and we must remember to refill our reserves. It’s common to feel like you have to be empathetic all the time, in every moment. But boundaries and empathy are not mutually exclusive.
Learn to be clear about what you can offer others, and what you don’t have the capacity to give in any particular moment.
Mindfulness is the ongoing process of becoming more comfortable being uncomfortable.
Mindfulness helps us handle tough conversations, be transparent about uncomfortable information, share complicated feedback, and sit with a problem until it has been fully thought through.
The first step in developing mindfulness is getting a sense of how you relate to discomfort. Some people blame everyone else when they’re in an uncomfortable situation. Some turn inward and get really down on themselves. Understanding what your reaction is to discomfort gives you more power to change that reaction if it’s not serving you.
If you notice you’re beginning to avoid discomfort, take a moment to reflect on whether the discomfort is really so intolerable. Sit with it for a while, take a deep breath, and prove to yourself that you can handle it. Remember, you do not need to break every silence, fix every issue immediately, or avoid difficult conversations.
Curiosity is the ability to pursue growth over defensiveness. It helps us understand and tolerate the difference between what we want to be true and what is true.
A big part of curiosity is making it a habit to ask questions, even when the answers to those questions are uncomfortable. This helps us avoid the defensive reflex and opens us up to growth.
Here are some questions you can ask when confronted with a difficult reality:
Play is the ability to foster a safe space of connection and creativity. It’s about removing constraints, meeting people where they are, and trying things on to see how they feel.
This trait sparks spontaneity and creativity, and is a crucial part of emotional health and interpersonal cohesiveness.
A key part of play is building it into your daily routine. This could be as simple as starting meetings with an icebreaker game, holding an animal photo contest, or allowing yourself to be silly sometimes. The more you do it, the more natural it will become, the easier it’ll feel, and the more you’ll give others permission to do the same.
Resilience is the ability to persevere and bounce back from failure and setbacks. This trait helps us understand that there is more to be learned from failure than success, and helps us to be flexible and adaptive in the face of challenge.
A great way to begin developing resilience is to start a self-esteem file. Write down or screenshot every single piece of positive feedback you receive from friends, managers, co-workers, or partners and put it in a folder you can look at when your self-confidence is low.
Having this stockpile of past praises and successes will help you talk back to your harsh inner critic and summon your healthy self to say, “That’s not the whole story.”
Communication is the ability to put words to needs, boundaries, and expectations. It’s crucial to maintaining healthy relationships and wellbeing.
This trait helps us talk through issues in a proactive, ongoing way, and a big part of communication is being able to handle conflict effectively.
When you find yourself in a disagreement with another person, try swapping positions in the argument. This loosens the attachment to being “right,” helps you see the other’s perspective more coherently, and brings to light new points, which might make the best choice more clear.
It’s time to shift the narrative of mental health from reactive to proactive. From something we only pay attention to when we’re in crisis to something we proactively do to build wellness.
Because just like with our physical health, it’s a lot easier to work out when we’re feeling good.
Now that we’ve outlined the seven traits of emotional fitness and how to work on them at home, it’s time to develop your own emotional fitness regimen. All seven traits are highly connected, so start anywhere.
Join an 8-week class series to learn emotional fitness for anxiety, mental health, and leadership.
Level up as a manager in this 8-class emotionally fit management series. You’ll boost self-awareness, kick-start your resilience, and take control of your stress.