“Tough emotions are part of our contract for life. You don’t get a meaningful career or raise a family or leave the world a better place without stress and discomfort. Discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life.” Susan David, Ph.D.
The way we navigate our inner world – our everyday thoughts, emotions, and self-stories – is the single most important determinant of our life success. It drives our actions, careers, relationships, happiness, health; everything. For example: Do we let our self-doubts, failings, shame, fear, or anger hold us back? Can we be determined, persevering toward key life goals, but just as importantly, have the insight and courage to recognize when these goals are not serving us, and adapt?
The key to successfully navigating our inner world isn’t immunizing ourselves against stress and setbacks. And it doesn’t involve ignoring uncomfortable feelings. Instead, it’s developing something called emotional agility – the teachable ability to confront difficult emotions, gain critical self-insight from these feelings, and ultimately use this newfound awareness to adaptively align our values with our actions and make changes to bring the best of ourselves forward.
Emotions are data, they are not directives. We can show up to and mine our emotions for their values without needing to listen to them. Just like I can show up and coach a self-centered, whiney employee (with emotional agility of a 4-year-old) without putting him on time-out or just firing him, which is what my emotions want me to do.
Dr. Susan David’s research looked at what helps people to bring the best of themselves to work. She found a powerful key contributor: individualized consideration. When people are allowed to feel their emotional truth, engagement, creativity, and innovation flourish in the organization. Diversity isn’t just people, it’s also what’s inside people. Including diversity of emotion.
The most agile, resilient individuals, teams, organizations, families, communities are built on an openness to normal human emotions. We can ask ourselves, “What is my emotion telling me?” “Which action will bring me towards my values?” “Which will take me away from my values?” Emotional agility is the ability to be with your emotions with curiosity, compassion, and especially the courage to take values-connected steps.
Instead of feeling stressed about being stressed, guilty about feeling guilty, effectively shaming our emotions, we need to acknowledge them and let them go. Acknowledge stress for what it is, a word, stepping back to see what that word is trying to tell us and letting go of it. Acknowledging that we are stressed and eliminating judgment because stress is normal. Acknowledging that this word is trying to tell us that we should slow down, that we should look at the bigger picture and prioritize accordingly.
Wishing away stress is like what Susan David calls “dead people’s goals” because only dead people aren’t inconvenienced by their feelings. As she says, “only dead people never get stressed, never get broken hearts, never get the disappointment that comes with failure”