1. Developing Self-Awareness
Developing self-awareness is like learning to read a weather barometer. With practice, you can tell whether the barometric pressure is rising or falling, predicting either smooth sailing or storms ahead. Similarly, with a little effort, you can learn to identify how you are feeling. Once you can accurately understand what you are feeling, you can then learn to take steps to control or influence how you feel. As you increase your self-awareness, you will better understand how things impact you, and how you can gain increased control over your emotions.
Self-awareness also helps improve your relationships because you can better understand your needs and wants, and therefore, can better communicate them with your partner. Your partner in turn, will be better able to share theirs with you as your increased self-awareness also improves your listening skills and ability to deal with the emotional states of others. In addition, since you can communicate more effectively, you will better be able to resolve conflicts in a constructive manner.
2. Positive Self-Image
Self-image is the personal lens through which we view ourselves and the world. A self-image that is positive (i.e, we genuinely feel good about and like ourselves) is a key component of emotional strength. Having a negative self-image is like being divided against oneself, where sometimes you are your own friend, other times you are your worst enemy. As “a house divided against itself cannot stand”, a person with a negative self-image will, intentionally or subconsciously, engage in behavior that is self-defeating or harmful. The key to developing a positive self-image is to accept yourself, but also to work towards becoming your “better self.” As you make changes to improve yourself and your life, your self-image will improve.
3. Managing moods through positive coping skills
Moods are temporary – they come and go. They can be influenced by thoughts, blood sugar, fatigue, life’s circumstances, other people, and even the weather. While these things can impact moods momentarily, an individual can, over time, learn to manage their moods through countless ways (often called “coping skills”), some more healthy than others. When we have negative moods, we can use our coping skills to elevate our mood to a neutral or positive state. It is important not to make major decisions when you are feeling down as you may lack the needed perspective to make a good decision.
These coping skills are a specific set of behaviors that people use to elevate their moods and handle difficulties. When times get tough, these coping skills might kick in automatically at a subconscious level or they might be the result of deliberate thinking. While a wide variety of things can help us “feel good” in the short-term, positive coping skills have good long-term consequences while negative coping skills are often harmful and self-defeating.
For instance, there are plenty of positive coping skills that will boost your mood and usually have positive long-term consequences. These include exercising, talking with friends, reading a book, traveling someplace, cooking healthy meals, being creative or making crafts, outdoor activities or sports, or taking a class. In contrast, negative coping skills might include excessive drinking, drugs, excess spending, over-eating, or other potentially addictive behavior. These behaviors give people short-term boosts in mood, but carry with it seriously negative, long-term consequences.
Some coping skills are “neutral” in that don’t really have positive or negative consequences, but are instead like emotionally empty calories. When used in moderation these neutral coping skills are alright but when used in excess they can make one feel lethargic and often depressed. “Neutral” coping skills tend to include more passive forms of entertainment like watching TV, movies, surfing the internet, playing video games, or taking naps.
4. Overcoming Addictions and Dependencies
Very often, negative coping skills can turn into full-blown addictions. This is particularly true in terms of things like drug, alcohol, sex, over-eating, gambling, internet use, or other compulsive behaviors. Persons with addictions have lost the ability to control their behavior in at least one aspect of their life. Addictions can be devastating to self-worth because it is nearly impossible to feel good about ourselves when we are not in control of ourselves and our behavior.
Overcoming addictions is critical to any effort towards developing increased emotional strength. There are numerous 12-step programs for any conceivable type of addiction that can help you overcome addictive behavior. While overcoming addictive behavior can be extremely difficult, the reward of greater peace, happiness, and health is the certain result so keeping trying until you successful overcome any addictions.
A dependency may not be a full-blown addiction, but may cause similar problems. Examples of dependencies can include internet, food, or even being overly dependent on relationships (codependency) for help in managing feelings. Overcoming dependencies is helpful to promote greater emotional strength, particularly when they are replaced with coping skills that are positive results. The key point is that anything, when taken to excess, can become a dependency. The difference between being a person who is passionate about certain things and a dependency is that something becomes a dependency when something is taken to excess and begins to have negative consequence and promotes an unhealthy lifestyle.
5. Developing the Self-Discipline to Maintain Good Habits
Self-discipline is the ability to make yourself do what you need to do, when you need to do it, regardless of the circumstances at the moment. In effect, when you have self-discipline, you can override your feelings and moods of the moment in favor of performing activities (such as exercise, organizing, tackling difficult projects, eating healthy, reading inspirational material, getting out of debt, etc) that may be difficult but yield long-term benefits.
Self-discipline gives you greater control and power over the details of your life. Self-discipline also increases your emotional strength by helping you gain better control over your emotions, and from time to time, learn to “act” even when you don’t “feel” like it. If you develop self-discipline to stick with positive routines, you can, in an incremental fashion, make progress on even the most difficult goals. Many seemingly insurmountable goals like losing weight, getting out of debt, or eating healthy can be achieved rather effectively by spending a few minutes on these goals each day. With self-discipline, small but regular efforts snowball into great accomplishments, a little at a time.
6. Developing Emotional self-control
The key difference between an adult and a child is that adults have (usually) developed emotional self-control. How many times do small children have an emotional meltdown in public places, or even a full-blown temper tantrum? A sad but true fact is that many adults lack emotional self-control, which often manifest as incidents of temper, impatience, or frustration.
The key to learning to control emotions is learning to control your thoughts. If you think angry thoughts, you will find yourself becoming emotionally angry. If you think sad or discouraging thoughts, you will soon be sad and discouraged. But fortunately, if you think happy, positive, loving, optimistic, and/or grateful thoughts, you find that you have become happy. The key to developing emotional self-control is learning to “reboot” your emotional computer quickly. As soon as you feel yourself having negative emotions, recognize them, deal with them, but then change your thoughts to something positive so that your mood might improve quickly.
Over time and with practice, one can learn to cultivate higher levels of positive emotion and to deal with negative emotions more effectively. Similarly, you will find that you can remain calm even amidst the worst storms, making you a pillar of strength to your family and friends more valuable at work (especially if you are a leader or manager). It can take a lot of effort to override one’s natural predisposition to certain emotional states and thought patterns and replace them with new emotional habits. But with time, progress can be made and one can become happier, regardless of the circumstances.
7. Positive Self Talk
Everyone talks to themselves. But in all but the least well-adjusted, they do it silently as an internal self-dialogue. The content of this conversation is as varied and unique as each individual. But invariably, this result of this internal conversation is either greater strength and happiness (if the self-dialogue is positive), or weakness and unhappiness the self-dialogue is negative. To be effective, self-dialogue doesn’t need to be rosy and out-of-touch with reality, but it is should emphasis the positive even while dealing with negative subjects or feelings (“I made a mistake, but I learned a valuable lesson so I won’t repeat that mistake again”). If you are facing difficulties, a dialogue that is affirmative will help strengthen you (“I can overcome this” or “this trouble won’t last”) to overcome your difficulties.
The reason we should carefully monitor our internal self-dialogue is because our words truly have power. Whatever we consistently repeat to ourselves tends to become our reality (within reason, of course. I can repeat that I am becoming a blueberry each day without fear that I will start turning blue). Thus, it can be helpful to focus our internal dialogue carefully on language that is uplifting and affirming as these words often become self-fulfilling prophecies. This is also why it so important to speak positive, affirming words to your children. Children tend to internalize the words spoken to them, especially by their parents. If your parents were unkind or negative towards you, it is especially important to monitor and improve your internal self-dialogue as you may find that you are subconsciously perpetuating words that were said to you decades ago.
8. Courageously overcoming fears and insecurities
Nearly everyone fears something. Some fears are centered in the physical world (afraid of spiders, heights, or the dark), some in the social sphere (afraid of public speaking, conflict, large social gatherings, or being alone). Some fears have a spiritual basis (afraid of God, death, or the afterlife). Yet many fears are deeply-rooted in emotion (fear of being rejected, abandoned, ignored, or unloved).
The antidote to fears and insecurities is developing courage and confidence. Courage means that, even though you are afraid, you do the thing you fear. The best way to overcome fears is by facing them head on. The problem with avoiding our fears is that avoidance causes them to grow. A good habit to acquire is to do routinely do things that you “fear” or that are difficult for you. This means that whenever you have a fear or mental block about something, you tackle it head on. It is also helpful to focus on solutions, not the specific problem which is the source of the fear. If someone is afraid of public speaking, perhaps he or she could join Toastmasters and practice speaking in public. When we face our fears, we developed increased confidence in ourselves and abilities.
In addition to our fears, we often carry with us certain insecurities about things like our weight, appearance, educational status, job, and so forth. If we are insecure about something we have control over, we can make reasonable (balanced and non-obsessive) efforts to change what can be changed (like work towards improving our education, job, appearance, etc.). But we shouldn’t let our insecurities drive us to take extreme measures (like significant plastic surgery or becoming obsessed with weight). Instead, we should seek to define our self-worth by better standards (like I am a good person who helps people) instead of excessively focusing on superficial things or things we cannot (or should not) change.
9. Being Assertive and Handling Conflict
One area in which our emotional strength (or a lack thereof) manifests itself most readily is in our interpersonal relationships. People with low degrees of emotional strength can often find themselves being pushed around, mistreated, or even bullied both others. Developing emotional strength is helpful because it gives a person the ability to be assertive and “push back” in certain situations. In addition, emotional strength is helpful in that it enables one to handle and resolve conflict effectively. Without emotional strength, people tend either to be conflict avoiders (run from conflict) or appeasers (give in to the other person to end the conflict at any cost) instead of enduring some degree of emotional discomfort when addressing issues (even sensitive issues) in a calm and constructive manner.
Assertiveness is the ability to assert oneself against opposition (such another person or an organization) in order to gain a particular, usually negotiated outcome. This is reflected in the saying that the “squeaky will gets the grease”, meaning that the person that is willing to call attention to a problem and ask (or demand) a fair resolution more often than not will get the desired resolution. Being assertive is very helpful in resolving problems in the commercial world such as to obtain a product refund or exchange. More importantly, however, being assertive helps you in your relationships by giving you the ability to get your legitimate (reasonable, healthy) needs met and achieve healthy boundaries which includes being willing to say no at times.
Some people, however, are excessively assertive to point of being aggressive, pushy, angry, or unreasonable. A more subtle form of being overly assertive is where a person is extremely self-centered and makes little effort to compromise or accommodate the legitimate needs of others. The difference between being assertive and overly aggressive is that when you are assertive, you seek to have your needs met but you still show respect to the person you are dealing with. When you are being overly aggressive, you value your self-interest over the needs of others and your relationship with them. Overly aggressive people have a win-at-all-cost mentality which usually means they get their way in the short-term, but over the long-run they alienate others and often find that they have seriously damaged their relationships.
10. Developing Optimism and Gratitude
Developing a sense of optimism (looking for that good in any situation) will do much to increase your emotional strength. Optimists are often more successful than pessimists (or self-described realists) as optimists are more likely to persist in the face of difficulties, take risks, and are quicker to bounce back after setbacks or failures. In addition, optimists have happier relationships as they celebrate what is right in their relationships rather than focus on the negative or blame or criticize others.
It is also important to cultivate a grateful mindset and to express it frequently to yourself (through you internal self-dialogue) and to others, especially loved ones. Grateful persons usually have happier relationships as their family, friends, and co-workers feel appreciated and valued. In addition, cultivating gratitude leads to an abundance mindset where one feels that he or she has everything needed for happiness and success.
Grateful persons are less prone to mental distress as thankfulness for the things that we have minimizes the pain we feel when we lack certain things that we want them very badly. Grateful people are less likely to set arbitrary (often subconscious) rules that have to be met before they will allow themselves to be happy (I’ll be happy when I get married, graduate school, get out of debt, etc.). Having these requirements that have to be met before “happiness” can be experienced is problematic as this tendency always pushes happiness off into the future instead of living in the present where it can actually be experienced.
11. Develop Patience and Perseverance when facing difficulties
Patience is a both the result of possessing and a prerequisite to obtaining emotional strength. One of the surest measures of emotional strength is the amount of a patience a person has. Children, lacking maturity, are quick to melt down when they have to wait even the shortest amount of time to obtain their desires. In contrast, a patient person can stay positive and calm during even the most difficult times or when tough times endure for a long season. Patience also helps relationships by allowing partners to overlook minor irritations and it gives people time and space in which to grow. Patience, experienced as an emotional feeling of calm and peace, often develops into its more active twin state of perseverance, where one proactively works towards a desired outcome in the face of opposition.
If there was one attribute that is critical to accomplishing any goal it is perseverance. Perseverance helps one to keep on trying, even while things are not going well. Thomas Edison displayed his legendary perseverance as he prepared to invent the light-bulb (and thousands of other inventions), stating that “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Perseverance is essentially emotional strength in its purest and simplest form – the ability to keep going and pushing and trying regardless of the opposition and circumstances. As noted by Edison, the secret to success is perseverance as “[m]any of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”
12. Resilience and Perspective in dealing with setbacks
Life has a way of knocking people down. No matter how stellar your credentials, nor how diligent or faithful your efforts, sooner or later, everyone gets “dinged.” While everyone experiences setbacks at one time or another, not everyone rises again. Thus, the test of true greatness is not whether one falls or fails, but whether they dust themselves off and rise again. Being resilient doesn’t mean that setbacks don’t hurt (or even that the emotional pain has subsided), it just means that keep trying anyways. Resilience enables one to try one more time, which is often the difference between success and failure.
Resilience and perseverance are traveling companions because one cannot keep preserving in the face of adversity until they learn to deal with setbacks with resilience. Perspective is essential in developing emotional strength because it reduces the impact of negative events, which helps one try again sooner and press on towards victory. With perspective, setbacks seem smaller viewed in the context of the “big picture”. Perspective helps one distinguish between things that can be changed, and those that cannot. Perspective helps one learn to lessons from painful experiences and take corrective actions. Perspective is summarized with the statement, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”
13. Generosity and service to others
It is easy to get caught in the web of a self-centered lifestyle, especially when one is not married or does not have children. Unfortunately, excessive focus on self encourages self-centered thoughts (why don’t I have what I want, why is this happening to me, why did they treat me like that, etc.), which often lead to unhappiness and reduced emotional strength. While it is important to take good care of ourselves and our heath, an excessive focus on self shrinks one’s view of life, isolates us from others, and ultimately robs our lives of happiness and purpose.
The cure for a self-focus life is to become more generous with our time and money and to serve others. When we give to others in a wide variety of ways, it focuses our attention on others and removes it from ourselves. When we serve others, our problems seem to melt away while we are filled with happiness and other positive emotions as the result of good things we are doing for others.
14. Developing faith in a Higher Power
Developing faith in a Higher Power is critical to developing emotional strength. This is because when we have faith in something greater than ourselves we can pray to it for strength. Faith in a Higher power helps us make better choices, which improves the quality of our lives and our mental and emotional health. Faith can bring us peace and happiness and help us find purpose for our life here on earth. When difficult things happen to us, faith can helps us make sense of things and carry on with a sense of hope and purpose.