How do your emotions play out at work? Do you try to bottle them up and pretend they don’t exist? Or do you tend to brood, obsessing endlessly over them? Luckily, these two common coping mechanisms are not your only choices. Author, psychologist, and executive coach Susan David introduces a concept that she terms “emotional agility,” defined as: “being flexible with your thoughts and feelings so that you can respond optimally to everyday situations.” In contrast to this ability, she says stands “emotional rigidity,” or the tendency to “get hooked by thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that don’t serve you.” In her book, David presents a four-step model (i.e., “showing up, stepping out, walking your why, and moving on”) to building greater emotional agility in your life and work.
Showing up: facing your emotions with curiosity and acceptance
“Negative is normal,” David writes, emphasizing that so-called “negative” thoughts and feelings are an inescapable part of the human experience. Indeed, you can’t expect just to “turn off” fear, anger, insecurity, and sadness and “turn on” feelings of confidence, trust, and happiness. In fact, efforts to suppress or “correct” negative thoughts and feelings tend only to make you feel worse – if not immediately, then in the long run, when they spill out in unexpected ways, more intense than ever for having been buried, festering, in your subconscious. What’s more, painful emotions are there for a reason: to serve as vital signposts that help you to identify and navigate important problems and challenges in your life. Rather than trying to escape your emotions, therefore, David urges you to “show up,” which she describes as, “being present and having an open heart to all of your emotions in a curious and accepting manner.” In other words, this first step to building greater emotional agility is about developing the ability just to sit, passively, with your thoughts and feelings, rather than trying to fix or run from them. Don’t underestimate how hard this step is. It takes courage, as well as self-acceptance and self-compassion to passively accept painful thoughts and feelings. As David writes, “Showing up is not a heroic exercise of will but simply looking our personal tormentors in the eye and saying, ‘Okay. You’re here, and I’m here. Let’s talk.”
Stepping out: separating impulse from action
“After showing up, there’s another critical aspect of agility: stepping out,” writes David. “While “showing up” implicitly requires you to create a kind of distance between your conscious self and the endless stream of thoughts and emotions that run unbidden through your mind – what David calls your “internal chatterbox – “stepping out” takes that distance even further…