Many of us are facing levels of anxiety, fear, loneliness, depression, and uncertainty at an all-time high right now. If this sounds familiar, you need to hear this: Pain is not weakness! Instead of hiding from and being ashamed of negative emotions, this week’s interview on The Ed Mylett Show with Dr. Susan David will give you TACTICAL STRATEGIES on how to bring yourself into alignment with ALL of your thoughts and feelings in order to become a healthier, more productive, and effective person. Hands down, Dr. Susan David has given one of THE BEST TED Talks I have EVER heard. No matter who you are — parent, entrepreneur, friend, spouse, coworker, student, teacher — this interview will transform your relationship with your emotions and teach you how to persevere and even be MORE productive during difficult times. For this episode, I talked with Dr. Susan David all about the vital link between your emotions and your values, and how to embrace difficult situations and failure to become a better leader. We dive deep into parenting and business struggles that parents and entrepreneurs are facing and REAL WORLD techniques on how to deal with and overcome difficult situations surrounding valid fears and anxieties. This interview blew me away! We got RAW and REAL about processing difficult emotions and how to let your emotions be a teacher instead of a dictator in your life! I can’t wait to share this episode with you.
Susan David, Ph.D. is one of the world’s leading management thinkers and an award-winning Harvard Medical School psychologist. She is a #1 Wall Street Journal bestselling author of Emotional Agility, a book that draws on Dr. David’s more than 20 years of research to show how our everyday thoughts, emotions, and self-stories are the most important determinants of our success. Her work shows that emotionally agile people are able to gain critical insight about situations and interactions from their feelings and use this knowledge to adapt and make changes to bring their best self forward. Dr. David is also a frequent contributor to the Harvard Business Review, New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and a regular guest on national radio and television. Her TED Talk, “The gift and power of emotional courage,” totally blew me away the first time I saw it. I HIGHLY recommend you take 15 minutes out of your day to watch her speak about how the way we deal with our emotions shapes literally everything: our actions, careers, relationships, health and happiness. I read Dr. David’s book in about a day and a half — it was seriously that powerful. I’m a HUGE fan of her work, and I can’t wait to share more about emotional agility with you guys. Let’s get into it.
I want to share more about Dr. David’s personal journey and how she came to this amazing work, but first I want to give you some context what emotional agility really is.
“The very short definition is that [emotional agility is] about being able to be healthy with yourself, with your psychology, your thoughts, your emotions, your stories, the stuff that's inside of you. Really, emotional agility is the critical skill that helps you to be a healthy human being. Why is this important? Because how we ultimately deal with our inner worlds … drives how we love, how we live, how we parent, how we come to our relationships, how we build our businesses and even our health behaviors. … [Emotional agility] is about the skills that enable us to be curious and learn with our emotions and our difficult experiences, to be compassionate with ourselves and to also have the courage to do what's difficult when it's aligned with what matters to us.” - Dr. Susan David
I mean, WOW. This is something that we need to be talking about more — how our inner world impacts our behaviors, relationships, and even business success. Dr. David’s journey to studying emotional agility is truly powerful, and I’m so grateful she shared it in this episode.
In one of her talks, I heard Dr. David say that we all have one common experience in our lives that we share the most — death and our thoughts of death. It’s this commonality that set Dr. David, as a five-year-old, on the path to discovering emotional agility and the vital link between our emotions and our values.
“I grew up as a White South African in apartheid South Africa, and it was very much a country that was committed to denial, to not seeing ‘the other.’ ...When I was around five years old, [I became] aware of my own mortality. I recall finding my way into my parents' bed in between the two of them. I would say to my father, ‘I'm worried that one of you isn't going to be here in the morning.’” - Dr. Susan David
This is actually very normal behavior for that age — especially for kids now, when the news is filled with negativity. What stands out in this story, however, is that Dr. David’s father never lied to her. He never offered her some false positivity — some platitude that he would never die. Instead, he told her it was normal to be scared, but that Dr. David had the capacity to face fear and be courageous. Let’s fast forward to when Dr. David is 15 years old. Her father was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
“I recall my mother coming and saying to me, ‘Go say goodbye to dad.’ That was his last day. … I kissed him goodbye, I told him I loved him. And I then go off to school because my mother has, with good intentions, said to me, ‘You want to keep things as normal and routinized as possible.’ ... I go off to school, and my father dies, and the months go by … and I'm this little 15-year-old, not dropping a grade, trying to put on a brave face. People ask me how I'm doing, and I say to them ‘I'm okay.’ But in truth, we were struggling. My mother had lost the love of her life. She was raising three children, we had financial difficulties, and I started to spiral down fast.” - Dr. Susan David
One day, an English teacher assigned Dr. David’s class to write the truth like no one is reading. It was a turning point for Dr. David.
“I started to become aware of and interested in the narratives that we have in society about positivity, positive emotions and negative emotions. [These narratives] that sound good on the surface, but are actually devastating to our capacity to be healthy with ourselves and healthy human beings in the world so that we can deal with others’ pain and the reality of a fragile and beautiful world.” - Dr. Susan David
I can totally relate to that feeling of trying to push through, deny so-called “negative” emotions like stress, loneliness, and grief, and to just put on a happy face. Dr. David’s story resonates with me so deeply because, as a society, we only value the “happy” emotions. If you’re not HAPPY all the time, that must mean you’re not SUCCESSFUL, right? WRONG. This narrative is standing in the way of our HUMANITY. This script that pain is weakness is what is preventing us from fulfilling our highest potential. It’s time that we rewrite the script.
We’re told that emotions other than happiness and bliss are BAD. We’re told that stress, anxiety, and fear must be AVOIDED at all costs. But actually, this narrative prevents us from learning about ourselves and our values.
“Emotions are teachers. Even your most difficult emotions are teachers. What I mean by this is that if you're feeling bored at work — and you can be as busy as anything, but still bored — … boredom might be a signpost that you value more learning and growth and that you don't have enough of it. ...The most difficult emotions signpost the things that we care about. When we push aside these difficult emotions, not only does it not work — pushing aside difficult emotions actually contributes to lower levels of well-being and high levels of depression and anxiety and lower chance of success.” - Dr. Susan David
Pushing aside difficult emotions stops us from navigating the world as it really is. It stops you from learning what makes you GROW, what you VALUE. Emotions are important data points in determining who you are.
“It's really important to also recognize that emotions are data. They contain signposts are the things that we care about, but they're not directives. Just because I feel bad with my colleague in this business that I'm trying to grow doesn't mean I need to have a talk with them. Just because I am feeling really frustrated with my spouse doesn't mean that I need to leave the room. Emotions are data, not directives.” - Dr. Susan David
We think happy people are successful people, meaning they should have high self-esteem. I think rather than read emotions as data, we read them as part of our identity. We tell ourselves, “I feel more anxiety, fear, or worry, therefore I am less than these people who are experiencing these other emotions.” By conflating happiness with success, however, we’re only living a very narrow life.
“There's this narrative of what I call the ‘tyranny of positivity.’ Even people who are dying of cancer are told to just be positive, which takes them away from their experience. … How do we possibly have conversations around racial justice and showing up to the pain of other people? If we have a narrative that pain is somehow weak, what that does is create a complete divide where only if you are being positive, then are you allowed in my inner circle. If you are being negative, then you are toxic. … [With that narrative] I actually don't believe that we are going to be able to heal society effectively.” - Dr. Susan David
We attach our self-esteem to having positive emotions. When we have negative ones, we think are less than people that we see celebrating all the time. It’s a narrative we have to actively WORK to CHANGE and FEEL the PAIN if we want to see the world become a better place.
The problem with these so-called “negative” emotions, though, is that they really don’t feel good. We suppress them not only because we think they are signs we’re doing something wrong but also because they make us uncomfortable. This is where emotional agility comes in.
“The first part of emotional agility is [to choose to] end the struggle with your difficult emotions by dropping the rope. Move away from the space where you second guess, or basically gaslight yourself, as to whether you should or shouldn't be allowed to feel something. Notice what you're feeling. Try to notice that feeling with compassion. … If you can adopt a level of compassion with yourself, that can be really powerful.” - Dr. Susan David
There’s a myth that being self-compassionate is just being lazy. That could not be more wrong. People who are self-compassionate are able to take risks, are more likely to explore and grow and learn. They know if something goes wrong, they will be there for themselves. I know for me, finding self-compassion has been absolutely life-changing. I want to share something raw and difficult with you guys. My dad's been sick for a very long time. He's had cancer and his health has deteriorated pretty substantially recently. And on top of that, I had somebody who I care about very much let me down. It was very hard on me. Normally, I would say to myself, “I'm gonna power through this, I'm going to be better on the other side, I'm going to be stronger.” But actually, as I was prepping for this interview, I decided I would sit with these emotions and experience them. I have not done that in a long time. I even cried — I very rarely cry. What I found on the other side of experiencing these emotions was an unbelievable peace about things and unbelievable comfort that everything will be okay. I learned some things about myself. Ironically, I found the strength that I thought I would have if I shoved this stuff to the side by letting myself sit with these emotions and not feel less than because I had them.
“We become stronger and better by going through and sitting and learning from a difficult emotion. We generate a sense of insight about ourselves, a sense of resilience, a sense of what you need to do in the situation.” - Dr. Susan David
Guys, whatever PAIN you’re feeling, whatever ANXIETY or GRIEF or SADNESS comes up for you — go through it, not around it!
Now, let’s get tactical: When we have a strong emotion, how can we stop ourselves from getting triggered by that feeling? So many of us are programmed to respond to a negative feeling with judgment or trying to power through it. Instead, Dr. David said you can create a space between your emotion and the story you tell yourself.
“Between stimulus and response, there is a space, and in that space is our power to choose. In that choice lies our growth and our freedom. When we are hooked by a difficult thought, emotion, and story, then there's no space between stimulus and response. [Instead, notice] that ‘This is what I'm feeling.’ What it does is it helps you to create that space between stimulus and response so that you can bring other parts of yourself into the space. Ultimately, instead of acting out of your emotions, you are moving into your values and being able to bring the best of who you are forward in the situation.” - Dr. Susan David
The next time you find yourself reacting to a situation, remind yourself that YOU are not your EMOTION. Instead of saying, “I am sad”, try labeling your emotion like this: “I feel sad.” This linguistic space turns your emotion into data rather than a directive.
Here’s the thing: Emotional agility applies to ALL areas of our life — even in business! Companies have this tendency to only focus on the positive, too. But, as a leader and entrepreneur, this can prevent you from getting results.
“Innovation is in an intimate relationship with failure. Collaboration is in an intimate relationship with conflict. … If you are completely closed off to the difficult emotions, the frustration that comes with maybe not succeeding, [you won’t advance]. You don't get to have an agile organization or be an agile leader, unless you're actually open to the emotions of the people around you.” - Dr. Susan David
Especially in this pandemic, when so many business owners are facing uncertainty, it’s important to tell your employees that it’s OK to be scared. Whenever you face a challenge at work, be transparent about it.
“What is so powerful is when you have a leader, a human, a parent who says, ‘I don't have the answers, it's normal to be scared. Who do we want to be? Even in the midst of this challenge, how do we want to come to one another? How do we want to team together? How do we want to be together as a family?’ Bring your values front and center.” - Dr. Susan David
This applies to parenting, to leading your company, even to your personal relationships. Guys, this is seriously REVOLUTIONARY. Embracing all your emotions is what allows you to live in your values and achieve REAL SUCCESS.
Guys, my interview with Dr. David is a TOTAL GAME-CHANGER. Dr. David will teach you how to be compassionate with yourself, to understand how your emotions can serve you, and how to be a better LEADER, PARTNER, and PARENT. Make sure to check out the full interview here. Definitely don’t miss Dr. David’s TED Talk, and pick up a copy of her book, Emotional Agility. She also has a free quiz that you can take that gives you a free ten-page report. It's very practical, connecting with how you deal with your emotions and what your values are. Make sure to check out Dr. David’s website, as well as her Facebook, Instagram, @susandavid_phd, and LinkedIn. If this conversation about emotional agility resonated with you, share it on Instagram! Connect with Dr. Susan David, @susandavid_phd, and with me, @Edmylett, on Instagram, and use the hashtag #MAXOUT to share the advice that you found the most helpful! Also, make sure to check out my two-minute drill! I make a post every day, and those of you who comment within two minutes will have a chance to win a variety of awesome prizes, including a coaching session, #MAXOUT gear, and a copy of my book. Remember, pain is STRENGTH. It is part of being a human and an amazing entrepreneur!