My book recommendation of the month is ‘Emotional Agility’ by Susan David PhD. David is a psychologist on the faculty of Harvard Medical School. She has researched the nature and impact of human emotion for more than 20 years. Her book brings that work to fruition. David explains how one can thrive by accepting that all feelings are valid. She explains that by learning how to label feelings accurately, one can choose the best way to respond in any situation.
In her book, David shares four concepts that can help to successfully navigate one’s emotional landscape:
1. Showing Up: Instead of ignoring painful thoughts and emotions, learning how to face all one’s feelings with curiosity and kindness.
2. Stepping Out: Observing thoughts and emotions to see them for what they are—just thoughts, just feelings. Knowing that we only become our thoughts and feelings when we act upon them – and we can choose how best to respond.
3. Walking Your Why: Core values provide the compass that keeps one moving in the right direction. Rather than being abstract ideas, these values are the true path to willpower, resilience and effectiveness.
4. Moving On: Small, deliberate tweaks in mindset, motivation, and habits that are in tune with one’s values, can make all the difference. The idea is to find the balance between challenge and competence to avoid being overwhelmed.
In her research, David discovered that the words we use are vital to emotional agility. Frequently we use short-cuts to describe our feelings, such as ‘I’m stressed.’ Knowing the precise cause of stress is critical. For example: ‘This stress springs from my being in the wrong career.’ Naming our emotions mean we discern the exact cause of our feelings. This effort ignites the readiness potential in our brain, enabling us to identify and take positive steps to deal with any situation.
The key is remembering that “our emotions are data, not directives.” (David, 2018) This knowledge is powerful as it allows us to listen and accept what our feelings are telling us without judgment or self-criticism. Self-compassion also builds resilience and the resourcefulness to know that one can choose how to respond to any emotion. She doesn’t pretend it is easy nor does she offer a quick fix. What’s required is effort and the willingness to practice while exercising self-compassion.
For me, David’s driving message is filled with hope and future possibilities. The happiest people also experience painful emotions and face setbacks in their lives. The difference is that they have learned to unhook themselves from unhelpful patterns and behaviour. They are emotionally agile.
You can watch the TED talk on this topic brilliantly given by Susan David, PhD. Here is the link: The Gift and Power of Emotional Courage