Emotions Need Muscle-Building, Too

It’s a much mourned fact of life that watching exercise videos doesn’t tone muscles. Couch potatoes who can legitimately boast about six-pack abs don’t exist.

Reading bodybuilding books doesn’t get the job done, either. Reading can take us on many wondrous journeys of the mind, but it won’t pump up the pecs.

It takes sweat and effort to make muscles bulge. Copious amounts of sweat and muscles trembling with intensity, day after day. There’s no easy way.

And so it is with emotional muscles. They, too, require regular exercise and, often, emotional sweat–a knot in the stomach, dread at hearing the phone ring,

We don’t have to join a gym and show up for workouts, though. Life is the gym, and it comes to us. Or should I say, comes at us?

Every day, opportunities arrive to help us build a little muscle. They look a lot less like opportunities than like problems. But there they are, daring us–even taunting us–and we need to do something about them. We’ll need to make choices about our response.

The first choice is how to handle the problem. We can choose to face problems head on, or we can whine and try to offload them on somebody else. The latter option looks tempting whenever we know a patsy too insecure to refuse, but this tactic will come back to bite us.

By the time it does, though, offloading will be integrated into how we do life, and habits are not a spigot we can turn off with the flick of a wrist. We’ll destroy many good things by the time we figure out how to change our approach. If we ever do.

The best bet is to face any problem head on so you finish it off and not have to go around that mountain again. Call it God, call it fate, call it whatever you want to, but life has a way of making sure we learn necessary lessons.

Another choice we get is avoidance. We might make this choice early on or after we realize how bumpy the road will be. Will we sweat it out and work our way through? Or will we take a pill, take a drink, blame somebody else or use any number of other escapes to avoid the challenge placed before us?

At first glance, choosing avoidance looks pretty clever. “Let some other poor dopes struggle, not me.” And we rattle off a virtual full-length novel of rationalizations about why standing aside makes sense.

Well, look again. Those other poor dopes are building muscles, and they’ll be ready to run tomorrow’s race. Avoiders, at some point, will get left at the starting gate, watching the others pull away toward success. It won’t be fun.

Another choice is whether or not to look beyond the bare bones of the problem to seek out the opportunity–there’s always at least one–that’s in there somewhere. If we only see the problem, it’s all sturm, all drang and no “aha.” A body needs “aha” moments from time to time.

Then, once we locate the opportunity, we choose whether to take advantage of the opportunity or ignore it. Just because we can see the silver around the cloud and the gold at the end of the rainbow doesn’t mean there’s not some heavy lifting involved. Sometimes we just want to say, “I gave at the office” and be done with it. But without striving, life is just so much oatmeal, so we might as well go for it.

But a lot of us balk. We’re weary of dealing with problems, opportunities, whatever you want to call them. We want life to proceed with ease. Sunshine every day, kids that don’t talk back, a boss who regularly decides we’re underpaid, our biggest concern whether or not to crook our pinky when we pick up a tea cup. Wake up, get with the reality and start lifting.

So here’s how it is: Problems come to everybody. We all get to make the same choices about dealing with them. If we’re smart, we’ll make smart choices. It doesn’t take an Einstein to figure that out.


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