You know, it’s said the best thing to spread open is a Book. I love reading books and I feel that there is a lot of wisdom they have to offer us. Whatever I am today, I owe a very big part of it to learnings from good books. While I was pursuing Engineering, I used to read more fiction and drama however, during my MBA, I started to enjoy non-fiction more, learning more about human psychology, understanding business, and strategy.
It’s been quite some time since I haven’t written anything and honestly, it feels incomplete to not reflect on learnings gauge from the good books. I recently read the book Emotional Agility by Susan David and was inspired to understand emotions from different perspectives. This book has been recognized as #1 Wall Street Journal Best Seller, USA Today Best Seller as well as Amazon Best Book of the Year. By the virtue of this blog, I intend to offer you a counterintuitive approach to attaining one’s true potential. This book is fundamentally based on neuroscience and human psychology. It offers a new approach to navigating many ups and downs in life. Nothing in life ever works out the way we wanted. But what if it’s not a big deal? The primary objective of the book is to enable us to become more cognizant of our emotions, how learn to accept them, and then thrive by increasing our emotional agility. These tools and techniques won’t make us the perfect person who never says the wrong thing or is never affected by guilt or anger. But it’s about making peace with our most difficult emotions.
Essence of Book
The first part of the book explains what is Emotional Agility actually is and then we will deep dive into 4 specific steps one should take to attain it. Then we will also discuss how we can apply this in our professional life and also how we can apply this to parenting our kids so we raise them to be emotionally agile people. In order to explain what Emotional Agility is, one needs to first look at what Emotions are. Well, there can be a broad range of emotions from blind rage to pure unconditional love, all are our body’s immediate physical response to signals from the outside world. So, our heart may start beating faster, our muscles may tighten or relax based on our sense of picking up on outside information.
“When people are allowed to feel their emotional truth, engagement, creativity, and innovation flourish in an organization.”– Susan David
They are basically our natural guidance system which is much more useful when one doesn’t try to fight it. But that’s not always easy to do because our emotions are not always reliable in many situations. They work as some kind of radar to give us the most accurate and insightful read into what’s going on in a situation which is what we call gut dealing. But in all these situations, emotions bring up old business which confuses our perception of what’s happening at the moment. With painful past experiences, these powerful sensations can take over completely which can cloud our judgment as well as steer us in the wrong direction. It also finds a lot of application in parenting since whatever happens with our kids at the moment often brings up a lot of old emotions based on our own childhood. Many people operate much of the time on emotional autopilot mode, which is also proved by a growing body of research that has shown that emotional rigidity is more about getting hooked on thoughts feelings, and behavior that don’t serve in the present. Combined with this the close association with a range of psychological problems including depression and anxiety emotional agility is more about being flexible. Not sticking to one sort of feeling or perhaps holding on to an emotion key to proper well-being. The second aspect is the course about choosing how you respond to your emotional warning system. We produce thousands of thoughts every single day this is what author Susan calls a “Monkey Chatter”. We often accept these statements in our heads as facts especially as they often come with full visualization and feelings. However, most are a complete mixture of evaluation and judgment since they are completely subjective. We need to understand that thoughts are just thoughts and not facts! There are different ways people try to deal with their uncomfortable emotions or situations. So, the important question to you is, Are you Brooder or are you a Bottlers?
Psychological safety is “the idea that people feel safe to bring their emotional truth to the workplace without feeling that they are going to be fired, scapegoated, or branded negatively”–Susan David.
They try to get over the emotions by suppressing their emotions by pushing them to the side and getting over things. Research has shown that this is more of the male characteristics which is actually not surprising given the past generations have raised their boys with the premise that Boys Don’t Cry. Essentially, bottling is about ignoring troubling emotions and a person doesn’t want to get to the root of the problem. The deeper issue remains bottling is like storing corrosive substances in a plastic bottle. You might be able to contain it but soon it will start to leak out because suppressed emotions inevitably surface in the most unintended ways. They have just gone off the ground ready to pop back up at any time and usually with surprising and inappropriate intensity created by the containment pressure they have been under.
They are more likely to be women. They can let go, obsessively thinking about the hurt, perceived failure, or anxiety. They lose perspective like when you have an argument and you keep brooding over it which ends up in your head. They keep talking about their feeling and emotions such that it gains more intensity in the same way a hurricane does circling and circling and picking up more energy with each pass. We pay too much attention to our internal chatter and simmer over it…This takes up massive amounts of intellectual energy. Truly, it’s exhausting, unproductive, and brutal as well as hard to deal with because they often want to talk it out. However, even the people who love us the most can reach their empathy fatigue.
Positivity can’t be an Answer to Emotional Turmoil
There is one more common strategy to deal with uncomfortable emotions which is just as unhealthy and this is about that belief that all will be well if we just keep on smiling. This strategy is so rife in today’s world since there is toxic positivity as if you can put positive affirmations on top of your feelings and not deal with them. It is just not that simple as well not practical as well. These three strategies – Bottling, Brooding and Chasing happiness come from discomfort with negative emotions. Although, they may be are short-term emotional aspirin however the problem is that is if we don’t deal with the source of the pain we miss the ability to deal with it once and for all!
Soul of the Book
Sometimes the negative emotions can be useful, say if you have some impromptu last-minute changes in the morning a right before a big ppt at work then you will need to bottle it for now. It is these coping strategies that are used by default. We need to learn to become uncomfortable with bad moods and bad feelings. What I feel is bad moods are underrated and they have the capacity to actually help us form necessary arguments that can improve our memory and encourage perseverance. It can also make us more attentive to our blind spots and less prone to confirmation bias. Bad feelings can actually be messengers which we curb instead of embracing them, we need to teach things about ourselves that can prompt us with insights helping us take important life directions. Every negative emotion can be a strong motivator for improvement.
4 Key Takeaways – Practical Steps to develop Emotional Agility
- Showing Up – It’s about Acceptance!
Facing our thoughts, emotions, and behavior willingly with curiosity and kindness. We are often good at giving and helping other people but we are very bad at showing the same empathy to ourselves! Acceptance is a prerequisite for change. We still don’t like the things we don’t like, but we just cease to be a war with them! We need to become comfortable with being uncomfortable. We need to stop seeing feelings as good or bad but as just being by confronting our pain as well as acknowledging it we can move from the experience and learn from it and come out the other side rather than being stuck. To be able to do this we need to have a rich and nuanced emotional vocabulary. When we can name our feelings accurately. They provide a lot of useful information they point us in the direction of our hurt once we stop trying to eliminate distressing feelings or smothering them with positive affirmations or rationalizations, they can teach us valuable lessons
2. Second Step – Stepping-Out
It is about detaching from observing emotions and thoughts to see them for what they are just thoughts just emotions. Stepping out creates a gap between stimulus and response when we are entangled in our thoughts and emotions. We typically only have one perspective, and one answers it’s only when we step out then we can see that it might be more than one way of looking at the situation. The view from above broadens your perspective and makes you more sensitive to context. It is specifically very useful when we make mistakes because even when we make mistakes there are always lessons to be learned and potential for growth. There are 2 methods that we can practice stepping out – The first one is Journaling – research has shown the power of journaling. People who have written about charged episodes experienced marked increases in their physical as well as mental well-being. If you writing then voice recording is just as effective and in the process of writing or voice recording you are creating a space between the thinker and the thoughts. The feeler and the feeling and allows you to gain perspective disengage and move forward.
The second thing that we can be doing is practice mindfulness. It’s the quality of being fully present in a way. Mindfulness helps us to become more emotionally agile because it helps us observe the thinker having the thought and mindfulness is not just meditation personally, I find it very difficult to meditate the author gives us four 4 very simple ways of doing it.
- Focus on breathing for one full minute.
- Observe an object like a water bottle for a full minute in every detail.
- Really listen to music and pay attention to the melody
- Pick something that you do mindlessly every day like brushing your teeth and focus on each step and action.
The breathing space that you create gives you a great gift of choice. You begin to experience your thoughts as just thoughts rather than directives that need to be followed or even agonized over. You can have thoughts and then notice them and then purposefully choose to set them aside this is not bottling because you are not ignoring or suppressing the thoughts or emotions you are curiously noticing it and the information one brings but not allowing it to call the shots.
3. Walking your Why – This is about focusing on the core values and most important goals. It is the art of living by your own personal set of values, it’s the belief and behavior that matters for you and brings a sense of satisfaction that brings meaning to your life. This is a crucial step in achieving emotional agility. The problem is we often make decisions that are not of our own. These are decisions that have been imposed on us by other people whether it’s our parents or our society. Identifying what are the personal values as well as what are the values of the family is just so important. It allows us to make decisions in the hope to live. Set values can be used as a sign-post that can guide us through each decision point as well as values that aren’t universal. What’s right for one person may not be for someone else. But there are a few questions that you can ask yourself that can help you in identifying what is your core values. What do I want my life to look like, what relationship do I want to build, how do I feel most of the time and what kind of situation keeps me happy and alive? When you know what you care about you can then be free of what you don’t care about. It is especially imp for parenting because being a good parent may mean so many different things for different people based on their own set of values and the beauty of walking you’re why is that even if you end up making the wrong decision you can at least stay confident in knowing that you made the decisions for the right reason.
4. Moving On and March Forward – It is about making small deliberate tweaks infused with your values because they can make a huge difference in your life instead of having lofty goals of total transformation. If you are training for a marathon, you wouldn’t stop running 42 kilometers straightway. Rather you would make small little steps toward your goal. It’s the same in the everyday life. Each tweak may not look like much on its own but bit by bit you will actually end up with a completely different story at the end. It is so true when it comes to practicing positivity and building resilience.
Susan David is a PhD, Harvard psychologist, cofounder and codirector of the Institute of Coaching at McLean Hospital, CEO of Evidence Based Psychology, and New York Times best selling author.