Why you need to start practicing emotional hygiene

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Emotional hygiene may look like a funny term, but it's pretty much exactly what it sounds like: practicing positive psychological hygiene. In other words, it's keeping your mind clear of negative thoughts, much like you would keep your hands clean from germs. And it's a vital practice in the workplace, especially in an organization like Pluralsight where we value "eternal optimism." Creativity is a big part of the process for many of us, and it's really hard to flex that creative knowledge if you're dealing with any kind of emotional pain.

To get a better idea of all this emotional hygiene business, you can check out  psychologist Guy Winch's TED talk, in which he makes a compelling argument for why we should all be more aware of our emotions. The idea is this: From a very young age, we teach our children physical hygiene; things like washing hands before meals, brushing teeth, and bandaging a wound to prevent infection. But we don't teach them how to deal with emotional pain from rejection, failure and the like. Of course, this isn't surprising, because most of us were never taught those skills. Instead, we simply struggle along the best we can.

In his talk, Guy points out that emotional pain not only hurts, but it can be damaging. For example, it's easy to allow pain from a failure to convince you that you'll never succeed, which can lead to a fixed mindset. Loneliness is another example, it's a surprisingly dangerous condition that can lead to clinical depression, and research has shown that chronic loneliness suppresses your immune system, and quite literally increases your chances of early death. We place big, scary labels on cigarette cartons to warn people of the dangers of smoking, but loneliness comes with no obvious labels--and yet, it's at least as harmful to long term health.

Consider this:

"We sustain psychological injuries more often than we do physical ones...and they can also get worse if we ignore them...and even though there are proven scientific methods for treating these injuries, we don't. It doesn't even occur to us that we should. 'Oh, you're feeling depressed. Just shake it off. It's all in your head.' Can you imagine saying something like that to someone with a broken leg? 'Just walk it off - it's all in your leg!'"

The takeaway here is that we could all benefit from being more aware of our own emotional hygiene, not just at home, but in the office, too. If you have a few minutes, check out the video above. I'm convinced that it'll help you become more aware of the need for diagnosing and treating emotional pain not just in yourself, but in others, as well. If you're interested in digging even deeper, Guy writes a blog called The Squeaky Wheel, and he's also written a book titled, Emotional First Aid, which I just added to my Kindle reading list, and I strongly suggest you do the same. Here's to your emotional hygiene!

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Keith Sparkjoy

Keith Sparkjoy was a Culture Coach at Pluralsight. As a cofounder, Keith was the Chief Technology Officer for many years, building and hosting the website and all things IT. These days there's a whole team of folks taking care of the tech, and Keith is focusing more on company culture, which is one of the most important aspects of a fast-growing business.