When I first met Tom, more than ten years ago, he was a single man of 32, who sold vending machines for a living. He was successful at this, one of the best salesmen in the company, despite being unable to write because of his dyslexia. But he felt himself to be a failure, and that he had not achieved anything worthwhile in his life. He is now fulfilled in his work, making quality furniture. He is married and a father of two delightful children.

Four years ago, Bernardo was struggling. He was on the brink of divorce, his business was failing and his mental health was nearing breakdown. Now he is not only back on track, he is happier and more successful and fulfilled than he has ever been.

Tom, Bernardo and hundreds of other men I know, discovered something that has been a secret for far too long. Inside every man, there is a powerful, sensitive, creative, dependable, caring, adventurer. Wow! The sad fact is that the men who discover that secret have usually had to hit the wall first. Nowhere is this truer than in the high-pressure entrepreneurial environment of much of today’s big cities, where success is measured in financial terms and where achievement is gained by hard work. While those two demands might satisfy some of the qualities that men have, they certainly don’t satisfy all of them. The result is a potential loss of inner balance, an increase in stress and what adds up to a lack of emotional fitness.

Emotional Fitness; there’s a term to conjure with. With all the emphasis on physical fitness; the gym workout, healthy eating, the lunchtime jog and all those sporting activities to fit into a busy life that also includes being the taxi driver for the kids at their nightly and weekend events, no wonder most men don’t even have time to think about their emotional health. And that’s the big danger for men in their early to mid forties when they are at their most vulnerable to stress.

The one big factor that can improve men’s health is the exact one that they are the most cautious about dealing with. The really great thing is that it is the simplest thing in the world to put right. There is a conspiracy of silence and denial that creates the myth that men are supposed to handle whatever comes their way without it affecting them emotionally. Now, we all know that isn’t so. We all understand that men have as much need for emotional support and expression as women. The dilemma is that for some bizarre reason, we are not supposed to say it, or even believe it. There must, we are led to believe, be something wrong with a man if he acts as though he is actually sensitive. How can a man be both powerful and sensitive? How can he be an adventurer and dependable at the same time, or creative as well as caring?

The truth is that for a man to be a real man, he has to be able to express all of himself, the tenderness as well as the strength, the softness as well as the toughness. All too often, men allow themselves to show only what they fondly view as the masculine attributes portrayed in the rugged environment of the latest SUV ads or the stereotypical hard-bitten executive dramas played out in countless boardroom meetings every day. Such a narrow view of what a man is diminishes all of us.

So men, this is for you, a quick course in Emotional Fitness. First of all, are you listening fully to others around you, to your colleagues, your wife/partner/girlfriend? Do you listen to your children, your parents, to your friends? Most of all, do you take the chance to listen to yourself? Who are you really – beyond your roles? When you start to listen, to hear, understand and accept yourself, you will notice something begin to change. This first step in your own emotional fitness seems easy when you read about it. In fact, it may feel tough at first to do properly, mostly because our heads get in the way. Men are wired to think logically (comes from figuring out how to catch that elk without getting caught by the lion). So our predilection for solving things can stop us from just hearing what is going on. Stop figuring things out and try just listening three times today.

The second thing to try out is to take a little time to reflect on a significant experience you have had, recently or years ago. What did the experience mean to you? What have you learned from it? What did you learn about yourself? How has it impacted on your current behavior? What else do you need to learn? These, and other questions you can ask yourself, will help you to change any patterns that don’t work for you, and enhance the ones that do. You will be living your life more consciously.

The third step in your own emotional fitness is to take a look at the balance you have in your life between the things that satisfy you and the things that frustrate you. This is the balance that determines how happy and fulfilled you are. I call this the Lifescale, and it is something that has given thousands of people the opportunity to take a good look at what makes them tick, what holds them back, and how they can transform some of their frustrations into positive, creative energy. Ask yourself these questions from the Lifescale:

How much pleasure do I feel in my life? How much pain do I feel I have?

Give yourself a score from 0 – 20 for each of those questions. Do the same for the other four sets of questions. The first question indicates your satisfaction area; the second is the frustration indicator.

How much purpose do I have in my life? How much do problems weigh me down?
How much do I feel I’m in the right place? How much prejudice do I feel against me?
How much power do I feel I have? How much poverty do I feel I have?
Finally, how much peace of mind do I feel? How much pressure do I feel is on me?

To be emotionally healthy, you would have a score of around 60 – 80 in total for your satisfaction scores (the first of each pair of questions) and 20 – 40 for your frustration scores. Anything outside that, and you may not be functioning as well as you could. If your frustration scores are higher than your satisfaction scores, it’s time you took a serious look at what and how you are doing.

Much more important than the scores you have given, however, is what you mean by them. You have to start listening to yourself. It’s tough to do that without an Emotional Fitness Coach – someone trained to help you make sense of the responses you have made in your Lifescale.

I bumped into Tom again recently. I had not heard from him in nearly two years. He had been on an Emotional Fitness course in Calgary nine years ago. We exchanged stories of our lives since we last saw each other. He had been living and working on the coast for a while and was now back in Calgary. He seemed content and fulfilled, showing me photos of his young family.

“I’m working in a small company making quality furniture,” Tom told me. “When I arrived, I found that the employee turnover rate was really high, and it was clear that the management style didn’t help. They were always looking over your shoulder, always wanting the impossible, but not asking for any input. One day, I went to the boss and invited him to have lunch with me. I gave him my observations and suggested how he could change some of the communication. I offered to meet with the staff and listen to their own ideas on how to improve things.”

“What happened?” I asked. Tom smiled. “After a couple of weeks, the boss asked if I would like to manage the company. I told him no, but I’d be happy to get together with him every month and with the team too. Now hardly anyone wants to leave anymore. Production has almost doubled. The quality has improved. We have a new product coming on line and sales are booming. And everyone is more relaxed and content with their work. My boss gave me a bonus and asked where I learned my skills. I told him about the Emotional Fitness training and coaching that I had.”

It seems that Tom has become that powerful, sensitive, creative, dependable, caring, adventurer that he always was inside, and was afraid to show.

As for Bernardo, I just had an e-mail from him. He is working and vacationing with his wife in Brazil. He has never, he said, felt so at peace. He finished his message with, “I wish I hadn’t waited nearly forty years to find out who I really am, but anyway, I’m having a fantastic time being me now.”

Recent surveys attempted to put a dollar value on happiness. It seems that a single man needs an extra $100,000 to be as happy as a married one and that having high workplace trust is equivalent in terms of happiness to having an additional $118,000. These figures indicate an attitude that more money, and the stuff that goes with it, equates to greater happiness. What a fantasy.

Real men in the 21st century are very different from the ones we honored in the 20th. In corporations and in the home, men are not only aware of values, ethics and integrity, but are more willing to see their vulnerabilities as strengths and their errors as learning opportunities. When men can demonstrate their sensitive, empathetic natures as well as their clear-headed decision-making ones, they are more rounded, more balanced, more emotionally fit. And, like Tom and Bernardo, more successful.
The secret to that kind of healthy success for men is not to keep trying harder to chase the things that appear always just a little out of reach and that don’t, in the end cause real satisfaction. The secret is to lower the bar, keep it simple, listen more to what is going on with others and with yourself, and to be who you really are.

Author's Bio: 

Warren Redman is President of the Emotional Fitness Institute. He is author of fifteen books, including the award-winning The 9 Steps to Emtotional Fitness. Warren trains coaches and counselors in the techniques of Emotional Fitness, which he developed over a 25 year period. He now lives in Eastern Canada.