Three ways to strengthen your emotional agility

Have relatively small problems in your life been triggering bigger reactions than expected? After the year we’ve had, this is hardly a surprise. From the global pandemic to financial insecurity and social injustice, we all have an overwhelming amount to process. 

When we are dealing with so much, our small, everyday problems like temporarily losing our car keys or forgetting to buy milk can elicit an outpouring of misplaced emotions. Strengthening your emotional agility can help you keep these episodes to a minimum.

Leadership coaches Dr. Susan David and Christina Congleton first coined the term “emotional agility” in 2013. Basically, it is exactly what it sounds like: having the ability and skills to think through problems and emotions that come up during periods of complexity and change.

According to mindfulness consultant Vanessa Loder, there are three essential skills that you should practice to improve your emotional agility.

Acceptance: Accepting the way you feel while not allowing emotions to take over has a lot to do with how you speak to yourself. You can name your thoughts and feelings without attaching them to your identity. For instance, instead of saying “I am angry,” you can say “I notice that I am feeling anger”. This separates you from the feeling and allows you to take the position of an observer.

Compassion: Once you have accepted how you feel, you can analyze why this emotion has come up and what you can do to tackle it. Be compassionate with yourself and recognize that some feelings may have deep layers. Perhaps after scrutinizing your stress you realize that the root of your feelings is true loneliness. From there you can take actions to properly address the issue by reaching out to friends or calling family to catch up.

Curiosity: Be inquisitive about why your feelings are bringing out a certain reaction. The next time you are going through a difficult emotion, ask yourself what this feeling is telling you about what you feel is important. If you can recognize that you are angry with your boss, instead of telling them off or burying negative feelings away, ask what might bring you closer to creating a career that you love. Or start to think about what aspects of your job can be adjusted to contribute to your overall satisfaction.

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