Finding Your Emotional Pulse

I received some great feedback on Facebook from my recent post about the book, The Power of Full Engagement. One commenter wrote: “I really like the paradox that you need to refresh yourself and push yourself in order to move forward. I haven’t thought about things in exactly those terms but I can see how it would be useful spelling it out that way for clients.” It brought to mind another key lesson from human physiology that helps us understand how our minds and bodies work.

In high school, I was in the marching band drumline. I played bass drum, which meant that I was often the only player in the entire band who was keeping time and playing at all times. The drumline is the heartbeat of the band, helping everyone else to stay in step. And the deep sound of the bass drum carries better than most other sounds, so when the rest of the drumline took a break, they turned things over to me. The rhythm kept everyone marching together.

The simple act of learning to pay attention to our heartbeat and our breathing can teach us amazingly profound truths about how we spend and recover energy. In The Power of Full Engagement, the authors talk about their work with elite level tennis and golf players. What set apart top players in both sports was their ability to recover and lower their heart rates and respiration before taking a shot or playing a point. Through management of their physical, mental, and emotional systems of energy recovery, these athletes found a way to focus and perform at a much higher level than their less-successful counterparts.

Yogi Berra famously said about baseball, “Ninety percent of this game is half mental.” Malapropisms aside, he had a good point. Our ability to perform many tasks – physical or mental – requires us to understand our bodies and our emotions and how our mental and emotional focus can change the way we feel physically. When we’re managing energy properly, there is a balance between high performance and high-quality recovery. Our attitude can affect how we respond to distress and how we deal with fatigue, hunger, loneliness.

Health educators have long used the acronym HALTS to remind people how to avoid falling into the trap of bad decision-making that comes from fatigue. When you’re feeling too Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired, or Stressed, it’s important to begin by taking care of ourselves first before we try to spend too much energy. These emotional warning signs – anger, exhaustion, loneliness, emptiness – send physical and mental messages to us that make us aware of the need to slow down and recover energy.

The strongest emotions we feel have to do with our core values: our spiritual pulse. We don’t tend to feel powerful emotions about things that we don’t care about. Often, we get stirred up about things because they are not as we believe they ought to be. Our judgments about the world keep us from accepting things as they are. Sometimes, the work of therapy involves greater spiritual flexibility that comes from accepting what is beyond our control. Other times, therapy is about finding a deeper connection with those core values and deep desires that motivate us and inspire us. When we clear away the noise and distractions, we begin to hear a spiritual pulse that guides our decisions.

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