Exercises to Strengthen Your Emotional Muscles

Once you’re aware that you have the power to manage your own emotional state, how might you get better at it?  What comes with awareness and observation are more sophisticated/purposeful skills.
I offer the following simple exercises, each focused on a strengthening a different dimension of Emotional Intelligence.

  • Watch Your Emotions: For 2-3 weeks, diary your emotions. After every interaction, take 1 min to give that interaction a “score” (e.g. thumbs up, down, neutral, or a number 1-10) on effectiveness, then name the top 1,2,or3 emotions you felt during that interaction.  (over time, you will notice patterns — which emotions you spend more time in, trigger situations, etc).  Awareness is crucial to deepening your emotional intelligence
  • Practice centering. Stand Tall, breathe deeply, connect to the ground, and feel into your Confident body


  • Practice Deliberate Emotions: Identify one or two emotions OTHER than calm/confidence that you would like to inhabit more often. What is the body and breath and story/assessment that go with that emotion, for you? Practice moving yourself into that intentional emotional space once or twice each day.
  • Practice Recovery (Note: play carefully, here!): Find a safe space, e.g. at home, or alone in office. with intention, shift into anger, irritation, or some other emotion that gives you trouble, usu by reliving an incident/story. Give yourself a couple minutes to hold that intensity (it helps to set a timer, first). Notice all the visceral signs of that emotion in your body, breath, pulse, thinking, etc. When timer goes off, practice releasing that intensity and moving yourself back to center/calm. (Strengthens your ability to return to calm/center under stress)

EMPATHY/Other Awareness

  • Strengthen Awareness: While sitting in meetings, act as observer of each of the other players or at least the key players. Without any assessment as to right/wrong or good/bad, see if you can identify — from language, body language, tone, other visible physical signs — what mood or emotional space that person is in. Do this several times during a meeting, noticing changes. (Strengthens ability to read others).
  • Advanced: same exercise, except apply to the overall GROUP mood/emotion. Which person(s) appear to be the stronger influences on that group mood? (P.S. we often do this without realizing we are doing it.  The focus here is on picking up the “mood of the room” with intention).
  • Check Awareness: In conversation with others, try to identify/name the mood you are feeling from them. Check your assessment by asking, “You seem ______. Am I reading you correctly, in this moment?”  (Refines your emotional radar)


  • Mirroring/Drawing: When in conversations with others, selectively try one of the following:

A) purposefully mirror the mood/emotion of the other, thru standard mirroring techniques, e.g. matching body posture, energy, speed of speech, etc. Notice what effect that has on the conversation, when you Match

B) do the opposite of A — purposefully choose a DIFFERENT space, and shift into that in your speech, energy, non-verbal language, tone, etc. Hold that space with intention. Notice what effect it has on the conversation when you Draw the other

(This pairing is a training exercise/practice for negotiation, e.g. sales conversations, any situations where you seek to influence someone else — a frequent focus for leaders — or where you are striving to hone your facilitation skills, which include being able to shift the emotional space when appropriate)

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