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Emotional agility: How to be happier at work and in life

By Jen Bagley

Want to further enrich your learning? After reading this blog post, register for the Lunch and Learn session scheduled for Friday, May 15, 2020 to build on the knowledge you gained here.

Emotional agility is one’s ability to face their thoughts, emotions, and events in a manner that doesn’t steer them in negative ways, but instead inspires them to show the best of themselves.  This is important because if we take the time to recognize our feelings before reacting to them, we’re able to do so in a way that matches up with our values, and in a way that reflects our best, most authentic selves.

Here’s an example of this at play in the workplace:

Aimee, an unhappy employee, thinks, “none of my teammates appreciates my input,” which then becomes, “there’s no sense in me sharing my thoughts during today’s staff meeting because my teammates don’t value my opinion.” 

Aimee then proceeds to not speak up during the staff meeting.  By not sharing her thoughts and opinions during the staff meeting, Aimee is probably not acting in accordance with what she values – being a contributing team member. But because Aimee didn’t pause and think about her feelings before reacting, she behaved in a way that didn’t align with what she values.  And she likely didn’t feel any better after the staff meeting. 

If we were to flip this, and Aimee took the time to think through her emotions before reacting, she could have come to the outcome that she is happier when she speaks up in meetings because it aligns with her values of being a contributing team member.  And it also reflects on Aimee in a much more positive way because she is being her true self, in a way that will make Aimee more successful in her role as well.

If Aimee were to take the time to think about the emotions she is experiencing at times like this, accept them, and then respond in a way that matches her values, she would be exercising emotional agility.  And that’s what each of us needs to practice in order to be as successful and happy in both our professional and personal lives.

The key takeaways when considering development of emotional agility are:

  1. Identify the negative emotions and thoughts;
  2. Take the time to address and acknowledge their power and impact;
  3. Focus on your true values and make an intentional commitment to
              act out of those values.

Given the challenging time we are currently experiencing, I wanted to include information on how emotional agility can help us manage stress.  Rather than me speaking to this, I’ve included a link to a video with Dr. Susan David, a Harvard psychologist who has researched and studied emotional agility for over 20 years.  I strongly encourage you to watch this short video. It’s worth the five minutes. How does emotional agility help with stress? (YouTube video with Dr. Susan David).

And, be sure to check out the resources linked below for additional information on emotional agility. They range from articles to a helpful infographic on how to stop unhappy thoughts at work.

Be well and practice emotional agility.  It will be worth the time and effort!

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