The Emotional Fitness Model

The Emotional Fitness Model draws upon the disciplines of emotional intelligence, meditation and mindfulness, and emotional fluency.  If you haven't already, click here to read: What is Emotional Fitness?


The Emotional Fitness Model incorporates the EQi concept of “emotional self-awareness”, which is defined as “the ability to understand our own emotions and their effects on our performance.” Why is this concept important?  

  • Research shows that leaders who display high emotional self-awareness are correlated with creating positive workplace climates. (2)
  • Emotional self-awareness is a predictor of strengths in other EQi competencies, including emotional self-control, empathy, conflict management, teamwork, and inspirational leadership. On the flip side, its absence predicts the absence of other EQi competencies. (1)
  • Leaders who demonstrate a higher number of EQi skills influence their employees’ intent to stay longer with their companies. (2)

(1) Emotional and Social Competency Inventory (ESCI): A User Guide for Accredited Practitioners, HayGroup, June 2011.
(2) “The power of EI: The ‘soft’ skills the sharpest leaders use.” Winter 2018, Korn Ferry Institute.

“92% of leaders with emotional self-awareness are correlated with positive workplace climates. In contrast, leaders low in emotional self-awareness create negative climates 78% of the time.”

Using the Emotional Fitness Model

With physical fitness, you can’t become fit and maintain that fitness without establishing a regular exercise routine. It’s the same with emotional fitness. The Model describes what is needed to create and maintain emotional fitness, using a 5-step practice:

Know your triggers. Based on each person’s history, specific circumstances will generate certain emotions.  For example, when I am driving and get lost, I get anxious. If I stay lost, I feel humiliation. Identifying your triggers is no small task and is a part of an ongoing process of self-discovery.  

Put into practice:
Ask yourself at the beginning of each day, “What is a potential hot spot for today? Where might I get derailed?”

Be present to what’s happening, both internally and externally, especially in situations where you know you could get triggered.

This includes awareness of bodily sensations (e.g., your heart is beating faster or you are feeling lethargic), of thoughts that are going through your head (e.g., I hope I don’t screw up), of emotions that you are experiencing (e.g., I’m feeling angry or I’m feeling sad).  It also includes sensing the mood of others (e.g., my boss is anxious or a direct report is hopeful.)

All of this supports the development of an Observer within you, the one that is neither ruminating on the past nor worried about the future, but rather fully present to the moment.

Put into practice:
Ask yourself throughout the day, what emotion am I feeling? How do I know what emotion I am feeling?

Self-regulation is a way to prevent a derailment in a public setting.  When you experience an unpleasant sensation or feeling, it’s easy to have a knee-jerk reaction that is self-sabotaging and even harmful to others.

Self-regulation requires you to slow down to make a different choice. For example, in a conference call you might take offense at a colleague’s remark and notice that you are feeling angry. (That’s the Be Aware part of the practice).

Instead of leaving the conference call abruptly or replying with a sarcastic comment, you say to yourself, “I’m feeling angry”, then “bookmark” the feeling, knowing that you will come back to it later.  

Put into practice:
Make a point of noticing your emotions and saying to yourself “I’m feeling X. In this moment, in response to feeling X, I will take 3 deep breaths.

Fully expressing your emotions, for yourself only, without judgment or blame. 99% of the time, your emotions do not need to be communicated to others. But they do need to be expressed as an essential part of emotional fitness. Otherwise, you risk having your emotions come out “sideways”, and possibly harming others, or at the very least, having unexpressed emotion impact your creativity, problem-solving ability and relationships.  

“Feel courageously. Feel all your feelings, deeply. Especially the painful ones.”
- Peter Bregman, author of Leading with Emotional Courage

Unfortunately, we are not taught to value our emotions and feel them. Instead, most of us avoid or stuff down certain emotions.

Make this step of expressing easier by first doing the following:
  1. Carve out time and find a place where you feel safe to fully express. It could be during your commute home in your car or at the end of the day, when you get home, or the next morning, before leaving for work.
  2. Identify the specific emotion. Stress is not an emotion, so you’ll need to get specific (e.g., sadness, fear, resentment, overwhelmed). See Atlas of Emotions for a list of emotions.
  3. Give yourself permission to have an emotion. Most people have limiting beliefs that keep them from expressing an emotion. For example, you might think, “I have nothing to be angry about. I should be grateful I have a job.” You don’t need to justify your emotions. They are part of being human. In the case of anger, it’s a natural response to the perception of a boundary being crossed.

Once you have done the above, there are a number of ways to express, depending on the emotion. The point is to find your unique way for releasing the energy of the emotion, in a safe way. For example, to release sadness, you might watch a poignant movie and let yourself cry, while for someone else, they may need to write about their sadness.  To release anger, one person might go for a workout at the gym and another person might sing at the top of her lungs in her car.

Allowing yourself to fully express and experience an emotion will bring you back to your “right mind”, so that you are ready for the next step of this practice—reflecting/healing.

Put into practice:
Work with an emotion that you have “bookmarked” from earlier in the day (see section above on
Self-Regulate). Find a time and place where you can allow yourself to express fully. Specifically identify the emotion. Notice any limiting beliefs you have about expressing the emotion (e.g., Only bad people are jealous.) Then find your unique way to express the emotion. Notice how the full expression allows you to feel lighter, more centered and connected to yourself.

This easy-to-implement technique can help you stay calm, when things are boiling over inside.  

You’ve done the hard work of being aware of your emotions, bookmarking and identifying emotions, and expressing emotions, for yourself only. Now it’s time to reap the rewards, through reflection and healing.

In the Prepare step, we talked about knowing the circumstance that triggers an emotion. I gave an example of the circumstance of getting lost and how it triggers anxiety, even humiliation, for me.

The question to reflect on is this:

“Why does this circumstance trigger this emotion?”

The answer is based on the beliefs and attitudes that you hold as well as the life experiences that shaped those beliefs and attitudes. For example, getting lost triggers anxiety in me because I have a belief that I’ve done something wrong. My attitude is that getting lost is a sign of incompetency. If I continue to be lost, it’s more than an act of doing something wrong. I
am wrong. This is where shame and humiliation come in, with the lie of unworthiness.

This reflection allows me to see the faultiness of my thinking, based on a limiting belief and an undermining attitude.  Out of this reflection comes compassion for myself, and a truthfulness of who I really am. For example, “Getting lost doesn’t reflect on who I am.  I made a mistake, turning left instead of right, and I am forgivable.”  This begins to heal a part of me that has been wounded from a past experience.  

I am also taking ownership for my actions, and putting those actions in perspective to the larger picture of who I am.

Put into practice:
Ask yourself: Why does this circumstance trigger this emotion? Look for limiting beliefs, harmful attitudes, and key experiences that shaped those beliefs and attitudes. Visualize that “younger self” who created the beliefs and attitudes, and have compassion for him.  Forgive yourself. Tell the truth of who you really are.

Putting the Practice into Practice

This process is meant to be iterative. Life is always providing challenging circumstances, which means you’ll have plenty of opportunity to Prepare, Be Aware, Self-Regulate, Express, and Reflect/Heal. Weave the 5 Emotional Fitness steps into your day: Prepare at the beginning of the day, Be Aware, Self-Regulate, and Express throughout the day, and Reflect/Heal at the end of the day. With practice, you will be more resilient to setbacks, experience more creativity and stop ruminating.

Just like with physical fitness, you will improve over time, and what seemed hard at first becomes easy.   Circumstances that triggered you in the past will lose their “sting”. You will take fewer things personally with a stronger Observer. Derailments--and the slog of getting unstuck afterward--will be rare or a thing of the past. You will be more comfortable feeling a wide range of emotions, which will allow deeper reflection and healing.

Each Emotional Fitness step builds on the previous steps and gets you ready for the next step. Just like a well-designed gym workout, it’s the combination of all of the steps that produces the optimal results.

As one client describes it: 

"The practice is one of awareness. A lot of it is slowing down enough to say, “What am I authentically feeling?”  If you are used to being “on” all the time, like I was, that practice of slowing down didn’t initially feel productive. Now, it’s a critical part of my daily practice. When I don’t check in with my emotions, I’m missing something."