Dr. Susan David, a psychologist on the faculty at Harvard Medical School, joins us to talk about emotional agility.
For the past 20 years, Dr. David has researched and refined the principals around this concept.
A few years ago, she wrote about emotional agility for the Harvard Business Review. Her article became one of the most popular articles of the year, and the publishers heralded it as the Management Idea of the Year.
Dr. David gave a TED talk on the same topic, which went viral, gaining over a million views. She then published a book, called Emotional Agility, which became a #1 Wall Street Journal Best Seller.
The concept of emotional agility also won the Thinkers50 Breakthrough Idea Award. She’s provided consulting around this concept with clients that include the United Nations, the World Economic Forum, the NASDAQ, Google, and Microsoft.
She joins us today to explain how to define emotional agility, how to develop it in your life, and how it applies to any goal that you want to pursue – whether that’s financial independence, early retirement, career advancement, or greater success in your health and your relationships.
What is emotional agility?
Dr. David describes it as:
“…the ability to come to your inner world – your thoughts, emotions, experiences and self-stories – with courage, compassion and curiosity.”
When we develop emotional agility, we can handle our emotions in a healthy, constructive way.
In contrast, emotional rigidity is when we get sucked into narratives that don’t serve who we want to be.
How can you develop emotional agility? Here are the four movements that Dr. David describes in her book.
#1: Be Open to Your Feelings
The first of the four movements is showing up.
You want to show up and meet your feelings, rather than hide from them or deny them.
Here’s an example:
You save up enough money to quit your job and start a business.
As your last day of employment approaches, you start second-guessing your decision.
What if this is the wrong move? What if you fail? What if you lose everything?
You’re consumed with worry. You confide in your friends, who cheer you on, but their empty platitudes aren’t reassuring.
The reality is, you’re scared. You’re writing a new chapter of your life, and you have no idea what will fill those blank pages. It’s normal to feel anxious.
But inside, you feel like you should push past your worries, because business owners are confident, not anxious messes. Should you give yourself a permission slip to feel scared?
“…it’s normal to be scared when you’re about to do something that really involves an evolution of the person that you once were … Being kind with that experience is profoundly important … “
Dr. David explains that accepting your feelings brings you to a place where you can work through your fears. When you deny your feelings, you deprive yourself of the opportunity to work through your fears and grow.
Work with reality, not against it.
#2: View Emotions as Data, Not Directives
Stepping out is the second movement of emotional agility.
It’s when you internalize that emotions don’t need to be acted upon.
You have the power to choose how you respond to situations.
“There’s this beautiful … Victor Frankl quote. This idea between stimulus and a response – there is a space. And in that space is our power to choose. It’s in that choice that lies our growth and freedom.”
Dr. David says to create psychological space between you and your emotions, because you are not your emotions.
When you get upset, you can separate yourself and your emotions by saying, I notice that I feel upset rather than I’m upset.
You won’t identify with your emotions, and your feelings won’t consume you.
#3: Bring Your Values Front and Center
The third movement is walking your why.
Your goal is to identify your values and connect your actions and beliefs to those values.
When you do this, you insulate yourself from the influence of others, and you stay true to your goals.
This can help you save more money, stick to your diet, or save you from making a poor business decision.
What happens if you neglect your values?
As Dr. David explains,
“We might be trying to lose weight, we go out for dinner, and someone at the table orders dessert. We are more likely to order dessert.”
Research shows that we’re more likely to mimic the behavior of others around us.
Identify your values, and protect yourself from veering off track with your goals.
#4: Make Tiny Tweaks, Not Radical Changes
The fourth and final movement is moving on.
When things get rough, it’s tempting to throw everything out the window and start over.
But that isn’t the answer.
“Often there’s this idea that we’ve got to make radical, big changes to our lives in order to generate greater levels of … the sense of connectedness with ourselves. But actually, what the research shows is the opposite.”
Dr. David recommends making tiny tweaks that are connected to your values.
The easiest way to implement a tiny tweak is to tack it onto an existing habit.
You can also evaluate your goals. Are they connected to your values?
#5: Move to the Edge of Your Ability
The last tip Dr. David has is to move to the edge of your ability.
Comfort zones aren’t meant to be lived in 24/7.
Don’t over-challenge yourself, though. That will only frustrate you.
Instead, push yourself to the edge, and explore that space.
“Discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life … Often the most profound changes that we can make come with discomfort.”
This brings us full-circle. When you can open yourself to discomfort and recognize that it’s normal, you’ll experience exponential growth.
- SusanDavid.com/learn – Free emotional agility quiz
- Emotional Agility, by Dr. Susan David
- TED Talk: The Gift and Power of Emotional Courage
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