Why Exercise Matters to Emotional Intelligence

Type the words ‘exercise’ and ‘stress’ into your search browser and see how many articles, studies, videos, etc. pop up. Guaranteed every single one of them confirms that exercise is an important part of stress management (and more!).

This article isn’t about proving that exercise is important for stress management. This is about why exercise matters to emotional intelligence for which Stress Management is one of the 5 realms. Below you will find 2 key lessons. For each lesson I provide an exercise that will help you to navigate growth in the related emotional intelligence skill, and ‘watch out’ tips intended to help you side step potential pitfalls.

In the workplace, stress management skills are important when you are faced with tight deadlines, multiple demands, high stakes, and loads of responsibility. In the home, stress management skills help you manage a busy household with lots of moving parts. All while taking care of yourself – first.

Too many people put themselves too low on the totem pole which results in elevated stress levels.

Why is this?

I’ve spent several years investigating the answer to this question and the results are not just compelling, they are consistent.

“I feel selfish when I put myself before other people and I don’t want to be seen that way by other people.”

Every time I’ve gotten this answer I ask the question: “How is that working out for you and your stress, how you feel about yourself, and in-particular your value or self-worth?”

Inevitably the individual has a difficult time answering this question. Often, they first look down, then look up with tears in their eyes. “It’s not. But I don’t know how to change that without feeling selfish.”

Lesson #1

The way other people perceive you ain’t none of your business.

It isn’t a trade off between you or selfishness. Either I take care of myself and I feel selfish or I don’t take care of myself and I feel badly about not. This kind of polar extreme thinking gets a lot of people stuck for WAY too many years.

How other people perceive you has nothing to do with you. Especially if they are people that are not your friends, are not interested in you shining, are not on your ‘side’, want you to fail. How they perceive you has everything to do with them. They are simply reflecting their own feelings about themselves onto you. This is typical behaviour of wanting to connect. I feel selfish and therefore I want you to feel selfish; I feel rejected and therefore I want you to feel rejected. Feel like me so we can be connected, and I can no longer feel alone.

Breaking the cycle of polar extreme thinking comes down to your self-regard (under the self-perception realm) and development of knowing your strengths, your weaknesses, who you are, and what puts you at your best. Self-regard is largely an awareness skill.


1. Talk with people that are important and close to you.

2. Ask them what they see as your personal strengths; find out why they picked these.

3. Ask them about your weaknesses and specifically how they see you improving in these areas. Take this list and look objectively. REMEMBER these are people that are important and close to you – this means you trust them and value their opinions. This also means they have the best for you in mind.

4. Decide on the first shortcoming, set a goal, and specifically chart the actions you will take to develop.


Weakness – Don’t connect well with people on a personal level.

Goal – Get to know people better.

Strategy – When meeting people focus the conversation on asking questions about them. Start small and work toward more intimate things. Ask questions about work, family, hobbies, interests, dreams and goals. Share yours after learning about theirs so the sharing and connection is reciprocal.


When you look at yourself objectively your self-confidence can take a ‘hit’. In turn, this can elevate your negative self-talk and stress. This is a by-product of peeling away the layers. Be aware that this may happen to you and combat this with EXERCISE. More importantly…exercise in nature. If you can, get yourself into trails amongst trees and wildlife rather than the gym.

Give yourself some forest therapy.


Lesson #2

Largely suffering from ‘low on the totem pole-itis’ women can have a tendency to struggle with messaging from their youth that giving to themselves is selfish. In fact, many have learned this from their mother’s, who learned it from theirs, who learned it from theirs, and so on.

My intention is not to exclude men, nor use a generalization that it’s just women. It’s definitely not and this is not my intention. Self-care is not selfish is a message to be heard by all genders!

What are the lessons you were taught from a young age that have produced the negative tapes and the beliefs that taking time for yourself is selfish? Do you really believe this to be true…or is this just old messaging that needs to be erased and replaced with new messaging?

Self-Actualization (emotional intelligence skill in the self-perception realm) is all about striving to reach your potential and involves pursuits that lead to your meaning, purposeful, and fulfilling life. Old messaging cannot be part of that! This skill is an ongoing and dynamic one; one in which you will find great joy as a result of focusing on.


1. Put on your investigators hat and trace your history. What’s the earliest memories you have that relate to learning about self-care and selfishness? Can you bring yourself back to those memories, those lessons, the people, the language used, the feelings you felt?

2. Debate, dispute and discard with facts. If you need to, look up as much as you can about self-care and optimal performance. There’s a lot of this out there to support finding a new message.

3. Create your new messaging. This works best when you can create it as a mantra. What’s your 1-line, sacred chant, that you will be able to use when you need the reminder that taking time to take care of yourself is important, good, valuable, necessary?

Need help? This article provides 77 quotes for self-care.


4. Create a list of all the things that you count as self-care.

a. Exercise

b. Sleep

c. Nutrition

d. Massage

e. Chiropractic

f. Meditation

g. Yoga

h. Reading

i. Manicure/Pedicure/Hair

j. Time with friends/family

k. Time with spouse

5. Build yourself a 1-month schedule at the start of every month, that you are confident you will achieve. As you become more accustomed to self-care, you will be able to increase frequency, duration, etc. Put your schedule where it is highly visible and where at least 1 supporter can see it.

6. Create your exception list. There are times when life throws you emergencies that will trump self-care. Create this list in advance. Only when one of these things pops up, do you sacrifice your self-care commitment for the day. And you may not need to drop it all together. You may just need to change the time of day is happens.


People who have been confirming your internal message that self-care is selfish, will make their presence known during your transformation. They will challenge you. Be ready for them and greet them with empathy, kindness, and love. The same 3 things you are giving to yourself!

Tip #1: Make your self-care goals known to those that are important to you. These are your advocates and supporters. They can also help to hold you accountable to the specifics of your plan or be partners in action!

Tip #2: Make your self-care goals known to those that will remind you that self-care is selfish. Go on the offensive rather than the defensive. Your vulnerability and courage may inspire them to join you!

Tip #3: Create a reward system. One of the things that is necessary for breaking habits and starting new behaviours is to reward your success. At the end of each month, for achieving 100% of your self-care commitments, give yourself a reward. Could be a new workout outfit. Could be a fancy dinner out with your significant other. Could be anything!

Let’s return to this quote from earlier in the article:

“I feel selfish when I put myself before other people and I don’t want to be seen that way by other people.”

“How is that working out for you and your stress, how you feel about yourself, and in-particular your value or self-worth?”

“It’s not. But I don’t know how to change that without feeling selfish.”

My hope for all who read this article is that the exercises help you navigate toward changes that manifest themselves in a stronger sense of self, eliminating high levels of stress that are counter-productive to shining brightly, soaring high, and living to your fullest potential by giving to yourself first so that you can give more fully to others.

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