The Strength of Heart

Vickie DuvalVickie Duval, a seventeen year-old unseeded American junior exploded on the tennis scene in a display of courage, hope and passion and went on to beat the #11 seed and former champion Samantha Stossur at the 2013 US Open this summer. Duval’s father, a physician finally healing from devastating injuries suffered after being trapped in an earthquake in Haiti was joyously (after a donor generously flew him to a hospital in the US) able to watch from the sidelines. Adding even more resilience to the story, Vickie herself had been a kidnap victim in Haiti at the age of 8.

Was it fire, or the power of love, gratitude and resilience that enabled her confidence and concentration against Stossur? The strengths that lie in our hearts are at times, miraculous.

What strengths can you use to put your heart on the line and connect to others?
As a professional coach, recognizing the science behind working with emotions and strengths such as love, is a valuable goal-setting tool I use regularly. Whether you’re corporate executive, a performer or you’re out there looking to be a champion in your newest endeavor the “playing field” is where many of the greatest lessons are both felt and learned for a lifetime. Giving it your all, and putting your heart on the line when the time is right makes all the difference. To find out your top strengths visit or VIA Me!  (a more user-friendly site but a personalized report costs $10.00). It might surprise you to learn love, hope, zest, gratitude and curiosity are the top five strengths consistently correlated with life satisfaction.

Love as a strength to Connect, Empower and Heal
Physiologically, love (beyond the romantic kind) is gaining importance scientifically as a tool to promote better health and an empowering connection to others. Psychologist Barbara Fredrickson Ph.D. of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, author of Positivity and the newly released LOVE 2.0  is extensively researching the physical and neurobiological reaction when people meaningfully connect, specifically by making eye contact or through touch. This platonic “love” connection leads to feeling invested in others, increased health and happiness.

At a recent Harvard Medical School conference I attended, Eva Selhub, M.D. author of The Love Response® ( presented her cutting edge work on chronic stress reactions and how to use “loving” imagery to counteract them. The “fight or flight” response still has it’s place says Selhub, but our health suffers when stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol are triggered on a regular basis. While genetics is a factor, Selhub’s research shows the mind/body response to fear and stress can be reversed.

Selhub suggests a plan of attack that includes three steps:
1) Redirect your focus from worries or fear to the present moment. Consider:
Mindful and calming activities like taking a bath, or going for a walk
Taking deep breaths

2) Visualize images of loving, happy memories.
This will induce a relaxation response and help signal the brain to release the hormone oxytocin, known to reduce anxiety and increase feelings of contentment.
— Begin by closing, your eyes, taking a few deep breaths and in as much detail as you can imagine one of the following:
The best hug you ever got
The first time you saw or held a baby
A scene from a movie that always leads to happy tears
The warm sun on sparkling water, a beautiful sunset or any vision that always makes you feel loved and happy
— As you exhale, feel the warmth and love surrounding you and the stress hormones retreating.

3) Reinforce self-compassion.
Selhub led our group in a meditation to counteract fear by encouraging us to repeat the following words during a guided meditation. The secret is to practice regularly:
I am enough
I have enough
I have what it takes – come what may
I am a miracle
The major benefits says Selhub include a stronger immune system, improved cardiovascular and respiratory health, better metabolism and less gastrointestinal distress.

Looking good, feeling better, and kicking butt out there: The Miami born Duval attributes her ability to stay positive off the court to having a child-like heart. Selhub agrees, living in a more relaxed, open state enable others to be drawn to us. “We become more social, attractive to others, self-confident and hopeful.”

It may feel awkward at first depending on your personal or professional goals but the results speak for themselves. Check out your strengths and find a way to connect and engage with others and by all means — to quote Annie Lennox — “Put a little ‘Love’ in your heart”.

Amy Tardio

For a complimentary coaching session, contact Amy.