Guest Post: Care and Feeding of the Mind – 5 Exercises to Build Your Emotional Strength

by Alli Polin on October 31, 2017

I’m happy to share with you this guest post today from Mark Nation in support of his new book, Made for Amazing. I’ve read it and strongly encourage you to check it out. Look forward to your thoughts!

As a society, we’ve come to care a lot about health and fitness. We read food and drug labels, go online for medical information, learn new fitness techniques, and fuss with diets. In other words, caring for the body is high on our priority list as a daily target. Maybe it’s irrelevant to ask amidst all the gasping and research, but are we happy about all this?

Watching the faces of runners puffing down the roads, or those at the gym toiling away on the exercise machines, I’d say, not much – and I’m a former athlete and multi-sport aficionado! The point is, we give far less attention to our mental and emotional states than we do to our bodies. Few would claim much interest, let alone passion, toward the subject of their own emotional fitness.

Yet, what is it that makes (or breaks) our day? It’s emotional uplift (or its opposite). Of course, there’s also boredom that creeps in so easily (as is, “someone please hit me upside the head, so I’ll know that I’m alive.”).

We think it’s events and circumstances that make us happy. Not so. It’s our brains that do it, secreting dopamine, the neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers. Dopamine also helps to regulate emotional responses, and it enables us not only to see rewards, but also to take action to move toward them.

The outer event (a promotion, a new house, car or baby) just triggers our uplift, like a pickaxe driving through a thick coating of “everydayness,” and releasing the joy of our souls that was already there, 24/7. So, what if you were actually happy and didn’t know it? What if there were things you could purposely do, not to make yourself happy, but to release the happiness that’s hiding there inside you?

Well, guess what. There are.

Here are five simple ways to exercise happiness in your own life.

  1. Prioritize It. Like any workout, you need to make your emotional health a priority. Give yourself time and space for goodness to emerge. The more time in your mental calendar you give to happiness, the stronger it will grow.
  2. Workout Daily. Like a muscle, your mind needs daily exercise. Stay nimble and activate happiness each day, and your fitness will most certainly improve.
  3. Start Small. Nothing changes overnight. Life is tough. Work may be horrible for you right now. Families can crumble. Do a “happiness diagnostic” and be honest to admit your current state. Then…just take a step. And another. Each step, each day, is a brick in the wall. Just keep building.
  4. Keep a Marathon Mentality. You don’t just want a happy day – you strive for a happy life, a joy-full existence. Play the long game. Know there will always be setbacks. As any endurance athlete will tell you, it’s not the finish line that is most fulfilling, it’s the event itself, the chance to be on the road or path. Happiness flows all along the trail; don’t forget to hydrate with simple joy as often as you can.
  5. Take Frequent Breaks. In fitness and in life, growth happens during recovery. To properly optimize your mental fitness, you need to take breaks. Let your mind be at ease. Tune out all the noise and haste. Rest. Trust me, you have earned it.

Be intentional and aggressive about developing your emotional fitness, as it’s a critical driver of life and leadership health. Choose to exercise great caution with those thoughts which you allow to feed your mind. Your truest gifts and emotions will always emerge from a place of power, a place where spirit and light run free. Cultivate those emotions – workout every day. Your mind will thank you, as will your entire life.

Mark Nation is a globallyrecognized management expert, leadership consultant, executive coach, author, and speaker. He is personally driven to discover what makes individuals, teams, and organizations amazingthose elements which power the heart and soul of individuals and businesses worldwideHis new bookMade for Amazing: An Instrumental Journey of Authentic Leadership Transformation, helps people to identify and optimize their unique talents.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Gary Gruber October 31, 2017 at 8:28 am

Yes to emotional conditioning as much as any other although I would probably separate mental from emotional. I’ve often thought we don’t have feelings in our head unless we have a headache. Feelings may emanate from the brain and firing of neurons but it’s at the gut level, the solar plexus where we experience some of the highs and lows of living. Mental fitness has to do with mind set, emotional fitness with feelings, such as happiness which you’ve nailed quite well and which more people could access if they knew how.
I think we need an emotional thermometer just as much as a thermometer which measures body temperature. That would give us a good reading on a continuum of emotions, from sad to happy, from perturbed to peaceful, from hate to love, and from depressed to delighted. Yes to exercising happiness. As we think, so we are! Thanks, Mark.


Mark Nation November 2, 2017 at 11:18 pm

Great points, Gary – thanks for weighing in! I definitely agree that it often makes sense to try and “decouple” mental vs. emotional elements (i.e., thinking vs. feeling). I love the emotional thermometer idea! Larry Senn just put out a great book, called, “The Mood Elevator” which has a framework a little bit like you suggest. He has a nice graphic to portray the different moods in temperature-like coloration. Here’s to doing more frequent “gut checks” across our careers and lives. Thanks again!


John Bennett October 31, 2017 at 12:00 pm

I’m of the strong belief that we CHOOSE whether to be happy or not. In those times when something was underway that was so bad, I couldn’t conceive of ‘it’ getting any worse / my life getting any worse, I mentally stepping back (pause) for a few moments. There are good things also happening, not the least of which are those assisting me / us in this time period.

What is currently so bad will be resolved / dealt with. Choosing to be happy doesn’t prevent such things from happening. But it does help with addressing them and remembering lots of joyous things are still occurring.


Mark Nation November 2, 2017 at 11:22 pm

How right you are, John. So often, we borrow against the future for payments that never actually come due. We are always stronger than we think, and life is often just plain hard! However, we rarely, if ever, are given more than we can bear…freeing us to consider how we build strength in the struggles. Hitting “Pause” is sometimes a complete life-saver! Thanks again for your great feedback.


Chery Gegelman November 2, 2017 at 3:09 pm

Taking frequent breaks was a hard one for me to learn. As counterintuitive as it seems. It has made me more productive to take those breaks, to stretch, and keep blood sugar up.


Mark Nation November 2, 2017 at 11:31 pm

Amen. Totally get that! Don’t even think I got my own memo today re: frequent breaks! Although…post-Halloween, I seemed to have no trouble at all with the “sugar” part of blood sugar. Oh well…live to fight again another day, God willing. Seriously, though, when I think about music, it’s often the “spaces between the notes” that helps to bring magic to a piece. Pacing and pause definitely have their place in the “music of our lives.” Thanks so much for your comments, Chery.


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