[00:00:06.4] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to The Science of Success with your host, Matt Bodnar.
[0:00:12.6] MB: Welcome to The Science of Success. I’m your host, Matt Bodnar. I’m an entrepreneur and investor in Nashville, Tennessee and I’m obsessed with the mindset of success and the psychology of performance. I’ve read hundreds of books, conducted countless hours of research and study and I am going to take you on a journey into the human mind and what makes peak performers tick with the focus on always having our discussion rooted in psychological research and scientific fact, not opinion.
In this episode we discussed emotional agility and how you can cultivate it. Discover that beneath your difficult emotions are the signposts of the things that you value most. Learn how to make space for motions and embrace a willingness to experience difficult emotions. We talk about why it's vital to understand the distinction that emotions are meaningful but not always correct. How you can piggyback your habits to create very powerful strategies to live in a more aligned way with your values and much more with Dr. Susan David.
The Science of Success continues to grow with, now, more than a million downloads, listeners in over a hundred countries, hitting number one New and Noteworthy and more. I get listener comments and emails all the time ask me, “Matt, how do you organize and remember all these incredible information?”
A lot of her listeners are curious about how I keep track of all the incredible knowledge I get from reading hundreds of books, interviewing amazing experts, listening to awesome podcasts, and more. Because of that, we’ve created an epic resource just for you, a detailed guide called How to Organize and Remember Everything, and you can get it completely for free by texting the word “smarter” to the number 44222. Again, it's a guide we created called How to Organize and Remember Everything. All you have to do to get it is to visit successpodcast.com and join our email list or text the word “smarter” to the number 44222. Again, that “smarter” to the number 44222.
In our previous episode we discussed how her perception of reality dramatically shifts what actions we take. Why you should embrace 2000+ years of wisdom to be happier and more productive. How to stop judging yourself and others based on your achievements and root your identity in something within your control. We look at how you can cultivate a more humble and resilient worldview, discuss strategies for connecting with top-tier mentors and much more with Ryan Holiday. If you will learn how to crush your obstacles, listen to that episode.
Lastly, if you want to get all these incredible information, links, transcripts, everything we talked about and much more, be sure to check out or show notes. Just go to successpodcast.com and hit the show notes button at the top.
[0:02:50.4] MB: Today, we have another guest on the show, Dr. Susan David. Susan is an award-winning psychologist at Harvard Medical School, cofounder of the Institute of Coaching at McLean Hospital and CEO of evidence-based psychology. She's the author of the number one Wall Street Journal bestseller, Emotional Agility and has had her work featured in several publications including the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Time Magazine. Susan's work and research have led to her consultant working with several top organizations including the United Nations and the World Economic Forum as well as many more.
Susan, welcome to The Science of Success.
[0:03:25.4] SD: Thank you so much. I’m so grateful to be here.
[0:03:28.4] MB: We’re super excited to have you on here today. For listeners who may not be familiar with you and your story, I love to hear about how your experience growing up lead you down the path that you’re on today.
[0:03:40.9] SD: Absolutely. My core research and my core focus is essentially on this key question; what does it take internally in the way we deal with our thoughts, our emotions, and the stories that we tell ourselves that help us ultimately to thrive in the world? Because what goes on inside of us impacts everything; our relationships, our careers, how we interact in our everyday lives and, really, every aspect of how we love, live, parent, and lead.
To your question, I first became interested in these ideas when I was growing up in Apartheid South Africa. While I was a white South African and therefore not subject to the same chaos and trauma as so many of my fellow South Africans, it was nonetheless a time of great complexity. For instance, when I was growing up, your chance as a female of being raped was on average higher than your chance of learning how to read and write. This is just to give an example of this very complex environment.
From a very early age I became interested in this question; what does it take internally to help us to thrive in a world that is often unpredictable. where even today many decades later and in different countries, we are facing unprecedented global challenges, political challenges, regulatory challenges, technology, and so on? I became interested in these questions very, very early on. Then when I was 16 years old my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer and I experienced what so many of us experience today, which is this narrative of, “Just be positive, everything will be okay. Just think happy.”
While I could try to pretend to be happy and have a positive attitude, the reality was that my father was dying and then dead. I experienced this interaction with this remarkable teacher who invited me to keep a journal. What I realized afterwards was it was that. It was the showing up to my emotional experience that ultimately was a key component in my resilience and thriving. That’s sparked my entire career, my interest in emotions, my Ph.D. in the topic, my postdoc, all of these centered around these key ideas. What does it take internally to thrive and how so often the messaging that we get in the world is at odds with that?
[0:06:33.3] MB: I’d love to start with that, which is the idea that we’re often told, be positive, stay positive. Just be positive. What are the dangers in that advice or that kind of framework?
[0:06:48.0] SD: There are a number of issues with it. The first, and I'll give this is an example again, which is a friend of mine recently died of stage IV breast cancer and she said to me, “This is the tyranny of positivity, that if it was just a case of being positive, that the friends in my stage IV breast cancer support group would be alive today. They were the most positive people I ever met.”
The implication and the narrative that if we can just be positive, we’ll be able to climb out of anything. She said to me, “It makes me feel implicated in my own death, that somehow I wasn't able to think positive enough and heal myself.” “What this does for me,” she said, “is it takes me away from the authenticity of my experience and my ability to make real choices based on the reality of what I’m facing.”
One the key downsides of this just think positive narrative is that it promotes the idea that every aspect of our well-being, of our success, of almost everything lands up being located in us as individuals and in our thoughts. What's really interesting is when you look at individuals, and there's a fair amount of research supporting this, that when people set goals around their happiness and just thinking positive, that those people actually become less happy over time.
There's this idea that in just thinking positive, what we often do is we take away, we steal from ourselves the capacity to, number one, recognize that even though difficult emotions, like sadness, or fear, or disappointment, or frustration in my job, even though those emotions are difficult, they actually are fundamental to our ability as human beings to adapt and be agile to a complex world. A world in which life's beauty is inseparable from its fragility. The way that we are able to adapt is often by recognizing that our emotions, while they are not fact, are often signaling to us and are helping us to adapt and thrive. That’s one key component of why this happiness narrative doesn't work.
Another key component is that what it actually can lead to is suppressing of our difficult emotions where we push our experiences aside. We say to ourselves, “I’m unhappy in my job, but at least I’ve got a job, so I’m just going to get on with it.” That way of being when used characteristically is actually associated with lower levels of well-being, high levels of anxiety and depression as well as lower levels of success and goal attainment.
Then a number of reasons for this narrative to not be helpful — And I just want to be clear here, I’m not empty happiness. I’m a very happy person and I actually edited an 80 chapter handbook called Oxford Handbook of Happiness. Really, the point that I make here is that so much of the narrative around just be positive can, when taken at face value, lead us to go down a path that is not ultimately helpful to us.
[0:10:19.0] MB: What happens and what are some of the ways that people can, when they suppress their emotions, end up actually causing those emotions to echo and come back up and even more deeply and more intensely?
[0:10:31.8] SD: That the really powerful question, and it's a really important question, because what happens is beneath our difficult emotions we know that those difficult emotions often signposts to things that we value. For example, someone who is upset because their idea was stolen at work. What signals to them is that they value equity and fairness, or if I’m feeling guilty because I’m not spending enough time at my children, that guilt, again, will not affect — It’s not, “I’m guilty, therefore I’m a bad person.” That guilt signals to me that I am valuing and see important presence and connectedness with my kids.
The first way that pressing emotions leads to difficulties is that what it ultimately does for us is it pushes away our values aligned intentions in our lives and leads us to not cultivate a life that feels congruent with who we truly want to be.
Another thing that we know, and many of your listeners will have experienced this, is in psychology there’s what we call an amplification effect. You’re on a diet and you say to yourself, “I am not allowed to each chocolate cake.” What do you want? You want chocolate cake. What do you dream about? You dream about chocolate cake. You crave chocolate cake.
We know that this happens with our thoughts and our emotions as well. When we push our thoughts and emotions aside, those often have a rebound effect. For example, imagine a leader who says, “I’m really upset with my team, but I’m just not going to do anything about it and I’m not going to think about it because we’ve got the big project that we’re trying to focus on.”
We know that that leader will often think about the upset, sometimes up to 30 or 40 times a minute and we also know that that leader when he or she goes into a team meeting, even though the team doesn't know that that leader is suppressing emotion, the team actually experiences increased blood pressure. It’s a fascinating line of research, but effectively showing that when used in an ongoing characteristic way, that suppression of emotions and thoughts doesn't work.
[0:13:03.8] MB: The example you just used of the team and the blood pressure, that kind of ties into something else you’ve talked about, which is this idea of emotional contagion. Can you share that concept and how it impacts people?
[0:13:16.6] SD: Yes, absolutely. There’s this fascinating idea of emotional contagion and, really, we’ve all again experienced this. We get into an agreement with someone or we’re in a situation at work where everyone's stressed or everyone's agreeing on something, everyone excited about something. We start to experience that same level of excitement or that same level of stress. There's also social contagion which is a counterpart to that, which is how we slightly pick up on other people's behaviors without even knowing it.
For instance, you get in an elevator and everyone is looking at their cell phones and so you take out your cell phone as well and you start looking at your cellphone, or we know that when people are on an airplane, if they try to be healthy and they decide that they really, really don't want to eat candy, but if they see a partner buys candy, they are more likely, 30% more likely to buy candy as well.
There’s this fascinating body of research that great shows that we pick up very subtly on the behaviors and emotions of other people and in ways that have far-reaching implications. If someone within your social network, you do not even need to know them, puts on weight or gets divorced, you are more likely to put on weight or get divorced.
We all experience this, and most likely and most often it comes about when we’re on social media, we see someone driving a particular car or experiencing a fancy holiday, and so we want the same. Now what’s fascinating in this is that this can often, again, take us away from living the life that we value. Everyone’ stressed at work, so we become stressed and we stopped contributing, or it impacts in our ability to be productive.
Yet, again, what we know is that when people connect with their values, who do I want to be in the world? What is important to me? I spend a little bit of time thinking about these value-based questions. It actually protects them from social contagion. That's one of the core ideas, the four key ideas that I talked about through this process of emotional agility, but this idea of walking your why, knowing what your values are and taking steps that is connected with those values is a key part of that.
[0:15:59.4] MB: Before we go deep into emotional agility itself, one of the other concepts that you talk about at the beginning of the book that goes back to kind of the core of psychology is how we often conflate stimulus and response. Can you sure that?
[0:16:14.1] SD: Yeah, absolutely. It’s so critical, because so often every single day we feel something or think something and then act on that. For example, I am feeling undermined in this meeting. I’m just going to be quiet. I think I may not get this job, so I’m just not going to apply. I’m going stop up the presentations, so I’m just not going to do it.
So often we have what is called a fusion or a conflation between stimulus and response. We think something, we feel something, or we have a story about something, who we are, what we can achieve, what kind of relationships we are worthy of, and we start to treat those as fact and then start to act on them.
In emotional agility I talk about this as being hooked. The idea that we are driven by a our full-time emotions and our stories in ways that don't serve us, in ways that take us away from who we truly want to be in the world in all aspects of our work and our relationships.
[0:17:24.3] MB: Some of the other concepts that you’ve shared about how we often suppress emotions or the ideas of bottling and brooding. Can you elaborate on each of those?
[0:17:34.5] SD: Yes. When I talk about in emotional agility is how when we are hooked, and this is beautiful, beautiful, Victor Frankl phrase that has been attributed to his ideas, which is between stimulus and response there is a space, and in that space is our power to choose and it's in that choice that lies our growth and freedom.
When we are hooked, there’s no space between stimulus and response. So often when we are hooked, we try to deal with that difficulty whether it's the difficulty of the situation that we’re facing, disappointment in a relationship, or any other aspect of our lives that in an everyday where it isn't working out as it should or as we think it should. We often deal with that in one of two ways. The first is by bottling our emotions. This is this idea that I spoke about earlier which is we push our emotions aside. We say, “I’m unhappy in my job, but at least I’ve got a job,” or “I really need to have this very important and very difficult conversation, because it's critical to my overall relationship, but I’m not going to go there.” What we do when we bottle emotions as we push those emotions aside, and as mentioned there’s this amplification effect.
Another way that we often deal with difficult emotions is we brewed on them, so we go over and over and over them in our minds. I’m unhappy in my job. This is terrible. This is awful. This is not the way that I want my job to be. What starts to happen in that situation is, again, the thought or the emotion is owning you. It is the master, because so much of your time and space is being taken up by that thought or the motion, or by the story.
Really, what we start to get into the space up here is; who's in charge, the thinker or the thought? Who’s in charge? The emotion, or me, the person who is big enough and brave enough to experience all of my emotions? Who's in charge? This one story or, me, the person who is able to experience many different stories, and in fact has many different identities and many different ways that I can choose to be in the world?
[0:20:03.9] MB: What happens when a thought or emotion becomes our master?
[0:20:08.5] SD: A number of things. Firstly, that thought or that emotion takes up so much space that we are so in our heads, that we are not in the world. We’re not actually achieving our goals, being in our relationships in ways that are present. Also, we are not living our lives in ways that have values a lot. For example, if you truly value growth, or learning, then being fused by, “Gee! I would love to put my hand up for this particular project, but I’m worried about it and I’m worried about my ability to be successful at it, so I’m just not going to.” What you’re doing in that moment of being driven by your thought or your emotion is you are moving away from your value of growth and learning. If giving feedback to someone is truly aligned with the value of yours, which is one about fairness, then this idea of not giving feedback, how fair is that to the individual? How fair is that to the team? How fair is that to you? If you’re hooked by your thought, which is, “I think I just want to avoid giving this feedback because It makes me uncomfortable,” then again what you’re doing is you are taking yourself away from that value. More importantly is that experience, while you might say, “Well, it's just one interaction,” we know that every single interaction that we have when it becomes a tendency, when it becomes a habit, if that habit is not aligned with your values, then what you have ultimately, if you put all those different frames together, you have a very different movie of your life. You have relationships that feel dishonest or you have a career that you've been in for five years that ultimately is not fulfilling to you.
In the moment you might say, “This one thing doesn't really matter, but when that becomes a habit, when it becomes a tendency that is not aligned with your values, ultimately it takes you away from a life that is one of thriving and connectedness and being in the world that is truly based on who you want to be and how you want to be successful, what that looks like on your own terms.
[0:22:42.9] MB: Cultivating emotional agility is one of the ways that we can battle back against bottling, brooding, suppressing our emotions. How do you define the concept; what is emotional agility?
[0:22:54.9] SD: Emotional agility is actually fundamental to, as I mentioned before, every aspect of our relationship, our work, and so on. It's, really, how do we deal with our inner world in a way that is effective and that enables us to, then, be effective and successful and thriving and happy in life.
The way that I describe emotional agility is that emotional agility is the ability to be with yourself, your thoughts, your emotions, your story in ways that are courageous, which is critical here because sometimes we don't like what we see. That is compassionate, because we need to be able to be kind to ourselves, and self-compassion is one of the core aspects of the ability to move through life effectively. That is around this idea that when we deal with our emotions and ways that are curious, compassionate and courageous, curiosity being also a core component, then we also want to be able to take steps in ways that our value is congruent.
The way that I sum up in describing what emotional agility is, is it’s being with ourselves in ways that are curious, compassionate, and courageous, and taking actions that are aligned with our values and who we truly want to be in the world.
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[0:25:41.5] MB: Let's dig into the first pillar of emotional agility, the concept of showing up. Tell me little bit about that.
[0:25:47.1] SD: Showing up goes, again, against this idea that we’ve just got to pretend to be happy all the time and really talks to this idea that when we are able to enter into a space with ourselves, where we stop saying to ourselves, “I shouldn't be upset. I shouldn't this. I shouldn’t feel that. I shouldn’t think this.” Instead, what we do is we just make space for these emotions in our heart. We embrace a willingness to experience difficult emotions with the recognition that life’s beauty is inseparable from its fragility. That we are young, until we are not. We are in careers we love, until we don't. We are in relationships, that are working until they’re not.
Showing up is the really recognition that our emotions are not good or bad, they just are. In fact, there are critical ways that we as human beings have evolved to help us to adapt and thrive.
A core aspect of showing up is quite literally this idea that we in any struggle we have within ourselves, about our thoughts, about our motions, about our stories, by dropping the rope. Not seeing them as good or bad, but just as they are.
A second component of emotional agility, this idea of showing up is to recognize that so often we live in a world that would have us believe we are in a never ending, I’m man or I’m woman competition, where we’ve got to be hard and disciplined and we’ve got to keep going, going, going and almost ignoring the signs and signals within our body and within our psychology.
The idea of being self-compassionate can seem very woo-woo and very soft. People might think, for example, that being self-compassionate is about being lazy or it's about being weak or it’s about going easy on yourself.
In fact, the research shows the opposite. The research shows that when people create a self-forgiving and safe psychological space within themselves, that those individuals tend to be more experimental, more able to take risks and to take chances, because they recognize that if they fail, that they still save their self-face. That individuals who are self-compassionate tend to be less weak, less lazy and, in fact, more honest with themselves and are able to get through setbacks and transitions more effectively.
Showing up is really about a willingness to be kind to yourself and a willingness to embrace the full spectrum of emotions whilst recognizing that emotions contain very important data about our values, but they’re not directions. We don't need to believe every emotion that we experience and we don't need to necessarily act on every emotion. Emotions are data, not directions.
[0:29:08.4] MB: Intellectually, I understand the need for self-compassion. What I struggle with personally, and I’m curious how you’ recommend cultivating it better, is how do we develop the felt emotional sense of self-compassion and acceptance?
[0:29:22.7] SD: There are a couple of ways. The first is to recognize how you might speak to yourself, because, of course, we all speak to ourselves. We all have inner dialogue. Some studies show that we have something like 16,000 spoken thoughts every single day and many, many, many, thousands more course through our minds. So many of these thoughts are about ourselves. We will have a dialogue with ourselves where we will say, “You’re such an idiot,” or, “You’re being a fraud,” or, “You are not cut out for this.” A lot of our language is lacking in self-compassion, where we would not use that language with people who we truly love and yet we use it with ourselves.
A first aspect of cultivating self-compassion is simply become aware. Simply start noticing the language that you use to actually attack yourself, and that's really critical. A second part of creating this felt experience of self-compassion, there are many different ways, but one of the ways that's frequently very powerful is when you’re going through a setback or a difficulty and you’re starting to be really hard on yourself, is to imagine yourself as a very young child running to yourself as, you, the adult and saying, “Oh my goodness! This happened to me today,” and imagine in yourself how you would treat that very young child, that three or four year old who's failed at something, who's done wrong at something and to imagine the kind of love that that child actually needs and the experience that that child actually needs of someone reaching out and giving a huge. That can be really powerful.
Another aspect of self-compassion is that we are all part of a humanity that is imperfect, where all of us in our human being of being are all trying to do the best we can with what we've got, with who we are, with the childhood that we had, with the resources that we've got in what is ultimately an imperfect world. Trying to expect perfection of ourselves when the world itself is imperfect and where every human being is imperfect is unrealistic. Recognizing that core part of humanity that is both beautiful and fragile and imperfect is a very powerful and profound.
[0:32:12.1] MB: I think that’s a great strategy, and I love the idea of envisioning yourself as a young child and seeing how you would react. I think one of the other things that you talked about that's really important, and I want to hear you expound upon a little bit is this idea that emotions are meaningful, but they're not necessarily correct the or they’re not right and that they’re data but they’re not the direction we’re going in.
[0:32:35.4] SD: This is critical again. This idea, again, connecting with Victor Frankl between stimulus and response, there is a space. When we are hooked, there’s no space between stimulus and response, we’re just acting. We need to be able to recognize that our emotions contain really important data. They are beacons to things that we value, but they are not fact. Our emotions are transient. All of our emotions pass overtime and all of our thinking passes overtime.
Being able to tap into the wisdom of our emotions is critical, these emotions are data piece, but also recognizing that we are not just an emotion. We are not just a thought. That we are able to make choices, we've got our values, we’ve got our intentions, we've got who we want to be in the world. When I talk about emotional agility off to showing up, I also talk about this idea of stepping out, that we are able, as human beings, to create space between the thinker and the thought. Me, the person, who experiences the emotion and the emotion itself.
Let me give you a practical example. When you say to yourself, “I am anxious,” or, “I am stressed.” Really, what you’re saying is, “I am. All of me. 100% of me is stressed.” When you’re doing that, there’s no space between you and the emotion, you have been enveloped by the emotion.
A critical part of our ability to be effective and thrive in the world is being able to develop and observe a view of our emotions. We’ve all experienced this. You’re really angry with a customer service agent and your phone bill is wrong yet again and you finally get hold of a human being and you want to let that person have it. You’re feeling angry, but there’s that little voice in your head that says, “Susan, if you just tell this customer service agent how you feel about him or her, they will conveniently lose your file. They will make sure that this issue is never solved.” So you’re experiencing the emotion, but you also have this ability to observe the emotion, or you might be really, really angry with a loved one and you may hear yourself say to yourself, “She doesn't love me,” and then if that little voice inside your head that says, “Of course she loves you. You know that she loves you.”
Again, what you’re doing there is you’re experiencing this observe of you. This is one of the aspects of human being this that separates us from animals most likely and that is key to our ability to perspective take, to experience empathy, where you’re generating someone else's perspective. It’s key to our ability to move forward in fruitful ways in all aspects of our lives. This ability to create this observer perspective is, again, critical. In emotional agility, I talk about some very practical ways that we can create an observer perspective.
[0:36:16.6] MB: Tell me about a couple of those practical strategies.
[0:36:19.3] SD: One example might be if you’re saying to yourself, “I am stressed. I’m stressed. I’m stressed.” What is it that you are really experiencing? You’re experiencing, often, a thought, an motion, or a story. Simply noticing that thought, emotion, or story for what it is. I am noticing that I am feeling anxious. I’m noticing the thought that I’m being undermined. I’m noticing the emotion of fear. I’m noticing that this is my I’m not good enough story. Simply prefixing the I’m noticing the thought, I’m noticing the story, I’m noticing the emotion, creates a linguistic but a very powerful space between you and that stimuli.
Another way that we can start creating space is to recognize that so often when we are experiencing something, we label that with very non-nuanced black and white labels. We’ll say, “I’m stressed. I’m stressed. I’m stressed.” The next day you come home from work, “How was your day?” “Oh! It was stressful. Stressful. Stressful. Stressful.”
But there's a world of difference between stress versus anger, or stress versus disappointment, or stress versus frustration, or stress versus, “I thought that I would be in a completely different space in my career right now and I’m so sad at this lost legacy.”
Imagine if I was working with a CEO who said to me, “I’m just stressed. I’m stressed. I’m stressed. I’m stressed.” I would do the default, which is help the person to delegate more. What if what’s really beneath that person's statehood, emotional experience, is, “I thought that my career would've been so different, and in fact I’m in the wrong career.” At that point, tips on delegation aren’t even going to cut it. The conversation would be completely, completely different.
A critical part then of creating space between you and your emotion is accurate labeling. If you say to yourself, “Right, I’m saying that I’m stressed, but what are two other options? What are two other emotions that are beneath this first statement of stress?” What you can start tapping into is you can start tapping into, “Gee! What are the values that underlie this emotion? Why is it that I’m really stressed?” What we know again from the research in this field, it’s a field called emotion differentiation. Is that people who do this very simple, but very important, more complex naming of their emotions tend to have higher levels of well-being, lower levels of anxiety. Even more fascinating is that this accurate labeling actually starts to activate the readiness potential in our brains. We start to make goals. We start to shape our behavior in ways that are truly aligned with the reality of what's going on for us so that we can shape our world and be adaptive and agile and to thrive.
Those are two examples. I give others very practical examples. Very simply, for example, if you’re stuck in something and you say to yourself, “I’m stuck. I’m stuck. I’m stuck. I just can't see my way through it.” A very powerful way to help you to step out of that experience is to say, “If I was asking the wisest person in the world for their advice on this issue, what would they say?” It’s a very simple strategy, but we know that it brings you into a different perspective. You’re experiencing your emotions but you’re not treating them as directions. You're able to gain this observer perspective.
[0:40:30.3] MB: I think that’s a great point. The idea that the labeling has to be more than just, “Oh, I’m stressed. I’m stressed.” You have to dig in a little bit and you have to understand more deeply what's underpinning that? What differentiates stress, from anxiety, from fear, from disappointment, etc. I think that's a great point.
[0:40:49.1] SD: If your listeners are interested in that particular idea, I actually just recently wrote a blog for Harvard Business Review on it. If people do a search on my name, Harvard Business Review, they’ll see that I dig into the digging into of emotions and it’s power in aspects of our work and our life.
[0:41:07.1] MB: Perfect. We’ll make sure to include that in the show notes. Tell me a little bit about walking your why.
[0:41:13.7] SD: Walking your why is fundamentally this idea that once you've shown up to the reality of your experience or your story and then you’ve been able to get an observer perspective, that we need to be able to make values aligned choices. This is, again, between stimulus and response there as a space, and in that space is our power to choose. What are we choosing? What are we choosing? Who do we want to be? How do we want to act in this situation?
These choices, values aligned choices become really critical. This idea that we are subject as human beings to social contagion, and yet we also know that when people spend just a little bit of time thinking about who do I want to be in the circumstance? That that is really powerful.
I can give you some examples. Very often, when we’re talking about difficulties that we’re experiencing, whether it's at work or at home, people become very hooked on the idea of being right, “I am right and that person is wrong.” “My coworker really is an idiot,” or “My boss really is a slacker,” and so we become very focused as human beings, very hooked by this idea of right and wrong.
You still — It’s a very interesting way that we as human beings are and it can be devastating. Wars are made and broken by the idea of being right. We've all had that experience where you have a fight with your loved one and, finally, the calm defense on the family and there’s something of a truth and then you go to bed and something compels you one last time to turn on the light and tell them why you are right and they are wrong and then chaos breaks loose again.
We have this tendency to hold on to being right, and one of the things that I explore in emotional agility is imagine if the gods of right came down and said, “You are right. The other person is wrong. You are right. We give it to you. We will let you be right in the situation.” You still, even if you are right, get to make a choice. You get to make a choice whether with you still want to reach out to the person, whether you want to still have a relationship with the person. You get to have the choice even if you are right and your coworker is an idiot. Whether you still want to contribute to this very important project.
This idea of walking your why is really about starting to recognize that values are so often seen as these abstract cheesy labels that are put on walls in businesses telling us all how we should act. Actually, personally held values are qualities of action that every day we get to make a choice, “do I move towards my value of healthy by choosing a salad, or do I move away from the value by choosing them muffin? Do I move towards my value by still contribution, or do I move away from it?”
This idea that values are qualities of action and they protect us from social contagion and from the many kinds of implicit biases that we all experience at work; gender biases, exterior types, and even our own biases, the stories that we tell ourselves.
[0:45:05.4] MB: How can we discover what our values are?
[0:45:09.2] SD: There are a number of questions that I talk about in emotional agility. For example, asking yourself some very simple questions at the end of the day, at the end of today. What did I do that was worthwhile? Note, I use the word worthwhile, not fun. Now what did I enjoyed, but worthwhile, because there are lots of things that we might experience that are fun. Going to parties might be fun, but beneath what is worthwhile, what was worthy of your time today if today was your last day on earth, that starts to clue you into your values.
Another thing that might be of help to your listeners is that I’ve got a free quiz, which is an emotional agility quiz, and that quiz actually has a whole list of potential values and descriptions and it really helps listeners to understand the way they are emotionally agile or ways that they could adjust to become more emotionally agile and it gives people a 10 page report. That’s a free quiz, and I can give you the URL if that would be helpful. It’s susandavid, S-U-S-A-N-D-A-V-I-D.com/learn. That takes about five minutes and it’s a free 10 page report.
In the book, I talk about questions you can ask yourself, ways that you can think about if this was my last day on earth, what would be worthwhile? When I’m feeling a difficult emotion, when I’m experiencing sadness, what is that sadness actually telling me is important? All those kinds of questions will start to clue you in to what your values are.
[0:46:57.1] MB: Perfect. We’ll make sure to include that quiz in the show notes as well for listeners to be able to check that out.
[0:47:02.2] SD: That sounds great.
[0:47:03.2] MB: Tell me a little about the last kind of component that you talk about, the idea of moving on.
[0:47:08.3] SD: Moving on is how do we be emotionally agile on the ground in terms of how we cultivate our mindsets and our habits and the specific tasks that we do on a day-to-day basis? I mentioned earlier how we can often get into ways of being that are habitual, but that are not aligned with our values. There are other ways that we can create habits that are aligned with our values and that ultimately free us up to when we’re stressed, when we are time poor, to still take actions that are values concordant.
I talk about different, again, very practical strategies that enable us to be emotionally agile in the moment, in the reality of our everyday life. An example is imagine you are a parents but you could apply this to any other situation, a meeting at work, or an interaction with a loved one. Imagine you are a parent and what you truly value is presence and connectedness with your children and yet you find that you come home from work every day and you've got a precious hour with them and during that precious hour you bring your phone to the table and you are answering emails because you’re stressed, and so you’re neither doing those emails in an effective way nor being present and connected.
Now imagine you’ve got a habit that already exists. You come home from work and you put your keys into a particular drawer. There’s this very powerful habit creation strategy called piggybacking, and piggybacking is the idea that you’ve got a pre-existing habit and what you do is you add a new values aligned habits to that. You come home from work and you put your keys in the drawer and now you also put your cellphone in the drawer as well. What you’re doing is you are creating this very powerful way of being that is habitual but that is connected with your values.
Another aspect of walking your why and then moving on to this moving on part, this very practical part is thinking about ways that you are in the world where you have crawled into what I call have to language, “I have to be on dead duty today.” “I have to go to this meeting.” “Oh! I have to give this person feedback.”
When we are in have to language, we often feel resentful. We are often not present and focused and giving of our best in that situation, and we often do the action in a way that is not effective. We give the feedback, but we don't give the real feedback or the person is left with a fractured relationship. We so often do this. We all do this, “I have to. I have to. I have to.” We know that there is incredible power in in-state thinking about what is the want to goal that can be surfaced out of the have to? What is the values aligned want to that is beneath being on dead duty? It’s that I have this precious moment with my children, or giving feedback. It's that I truly value fairness and so giving feedback is truly important to me, or going into this meeting. I really want to give a good quality experience to this customer.
The power when we start surfacing our want to goals rather than our have to goals is profound. We know that when people, for example, have a goal, like, “I have to lose weight. That's done out of a sense of obligation and shame. They are less likely to be able to lose that weight.
When people, instead, are able to surface the I want to lose weight so I can spend a longer, more quality-based life with my loved ones, that want to goal actually sustains motivation, leads to longer-lasting habits and ultimately helps us to create a life of real thriving. Those are just some examples, but in emotional agility I speak very practically about ways that we can cultivate a mindset, motivations and habits that are aligned with our values and allow us to be emotionally agile.
[0:51:58.8] MB: What would be kind of a simple piece of homework that you would give to somebody listening to this interview to concretely start to implement some of these practices?
[0:52:07.5] SD: I’ll give one concretes for each step. Showing up; are there emotions that you tend to push aside? Ask yourself if you can just be with that emotion a little bit more. Stepping out; if you’re struggling with something, ask yourself what would a wise person advise you to do? Walking your why; are you connected with your values? If not, start asking yourself questions about what are one or two things that are truly important to me about how I want to bring myself to the world? You don’t need to spend a long time doing it, very simple question.
Number four, moving on, thinking about ways that you wrap yourself in a prison of have to language and try to connect with what your want to is in that situation and how you can surface that want to into your life. Those are just some practical ideas around it.
[0:53:13.4] MB: Where can listeners find you and your book online?
[0:53:16.6] SD: They can find me on my website, susandavid.com. There are lots of links to articles, Harvard Business Review articles. The New York Times article, teaching your child emotional agility. There are lots of resources on that. On my website again is the quiz, susandavid.com/learn. It’s a five minute quiz, a 10 page free report. Of course, the book itself is available at all booksellers as well as in the usual online places; Amazon, Barnes & Nobles and so on.
[0:53:47.5] MB: Susan, thank you so much for coming on the show and sharing all these incredible wisdom. So much knowledge about our emotions and how we can best interact with them.
[0:53:56.5] SD: Thank you so much. I’m grateful to have been here.
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