At this time of year the pressure to ditch all those negative thoughts and become a happier, more successful individual in the year ahead is at its height.
But according to Harvard scientist, psychologist Susan David who has spent more than 20 years researching emotions, happiness, and achievement, understanding and facing up to your difficult feelings and moving past them is the key to a better future.
Her book on the subject Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change and Thrive in Work and Life has been named Amazon’s 2017 Book Of The Year and reveals the four step process you need to turn negative feelings such as fear into an advantage.
David’s argument is that emotionally agile people aren’t immune to stresses and setbacks, but they have developed critical insight into how to manage them – and she insists anyone can do the same by following a four-step process.
Blocking out negative thoughts or focusing relentlessly on being more positive could actually be getting in the way of your happiness (stock image)
Showing Up: Instead of ignoring difficult thoughts and emotions or overemphasising ‘positive thinking’, face up to your thoughts, emotions and behaviors willingly, with curiosity and kindness.
It means you let go of any struggle about whether the way you’re feeling is right or wrong or whether you should or shouldn’t feel this way. You need to stop brooding on old arguments, for instance, or trying to push the feelings you have over them to one side.
The process also involves identifying your feelings for what they truly are.
So, instead of declaring that you’re stressed, consider what you’re really feeling. Is it anger, disappointment or hurt. Labelling your emotions properly will help you to process them.
What is emotional agility?
Emotionally agile people are dynamic. They demonsrate flexibility in dealing with our fast-changing, complex world.
They are able to tolerate high levels of stress and endure setbacks while remaining engaged, open and receptive. They understand that life isn’t always easy but they continue to act according to their most cherished values and pursue their biggest long-term goals.
They still experience feelings like anger and sadness but they face these with curiosity, self-compassion and acceptance. And, rather than let these feelings derail them, emotionally agile people effectively turn themselves towards their loftiest ambitions.
Stepping Out: The next element, after facing into thoughts and emotions is detaching from and observing them for what they are – just thoughts, just emotions.
By doing this we create an open, non judgmental space between our feelings and how we respond to them.
We can also identify difficult feelings as we’re experiencing them and find more appropriate ways of reacting.
For instance, you might turn up for your first day at a new job and start telling yourself that you’re a fraud and you’ll get found out because you’re not good enough.
This will then hold you back from interacting and speaking out because you’re being driven by your negative thoughts.
Instead, acknowledge that this is what you’re feeling but that you’re choosing to get involved and make a contribution to the workplace regardless.
Detached observation keeps our transient mental experiences from controlling us.
Harvard scientist, psychologist Susan David has spent more than 20 years studying human emotions
The broader view we gain by stepping out means learning to see yourself as the chessboard, filled with possibilities, rather than as any one piece on the board, confined to certain preordained moves.
Walking Your Why: Your core values provide the compass that keeps you moving in the right direction. Rather than being abstract ideas, these values are the true path to willpower, resilience and effectiveness.
David’s book on emotional agility has been named Amazon’s best read of 2017
Recognising, accepting and then distancing ourselves from the scary, or painful, or disruptive emotional stuff gives us the ability to engage more of the ‘take the long view’ part of us, which integrates thinking and feeling with long term values and aspirations, and can help us find new and better ways of getting there.
We make thousands of decisions every day. Should you go to the gym after work or skip it in favour of happy hour? These are choice points. Your core values provide the compass that keeps you moving in the right direction.
Walking your why is the art of living by your own personal set of values – the beliefs and behaviours you hold dear and give you a sense of meaning and satisfaction. Identifying and acting on the values that are truly you own, not those imposed on you by others or what you think you ‘should’ care about, is the crucial next step of achieving emotional agility.
Moving On: Small deliberate tweaks to your mindset, motivation, and habits – in ways that are infused with your values, can make a powerful difference in your life.
The idea is to find the balance between challenge and competence, so that you’re neither complacent nor overwhelmed. You’re excited, enthusiastic, invigorated.