How about your emotional fitness? Get it right with these 5 tips.

How about your emotional fitness? Get it right with these 5 tips.

Original publication in on October 20th 2019

Have you ever wished that you could find a little more balance in your emotional life? Or maybe you struggle with an endless stream of negative self-talk that keeps you feeling constantly anxious, depressed, or guilty?

If so, you’ve probably found yourself reading an article or two about emotional intelligence. It’s a pretty attractive idea — that if we understand more about ourselves and how emotions work, we can improve everything from bad moods and negative thought patterns to productivity and the quality of our relationships.

But there’s a big problem with the idea of emotional intelligence: It’s just ideas—and ideas are never enough.

To really change and grow into a resilient, emotionally mature, and mentally strong person, knowledge isn’t enough. You need action. You need practice. You need habits. You need emotional fitness.

Reading all the best books on running marathons won’t actually lead to finishing a marathon unless you train and put in the miles. The same goes for our mental health and emotional wellbeing. You have to put in the work if you want to grow and become stronger. You have to build emotional fitness.

What follows are 5 of the most effective habits for building emotional fitness and becoming a more resilient, mentally tough, and emotionally fit version of yourself. These are habits I practice myself and recommend to my clients in my work as a psychologist.

If you’ve ever got stuck in a worry spiral, you know how hard it is to re-direct your thoughts and attention away from worry and back to reality. The same is true of rumination spirals — endlessly criticizing yourself for past mistakes and your own perceived failings as a person.

When your attention gets stuck in a pattern of negativity, your emotions and moods follow:

  • Obsessing about how awful your upcoming speech is going to go? Prepare to be racked by anxiety.
  • Replaying that gaff in front of your in-laws over and over again in your head? Prepare to be swamped by shame.
  • Constantly telling and re-telling the story of how your spouse wronged you after dinner last night? Prepare to be stuck in anger and resentment.

How we habitually think determines how we habitually feel.

Negative thinking patterns exert a powerful gravitation pull on our attention, which is why it’s so easy to slip into them and get stuck in them. In order to resist the pull of negative thinking patterns, you must strengthen your ability to shift, focus, and control your attention.

Thoughts come and go in our minds, and there’s little we can do to change that. What we can control, though, is our attention.

If you can become stronger and more skilled at managing your attention — focusing on helpful, productive things and avoiding unhelpful, distressing ones — you’re mood will improve dramatically.

There are many forms of attention training, put the simplest and most powerful is mindfulness meditation. To begin, carve out five minutes each day and dedicate them to strengthening your attention muscle:

  • Sit somewhere comfortable and close your eyes.
  • Focus your attention on the sensation of breathing. Try to keep your focus there — on how it feels to breathe.
  • Inevitably, thoughts, emotions, memories, images, external noises, or other physical sensations will intrude on your awareness. Simply acknowledge that your attention has been temporarily distracted and gently return your attention to your breath.
  • That’s it!

If you want to be more balanced in your moods and emotions, you must build your attention muscle.

2. Exercise

You can’t separate your mental and emotional self from your physical self. Your mind and everything in it — thoughts, emotions, memories, etc. — lives in and depends on your body.

If your body isn’t functioning well, neither with your mind.

People who regularly exercise and take care of their bodies are much better able to regulate and manage difficult emotions, moods, and thought patterns than those who don’t.

Of course, people who exercise still fall into bad moods, worry, and get depressed. But regular exercise exerts a powerful protective effect on our mental health and emotional wellbeing.

Find whatever form of exercise you enjoy and make a plan to do it regularly.

3. Talk to yourself. A lot.

Yes, you heard that right: Talking to yourself is a good sign when it comes to emotional wellbeing.

As we discussed above, bouts of negative emotion and low mood are the result of subtle but powerful patterns of habitual thinking. And what makes thought habits like worry and rumination so powerful is that they often run on autopilot, just outside our conscious awareness.

This means you can have a worry spiral, for example, running through your mind for long stretches of time without noticing it, building up more and more negative emotion with each thought.

The longer your negative thoughts persist unnoticed, the more negative emotion you will generate.

On the other hand, the faster you become aware of your negative thought patterns, the quicker you can defuse them and the less negative emotion they’ll generate.

And that’s where talking to yourself comes in…

Talking to yourself helps you become more aware of your own thoughts. It allows you to put distance between your thoughts and your self.

This distance helps give you a fresh perspective on the mental habits driving your emotions. And the better your perspective on your thoughts, the easier it is to disengage from them or change them.

Here’s another big perk of talking to yourself: You can’t speak nearly as fast as you can think.

If you constrain the speed of your thinking to the speed of speech, your mind will only generate a fraction of the negative emotion in the same amount of time.

Few things will keep you saner than cultivating a habit of talking to yourself when things are tough.

4. Rest

Like exercise, adequate sleep and rest are essential for both physical and mental health.

Here’s an example: If you had to guess, when are couples more likely to get into a fight: 11:00 AM or 11:00 PM?

If you’ve ever been in a relationship, I think the answer is pretty clear: fights and arguments are far more likely in the evening.

Why? Because, by the time evening rolls around, we’re exhausted.

We simply don’t function well when we’re exhausted—physically, mentally or emotionally.

Everything from impulse control and emotion regulation to communication becomes significantly more challenging when we’re tired.

To protect yourself against the mood-deflating effects of fatigue, commit to consistently good habits of sleep and rest:

  • Wake up at the same time every day.
  • Don’t get in to bed until you’re truly sleepy.
  • Create a sleep runway in the evenings.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Take frequent breaks, especially during strenuous work.
  • Make time to be outside and in nature.
  • Build more whitespace into your life.

5. Clarify and cultivate your values

Consider the following two people, both of whom find themselves stuck in a cycle of negative self-talk, beating themselves up over a mistake they made earlier in the day:

  • Jasper is a high-powered criminal defense attorney. He lives for his work. It’s his life. And he’s amazing at it. Nothing makes him feel better than winning a big trial. But because he’s dedicated his life almost entirely to his job, he has very few interests and passions outside of his work as an attorney. No real hobbies, no long-term romantic relationships — even his friends he’s not especially close to. On his way home late at night after a rare defeat in court, Jasper is skewering himself because of a crucial (perceived) mistake he made in his closing argument. Unsurprisingly, he feels depressed, angry, and ashamed.
  • Jenny is a preschool teacher. She loves her job, but she also loves that she never has to take work home with her and gets the summers off. She’s been happily married for 10 years, volunteers every other weekend at the animal humane society (she LOVES pit bulls!), and has a baking blog where she chronicles her adventures with experimental pie recipes and gluten free treats of all kinds. Jenny is on her way home after a parent teacher conference in which one of her student’s parents berated her for her daughter’s continued poor reading ability. Like Jasper, Jenny finds herself ruminating on what she may have done wrong with her student and how she could have been better. She’s feeling down and discouraged.

All other things being equal, who do you imagine is going to be more successful extracting themselves from their negative thoughts and emerging bad mood?

My bet’s on Jenny.

  • Jenny has a diverse and well-cultivated set of values and interests. Even if she can’t extract herself from her negative thoughts on her commute home, she’s coming home to a supportive partner, an adoring pitbull named Brad, and a flurry of encouraging comments on her most recent blog post about gluten-free brownies.
  • Jasper doesn’t have much to come home to in terms of things that could help him emotionally. Sure, his 65th-floor apartment is dope, his 80-inch plasma TV is stunning, and the bar in the lobby of his apartment building serves killer sliders. But how well will those things really serve to help Jasper disengage from his negative thoughts and bolster his mood?

The point is this:

A diverse set of well-clarified values makes it much easier to let go of negative mental and emotional patterns.

Like a well-balanced financial portfolio, diversified values and interests are a powerful buffer and shield against stress and emotional downturns.

So carve out some time to really ask yourself: What truly matters to me? What are my values? What do I feel passionate about? And then most importantly, how could I begin to work toward those values? What would it take to make those values and interests a reality?

If you want to make real changes to how you feel on a regular basis, emotional intelligence isn’t enough; you must commit to an emotional fitness regimen.

Train your attention.


Talk to yourself.


Focus on your values.

Written by Nick Wignall

My key take-aways from WOBI 2019, Superminds.

My key take-aways from WOBI 2019, Superminds.

By Katrien Audenaert Partner, The Resilience Institute Europe, November 28th 2019


WOBI – the world of business ideas- is a leading global business content hub. Their goal is to produce and distribute the best management media content to help companies and their top executives improve the way they manage their organizations. They strongly believe that knowledge is the ultimate competitive advantage. Organized in cities across the world, WOBI’s events gather thousands of senior executives to learn from the most influential business thought leaders and practitioners.

The speakers at the WOBI Forum NYC 2019 – Jim Collins, Simon Sinek, Dr. Janet L. Yellen, Guy Hamel, Marcus Buckingham, Zoë Chance, Kory Kogon, Randi Zuckerberg, Hal Gregersen and Ian Williamson- delivered excellent keynotes, full of interesting and often challenging ideas.

I went back home with 5 major take-aways:

–       Greatness or excellence is not luck or personality: it is a matter of conscious choice and discipline. It involves disciplined people, who combine humility with will and put themselves at the service of others. Take care of your people instead of your career and they will take care of you (Jim Collins).

–       When you operate in an age of uncertainty, in a VUCA world, there are no real answers. If we are stuck, questions are the answers. We need to compose conditions and wait for catalytic questioning: build daily disciplines to surface the right questions. Ask questions that make you feel uncomfortable, quiet, wrong, … Build good questioning patterns. If you have a challenge, instead of looking for answers, start with questions and your challenge will become much clearer and sharper. Try these question bursts with a buddy or with your team and you will be surprised! (Hal Gregersen)

–       Stephen Covey’s urgent-important matrix is not only about personal time management. Leaders should help their teams to getting things done with quality, by rewarding Quadrant 2 (important-not urgent) behaviors and keeping them out of Quadrant 1 (urgent and important) when possible (Kory Kogon).

–       Simon Sinek showed us how to live a life with an infinite mindset, even though our lives are finite. The goal is not to win the competition but to outlast the competition. It is a conscious choice based on the following principles. Advance a just cause: a vision that is so beautiful that we are willing to sacrifice for. Build trusting teams. Study your rivals because their strengths reveal your weaknesses. Build existential flexibility, this capacity to make a profound strategic shift. Have the courage to lead because the pressure to play the finite game is very high. Take care of each other: we have a lot of matrixes to measure performance but so little to measure trust.

–       Marcus Buckingham showed us that excellence has its own configuration. We cannot learn about it by studying its opposite. He blew me away with his ‘9 lies about work’. Using the example of Messi’s extraordinary dribble with his left foot in the Copa Del Rei in 2015, he showed us how learning comes from within and is done with passion, joy and love. Ask yourself: ‘what is my left foot?’ What am I really good at?’. Your strength is your opportunity: focus on what you are best at. Practice it. Know what you love and spend a week in love with your job. What are the current activities in my job that I love? What strengthens you?

I am already looking forward to the WOBI 2020!

Sleep is a super power !

Sleep is a super power !

Original publication in Open Access Government on October  4th 2019

Sleep is the best medicine: The repair programme that strengthens resilience.

What does sleep have to do with mental health and resilience? How does the “most important third” of our life affect not only the immune system of our body but also that of our mind and soul?

Dr Hans-Günter Weeß has a degree in psychology and in Germany he is an absolute expert in sleep research. He is the head of the interdisciplinary sleep centre at Pfalzklinikum, Klingenmünster.

Sleep is a highly active process. Sleeping people consume only slightly less energy than people who are awake. Recent sleep research clearly shows that sleep is a human being’s most important regeneration and repair programme. Nevertheless, more than 80% of the Germans use an alarm to get up in the morning and terminate their most important regeneration programme prematurely before it has fulfilled all its tasks. Human beings are the only beings on our planet who shorten sleep artificially and do not sleep in.

Sleep supports regeneration and learning processes

Sleep has irreplaceable functions for the human body and a well-balanced psyche: for instance, it strengthens the immune system.

Several studies have shown that in cases of enough healthy sleep, natural defence cells are built in a larger quantity and it is easier to fight bacteria and viruses. One night without sleep, for example, already leads to a reduction of the function of T-cells (T-lymphocytes or for short T-cells form a group of white blood cells helping the immune defence), which search infected cells and kill them. In some studies, human beings were given cold viruses and a connection between the duration of sleep and the onset of a cold was revealed. Shorter sleep was associated with an increased probability of catching a cold.

During deep sleep the hypophysis releases growth hormone. It has growth and metabolism-enhancing effects. Growth hormone mainly works by activating growth factors on muscles, liver, bones and on the cells of the fatty tissue. It is responsible for energy storage processes at the cellular level and, thus, a key element of physical and mental regeneration.

Sleep is also a decisive factor for the formation of the memory. During sleep the information newly acquired over the day is transferred from the short-term and working memory into the long-term memory and unnecessary information is rejected. For this reason, sleep experts advise us to take a regular afternoon nap of 10 up to a maximum of 20 minutes, especially for active learners but basically to ensure a healthy and long life. Studies demonstrate that a short nap between learning phases helps memorize factual information more easily.

Sleep is important for the mental well-being

Sleep does not only help people who are learning, but also regulates emotions. The advice to “sleep on it for a night“ is legitimate, as even in case of difficult emotional situations information that is less important for the cause is filtered out of the memory during sleep. The next morning, we can simply think and judge more clearly. A lack of sleep, however, makes you more reckless and more willing to take risks and leads to more errors in case of complex decision processes. That puts a completely different perspective on certain decisions made in politics and business after long night sessions.

People with chronic sleep disorders have more than double the risk of developing depressions than people with a healthy sleep. The probability of developing anxiety disorders and addictions is also higher.

The importance of a healthy sleep is already revealed in early childhood and adolescence. Children and teens who sleep well and sufficiently are more stable regarding their ability to regulate emotions and more balanced when dealing with other people. In turn, young people who sleep badly all the time tend to show rather dissocial, excited and impulsive behaviour and an impeded social development. Each hour of sleep deprivation heightens the risk of leading an unhealthy lifestyle with insufficient physical activity and weight gain, as well as increased consumption of fast food, nicotine and caffeine. Even with one hour of sleep less than preset by our genes the probability of overweight increases by 23%.

Sleep protects against age-related diseases

During sleep, waste products generated by neurons in the brain over the day, so-called amyloid plaques, are degraded again so that the human brain maintains its functionality. For this reason, enough sleep enables people to grow old successfully while enjoying good health and reduces the risk of age-related diseases, such as dementia and Parkinson’s disease.

Sleep makes us alert and productive. Often, we only realise how important it is when we do not get enough sleep. Depending on the study, up to 43% of the Germans feel “quite often”, “mostly“ or “always tired” during the day and not well rested (DAK health report 2017). The consequences of sleep deprivation on the psychosocial level of performance, however, are not always apparent, but they can have disastrous consequences because sleep deprivation, like alcohol, slows down the reaction time. Lethal traffic accidents on German roads are twice as often a result of lack of sleep than of alcohol consumption.

Consequently, whoever sleeps sufficiently and well is not only physically and mentally fit but also has a better mental balance and resilience. Vice versa physical and mental well-being results in a more relaxing sleep. It constitutes a cycle that provides many reasons to attach more importance to sleep and to sleep soundly again.

Written by Hans-Günter Weeß

The effect of clarity and intentionality on Leadership

The effect of clarity and intentionality on Leadership

Original publication in on November 8th 2019

What are the defining characteristics of successful leadership?

Mark Sanborn identifies them as clarity and intentionality in The Intention Imperative. Clarity, he says, “tells you where you’re headed” and intentionality is “the consistent action you’ll take to get there.”

To explain, Sanborn takes us back to when Domino’s found clarity and discovered how they were going to get there. With clarity of purpose that took them back to their roots, and intentionality, they became an e-commerce company that happens to sell pizza. As a result, Dominos stock has risen 5000 percent since 2008, outperforming all of the world’s largest tech companies.

Leading with clarity and intentionality makes the difference. He offers the following chart to illuminate the effect of clarity and intentionality on our leadership effectiveness.

Sanborn Intention Imperative

The quadrant of No Leadership is negligent leadership—no direction and no way to get there. Vague Leadership has a bias for action but lacks a clear idea of where they’re going. Wishful Leadership knows where they want to go but haven’t figured out the how or aren’t taking consistent action to get there. Intentional leadership is effective leadership. “Intentional leadership is knowing where you want to go and taking consistent action in the world as it is, not the world as it was, to get there.” There is a lot contained in that last statement and is the subject of this book.

Intentional Leadership consists of three imperatives: Inspiration, Culture, and Emotion.

The Culture Imperative

Culture gets a lot of attention and is considered critical to success, but few organizations actually do much about it. At best, it becomes an HR function.

Sanborn defines culture as “what we think and believe, which then determines what we do and what we accomplish.” He lists six reasons why it matters so much, but this reason caught my attention. I had never looked at it from this perspective. He says, “Culture is a corporate immune system that protects against variance, decline, or abandonment by identifying and combating threatening forces like toxic partners, disjointed processes, and bad decisions.”

Culture often takes a back seat—though we know better—because we focus on the wrong things or think it is all about making employees happy. “Making people happy isn’t the job of an intentional leader. The job of an intentional leader is giving employees the tools—the philosophy, the training, the communication, and the incentives—to be successful.” Sanborn offers five levers to create, change, and/or maintain culture—intentionally.

The Inspiration Imperative

Inspiration comes from purpose and the mission. It’s more than motivation or engagement which are “task-focused and lack the sustaining power of inspiration.”

Inspiring leadership begins with you. You find it in yourself first so that you can bring it out in others. Inspiration can be found in solitude, those you associate with, curiosity, a healthy sense of humor, gratefulness, service and exercise. “To find your purpose is to find your inspiration.” From this foundation you can guide others to their inspiration.

Sanborn offers ten tools for inspiration. Connection with your team, your example, empathy, linking purpose to work, providing challenges and education, appreciation, and a good story are among the ten.

The Emotion Imperative

We have entered the emotion economy. The customer wants to feel successful after the fact, not just happy. “Are you happier you did business with us than with someone else?”

You want customers happy they chose you—to feel successful. “The old notion that a company merely needs to provide a good or service withers away when we start to understand that it is not the product or service itself that matters—what matters is which emotion your company elicits from its customers.”

The intentional leader knows that this goes beyond customer service. That’s part of it. “A customer’s emotions start well before they enter your sales funnel. The new economy has expanded the points at which your potential customers will first interact with your company. Across all levels of your organization, ask yourself how each impacts the customer’s happiness and feelings of success. This includes marketing, product design, sales, and, yes, customer service.”

There are a lot of great insights in this book. Through a series of case studies that go beyond the usual suspects—a parking garage, High Point University, Acuity Insurance, Savannah Bananas baseball, Texas Roadhouse, and Envisioning Green landscaping—and interviews, he walks us through the thinking behind intentional leadership and its three imperatives to see how they connect. Here is a sampling of the comments from organizations featured in the book:

Nido Qubein, president of High Point University: “I just get in front of our team. I walk around and pat people on the back, shake hands, share a laugh. It’s not complicated. I make time for moments of joy each day, and the time I spend in the café talking to students and staff members makes me feel good. Students talk selfies with me. If a student is on their phone talking to Mom and Dad, I grab it and talk to their parents. I’m present.”

Ben Salzmann, CEO Acuity Insurance: “You can’t innovate in a vacuum. If you take the best genius and give them a year, feed ‘em the best food and lock ‘em in a room—a year later they don’t look so smart. Take the same person and let them talk and look around and interact, and they will come up with great innovations. Stimulus is critical.”

Kent Taylor, founder and CEO of Texas Roadhouse: “If we think about a new idea, I run it through twenty people—managing partners, market partners, kitchen managers, service managers, meat cutters. I don’t create ideas in a distant office. When it comes to employees, I am always asking, Are they happy? Do they enjoy their job? That’s important because I believe that happy employees create happy guests, which creates happy accountants!

Erika Johns, co-owner of Envisioning Green: “Our culture is fun and positive. We aren’t afraid to laugh and joke around, but we know how to work hard. You spend more time with your co-workers than your family a lot of the time, so it’s important to have some fun at work.”

All of the examples point to the fact that inspiration, culture, and emotion, are created and maintained with intentional leadership. Sanborn completes the book with thirty things that you can do now to lead intentionally based in reality—the world as it is.