How Feeling Our Feelings Helps Our Resilience (Episode 37-39)
And how emotions affect our ability to manage our energy
For the last two years I’ve had an extremely full life. I’ve been very busy with work, relocating back to Holland, and since June last year this project of 39 Ideas for Life and the continuous daily training for my upcoming Ironman triathlon race. Since the start of this project, I haven’t once been sick or missing a deadline, or milestone if you will. Even more, since I’ve been training like I have, I haven’t gotten sick. However, last week I tested positive for covid and have been feeling very sick indeed. I was sick with fever, was sleeping vast amounts, and couldn’t think clearly. My short little post on kindness took me a full day to write. My head was a big fuzz, and I was feeling extremely fatigued. My energy was completely drained, and obviously I couldn’t do any training. I even rescheduled my interview with Isabelle Bester with whom I’d fittingly talk about resilience and energy management.
From personal experience she had learnt how to develop and cultivate resilience and renew her lost energy. As Isabelle shared with me during our talk, she started to develop a range of psychosomatic disorders due to stress and high workload pressures in her previous high-paced job environment (Bester, 2022). Because of this, she decided to change her life, learn to properly take care of herself, and take two years off from work for re-finding her personal balance. She learnt a lot and that experience was the start of a big shift and ultimately led her to starting Bester Consulting, a company supporting organizations and individuals in the field of resilience and energy management. Interestingly, she shared some things that I too recognized.
Success through suffering
When starting her business, Isabelle focused her services on high achievers who had the mindset that one can only achieve success through suffering. She herself had this mindset also previously, and I too recognize this. She questioned this ingrained belief and asked herself, ‘do we really have to perform through suffering? Isn’t there another way?’ (Bester, 2022). From there, she made the shift towards healthy and more balanced performance while also enjoying the ride.
When I started training for the Ironman, I too naively thought I had to always feel the burn and push, push, push myself. Of course, as I know now, this is a recipe for failure and injury. As I learnt by talking the 72-year-old world champion long-distance triathlon Gerrit ten Brinke, and his and now also my coach Frank Heldoorn, proper endurance training is actually the opposite of this. Instead of continuously pushing oneself, it is a lot about the boring, low-heartrate, big volume trainings that build one’s endurance and VO2max. The same analogy is true for life and work. If we want to continue to do good in the long game, we will have to continue taking care of ourselves along the way and don’t stretch ourselves thin. Balance here is crucially important. As Isabelle mentioned during our talk, our practices should be sustainable to, and respective of ourselves (Bester, 2022). When performing in the suffering zone, for while we see the best of ourselves. But if we’re not mindful, we quickly will start to see the worst. We’ll get into conflicts, rapidly become agitated, and stop taking proper care of ourselves and those around us. As Isabelle explained, when we stop getting in the red zone, and instead stay in the green zone, while sometimes spending some time in orange, our entire system works so much better and we can sustain our performance overtime while remaining in balance with ourselves and our surrounding. We need to respect ourselves, others, and our energy levels (Bester, 2022). ‘Energy comes from four main wellsprings in human beings: the body, emotions, mind, and spirit’ (Schwartz and McCarthy, 2007). With each of these energy sources or batteries as Isabelle mentioned, energy can be systematically expanded and renewed through specific beneficial practices.
Types and sources of energy
There are different sources of energy. During our talk, Isabelle identified the following types of energy:
Physical energy. This is about nutrition, how, what and when we eat, how much we move and relating to the quality and quantity of our sleep. Inadequate nutrition, exercise and sleep directly affects our emotions and our ability to focus our attention (Schwartz and McCarthy, 2007);
Emotional energy. ‘When people are able to take more control of their emotions, they can improve the quality of their energy, regardless of the external pressures they’re facing’ (Schwartz and McCarthy, 2007). This is also very much about the ability to experience emotions such as for instance fear or frustration, and through that understanding our emotional language. When we are able to experience our emotions, they will stop draining our energy. When we feel positive energy, we will perform best. Thus, learning to recognize what triggers our negative emotions we gain greater capacity to take control over how we react, and what we make events mean that happen to us. This also brings to attention the stories we tell ourselves. And then, when aware of this, we can change the story we tell ourselves and through that shift our energy and focus;
Mental energy. This relates to the mental motivators that drive us. For this it is important to understand how we see things and how our thought patterns evolve as a consequence. Building on how the stories we tell ourselves shape our energy and focus, it is our human spirit that is driven by meaning and purpose. As I’m sure you recognize, it is both our physical and emotional energy that vastly influence our mental energy, and vise versa;
Social energy. Lastly, there is the energy we gain from social interaction. Cultivating compassion, support one another, asking for help and helping others are all great ways for refueling your energy batteries. When we can share our experiences and feelings with others, and feel heard and supported in the process, this benefits our energy levels greatly. Also, when we are listening to someone, our energy improves. It is great to be of support to someone.
These four types of energy function as batteries working at different currents, which help us store and regulate our energy supplies. For instance, as Isabelle explained, if you feel your emotions better, your digestion system functions more effectively and if you’re well rested, you won’t be quickly agitated or upset. It is all connected, and all batteries need regular charging and maintenance to function properly.
We need to build our awareness
In order to stay in touch with our energy levels, sense how we’re doing, and make sure we don’t overstretch ourselves we need to build our awareness about what our bodies are telling us. Isabelle mentioned a very interesting and important point in this regard, which is to perceive our bodies signals as positive, and with curiosity and gratitude. For example, instead of becoming upset with ourselves when we are experiencing a headache or are waking up tired even though we slept long, we can learn to appreciate these signals for what they are. Messengers helping us perform in the best way possible. ‘People who are emotionally resilient use this to their advantage by looking for the positive intention behind the negative emotion they’re feeling’ (Karia, 2016).
Thus, if suddenly we become more irritable with the people we love, or make more mistakes at work, these are actually signals that we need to tune things down or change something. When we start listening to what our body is telling us, we will prevent sickness and injury, and our performance, happiness and wellbeing will improve. Even though that means we’re slowing down sometimes. We all have specific warning signs. The more we get to know them, the more we can start appreciating them instead of seeing them as nuances. Our bodies give us first warnings, second warnings, and third warnings, with increased intensity and impeding effect. The people who learn to listen to these warnings, they strive (Bester, 2022). When Isabelle is coaching someone, she always starts by exploring how the body is talking to us, and what it’s telling us. There, we can find a lot of clues for what’s needed. This process takes awareness and practice, but will inevitable reap results and make us more in tune and ultimately more effective and resilient.
Slowing down to gain speed
Although as a high performer it might seem to counterintuitive, sometimes we need to slow down in order to gain and keep speed. During our talk, Isabelle shared a fitting example from formula 1 steering techniques, where the driver has to slowdown at the right moments and with particular corners. Through the right breaking practice, it ultimately gains speed in the overall race. Alike these race drivers, we too sometimes need to slow down and tune things down, in order to keep our overall pace high and get our energy back when we’re feeling depleted. I very much like the analogy and know this is true for life too.
‘Resilient people, they posit, possess three characteristics: a staunch acceptance of reality; a deep belief, often buttressed by strongly held values, that life is meaningful; and an uncanny ability to improvise. You can bounce back from hardship with just one or two of these qualities, but you will only be truly resilient with all three’ (Coutu, 2017). Like a glass of water, our resilience goes up and down. However, this capacity to be resilient is something we can develop A big part of this is recognizing the element of growth in our experiences (Bester, 2022). The belief that life is meaningful and that our hardship has some meaning and offer opportunities for growth while we struggle to stay on courses becomes easier when we believe our goals and ambitions serve a meaningful purpose. ‘Resilience is not only the capacity to bounce back, but to really grow with change or challenge that life or we ourselves are putting on us’ (Bester, 2022). Resilience is about developing the emotional capacity to go through the curve of change and challenges (Bester, 2022). ‘To go into a resilience process, we need to go into movement. The second we stop and get stuck, then our resilience is at stake because we’re stuck and don’t move’ (Bester, 2022).
We can talk about movement, nutrition, rest, and many influencing factors on our energy and resilience. However, as Isabelle argued, ‘the emotions somehow are really the trigger point’ (Bester, 2022). ‘Many experts believe that emotional resilience is the number 1 key to success – not education and not conventional intelligence’ (Karia, 2016). At the end of the day, emotions are absolutely key for energy management. ‘Personally, I think [emotions] are the number one battery. It can drain us totally’ (Bester, 2022). The word emotions stems from the root of movement. Movements are linked to energy. Another word which is linked to emotions is motivation. Motivation and emotions are really two concepts that go hand in hand (Bester, 2022). ‘If I want to be motivated and I want to have energy, I need to see what’s happening in my emotions’ (Bester, 2022). Filled with purpose, emotions can drive us forward. However, emotions can also hold us back. ‘Your emotional response – anger, hurt, fear – holds more control over you than you would like’ (Karia, 2016).
Emotions can be extremely energy draining. As Isabelle illustrated during our talk, one minute of experiencing negative emotions or frustration takes our body an hour to recover from when we don’t do anything to regulate this emotional energy. This is visible in our immune system functioning and our heartrate (Bester, 2022). That is an effect with factor 60 when we don’t regulate our emotions! That’s a very big deal. That means that eight minutes of frustration can take us eight hours to come back to our original calm state of mind. Thus, emotions really have the power to drain us when we do not regulate them sufficiently.
There are several strategies for shortening the impact time of emotions on our bodies and minds. Isabelle’s favorite technique involves talking with our emotions, and actually feeling them. Live, during our talk, she took me through this process. This was a very interesting process by which I tuned in on the physical manifestation of the emotions in my body. In my case, I was experiencing sadness and frustration about getting sick so close to race day after almost two years of training. Connecting with this sadness and frustration, and communicating with the emotion ultimately helped me let go of these feelings. It was a very interesting process, and I recommend watching the video of our talk here.
I’m not sure if it was the process with Isabelle, acknowledging how and what I was feeling, or merely the re-realization of the enormous weight our emotions can have on us, which then helped me set myself free from them. Either way, that talk with Isabelle marked a very big shift in my energy and sense of wellbeing. It helped me regulate my emotions and move through them actively. This freed up a lot of energy.
Moving through emotions by truly experiencing them
‘When something happens to us […], we need to go through the [messages] of all our emotions, hear what they are there to tell us and feel them. Then, suddenly we can feel better and move on’ (Bester, 2022). Thus, it is very important for us to acknowledge and truly experience our emotions on both a physical and mental level. If we don’t allow the emotion to be experienced, they will remain stuck and continue to drain our energy. The more we engage with our emotions in a manner as illustrated by Isabelle during our talk, the better we will feel and the freer we become from the drain of unprocessed emotions.
‘The key thing is really to connect with your emotion, feel them, see them as your friend, and listen to them. What is the message they are telling us? Emotions always want something good for us. But because emotions talk to us [at times] through unpleasant feelings, we actually [try to] remove them from lives’ (Bester, 2022). Instead, as with expressing our honesty and experiencing our emotions to come back to the present moment, when we can express, feel, and experience our emotions, they will lose their grip on us and can function as the messenger they actually are. ‘Feelings want to be felt’ (Bester, 2022). ‘If you feel your feelings, and accept them, they are going to come down’ (Bester, 2022).
My experience with Isabelle during our talk was a great example for this. ‘We shouldn’t be scared for difficult emotions. Instead, when we go through it, that is when we build our resilience’ (Bester, 2022). ‘It’s not by numbing sadness, it’s not by numbing fear, it’s not by numbing frustration or whatever we are going through. It is by experiencing and listening, and by going through the emotions that [will get us to] the other side’ (Bester, 2022).
A continuous process
As Isabelle mentioned during our talk, our resilience varies with time and experiences. However, it is a quality we can develop and cultivate. ‘Resilience must continually be refreshed and recommitted to. Every effort at resilience buys us not certainty, but another day, another chance’ (Zolli and Healy, 2012). The role of emotions is a prominent one in this process. Especially our calacity to regulate our emotions and to fully experience them. As I have learnt through life, when we can face fully what is there, both the beauty and the pain, our life will be lived fully. Even then our energy will be replenished, no matter the hardship or setbacks endured. Then, indeed, we can bounce back, as we are resilient beings.
There couldn’t have been a more fitting time for this talk. While recovering from covid, and less than a month away from my full distance Ironman race in Hamburg on June 5th, I was in dear need of some renewed energy and resilience. Therefore, to learn about resilience and energy management, I have talked to Isabelle Bester.
Isabelle is an international speaker and executive coach who is expert specialized in energy management and resilience. She coached high achievers including business leaders and Ironman athletes to develop resilience and manage their energy most optimal.
This was a very interesting talk, for many reasons. To be honest, I wasn’t in the best headspace, but my talk with Isabelle completely shifted my energy. I realized the enormous hold emotions can have on us, and how to appreciate them for what they are. During our talk, Isabelle helped me connect with and talk to my own emotions and helped achieve a big shift. Definitely a worthwhile listen when in need of some renewed energy; I loved it!
Website of Bester Consulting: https://besterconsulting.com
Coutu, Diane, 2017, How Resilience Works. Three traits of those who bounce back, in Resilience
HBR Emotional Intelligence Series. Harvard Business Review. https://amzn.to/39ojRWT
Hanson, Rick and Forrest, 2020, Resilient: How to Grow an Unshakable Core of Calm, Strength, and Happiness. https://amzn.to/38tSevE
Karia, Akash, 2016, Emotional Habits: 7 Things Resilient People Do Differently (And How They Can Help You Succeed in Business and Life). https://amzn.to/3FJ9Vnc
Schwartz, Tony and Catherine McCarthy, 2007, Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2007/10/manage-your-energy-not-your-time, accessed on 11 May 2022.
Zolli, Andrew and Ann Marie Healy, 2012, Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back. https://amzn.to/3LssugN