Emotional Agility …. most of us are feeling anxious, frustrated and uncertain right now … Do you have an agile mindset, to cope with unexpected situations, and a changing world?

June 12, 2020

Most of us are feeling somewhat anxious, frustrated and uncertain right now.

For 12 weeks or more we’ve been living in different states of enforced lockdown as the Covid-19 pandemic sweeps across our world, reminding us of our global connectedness and human fragility. As we work from home, school from home, shop from home, miss our friends, worry about relatives, lose out on business, and watch economies plunge, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with these tough emotions.

It would be easy to obsess about our situation, about our feelings. It would also be easy to bottle our emotions, to pretend everything is sort-of normal or at least will be very soon. It would be easy to categorise our world as good or bad, positive or negative, happy or sad. But such polarisations are not a true reflection of humanity. Now is not the time to grit our teeth, or to simply persevere. It’s easy to try and pretend, most of us do, at times.

We can do better. Now is the time to cultivate the wisdom and courage to move forward with a more open mind, a flexible approach, to be resilient yet real, to engage with emotional agility.

Susan David’s book Emotional Agility is about the empowered navigation of our thoughts, feelings, and narratives as they relate to the various spheres of our lives.

She argues that the way we perceive our inner selves is the determinant of how we live and the successes we incur. To maintain a negative self-image is destructive, and impairs our potential for success. She acknowledges the inherent evolving structures that we possess, citing adaptation as the key to transforming ourselves in order to attain the success and happiness we desire.

To be emotionally agile is to be flexible with our thoughts and feelings, and not hold the beliefs of our past to be immutable, as this cannot lead to change. A seed cannot grow from concrete, only from a mixture of fertile soil, water, and sunlight. We must also allow a combination of different experiences and thoughts to shape us.

Her book explores adaptation and advocates for consistent values as the core of who we are—the only transient point for values being to refine them when necessary in order to evolve. We can never cling too strongly to one emotion, thought, or feeling, but must learn to accept these as fleeting and allow them to move on. Only when we do this can we catalyze and bring about healthy change.

She cites four key concepts: showing up, stepping out, walking your why, and moving on. These concepts emphasize the overall point in her book about creating emotional strength and adaptiveness to change.

1. Showing Up

To face your thoughts or feelings is arguably the most difficult thing to do but it is also the most imperative to facilitate positive change. David suggests being curious about them, accepting both your difficult and positive thoughts equally in order to see them for what they are.

2. Stepping Out

This concept is all about detachment—a detachment from your inner monologue, thoughts, and feelings in order to see that they are just emotions, not you. These emotions are not bound to you and are not an essential part of your being. To detach from them will result in you feeling far more autonomous over your actions and decisions.

3. Walking Your Why

You need to retain core values, as these are a fundamental part of who you are. You shouldn’t give these up, but use them to dictate your actions. They provide you with your substance, your identity and roles, and as long as they aren’t negative values then no refinement is needed. Your values are your driving force.

4. Moving On

Her next step of moving on involves making small, deliberate, and purposeful tweaks to your mindset, motivation, and habits to align them with your core values. In doing so, she says you can make a significant difference in your life.

The pyramid model, developed by Susan David, illustrates the critical steps we can follow to deal with both the reality of our present and the emotions that come with this reality, in a healthy way. The steps outlined can leave us more resilient and stronger than ever.

  • Gentle Acceptance: As much as we want to, we cannot control every situation–especially a global pandemic. There is no value in struggling to deny or suppress feelings of anxiety, hopelessness or grief. This only makes us feel worse. By showing up to a difficult situation and accepting it, we are freed up to move beyond it. Acceptance is the prerequisite for positive change.
  • Compassion: You must be kind to yourself. These are not normal times: tens of thousands of people are dying and losing their livelihoods. Recognize with kindness that you are trying to live your life and juggle competing demands in abnormal circumstances. Give yourself a break and let go of perfectionism. Now is not the time for perfection but for forgiveness and flexibility. Also, see if you can let go of judging others. They, too, are doing the best they can. You don’t have insight into the history of the woman who is hoarding food or what it is she has seen in her past, but she is scared. Try to broaden your scope.
  • Routine: Human beings need routine in order to maintain a sense of order. It’s the glue that holds us together from day to day. When we are faced with the unfamiliar, we tend to fill in the gaps with fear. We are currently away from our routines–working from home, homeschooling, and living in close quarters with others. We are adapting to unprecedented circumstances. This can be scary. So let’s fill in the gaps of the unknown with things that are comfortable, familiar, and connected with our values. Healthy routines are essential, specifically those associated with sleep, exercise and eating. Our bodies and minds are so interconnected and our physical health is reflected in our psychological state. Try to ground yourself during the course of the day by incorporating experiences that are reminiscent of your normal lifestyle. Whether that means waking up at the time you normally would to commute to work or maintaining your family tradition of Friday movie night, the preservation of these small habits will give you comfort. Remember that it may not be possible to adhere to all aspects of your regular routine and approach this new reality with grace instead of rigidity.
  • Connection: It’s important to note that “social distancing” is really physical distancing. Connection is so important, now more than ever. Even though you cannot be in someone’s physical presence, you can continue to nourish your relationships, especially if you’re feeling lonely. You need that support. Also, if safe, make sure to hug your child and/or partner. Put down your phone and laugh with your family, play games, do puzzles.
  • Courage: Research now shows that the radical acceptance of all of our emotions–even the messy, difficult ones–is the cornerstone to resilience, thriving, and true, authentic happiness. But courage is more than just the acceptance of emotions. Our emotions are data that tells us what we’re missing in our lives. A ‘guilty’ parent might be missing real connection with her child. Grief is love, looking for its home – reminding us of the our special times. Slow down and face into your difficult emotions with courage. What you find there will signpost to you how to make better decisions and take values-based actions.
  • Reset: This is the time for reflection. What priorities did you once have that no longer seem important? What parts of ‘normal’ do you not want to rush back to? Gather your data, keep a journal, and reflect on what you learn about yourself. This information is valuable and it will guide you as you move forward.
  • Wisdom: Life’s beauty is inseparable from its fragility. We are young until we are not. We walk down the streets sexy until one day we realize that we are unseen. We are healthy until a diagnosis brings us to our knees. The only certainty is uncertainty, and once we realize this as truth, the healthier and more authentically happier we will be. When I was little, I would wake up at night terrified by the idea of death. My father would comfort me with soft pats and kisses. But he would never lie. “We all die, Susie,” he would say. “It’s normal to be scared.” He didn’t try to invent a falsely positive buffer between me and reality. It took me a while to understand the power of how he guided me through those nights. What he showed me is that courage is not an absence of fear; courage is fear walking.

Our time on this earth is all too short and all too precious. Life is asking us all right now “are you agile?”

Let the answer be an unreserved “yes.” It’s a time to recognise who you really are. Because in seeing yourself, you are also able to see others, too. Emotional agility gives us a sustainable way forward in a fragile and uncertain, yet incredible and beautiful world.

The infographic below, from Forbes magazine, outlines how important emotional agility is in the workplace.

Research shows us that:

  • Emotional intelligence and agility explain 58% of a leader’s job performance
  • 90% of top performers are high in EQ
  • Employees whose managers are open, approachable and emotionally agile are more engaged
  • More engagement leads to lower turnover, higher operational efficiency and increased performance

Want To Increase Emotional Agility? Follow These Seven Steps

  • Release Resistance: to make room for more choice
  • Increase Rapport With Yourself: to build mental muscles and calm the mind
  • Make New Meaning: and choose the story you want to tell
  • Anchor The Outcome You Want: to make success inevitable for yourself and others
  • Enroll And Engage With Others: as you bring emotional agility to your tribe
  • Build Tribal Agility: to expand and keep change going
  • Expand Tribal Power: to help your tribe navigate any obstacle, thrive on feedback and redefine their personal best

Here’s how many people find it helps

Benefits You Will Reap

  • 87-93% less time in Critter State (fight/flight/freeze)
  • 94% increased confidence that you can handle anything
  • 92% increased compassion for others
  • 85% increased compassion for self

The Net-Net

How emotionally agile are you? Take this 3-minute assessment and find out.

Find out more in my online seminars on

  • Agile Mindset: The New Business Brain
  • Surviving and Thriving in Turbulent Times
  • The New Leadership DNA