“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Viktor Frankl
Many of us now find ourselves in a new and different world, and therefore may be feeling a wide spectrum of emotions and attempting to adapt to our new situation, which is constantly changing. We may ask ourselves; what is the best way to adapt to this new way of living?
We might find that we are hooked on our thoughts and feelings, meaning that there is no space between stimulus and response. Our partner might say something, and we shout back at them. We might see something on the news and are gripped by fear. Emotional agility, a term coined by Susan David, helps to create that space between stimulus and response, that allows us to take the power back from our thoughts and emotions, and to be in the driving seat again.
Emotional agility is our ability to experience our thoughts, emotions, and experiences in a way that doesn’t drive us in negative ways, but instead encourages us to be the best version of ourselves. It is about being driven by values, and not by knee-jerk responses to emotions. When we are emotionally agile, we are able to recognise our thoughts and emotions for exactly what they are; thoughts and emotions.
We can’t cling too strongly to one emotion or thought. We need to learn to accept that these are fleeting and allow them to pass. In fact, according to Dr Jill Bolte Taylor, an emotion only lasts in the body for 90 seconds; “When a person has a reaction to something in their environment, there’s a 90-second chemical process that happens in the body; after that, any remaining emotional response is just the person choosing to stay in that emotional loop.” Lockdownhere are four key concepts, that come under the umbrella of emotional agility, which will help you in this area.
The four key concepts of emotional agility
1. Showing up
Be open to experiencing your emotions without judgement. Emotions are neither good nor bad. Some might feel more uncomfortable than others because we are used to running away from them or burying them, but this doesn’t make them bad.
By labelling certain emotions as bad, we are piling negativity onto an already ‘negative’ emotion. If we see anger as bad, we might get annoyed at ourselves for feeling angry. If we see anxiety as a weakness, we might start to feel anxious about the possibility of being anxious.
Be curious about your emotions, and use them as data to inform you without letting them call the shots. What is your frustration telling you is important to you? What is your anger letting you know about your values?
2. Stepping out
Stepping out is all about detachment. It’s about becoming detached from your thoughts and feelings. It isn’t about burying them or running away from them. Emotional agility is about sitting in that sweet spot between burying emotions and wallowing in emotions.
In this stage, we are seeing our emotions and thoughts for what they really are; just a small part of us. Susan David explains that a quick way to detach from our thoughts and feelings is to preface them, in our heads, with the phrase; “I’m having the thought that…” or “I’m having the feeling that…” So, “I’m so angry” becomes “I’m having the feeling that I am angry”. In this way we are owning our thoughts and feelings, we aren’t becoming them.
There is a similar concept in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy ACT), only instead of ‘detachment’, it’s called ‘defusion’.
“Imagine that you are sitting in a chair watching a movie. You’re quite engaged in the film but then you notice down in the corner of the screen a tiny little window showing a parallel film. This other film is about the screenplay writer as he or she creates the lines of dialogue in the main film. It’s a film about authoring a movie, not the story being authored. When you hear dialogue in the main movie you can focus on that drama, but you can also turn your eyes to that small authoring film within the film and watch the writer doing the work.” (Dr Steven C. Hayes).
This is a shift from seeing the world through the lens of our thoughts and feelings, to looking curiously at the process of thinking. This detachment increases your autonomy over your actions and decisions.
3. Walking your why
This stage is all about what is driving us; emotions or values. Most of us are driven by our emotions and our thoughts, which can be a very unstable way to live. We are happy so we hug our partner, we are sad so we eat half a chocolate cake, and so on.
Being driven by our values feels much more stable. Values are much less changing and changeable than our emotions and thoughts. Our core values are fundamental to who we are, our identity, our roles, and they can dictate our actions. We might value health, fairness, kindness, gratitude, financial freedom, and many more. There are many different values that we live by, often without even realising it.
As long as your values aren’t negative, there is no reason to do any refinement. If you aren’t sure what your values are or you are worried that your values are negatively impacting you, it may be time to do some work on them.
4. Moving on
Moving on involves making small, deliberate, and purposeful tweaks to your mindset, motivation, and habits to align with your core values. We can start to ground ourselves in the idea that courage is not the absence of fear but courage is about noticing your fear, compassion, and curiosity and then doing what matters in your life.
Ask yourself questions such as “what are some courageous steps that I can take, even with my fear?” or “what is something that I can do today even though I’m feeling anxious?”. It’s not about doing away with fear, anxiety, sadness, or grief. It is about noticing them, being curious about them, and moving forward even though they are still there.
Finally, remember that to embrace changes, we need to be able to adapt. We cannot expect the same rules or actions to be applicable across the vast changes that we are experiencing today. Life is calling on each of us to move into a place of wisdom within ourselves; not judging or overthinking, but compassion, vulnerability, quiet strength, and community.
If you feel that you would like some professional emotional support during these unsettling times, please contact us on 020 8673 4545 to talk to one of our lovely reception team or email firstname.lastname@example.org. We have telephone and online video appointments seven days a week, with low-cost options as well.