Emotional agility and how to navigate uncertainty

Emotional agility and how to navigate uncertainty

In our rapidly changing world where uncertainty is a constant, there’s a valuable skill we might all consider: Emotional Agility.

In psychology, emotional rigidity means a person can’t understand or appreciate how others feel or see things differently. It also encompasses responding to events or incidents with a notable absence of empathy.

Emotional agility is not about being a master of one’s emotions; it’s about being skilful in how we handle them. At its core, emotional agility concerns the art of handling one’s emotions with finesse. Acclaimed psychologist Susan David developed this concept after studying emotions, happiness and achievement for almost two decades.

Emotional Agility is a process that allows us to be in the moment, changing or maintaining our behaviours to live in ways that align with our intentions and values.

– Susan David

It’s a set of principles that help us make sense of one’s feelings and use them to become a better person. Some of them are:

  1. Recognising Emotions: The first step is knowing one’s feelings. Think of it as putting labels on emotion. Feeling could be that of joy, sadness, frustration, or a mix of emotions. Recognising these emotions is the key to understanding yourself.
  2. Accepting Emotions: We all have our good and bad days. Sometimes, we feel on top of the world, and at other times we feel like everything is falling apart. Emotional agility says it’s perfectly okay to feel both. It’s about accepting our emotions, even the negative ones, without being harsh on ourselves.
  3. Navigating Emotions: It’s about steering or navigating our feelings in a way that helps us instead of letting them push us around. Think of it as being in control rather than ourselves being controlled by our emotions.
  4. Adaptability: Just like a chameleon adapts to its environment, emotional agility helps us to adapt our emotional responses to different situations. It’s all about being flexible with our emotions.
  5. Learning and Growth: Every emotion whether simple or tough carries a lesson to be learnt. Emotional agility helps us learn from our emotions and use those lessons to become a better person.

Today, emotional agility has taken on even more significance due to changing dynamics along various dimensions:

  1. More Uncertainty: Uncertainty around us is increasing. We’ve experienced this with the COVID-19 pandemic and rapid technological changes, supply chain issues and global economic shifts. Emotional agility helps us to navigate this uncertainty by managing the stress and anxiety that often come with it.
  2. Mental Health Matters: The modern world is tough on mental health. Many of us now work from home, and technology is everywhere in our lives. Emotional agility can serve as an emotional toolkit for balancing work and life, handling too much screen time, reducing stress and maintaining positive relationships.
  3. Effective Leadership: Emotional agility isn’t just about our personal growth; it’s also a leadership skill. It empowers us to lead with empathy, manage our emotions during high-pressure situations and create workplaces that can prioritise employees’ well-being.

Now that we have a grasp of emotional agility, let’s explore how we can develop and enhance this skill:

  1. Knowing our Feelings: Start by recognising the feelings. Start labelling the emotions. What are the feelings – happy, sad, anxious or something else? Knowing how we feel itself is a great start.
  2. Feel Okay About Feelings: Remember that it’s perfectly fine to have both positive and negative emotions. Avoid being too hard on oneself for having feelings like sadness, anger or frustration. Accept them as a natural part of being human.
  3. Stay in the Moment: Practice mindfulness techniques regularly. These can be as simple as taking a few deep breaths or meditating for a few minutes. Mindfulness helps us stay calm and think clearly when emotions run high – the key is consistency.
  4. Think About What Matters: Reflect on the core values – look inwards. What’s really important in life? Knowing one’s values can guide us to deal with our emotions and make decisions that align with our principles.
  5. Step Back from Feelings: Imagine that the emotions are separate from oneself – observe the emotions from a distance. This mental step back (detachment) could help one see feelings more clearly and help them from becoming overwhelmed by emotions.
  6. Learn from Tough Times: When we are facing simple emotions or challenging situations, keep reminding us that there’s something to learn from every feeling. Use the emotions as valuable lessons to become a better version of oneself.
  7. Talk About It: Reach out to friends, family or a therapist when dealing with complex emotions – ask for help! Talking about our feelings helps us understand them better and can provide some emotional relief.
  8. Try Different Ways: What works for one emotion might not work for another. Be open to experiment and try different strategies to manage feelings – that will help discover what works best in various situations.
  9. Set Small Goals: Begin by setting small goals, like recognising our emotions more often or practicing mindfulness for a few minutes each day. The more we practice, the more we’ll get better at it.

In a world that’s constantly shifting and challenging us, emotional agility empowers us to understand and manage our feelings in the midst of the chaos. By recognising, accepting, learning and navigating from our emotions, we become more resilient individuals. 

Recommended reading:
Emotional Agility by Susan David

About Ramesh Nair

Ramesh is a seasoned Certified Leadership coach, Digital Strategist, and C-suite advisor with a proven track record of leading successful transformations in F500 companies. He has over 30 years of experience in the technology industry, and has led divisions generating over $300 million in revenue. He is also an expert in scaling technology delivery organisations, and has extensive experience in the US market. He understands that true transformation requires a growth mindset, and he creates a safe and confidential space for leaders to explore their setbacks, opportunities, aspirations, and career paths. He liberates them from growth-inhibiting mindsets and empowers them to reach their full potential. Additionally, he has been awarded membership in Leaders Excellence at Harvard Square, an esteemed organization dedicated to fostering leadership excellence globally.

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