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Emotional agility: Psychologist explains why you need to stop trying to be so positive

“Emotional Agility.” This is perhaps a term you haven’t heard of before.

But it’s time you familiarize yourself with it.

We live in a culture so intent on stripping us of our vulnerability. Society has consciously — and so relentlessly — hardwired us to be strong.

We are taught that showing any kind of negative emotion means we are weak, incapable, and wrong.

But what if we told you that this sense of “moral correctness” is actually ineffective?

This toxic positivity actually prevents you from acquiring the skills you need to deal with the “real world.”

So imagine something different.

What if we lived in a world where everyone is honest about how they feel? Where our emotions aren’t categorized between “good” or “bad.”

What if we were allowed, even encouraged to feel what we are feeling without being judged?

Psychologist Susan David perfectly explains why you need to stop trying to be positive all the time.

She suggests that this tyranny of toxic positivity has robbed us of the capability to properly deal with our emotions — affecting our daily actions, relationships, and ultimately, our happiness. That in fact, it has led us to constantly live in denial.

How can we fix this?

Watch her deeply-moving, humorous and insightful TED talk to know more about how emotional agility can help you lead a happier life.

The Gift and Power of Emotional Courage.

The World Health Organization tells us that depression is now the single leading cause of disability globally — outstripping cancer, outstripping heart disease. And at a time of greater complexity, unprecedented technological, political and economic change, we are seeing how people’s tendency is more and more to lock down into rigid responses to their emotions.”

Anger, sadness, grief – just a few of the emotions we are constantly told not to feel.

Naturally, we are predisposed to handle these emotions incorrectly. We respond by brooding on our feelings, letting it get stuck in our heads. Or we bottle them up and push them aside.


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Why is this wrong?

“Normal, natural emotions are now seen as good or bad. And being positive has become a new form of moral correctness. People with cancer are automatically told to just stay positive. Women, to stop being so angry. And the list goes on. It’s a tyranny. It’s a tyranny of positivity. And it’s cruel. Unkind. And ineffective. And we do it to ourselves, and we do it to others.”

Dr. David believes that this response to negative emotion is unsustainable.

Research shows that ignoring or suppressing these emotions only allow them to get stronger. And this “amplification” actually incapacitates us from dealing with “the world as it is, not as it should be.”

Emotional Agility and How It Can Change Your Life

“Research now shows that the radical acceptance of all of our emotions — even the messy, difficult ones — is the cornerstone to resilience, thriving, and true, authentic happiness.”

“Emotional Agility” is not just about accepting your emotions and getting rid of the preconceived notion to classify them as good or bad.

It’s about learning how to be accurate with what you feel.

Labeling our emotions accurately can help us understand the precise cause of our feelings. This allows us to activate what scientists call the “readiness potential” in our brain – the one that allows us to take actionable and concrete steps to move forward. Because ultimately, our emotions are data.

But more importantly, they are not “directives.”

We can control how our brains process the data.

“We own our emotions, they don’t own us. When we internalize the difference between how I feel in all my wisdom and what I do in a values-aligned action, we generate the pathway to our best selves via our emotions.”

Acknowledge your emotions, but never give them power.

Don’t say “I am angry.” That only implies that you are the emotion. Instead say, “I am noticing that I’m feeling angry.”

Emotional Agility is all about being open to every human emotion. It’s a skill that allows us to ask necessary questions like, “What is my emotion telling me?” “Which actions lead me to a happier outcome?” “Which actions will be negative to my life?”

It’s about dealing with your emotions using compassion, open curiosity, and the courage to take actionable and values-connected steps.

Ultimately, emotional agility allows us to see ourselves in a crystal-clear way, one that will lead us to our most authentic life.


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Notable replies

  1. If a child is appropriately raised to manage their feelings, to feel compassion, empathy, patience, all the attributes that make them good people they will not enter the adult world as the typical basket cases we have now. I wonder how today’s 20-year-olds would do if transported to 1955 among others of this age? Could they read a newspaper, write a letter, get a job? The world is different today, but “character” still is the measure of the man or woman.

  2. @BillAmes I see many people write as you do, suggesting that the youth of the current generation lack many characteristics that people from earlier generations had.

    However, I see the opposite written many times as well, where people suggest that the youth of today are more creative and competent than the youth of previous generations. I suppose it’s hard to evaluate.

    I really enjoyed this article by @genefe on “emotional agility”. A few years ago we published the following article by @Ruda:

    It’s been one of our quite widely-read articles.

    This article on “emotional agility” is a pretty good companion piece, providing good advice for those who want to give up on “positive thinking” and embrace something a bit more grounded.

  3. I see an article like this “…positive thinking…” differently because I see the words differently. To me, positive thinking is what the astronauts did in Apollo 13; what they did to get home was “positive thinking.” They had something to do and took a very positive attitude about its success; their lives depended on it. In my life, it was always important to keep on attacking the problem, to be persistent. I even demonstrated that by my first pushing for improvements to Ideapod. My profession was to find problems, the “bugs” in both hardware and software. I was always sure things could be better. I get disappointed when I meet someone here or on Facebook, try to start a conversation, and find closed minds if I challenge their beliefs with technical facts they stop talking. That is why I avoid talking about politics or religion; they involve many beliefs. I will stick to science, science fiction, classical music, and my stories, the stories I am writing. There are still creative people in the world but fewer. If you observe a significant movie studio do a remake of something 20-30 years old, you tend to wonder why not something new? Where are the writers and actors and directors that compare to what was around when I was young, there do not seem to be any to speak of? When I look at the number of different people posting in this Idea Journal, and I see mostly me, I know that is not right. I think it is appreciated (I just got a new badge.) Finally, I tend to read words; literally, I assume that people use the words correctly. Here is a definition from the web:

    How can we develop positive thinking?

    Only use positive words when talking. …
    Push out all feelings that aren’t positive. …
    Use words that evoke strength and success. …
    Practice positive affirmation. …
    Direct your thoughts. …
    Believe you will succeed. …
    Analyze what went wrong.

    More items…•Oct 12, 2009

    When I see a headline like:
    The shaman Rudá Iandé reveals the dark side of “positive thinking.”
    Rudá Iandé reveals the truth about “positive thinking,” and what to do instead.

    My reaction is why anyone would disagree with the items in my list? Words have meaning; perhaps his “positive thinking” has a different sense? Thank you for taking the time to respond.

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Written by Genefe Navilon

Genefe Navilon is a writer, poet, and blogger. She graduated with a degree in Mass Communications at the University of San Jose Recoletos. Her poetry blog, Letters To The Sea, currently has 18,000 followers. Her work has been published in different websites and poetry book anthologies. She divides her time between traveling, writing, and working on her debut poetry book.

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