What is emotional agility and why is it so important?

The beauty of life is inseparable from its fragility,” said psychologist Susan David, perfectly summing up the importance of emotional agility. We laugh and cry. We love and we hate. We fight with someone, but when they leave we miss them. Life flows, constantly passing from happiness to sadness.

If we don’t learn to flow with those states, we will get stuck. We will end up introjecting emotions such as anger, sadness, nostalgia or frustration. Those emotions will hurt us, undermine our well-being and emerge in the worst way. To avoid this we must develop emotional agility.

What is emotional agility and why is it so important?

We all have a more or less clear idea of ​​how we want to feel, relate and live. We know what kind of parents we want to be or what kind of relationship we would like to maintain. We also know how we would like to feel and what goals we want to achieve in life.

But everyday problems prevent us from achieving these goals and being the person we want. The endless traffic jam on the highway, the subway delay, the misunderstanding with our partner at the beginning of the day or a bad day at work can make us feel bad. If we don’t metabolize those emotions, but accumulate them, we get trapped in the web they build in our minds.

Susan David elaborated on the concept of emotional agility to refer to “the ability to be courageously, curiously, and compassionately with oneself.” Emotional agility allows us to be alone with our thoughts, emotions, and the stories we build without them taking us away from our goals or taking away our sanity .

Therefore, mental agility involves understanding emotions and thoughts as “simple” information. They are not resources that drive us to act, but only information that we must use intelligently. The key is to develop the agility needed to move from one affective state to another, without getting caught up in those that limit or hurt us.

How to develop emotional agility?

Recognize the mental patterns in which we get stuck

The first step in developing emotional agility is noticing when we have become trapped in our thoughts and feelings. Every day we say an average of 16,000 words. This means that many thoughts go through our minds. Most are not facts, but evaluations and judgments intertwined with emotions. Some of these thoughts are positive and helpful, like congratulating yourself on a job well done or encouraging yourself before taking on a challenge. Others are negative and limiting, such as when we tell ourselves we will be ridiculous or unable to accomplish something.

It’s hard to recognize these thoughts and the emotional states they generate because so many of them have become part of our self-talk , but there are some telltale signs. One such sign occurs when our thinking becomes stiff and repetitive. For example, we may notice that we go back to the same ideas over and over again, like a broken record.

Another sign that we are following a mental pattern is that the problem we are experiencing is familiar to us. If that story has repeated itself in the past, it means that we are stuck in a mental loop that leads us to make the same mistakes over and over again. When we realize we’re stuck, we can take the next step.

Label thoughts and emotions by calling them by name

When we’re stuck in a narrative, the attention we give to our thoughts and feelings fills our mind; it leaves no room to examine what is happening or what we are feeling. A very simple technique that can help us see the situation more objectively is to label what is happening. Just as we call each object by its name, we can label thoughts and emotions.

In fact, a study conducted at UCLA found that finding a word for the emotional chaos we feel is a very powerful self-control tool. Thus we can move from an “emotional state” to a “rational state” and prevent negative emotions from growing excessively.

With this technique, the thought “I’m not working enough” becomes “I’m thinking I’m not working enough”. Similarly, the feeling that gnaws at us becomes “anger” and the apprehension that grips us becomes “anxiety”.

Simply labeling what we are experiencing forces us to use the rational part of our brain, allowing us to take a step back and see the situation with more perspective. We can understand that those thoughts and feelings that overwhelm us are actually nothing more than transient sources of information that may or may not be useful. It helps us understand that “our emotions are data, not directives. We can learn from them, but we don’t need to obey them or let them dominate us,” as Susan David points out.

Accepting what we feel, without judging it

Most people develop emotional rigidity because they are fighting their feelings. When we feel something that overwhelms us or that we consider negative, instead of dealing with it with emotional agility by moving to other situations, we get involved in an internal struggle wondering if we should feel that way, recriminating ourselves for it or even trying to suppress it. Obviously, this generates a rebound effect because nothing fixes as intensely as what we want to avoid.

Instead, the opposite of fighting is acceptance. We must understand that there is no need to act every time we feel or think something, however intense it may be. Emotions exist only to convey a message to us or send us a warning signal. Instead of fighting them, we have to take a deep breath and observe what is happening in that moment to try to understand it.

Noticing that we are angry, sad, or stressed may not make us feel better. The point is to avoid the impulse to judge or reject those feelings and accept them. The more we accept what happens to us, the more we can distance ourselves and understand that thoughts and emotions flow and change like time. If we don’t hold on to them, sooner or later they will pass.

Acting with a gaze placed on the person we want to be

Most of the time we act out of circumstances. This turns us into leaves blown by the wind of life and takes us away from our goals. However, a person with emotional agility is able to detach himself from his affective states and thoughts to expand his possibilities.

Loneliness, pain, anxiety, fear… everything hurts. But they also open a window to our inner world. Emotional agility also involves adopting a curious attitude to ask ourselves: Why do I feel this way? What does frustration/anxiety/fear tell me about my values? It is about understanding the deeper meaning of emotions to align them with our goals in life.

At this point we can decide how to act. But before we take the plunge, we need to ask ourselves some questions we don’t normally think about: Will that answer be useful to us in the short and long term? Will it help me go in the direction I want? Will this step help me become the person I want to be?

It’s about not forgetting that the flow of thoughts and emotions flows without stopping. We must not get stuck in them, but use them to achieve our goals and become the person we would like to be.

by Abdullah Sam
I’m a teacher, researcher and writer. I write about study subjects to improve the learning of college and university students. I write top Quality study notes Mostly, Tech, Games, Education, And Solutions/Tips and Tricks. I am a person who helps students to acquire knowledge, competence or virtue.

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