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It’s time to embrace our emotions

We're often told that as leaders we need to be a positive influence on our team. To keep morale up and spirits high. To not dwell on the negatives. But what if 'seeing the brighter side' and hiding our true emotions is really bringing us down – in work and in life?

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It’s an interesting notion. Embracing our emotions goes against a traditional view of what a leader should be: stoic, unflappable, cool under pressure. But it’s one that emotions researcher Susan David has explored in her book Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life.

David shares some really great insight on what we might gain from leaning into – rather than running away from – our emotions.

As she put it in a recent podcast chat with Brene Brown:

“You become the master of being okay because you’re praised for being strong. You’re trying to get on with it. You’re trying to move through things. You’ve been told that being positive is good, that gritting is good.”

Many of us avoid dwelling on the negative for fear of being seen as pessimistic or someone that’s bringing the vibe down. But according to David that narrative leads us away from seeing – seeing other people, seeing ourselves, and seeing the reality of life.

Without embracing our emotions we’re operating on a false level. We’re burying our head in the sand and we’re making decisions for the wrong reasons – probably based on positive false-hoods that others feel obliged to perpetuate too. It’s a viscous circle. But one that can be reversed if we become more emotionally agile.

As David says:

“Emotions are normal. Emotions are beautiful. There’s no good or bad emotion.”

So how can we navigate the challenges we encounter in a different way? How can we embrace emotions and deal with them authentically?

David outlines 4 four steps to emotional agility that are a really great starting point:

Showing Up

Instead of ignoring difficult emotions or overemphasising “positive thinking”, learn to face thoughts, emotions, and behaviours willingly, with curiosity and kindness.

Stepping Out

Create distance between the thinker and the thought and recognise that emotions are data, not directives. Step out of the struggle against your emotions and into the empowering experience of processing them.

Walking Your Why

Identify your own personal set of values and use them as a compass to keep you moving in the right direction.

Moving On

Appoint yourself the agent of your own life and approach your daily actions, interactions, and habits mindfully so that you can bring your best self into the world.

Create the space to chart the right path

Every day we enter situations that stimulate emotion. If we’re in conflict, we say ‘I’m angry’. If something has upset us, we say ‘I’m sad’. It sounds like a simple linguistic difference but if we reframe our feelings and say, ‘I’m feeling anger’ and ‘This is making me feel sad’, we’re no longer owned by the emotion, it’s something we’re experiencing and something we can use and act on.

This emotional agility allows us to take a step back from what we’re feeling rather than being all-encompassed by it – or as is often the case with leaders, locking it tight away in a box to fester.

Every emotion has a stimulus. If we’re feeling happy, sad, lonely, angry, frustrated. There’s a reason for it. Lock it away and we’re not dealing with the problem. Let it take over and our judgement can be clouded.

As David says:

“Emotions are beautiful signposts that allow us to understand ourselves better.”

The next time you get a signpost are you going to take some time to understand why you’re being led down that path? To explore how the emotion you’re feeling fits with the compass of your values? Or are you going to rip up the map and blindly carry on?

Taking some time to work on our emotional agility can help us become more resilient and authentically happy – and support those that surround us to be too.