How to ‘Work Out’ Your Heart: A Guide to Building Emotional Strength

22 Jul

Most of us aspire to be in peak physical condition, so we take the stairs instead of the elevator, train for races or join a gym. We invest our money, time and energy into working out our bodies. We even plan our days around that cycle or yoga class, because, after all, if we don’t make exercising a priority, we won’t do it.

The benefits of physical exercise are endless and engrained in our minds at a very young age. However, an important workout regimen we overlook is the one that exercises the “heart” muscle.

I know the heart is an organ that needs standard exercise to thrive, but I’m talking about the heart in a figurative sense. Since it’s natural to associate emotional strength and well-being with the heart, what if we gave the same care and focus in learning to work out our heart muscle the same way we work out and strengthen our bodies?

Dr. Scott Bea, clinical psychologist at Cleveland Clinic, said it best: “It rarely occurs to us that we can practice new attitudes, new emotional responses or characteristics.”

Fortunately, some of the very same training techniques that we use to improve our bodies can also apply to our emotional and psychological fitness:

Warm Up/Cool Down
Warming up, stretching and cooling down are essential to physical workouts. They are what prepare your body before a workout, keep your muscles loose and bring your body back to equilibrium after. Similarly, self-love is what’s essential to opening your heart.

woman look in bathroom mirror

Maximize the start and end of your days with repetitions of self-love:

As a warm up, start your day with self-affirmations to build your confidence and courage. Are you currently worried about something? Do you have a big day ahead of you? “Affirmations are a great way to center yourself, and how you start your day is critical to your overall happiness and how you live each moment,” international life coach Shannon Kaiser explains. She suggests telling yourself, “All is in right order, I am right where I need to be to get to where I want to go, I accept myself fully in this moment.” Or you can try one of these.

At the end of the day, center yourself with meditation. There are several ways to meditate and stay in tune with your heart and its needs. Next time you’ve had a busy day, take a few minutes to take deep breaths after work. This will help you know when it’s time to say no to plans, put yourself first or even unplug to avoid burnout. Before you sleep every night, take a few minutes to let your mind be at peace, either reflecting on your day or letting it go from your mind altogether. With this mindfulness, you’ll be able to better manage stress and gain fresh perspective on situations.

Build Stamina With Practice
Physical stamina is important because it is the power to physically perform at maximum efficiency and capacity. Similarly, emotional stamina is as necessary and demanding. Building emotional stamina is a matter of give and give — give to yourself and give to others. The more you put compassion and generosity into practice, the easier it will become.

compassion

Compassion (kindness, empathy, thoughtfulness, giving) is the general concern for other people’s well-being, and it can be extended through the day to strangers or friends. Recognize we are all human beings with the same basic needs for love, food, shelter, acceptance and happiness. Maintain this perspective every day as you interact with people of all moods and in all circumstances. Gratitude is the second source of emotional stamina. It’s having awareness every day that you are alive and that you are blessed (in ways others may not be). It’s seeking out and appreciating the wonder in the world.

Exercises to improve your emotional stamina:

  • Volunteer your time with no expectation of anything in return; this can be lending a hand to strangers or signing up for a structured event. Furthermore, ask and learn about your company’s volunteer days policies and use them. “We don’t need a reason to share the love, we just have to take the step to do it,” explains Kaiser. “Simply ask how can I help, instead of what can I get.”
  • Raise money for a charity. (If done through a walk or race, this can be a good way to work out your body and your heart.)
  • Don’t hold back nice thoughts. Next time you’re thinking a compliment or praise, whether it’s thinking the person on the subway is well-dressed to appreciating how work was done in the office, say it freely.
  • Learn and address people by their names to create a personal connection or alliance.
  • Be conscientious of other people’s feelings and time: Is someone huffing and puffing in line behind you at Starbucks? If you’re not pressed for time, let them in front of you. Are you witnessing a customer rudely talk to an employee? Write a quick note or say something positive to lift the employee’s spirits.
  • On that note, don’t make quick judgments of people’s actions, unless you know their whole story. And don’t be a lesser version of yourself, because someone else isn’t being his or her best self. Who you want to be is dictated solely by your choices.
  • Make a gratitude list of 10 things you are grateful for, every day, for a month. You’ll find that you’ve started to take people and overlooked luxuries (like the ability to have Internet to read this post) for granted. Professor of Psychology at UC Davis Robert Emmons’ advice is to remember that the most important lesson about trying to become more grateful is to not focus on yourself.

You never know the difference you will make in another person’s life. And remember: What you put out into the world is what you get back in.

Endurance
Physical endurance is tested by the length of time of your performance rather than the level at which you are performing. The way compassion and gratitude provide everyday stamina for connecting with and living among others, positivity is absolutely necessary for your life-long capacity to endure, adapt and acclimate to anything that comes your way.

positivity

In order to not only survive but also thrive in life, you should be equipped with these three things:

  • The understanding that you have everything it takes to get through your struggles.
  • Faith in yourself, in humanity and perhaps in anything greater.
  • Knowledge that sometimes coincidences aren’t real, and sometimes, everything just happens for a reason. As The Huffington Post President and Editor-in-Chief Arianna Huffington says in her book Thrive: “We don’t have to know what coincidences mean, or arrive at some grand conclusion when we encounter them … the combination of improbability, timing, and felicity has a kind of magic power. To the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, coincidences were the ‘wonderful pre-established harmony’ of the universe.”

If you are able to look at the bright side and understand that each struggle is a greater opportunity for transformation, you can endure all that doesn’t kill you. The optimistic heart is one that is resilient, one that can cope better and one that suffers lower rates of depression.

Stretch Out of Your Comfort Zone
Being physically flexible allows you to maximize and utilize the full range of motions of your body. The same applies to emotional flexibility. It’s essential to become flexible as your life and the people in it change (for better or worse).

man on bench

Patience provides the heart with the necessary range of movement to deal with various situations. Along with patience comes the practice of forgiveness. This is simply accepting that other people’s choices are their own and not relative to you — regardless of whether you keep them in your life or not.

Exercises to flex your heart muscle:

  • Be tolerant of other people — their opinions, their belief system, their way of living and their situations — and respect their individuality.
  • Know the difference between what you can and can’t control. As my favorite quote by Denis Waitley goes: “Change the changeable, accept the unchangeable, and remove yourself from the unacceptable.”
  • Act on your inspiration, the pull of your heart. Kaiser explains that, “this will allow you to be comfortable in the unknown. We can develop more patience by trusting ourselves more, we can do this by nourishing the nudges that come to us.”

All of these training routines are intertwined the same way different physical workouts contribute to each other. By practicing one exercise, you strengthen your heart to improve in the others, and in the process, you build emotional strength. Strength that fuels your decisions to connect with other people, be authentic and maintain a happy and positive perspective through life.

It’s time to be intentional and make working out your heart as important as working out your body, not just for the health benefits but also to be your best self and contribute to a better world.

 

This was written by me, published on The Huffington Post

We’re All in Recovery — Here’s Why

17 Jun

I published a blog on The Huffington Post:

Curious to see how recovery is perceived and experienced by a variety of people, I asked my network on Facebook, “What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of the word ‘recovery’?”

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The results were fascinating and proved that recovery is not bound by a single definition; it’s informed by every person’s unique experiences.

Last year, I started a job as the creative director of a health and wellness startup targeting those struggling with substance abuse and addiction. The position afforded me the opportunity to attend an open AA meeting that changed my perspective on recovery forever.

I don’t know what I was expecting, but the attendees of the meeting were everyday people, most of whom were on a lunch break from their 9-5 jobs. I even recognized a few as internationally famous. But none of that was important in the 60 minutes we shared in that small room connected to a vast church, because all superficial attributes were left at the door. Everyone was connected by their mutual struggle with substance abuse and addiction, and that was all that mattered.

It didn’t take long to realize how courageous these individuals were for presenting their raw selves to a group of strangers. How many people are truly comfortable wearing their struggles on their sleeves? I also quickly noticed that the meeting was not centered on the specifics of people’s hardships; it was centered on how they transformed their struggles into positive disruptions, progress and success in their lives — whether it was over a five-year span or a single day.

Upon leaving that meeting, I started thinking about recovery beyond and away from the ideas of addiction and substance abuse.

What was I recovering from in my own life? Aren’t we all in some form of recovery?

Finish reading the post here…

 

Relationships Get Better and Other Reminders About Transitions in Love

18 Feb

In my last post, I discussed how we naturally evolve past some friendships. For this post, I want to briefly touch on the idea of dating, commitment, breaking up and doing it all over again.

People get really discouraged when they’ve dated a few people here and there and still can’t find anyone who is “right” for them, or when something goes awfully wrong in what was supposed to be the perfect relationship. Well, here’s a list of important reminders we tend to forget when we get lonely, lack a love life, are tired of dating, are in the process of breaking up, or see our exes moving on past us.

1) Relationships only get better. As you grow and evolve the people you date and partner with should reflect that growth, and therefore be better and healthier than the past ones.

2) Dating helps you learn about what you like or don’t like, want or don’t want, and most importantly need or don’t need from a partner and a relationship. It’s a learning experience that sometimes will not work out, but it doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth it. Every person teaches us a lesson on some scale and no matter how a relationship ends, it’s always an incredible experience. They don’t say it’s better to have loved and lost than not loved at all for no reason. 

3) Another person is not meant to fill a void. Loving someone else, deeply, or being in a committed relationship is not something that is meant to fill a void, and the same goes for having someone else love you. As I’ve said once before, having someone else love you doesn’t rescue you from the project of loving yourself. Two people come together as wholes to create something bigger – two better, more powerful, stronger whole individuals. They don’t come together to complete each other, only to complement one another.

4) Never settle. I know it can get lonely but never settle and waste your time. Otherwise, you are doing an injustice to yourself and your potential. Be smart, know your worth and be selective. Why would you want to have it any other way?

5) Not being in a relationship doesn’t mean you are missing out. If you aren’t seeing someone, take the time to know yourself, love yourself and focus your time on all of the things you have less time for when in a relationship – friendships, career, hobbies, sleeping, Netflix binging etc.. Love will come when it is meant to come, but waiting is a waste of time. 

6) Love is meant to be intentional. Don’t allow yourself to fall into patterns or habitual behaviors that you think equates love just because you are lonely or, for a lack of a better word, desperate. Love is a beautiful and intentional act and should only be given and taken very deliberately between individuals. 

7) Timing is everything. There’s more than one person right for you but timing is everything and not something you can control. Going back to point number 1, we meet people at certain times in our lives for certain reasons. It’s always worth it if you shared a deliberate, intentional relationship with another person. Always.

8) There’s a lot of people out there so don’t worry, you will find someone. I honestly and sincerely believe this to be true for everybody. But it’s not a waiting game, in the mean time are you your best self for when that person comes along? 

Have faith. It’s only getting better from here,

SK

 

Evolving Past Friendships

17 Feb

In my previous post, Learn, Protect, Let Go, I discussed when to let past experience serve as a reminder and when to let it go in present/future relationships.

In this post, I want to remind you to always be happy relationships happened but remember if they don’t stick, it’s for a reason.

We are an ever evolving species. We are always changing and growing so it makes sense that people grow apart. I have a friend, my oldest friend, of about 20 years (since 4th grade). We were inseparable for most of our friendship. We went to the same elementary, middle and high school. We went to different colleges but we still kept in touch consistently. Then a few years ago we realized that we were growing apart. I was heartbroken when she would say that we were no longer as close as we were or that I wasn’t her best friend anymore; but with some time I realized that she was right. We both started to value different things, want different things for ourselves, like different things, need different things in relationships, and have very different personalities. I realized that there is nothing wrong with this. We are still friends. We will catch up and talk, sometimes,  but we are just not as close as we used to be. We both evolved and grew….apart.

It’s hard to accept when you grow apart from someone you have been or once were so deeply connected to. We all want to hold on. We don’t want things to change or for us to grow apart from the people close to us with whom we’ve cultivated something very special and human. But I’m here to tell you that it’s perfectly normal and healthy. Be happy that you had these relationships – that you met these people. Believe it or not, everybody has brought you something- a lesson, a smile, an experience to remember forever, etc. – no matter how short-lived their presence in your life.

It’s perfectly OK to evolve past friendships because there are more fitting people waiting to fill your life with love. 

This same sentiment goes for lovers and exes who are no longer a part of our lives, but this will be expanded on in the next post tomorrow.

SK

Learn, Protect, Let Go

13 Feb

In my previous post, I highlighted three main points to dealing with the past and living in the present….specifically in relationships. In this post I am going to further discuss one of them.

Learn from the past but don’t let it hold you back. 

It’s hard to strike this balance, so here I offer three scenarios that I hope clarify when to be reminded of the past, when to actively protect yourself and when to let go…and let’s just say I am speaking from experience here.

ONE. They say the best predictor is experience but keep in mind that this is true only when consistently true. Let’s say that you dated someone and he/she cheated* on you once but you are willing to give it another go and then it ends with him/her cheating on you again. I think it’s safe to say that you shouldn’t expect a difference in someone who has already proven that they don’t respect you or are worthy of you.

TWO. Let’s say that you have been cheated on in the past and you are about to start a fresh, new relationship with a new partner. It’s absolutely not fair to assume that you are going to be cheated on again. Don’t have presumptions that this new partner will act like your last. Comparisons are unfair. If you can’t help but compare then you aren’t ready to be in a new relationship.

THREE. Let’s say that you started this fresh relationship with a new partner (and you’ve been previously cheated on by someone else), and she/he ends up cheating on you. I think in this case it’s both a) really really bad luck and unfortunate and b) your responsibility to be more selective when picking your next partner. Sometimes we go for the same types of partners or people and it’s time to branch out from what we are used to so we can experience something better and more worthy of us. 

Learn from the past, but learn to let it go.  Sometimes people will surprise us and act a way we never thought they could but don’t let that stop you from opening up in the future again. Take responsibility of your heart and be more selective. You deserve that.

Most importantly, Don’t let old scars ruin new loves. 

 SK

PS. I used *cheating as the character flaw, negative trait, or wrongdoing in the relationship, but keep in mind you can replace *cheating in these scenarios with anything, and it can be said for friendships and not just love.

Memories Are a Thing of The Past

12 Feb

Memories stack away like old books in a used bookstore. Been there, done that. They are a collection of past experiences, adventures and incidents that you can, if you’re lucky, recollect at any point in your present.

I’m the kind of person who cherishes my memories more than anything. I have a fantastic memory, I make scrapbooks for every adventure and I try to materialize all my relationships so I can always have something to look back on when I reminisce on old friendships or loves.

However, as amazing as this seems it creates a huge barrier on me enjoying my present relationships to the fullest. There’s this quote in a recent book I read that says “memory is time folding back on itself. To remember is to disengage from the present” and I couldn’t agree more.

I spend a lot of time thinking about the past – how things were, letting bad experiences hold me back from trying to live new ones with new people, letting good experiences make me feel sad and long for more than what I have now, and remaining fearful of that moment that will come and turn my present relationships into past ones.

So I am going to try harder to live fuller and less hindered by what’s happened in my past. I hope you’ll do the same.

1.) Learn from the past, but don’t let it stop you from trying again.

2.)Be happy relationships happened, but remember they didn’t stick for a reason.

3.) Enjoy the people in your life now, don’t take them for granted, and if things don’t work out in a relationship then there usually is better and more fitting people waiting for you in your future.

Don’t allow yourself to disengage from your present too frequently just so you can reminisce on what’s over. The more time spent looking back, the less time you give yourself to live right now. Memories are a thing of the past to be enjoyed and remembered occasionally.

“Don’t let yesterday use up too much of today.” – Cherokee Proverb

S.K.

P.S. Over the course of the next three days, I will more specifically discuss these three points. Stay tuned.

Dissecting and Defining ‘Relationships’

11 Feb

The idea of love or relationships in the romantic sense hasn’t been featured on the blog too often, if at all, but I am wildly aware that part of the quarter life crisis is finding love, losing love, and the beauty of relationships. So, expect more on the subject; after all, human connection is one of the most invaluable things worth discovering, fighting for and having in this life.

To start us off (and in light of Valentine’s Day coming up), I have decided to dissect and define what “relationship” even means.

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Relate – to favor someone, to demonstrate a connection, to establish a reciprocal relationship, to interact
Elation – to be proud, happy, joyous to have high spirits; blissful; on cloud nine
I – Need to find medium between a) being selfish and “I” concentrated and b) i, the imaginary number, and losing yourself in the relationship
Ions – no longer remain neutral; compromise; give and take; strike a balance
On Ship – to go on board with someone else and embark on a journey together
Hip – In architecture terms, two hips can come together to form a roof, or in this case, shelter
All rights reserved. Copyright Sahaj Kohli.

You can also find a Relationship Category (to the right) where you can find all relationship based articles and guidance (familial, friendly, and especially romantic).

SK

PS Don’t forget to follow QLCrisis on Instagram for original and inspirational quotes!

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