Emotional Endurance

Everything you need to know about emotional endurance in 5 minutes or less

🎯 What Is Emotional Endurance?

Emotional endurance is the ability to tolerate difficult moods or emotions for extended periods of time and stay focused on your goals without attempting to eliminate, fix, or improve your emotional state.

While it involves the related concept of acceptance, emotional endurance places a stronger emphasis on prolonged tolerance of difficult moods and emotions as well as a radical willingness to embrace the painful emotion rather than regulating or coping with it which is often the motivation behind acceptance-based approaches.

👀 Examples of Emotional Endurance

  • Staying present during a difficult conversation and continuing to listen well to the other person despite feeling angry, defensive, or the temptation to ruminate about all the ways they’ve wronged you in the past.
  • Continuing to write and work on a creative project despite feeling anxious, insecure, and feeling your mind’s pull toward self-criticism, imposter syndrome, and procrastination.
  • Meeting up with friends and participating in meaningful activities despite the grief of having recently lost your spouse and the desire to isolate.
  • Showing up to the gym or an exercise class despite feeling embarrassed by how out of shape you are.
  • Moving forward with your plans for a cross-country road trip despite your driving anxiety.

😬 Why Low Emotional Endurance Is a Problem

  • Unhealthy avoidance. When you are unable or unwilling to endure difficult emotions, you often end up avoiding situations or experiences that might be meaningful and enjoyable simply because they could trigger painful emotion. In other words, you end up missing out on many of the most exciting and wonderful experiences life has to offer because you can’t tolerate difficult emotions.
  • Fear learning. When you avoid or try to get rid of a difficult mood or emotion, you teach your brain that it’s dangerous. So, even if you get some short-term relief, you’re sensitizing your brain to that emotion, making it stronger, more frequent, and more difficult to deal with in the future. Long-term this leads to low resilience, emotional fragility, and poor confidence.
  • Procrastination. Difficult work is often difficult precisely because it involves tolerating some emotional discomfort and doing the work anyway. If your emotional endurance is low, you won’t be able to follow-through on (or sometimes even start) much of the most important work of your life.
  • Relationship trouble. Working through conflict, misunderstanding, and other relationship issues requires being able to stay focused on solving the issue at hand rather than getting sidetracked by old grievances, insecurities, or defensiveness. It’s hard to do this if you can’t endure difficult emotions and feel like you need to eliminate them as soon as they arise.

🌀 Origins and Causes of Emotional Endurance

  • Temperament and personality. Depending on various temperamental and personality factors, you may experience emotions more or less intensely making it relatively easier or harder to endure them. People high in trait neuroticism, for example, likely find emotional endurance more challenging than those low in trait neuroticism.
  • Beliefs about emotions. If you believe difficult emotions are bad or dangerous, it’s unlikely that you’ll be willing to endure them, and instead, immediately try and avoid or eliminate them. On the other hand, if you believe that, despite being uncomfortable or even painful, difficult emotions are never bad or dangerous, your willingness and ability to tolerate and endure them will be much higher.
  • Reliance on coping. When you’re in the habit of using coping skills to alleviate or reduce difficult emotions, you never get practice enduring them. Not only does this make it harder to endure them when you need to, but it also tends to lower your resilience and confidence over time. Alternatively, when you’re in the habit of reacting to emotions with acceptance and willingness, emotional endurance becomes easier—in part because you’re not feeling bad about feeling bad.

💡 3 Key Insights About Emotional Endurance

  • Emotional endurance creates a healthier relationship with your emotions. Endurance is an approach behavior which signals safety to your brain. So when you get in the habit of willingly enduring difficult emotions, you teach your brain that while uncomfortable, difficult emotions aren’t dangerous or bad, which makes them less intense and easier to endure in the future. In other words, emotional endurance trains your brain to see painful emotions as friends, not enemies.
  • Emotional endurance improves self-awareness. Most people lack self-awareness because they’re unwilling to experience (much less investigate) the difficult aspects of their psychology—fears and insecurities, limiting beliefs, sadness and shame, etc. But when you are capable of enduring those difficult emotions, you get the opportunity to learn new things about them, and as a result, deepen your understanding of yourself. You can’t learn about your emotions if you’re not willing to have them.
  • Emotional endurance boosts creativity and productivity. You need to be able to tolerate difficult feelings in order to consistently do great work. If you’re constantly spending all your energy and attention trying to avoid or get rid of difficult emotions, you’ll have little left to pursue your art/work at a high level. Producing great work demands the ability to tolerate the fears and anxiety of uncertainty and keep working instead of constantly compromising on the quality of your work because you can’t handle feeling anxious or uncertain.

🛠️ Tips and Tools To Improve Your Emotional Endurance?

  • Stop intellectualizing your emotions. Most people’s struggles with poor emotional endurance start with how they talk about their emotions. Specifically, they tend to intellectualize how they feel in order to avoid feeling those emotions fully. They say “I’m stressed” when really they’re afraid; or “I’m feeling kind of down” when really they’re sad. Whether you’re talking to another person or yourself, get in the habit of describing your emotions like a child would, using plain emotional language.
  • Emotional validation. Validating an emotion simply means reminding yourself that it’s valid and understandable to feel whatever you’re feeling, even if it’s painful or you don’t like it. You likely already do this with other people… When a good friend says they’re sad, you don’t tell them that they shouldn’t feel sad; instead, you remind them that it makes sense on some level to feel that way even though it’s hard. It’s much easier to endure difficult emotions if you’ve validated them first.
  • Mindfulness training. In mindfulness training, you exercise and strengthen two attentional muscles that are key for emotional endurance: 1) the ability to notice and be aware of painful thoughts or feelings, and 2) the ability to refocus your attention on your goals instead of getting lost in the thoughts or emotions. Both are key for high levels of emotional endurance.
  • Emotional willingness. Most of us are unwilling to experience even tiny amounts of difficult emotion. For example, the moment we feel bored, we pick up our phones; the moment we feel anxious, we start worrying about what others are thinking of us. To break this habit, look for small moments of painful emotion and practice tolerating them for brief periods of time: just be willing to be bored for 30 seconds before getting on your phone; allow yourself to feel a little anxious before you start worrying or coping with the anxiety. The key is to start small—practice being willing to have small difficult emotions and slowly your competence and confidence will increase to ever-bigger and more difficult emotions.

💬 Notable Quotes About Emotional Endurance

  • Fate guides the willing, but drags the unwilling. — Cleanthes
  • Anything you accept fully will get you there, will take you into peace. This is the miracle of surrender. — Eckhart Tolle
  • To bear trials with a calm mind robs misfortune of its strength and burden. — Seneca
  • Emotional pain cannot kill you, but running from it can. — Vironika Tugaleva