Susan David ON: Why You Shouldn’t Avoid Difficult Conversations & How to Respond with Emotional IntelligenceOn Purpose with Jay Shetty
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- 8 Mar 2021
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At 15, Susan felt like she had so many emotions swirling around her head she could hardly speak. Now a world-renowned psychologist, Susan has not only learned to navigate her emotions--she has written the book on it.
This week, Jay Shetty speaks with Harvard Psychologist Susan David and author of Emotional Agility about how to better understand and befriend your emotions, and how this emotional agility will make you a better communicator.
Ted Talk: https://www.susandavid.com/the-talks
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Hey, everyone, welcome back to you on purpose. The number one health podcast in the world, thanks to each and every single one of you who come back every week to listen, learn and grow. Now, I'm really proud of the incredible community that we've been able to build together. And I'm really excited to introduce you to today's guest, because I think this is something we've all been struggling with for the past year. And I've been really trying to find the right person to have a conversation with about 20, 20, about the new normal, about our emotional well-being.
And I think this is the one. I think this is it. So I'm really, really excited to introduce you to none other than Susan. David, who's a Harvard Medical School psychologist and best selling author. Her most recent book, Emotional Agility, describes the psychological skills critical to thriving in times of complexity and change. You may know, Susan, from her famous TED talk on the topic of emotional agility. And if you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it.
And as it went viral with over one million views in its first week of release, Susan is the CEO of evidence based psychology, a co-founder of the Institute of Coaching and on the Scientific Advisory Board of Drive Global and Virgin Pulse. Please welcome to On Purpose Susan. David. Susan, thank you for being here.
Thank you. I'm delighted to be with you today.
I'm so excited for this. And I really meant what I said. I think what's been happening over the past year and as we were just connecting a few moments ago, you were talking about, you know, the start of the year. I've really been trying to find the right person to have this conversation with because I think there's a lot of aspects of your work that are even though you wrote this book five years ago, so much of it is so integral to what we're experiencing today.
So I'm really fascinated. But I want to start with a quote you shared on Twitter the other day, and I'm going to read it out because I don't want to mess it up. But you recently posted something on Twitter and it floored me. And it says, Courage at its most powerful is rarely loud. Mostly, it's a whisper, those moments every day when you do what matters. Tell me more about this idea of courage being a whisper.
So first, yes, I mean, my work that I started so many years ago is really finding I think it's a moment in a world that feels like very often it's delivering gut punch after gut punch to us.
So, Joe, let me start in a story and then you'll see what I mean by courage is a whisper. I think often we think about courage is being very loud.
It's very active and it's very out there.
When I was around five years old, I became petrified by the idea of death.
And this might sound like an unusual fear for a five year old, but in fact, at around that age, children become aware of their own mortality and the fact that their parents won't be around forever. And I recall going into my father's bed, I would lie between my mother and my father.
And I would say to my father, Daddy, promise me you'll never die. Promise me you'll never die. And my father would comfort me and he would comfort me with soft pets and with kisses.
But he never lied. And he said to me, Susie, we all die. It's normal to be scared. And what he was inviting me into in that moment was a whisper of courage, a whisper of courage for him as a parent, where our impetus or our impulse is always to fake positivity or make things right or to do away or to story tell our way out of something. It would have been so easy for him to say, you know, don't worry, everything's going to be fine.
But he's his message to me was this idea that courage is is a whisper and courage is not about not being fearful, but rather about walking in the direction of your fears step by step. So what do I mean by a whisper?
When we have an argument with our spouse and we love that person, it takes courage to reach out for a hug rather than pull in and develop a wall of disconnect. It takes courage sometimes to speak up, but sometimes it actually takes courage to slow down and to not speak and to listen. And so the idea with courage is, again, that it's often seen as being something that's only available to heroes. And yet I think that life every single day invites all of us into choice points.
The choice point might be reached for the muffin or the reach for the fruit. The choice point might be to speak up or just slow down. The choice point might be to I have a difficult conversation or do or not. And these other pieces of courage that I think get expressed in a whisper and why I think it's so important is because there is a groundswell of whisper that makes change and it also speaks to what we know about human capability, and that is that human capability is not often this idea that I'm upset and I'm frazzled and therefore I need to go sell up and go live on a wine farm in France.
So often the change that we bring about in our own lives is through these incremental moments of values, aligned choices, this whisper that can often be fearful because it often says, you know, when we experience high emotions, it's often this idea of like you shouldn't speak up, you shouldn't do those things.
But when we move into that courage, we actually ground ourselves in the enormous change. What a beautiful answer. I love that story you told, and I'm going to come back to that later. I'm withholding my temptation to dive into a subject that I want to share. I want to save for later anyone, anyone is listening. If you see me going that way, I'm pulling myself back right now. If you're listening to two asking a question that I think is going to help us build to that when we speak about courage.
Susan, tell me about the last time you or the most recent time that you felt you did something courageous, but it may not have looked that way to anyone else, because I think sometimes we think of courage as being perceivable. Right. And that's what you're saying when you're talking about courage being a whisper. And you took my big change, actually coming from a groundswell of whispers when recently did you act on courage? But actually, no one really would have sensed it that way apart from you.
Well, I think one of the most profound ways that we can be courageous is what I describe in emotional agility, and that is courage with our own difficult emotions. And certainly I am in Boston and we are nearing the first year anniversary.
So a one year anniversary of basically being I don't want to say housebound, but certainly in the last year I have not been to a restaurant, a coffee shop or anything else. I'm married to a physician who's very much in the context of this experience that we are all having. And so the courage on a day to day basis is the courage for myself of compassion, because I'm remember about schooling to children and that courage. It's it's a whisper, but it's the courage of being able to feel my feelings.
It's the courage of being able to recognize that when things are difficult, actually things are difficult. And I don't need to judge myself for that because this is a moment that many of us are finding difficult. And so I think courage in its most quiet and most powerful is expressed in the conversation that we have with ourselves. If if we are not able to see ourselves, how do we create change in the world? How do we see other people?
How do we relate to our partners in an effective way if we are not able to see ourselves? And so being able to see ourselves are difficult. Thoughts, emotions and stories, I think is one of the most in a mental building. Blocks of courage.
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Learn how to get healthy with noom. That's a.m. dot com forward slash purpose. Sign up for your free trial today at noon a.m.. Dot com forward slash purpose. I can agree with you more, and I think we're hearing about this more and more now, the idea of looking into your fears, sitting with a difficult emotion, trying to understand those feelings, but practically what do we actually do with it? Because I find that we see two extremes.
We see some people say, gee, I think about my feelings so much that I end up feeling overwhelmed and overthinking and procrastinating or maybe pushing myself into feeling completely burdened by my feelings. And then you hear the opposite words like, gee, I don't even know what my feelings are. I I don't even let myself feel that because I'm so scared. And that's the courage part that you're mentioning. But when you actually look at your feelings, when you sit with a difficult emotion, what do you do with it?
What does that practically look like?
So what you allude to is exactly know profoundly important. And I wonder if I can share a story. And I hope it's not the one that you were going to draw me on a little bit. No, please. You know, I gave the example earlier of my father and these conversations with my father, so I'm five at the time. Fast forward 10 years.
My mother calls me and she says to me, go and say goodbye to Dad because no father's 42 years old.
And unbeknownst to us, when I was five, 10 years later, when I was not 15, he was going to be diagnosed with cancer. And so my mother is calling me to go and say goodbye to him. And I'm this little girl now walking with courage to say goodbye to my parent. And what's kind of remarkable in that experience is afterwards I had what so many of us have, which is this idea that like what do I do with my difficult emotions?
My father has died. We live in a world that seems to conspire against our feelings, even though there's a lot of like feel your feelings. Still, the meta message of our emotions is that we've got to be positive, that we've got to be happy. And so I am this 15 year old and I become the master of being, OK, I'm not dropping a single grade. I'm getting on with life. And I have this teacher who recognizes my pain and who says to me as she hands out blank notebooks to the class, she says, write, tell the truth and write like no one is reading.
And so what do you have there? You have this invitation to come into the self. And what this does is it sparks off then my career as a psychologist, as a researcher into the world of emotions. And so what you describe, which is often when people are dealing with difficult emotions, they tend to do one of two things. The first is to bottle emotions. Bottling is where you push them aside. You disconnected from them. You often do it with very good intentions.
You saying things like, I've just got to get on with my goals and my job and my my life, you know, so I don't have time to feel these feelings. And so it's almost like you've got this this stack of books and you walking, but you've got the books like really hold very tensely away from you.
And what we know psychologically is you will drop the books.
It might take you a little while to drop them, but you will drop the books and dropping the books when you've been bottling your emotions either looks like, you know, you you say something that you didn't intend to say over the Thanksgiving table or to your colleague at a meeting. Dropping the books can often look like just when life hits, you not have the capacity to cope because you haven't been practicing difficult emotions. And dropping the books can often play out in what we see in high levels of depression, lower levels of wellbeing, high levels of anxiety, and obviously the many factors that play into this.
But that's what bottling looks like. But on the other hand, what we can do is we can become so immersed by how I feel we become victimized by our Twitter feed or what someone else said and whether the relationship is toxic or not toxic. And it's like overwhelm of emotions. And it's almost like taking books and holding them so closely to yourself that you are unable to hug your child, you are unable to live in your life because you are so closed into yourself.
And so what is emotional health look like when it comes to emotions? And it is fundamentally about the courage of gentle. Acceptance, you know, gentle acceptance in the same way as if you went outside and it was raining, a lack of general acceptance would be like was is it raining?
I wish it wouldn't rain when I, you know, want to go and have fun. Why does it always rain when I want to do.
That's not gentle acceptance. Gentle acceptance is, gee, it's raining. You know, that's what general acceptance is. So the first component of emotional health of that middle ground where it's not bottling, where it's not brooding, but it's actually being healthy and whole as a human being is gentle acceptance of our own and other people's emotions.
But there are also core components of skill that become necessary. Yeah. So I know one thing that you've spoken a bit about and certainly something that I've found in my own research is that often when people are struggling, they'll use labels to describe what it is that they're feeling. But they're often these big umbrella labels, I'm stressed is the most common one. You know, everything's on stress, some stress, but but there's a world of difference between stress and disappointment or stress and feeling unsupported stress and depleted stress and that knowing, gnawing feeling of I'm in the wrong job or the wrong career or this relationship isn't working out.
So when we label everything as stress, as an example and I've got other very practical strategies that I can share, but when we label everything as stress physiologically, we don't actually know how to manage that.
So if we just take that one example of stress and we say what are to other emotions that I'm actually experiencing, I'm depleted. All I need to take some time for self care, whether that's a walk or a piece of music or the thing that I'm calling stress is actually I'm worried about a difficult conversation and I'm avoiding it. OK, and this thing that I want to stress actually.
About the conversation when we label our emotions more accurately, literally, what it does physiologically is it enables what is called the readiness potential in our brains. And it's the it's the action readiness that allows us to start saying what's the cause of that emotion and what do I need to now do in response to it. So literally the action of moving out of bottling, moving out of brooding, but moving into gentle acceptance, but then also recognizing that we own our emotions.
They don't own us. And so how do we own our emotions? We own emotions by accurately labeling is one example. What this allows us to do is to breathe into the space of what it is that we do next. And I can give some other practical examples of how this can be helpful or strategies that people can use. But I just want to. Yeah, please.
Oh, no, please, please. Let's hear them. I think I think I'm so glad that you introduced the idea of labeling emotions. I'm so happy that you went there because you're spot on that we use these umbrella terms that even we don't know how to define. And not only do we not understand them, we challenge our partners because we think they don't understand us either. And so we are trying to get them to vocalize and verbalize and articulate what we're feeling to us.
And we feel, no, that's that's not how I feel right now. And it's like because you don't know how you feel. So it creates a lot of issues. But yes, please give us some of those practical steps in the direction, please.
Well, the practical steps, actually, you kind of evoke an idea or a memory of mine, which is I remember a couple of years ago working with a client and this particular kind wouldn't label everything as stress. He would label things as angry. He was very quick to anger. And every time you said, you know, what's going on for you, he would say, I'm just angry, like I'm angry. How's your team doing? My team's angry.
You know, my team is angry. And it was it was this fascinating conversation. And I started to just do this very quick thing with him, which is saying to him, what are two other options? What are two other emotion options?
And he started to say he was in a new role and he started to say, maybe I'm not angry, maybe I'm scared. You know, maybe I'm scared and maybe the team's not angry.
Maybe the team is actually distrustful because they've had a really bad experience with a previous leader and maybe that Trunchbull. Trust now you can see if you go into a conversation with someone of I'm angry and they angry. Well, what's the next step?
The next step is that we all get locked into right versus wrong.
But if you're going into the conversation with I see that my ego wants to do well, but actually I want to connect with my values here, which is that I want to care for this team and I want to see them as trust and that the teams coming in from a different place, that's a completely different conversations and such a couple of months after having this conversation, I'm working with my client on this. He and I, it was a consulting client and I became friendly with his wife as well.
We went out to dinner and she said to me, this simple skill actually completely changed the tenor of their relationship, where he would come home from work and he would say to her, You seem angry.
And she would be I'm not angry, just tired, you know, just tired or I'm not angry. I just need some support. Yeah.
And so this is it seems so subtle, but to not I don't want to make too big a thing of this, but we actually know that children as young as two and three years old who are encouraged to label their emotions more accurately actually over time, have not only a greater levels of psychological well-being, but you can actually see that you are more able to regulate yourself and to develop perseverance if you have a greater level of accuracy around your emotions.
A child who's now 16 years old, when someone says, oh, I've got a great idea, let's let the air out of the principal's car tires, the child who's able to say this thing that I'm feeling that that feels really exciting. But actually beneath the excitement, I've got a sense of disquiet about this. And the child who's able to elevate that disquiet is the child who's able to resist peer pressure, who's able to have the cornerstone of saying, you know, I want to go to the party, but I actually also want to study and how can I bring myself to that latter option?
So it is a profoundly important skill. So anyway, I promised other practical strategies, but I wanted to detour instead example, if that's helpful.
Oh, that's that example is absolutely brilliant. And and I think it's great because you're spot on that even when we see other people, we project our idea of what their behavior suggests. So like you said, like your client who would go home and say, oh, you look angry, that's him projecting what he thinks anger looks like. And I've done that for so long. I went as soon as you said that, I was thinking, oh, yeah, like when I see someone really uncomfortable, I get really uncomfortable around them, even though it has nothing to do with me.
But maybe they're not uncomfortable. Maybe they're just feeling another emotion that I'm not actually aware of and I haven't checked that. So I think that's that's that's brilliant. And I didn't even know about the to hear about that in children psychology. I'd never heard that before. And so that level of emotional agility. In a young person to be able to decipher between two choices, whether that be trouble or whether that be studied, I think that's really, really interesting idea.
I didn't know about that study at all. So that's that's really I loved. I'm so glad you went there. So.
So, yeah, it's such an important skill. So some other practical strategies or some other ways that we can kind of think about emotional jealousy.
Because if you said to me or if you say, you know, what is emotional jollity, let's let's go around this emotional gelati is basically about our ability to be healthy human beings, OK, to be healthy with ourselves. The idea that every single day we have thousands of thoughts, you know, thought might be I'm not good enough for being undermined. An emotion might be an emotion of sadness or grief or loneliness. We have stories. Some of these stories were written on our mental chalkboards when we were five years old.
Stories about what emotion is good or bad, what emotions are allowed versus not allowed. And that can lead us to be comfortable, uncomfortable with emotions even in our adult life, and feel like we've either got the skill of them or we don't. But we also have other stories. We've got stories about whether we create or what kind of love we deserve, whether we leaders. You know, again, some of these stories are written on our mental chalkboards when we were just little, when we were little.
And a very important aspect of emotional agility is that these thoughts, emotions and stories normal, a very important part of emotional agility is not this idea that these good emotions and bad emotions and we should only feel the good emotions or that there's good thoughts that we allowed and we not allow bad thoughts.
A very important part of emotional agility is the recognition that when you have difficult thoughts, emotions and stories, this is literally your evolutionary history doing its job, which is to try to protect you. So there is nothing inherently good or bad about any of this. So what is it that makes us in agile or ineffective or unhappy in the world? The litmus is this idea that when we get stuck in our thoughts, our emotions and our stories, where we are either stuck in the avoidance of it or stuck in feeling that it's a directive and that it's telling us what to do, you know, I'm feeling undermined.
So I'm going to leave the room or I'm feeling shut down in this meeting. So now I'm going to stop contributing. When we do this, we are letting our thoughts, emotions and our stories drive us rather than us driving them, OK, rather than us owning them. So what is you know, what are the parts of emotional privacy that are critical? I've already spoken about showing up to difficult emotions with acceptance. And I would add in very, very importantly with compassion, you know, that it takes and is necessary for us to be compassionate towards selves as human beings.
But then we also want to be able to step out of our difficult emotions.
And so the example that I've given is emotion, granularity. But I'll give you another example, which is when we feel and this will probably connect with you in terms of your background and your experiences, but often what we do is we use language to describe our emotions. That is a linguistic trap. So you'll say things like, I am angry, I am sad, I am being undermined. And you can hear that when you do this. I am sad.
All of me, 100 per cent of me is sad. There's no space for anything else. There's no space for intention, for values, for breathing, for our wisdom. We've all got wisdom inside of us that when there's all this noise going on about what we allow to feel and not feel and whether we have to live with our emotions, we are unable very often to connect with our wisdom. So when we say I am sad, you are defining yourself by the vision here, but you are not the emotion.
You are a human being who is more than your emotions or stories or thoughts, and those are part of you, but they're not definitional of you.
And so a beautiful metaphor of this is it's almost like when people say things like I am sad, it's almost like the sad is the cloud. And they are the cloud, you know, you have become the cloud, but you are not the cloud, you are the sky, you know you are the sky. You are capacious and able to have all of your clouds and just still be the sky. So how do you develop this metaphor, you this ability to observe your emotions?
One strategy that's very practical and you can use even in a difficult meeting or difficult conversation is to simply notice your thoughts, your emotions or your stories for what they are. They are thoughts, the emotions. They are stories. They are not fact. So what does this look like? I am sad. I'm noticing that I'm feeling sad and I'm being undermined. I'm noticing the thought that I'm being undermined.
Yeah, it sounds very subtle, but what you are starting to do is you are starting to create linguistic space between you and the emotion. And in that linguistic space, you are then allowed and enabling yourself to bring other parts of yourself forward.
And one of the little parts, if we want to bring forward, is our values. That's a very important part of emotional agility. Excellent.
I hope everyone is listening and watching right now is taking notes because there no, I mean it because that is such a simple, subtle, but yet so practical and such a powerful tool. And I recommend that everyone writes this down. Draw draw a line down the middle of the page and write down what you say you are on the left hand side. So you may say right now I am sad or I'm unhappy or whatever it is. And then on the right hand side, I want you to perform the activity that Susan just said to us and write down how you're now going to rewire your linguistic understanding of that.
Because when you get this out of your head and onto a page and write it down and scribble it down, you start seeing how distant it is from you rather than it being yourself. So please use this as a moment. Take a screenshot of where you are right now. If you need to come back to this later, come back to this time and do that activity with any of the emotions you've been feeling this week or in the last twelve months.
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I wanted to ask you this question, just not because I don't judge books by their cover, but I'm fascinated by choice and imagery.
I want to ask, what is this fish sugar cookie?
Oh, it's about the fish. So, as you know, firstly, having published your own book, we often don't have a lot of latitude in the very final say on what goes on the cover. That said, a core metaphor of if we think about what is emotional agility, emotional agility is about being able to be with ourselves, with compassion, with curiosity. And we'll get to that.
You know, what is what is this emotion telling me? Yes. And with courage, which is a core part of my work so that we can experience difficult thoughts and emotions and stories that are part of a complex changing world, a world that is both beautiful and fragile, a world in which we aren't happy all the time. And that is the reality of our experience. And so emotional agility is about being able to breathe into that space with a set of skills that allows us to be open hearted and and intentional and calm and wise in how we move through life.
And then if we think about the opposite of emotional agility, which is emotional rigidity and emotional rigidity, is when we treat our thoughts, our emotions and our stories as fact.
Emotional rigidity is when we get so autopilot in the way we go through our lives that we aren't living intentionally. We get so sucked into our social media or our Netflix or whatever it is we doing that we we on autopilot, on autopilot, can even be in a relationship.
You know, we can autopilot where we in the same house with the same person 24/7. And yet our autopilot has led us to put up defenses. And you can actually see the wall going up and feel the wall going up and you with this person, but you actually recognize that you're lonely. You know, that is autopilot. And so what is the fish? The fish is an example of how we get hooked, how we get hooked into this rigid way of being.
It might be we get hooked in bad habits through this autopilot I've been speaking about. It might be we get hooked by our thoughts. Emotions are stories and we get get hooked often because we in our lives have very often learned ways to adapt. You know, we've learned that maybe when we were angry as a child, we were punished and now we struggle to be authentic with our teams or with our spouse.
And so we've got this way of being that actually might have been really functional for us as a child when we were a child, but that we've now grown out of it. So the imagery of the fish is really to denote that often we get hooked and emotional agility is the process of getting off the hook so that we are able to bring ourselves to our lives.
That is probably the most profound description of a book cover I'll probably ever hear in my life.
I love it so wide. You know, it's great. It's a deep and rich. I love it. That's that's what I wanted to hear. And and it's so hard. I unfortunately had to have my face on my covers. I couldn't do anything else. And so to have to have that beautiful, deep, substance filled decision sounds like a great answer. I there are two big things I wanted to speak to you about as this conversation has evolved and we've really set the tone and the foundation of what emotional agility is, where courage fits into our life, how do we face our emotions?
And the first one comes from something that when I look in hindsight now and I don't even think I put this in my book, but you've made me think of it. I don't think I spoke about it as explicitly as this. But when I lived as a monk, something really fascinating happened in how we lived our life.
So we never slept in the same place every night in the sense that even if we slept in the same room, there was no place that was yours. So you didn't even have the consistency of the space on the. Law that you slept in, so that's one thing when we got on a train to travel to another destination, we didn't know what our accommodation looked like. And so if you think about now, when you plan a holiday or vacation, you always know what your apartment's going to look like or your hotel or your Airbnb.
You pick it out months in advance. We didn't know what it would look like sometimes. It was open whole. Sometimes it was a corridor and sometimes it was the train itself and sometimes it was. Once it was an unfinished accommodation building where I nearly stepped into an elevator that didn't exist. And so what I'm what I'm trying to get at here is. The way Monck life is set up, it it made me so OK with change and constant change and constant surprise and uncertainty, because we never had any of that.
We just. And you never even knew what your next meal was when when food was always given to you, you never chose off a menu. And so when I look at your title of your book and I look at what's happening in the world right now, when you talk about embracing change, the common rhetoric right now is I wish things would go back to being the same or I guess this is our new normal or when will this end? And it's funny because when you ask the question, when will this end, that's a sign that you want change.
But then we're also at the same time asking the question like, I wish things would go back to being the same. And so where does emotional agility, why is it that we're so addicted to sameness and where does emotional agility and stability come in? Like what is stability? Is stability even real? And so, yeah, I hope that's not too many questions, but that's really beautiful.
So firstly, we know that cognitively human beings are drawn to what is easy, what is coherent and what is familiar. So what is easy?
We will always default as human beings to what just feels easy. We will always default to what feels coherent. You know, they've been very interesting studies showing that when people in organizations or sometimes individuals with a very low self concept and then they get promoted, those individuals will often completely counterintuitively leave the organization.
And part of what's been explored is there can be a disconnect between the story they have of themselves, which feels so coherent versus this countervailing feedback that they're getting from the organization that actually makes them feel uncomfortable. So human beings are drawn to what's easy, to what's coherent, the story that we tell ourselves and to what is familiar. And again, this is really important because it is necessary when I wake up in the morning for me to go, oh, you know, this little child that is jumping on my head is my seven year old daughter, Sophie.
And I need to pay attention to Sophie and I need to, you know, not pay attention to the washing machine in the background. OK, so coherence is what allows us to make sense of all the different pieces of information that come at us every day so that we weave them into a story. And again, this is from an evolutionary perspective, really, really important that we are able to do as human beings.
We we are drawn to this.
Now, the downside of this is that it can lead to this autopilot closing down from discomfort, the curse of comfort, the positive aspect of. Is the positive aspect of these ideas is and I explore this in emotional agility, is if you've got something that feels really venues aligned to you, you can then use this idea of ease to build a habit that is values aligned.
So an example might be that I feel really stressed at the end of the day when I'm done with, you know, if I work in a corporate environment, when I'm done with my meeting after meeting, and now I'm trying to generate a sense of of work life integration, that in a way that feels a bit healthier, more balanced to me.
And I've been finding that I've been bringing my cell phone to the table and not spending time with my family and that that work life and home life have completely meshed.
And so what I do is I know that I always, you know, put my computer in a particular place as I finish up the workday. And now what I do is I do what what is called piggybacking, which is I'm now adding my cell phone to the same place so that I'm not bringing my cell phone to the dinner table. And so what we're doing is we're starting to shape our environment so that it's not easy to do the things that are intentional and values connected that we really want to be doing.
Another example of this that we see very often is the way we we create the choice architecture in our house where we might put fruit on the table instead of something that feels a little bit less healthy so that it's easier for us to go to the fruit. So as human beings, we are drawn to these things. Here's the difficulty when we sidestep tough emotions and tough emotions that come with the reality of life, when we sidestep those tough emotions, when we sidestep tough experiences and discomfort, we are not able to develop the skills that help us to adapt and change.
Because Jay, in truth, loves beauty and its fragility are interwoven. We are young and then we are not. We are healthy. And then a diagnosis brings us to our knees. And so life's beauty and its fragility are interwoven. They are they are inseparable. And when we sidestep tough emotions, when we when we listen to the mantras of positive vibes only or just be positive. And so we think when we feel difficult emotions that we shouldn't be feeling them, that their bed.
And so we sidestep them. What we are actually doing is we are failing to develop skills to live in the world as it is, not as we wish it to be, but as it is and so discomforts. Circling back to our conversation earlier about courage, discomfort is extraordinarily important. We can we can think about this at an individual level. You know, if I keep taking these small whispers, if I keep taking these small steps of courage, we build our own courage.
But I actually think that at a at a broader level, though, the culture that we are in the world that we are in is taking us for courage. The world is begging us to be able to have difficult conversations, not to just say, oh, well, that person saying something that I don't like, therefore they're toxic. Therefore, I'm going to cut them out of my life. If we can't have these difficult conversations, what we do is we shrink ourselves, we shrink, we shrink, and we are actually more fragile rather than more agile.
That was brilliant. That was amazing that that specific point, there was something you said that that was. Was so clear for me, and I understand it, but I've never heard it being experienced in that explained in that way is the idea that. Those discomfort, those uncomfortable emotions, when we ignore them, we're losing the ability to develop skills that we need. And so actually when you're pushing away that opportunity to grow your skills and your lessons and the idea that we shrink like that word was so strong for me, I was like, wow, yeah, that's so true.
And I'm thinking about every time in my life where I've avoided a difficult conversation. And actually, it's so true.
Like, you just think, oh yeah, I need to cut that out my life and move away from that. And and actually you're so right that we're losing that skill because life's going to keep bringing us that same situation and similar people and similar examples because that's just life.
Yes. Yes. And then what you've done is you've avoided and shrunk rather than rather than develop the skill and grown. Yes. Yeah.
And I'm fascinated by thinking about what are some of those skills that we've missed out on. And I'm thinking about it for myself right now. As you're saying, that I'm reflecting on a couple of decisions I've made and asking myself what is what what skill did I miss out on? And I realized that.
I think it's very natural for us to shut down when we're not getting the response from someone that we want and switch off and just say, oh, well, I'll just move on. And that is such a natural thing that it feels natural. But what you're actually saying is that it may feel natural, but it's actually counterintuitive and useful to our development.
So a hallmark of psychological health and wellbeing, a hallmark is integration rather than segmentation. When we segment. When we say. These people are toxic, they're not allowed, and these people are OK, but soon they might be toxic. If I say something that I don't like, you know, we are involved in segmentation.
When we say things like there's good emotions and bad emotions, we are involved in segmentation, whereas whereas life, the truth of life is one of fragility and beauty interwoven. Yes. And and that is integration. And so if we think about like what is integration mean, integration might mean that I feel a difficult emotion. I feel angry with a spouse. And I know that I love that person. And so I can still reach out and and give the person a hug.
But what's what's happening very often is when we push aside what's difficult, we then develop a story about why we've pushed that aside. And it makes sense in that person's bad for me. And and and we do it and we create the story. But we are shrinking like we are shrinking, we shrinking ourselves, we shrinking our communities. We are shrinking our capacity. We are becoming fragile when we do this. Now, to be clear, that's not to say that every relationship is a relationship that is healthy.
And of course, not to say that, you know, that that that every person and every every way we are with a person requires us just to keep going and going and going. But the difference is that when you have a rule that says something like, oh, that person's toxic or that person's evoking something in me and I don't like and therefore I'm I'm not going there. What we are doing is we're being driven by our emotions and emotional jealousy.
What it's suggesting is that our emotions are data, but they're not directives. And I'd love to come back to this a little bit later. They data, not directives. And so when we are cutting people off or not going, they're out of out of our emotion. When we acting on those emotions, we are reacting. But when we are instead of acting out of emotions, stepping into our values, then we are responding. And so you might if you in the heat of the moment saying I don't want to have anything to do with that person that's reacting to your emotions, that's emotional in agility, emotional agility might be saying, what are these difficult emotions, signposting?
I can be difficult. Emotions are data. So I grief grief is often love looking for a home. Loneliness might be signposting, that you value more intimacy and connection with your spouse and you need more of it. Disappointments might be signposting that you feel unsupported and that you need more support. Stress might be signposting depletion and you need more self care. So what I'm suggesting in my work on emotional agility is not just that we let difficult emotions love with our so-called positive emotions, but actually that difficult emotions are.
Are signposts, they are extraordinarily beautiful because they're signposts, our values, and if we just slow down and we say, what is this emotion telling me about what I care about, then we are able to respond to step into those emotions. So to go back to this example, an emotion that says, oh, this person, you know, is toxic and therefore I'm not going to go there. What that's doing is it's allowing the emotions to call the shots.
When we say what is this disquiet that I feel it might be that they're just quiet signals that there's something deeply values misaligned in the relationship that you have with the person. We're just actually doesn't feel right or the difficult emotion might be signposting that you need to have a difficult conversation and that actually it's not about doing away with the person. It's actually about the conversation. And it's about. So a very important part of this is this idea that our emotions signpost the things that we care about.
And so just to circle back, you might still be in a situation where you say, I choose not to continue investing in this relationship, but there's a difference when the choice is made as a reactive reaction out of your emotions versus a stepping into your values. The one is grounded and skills developing and agile, and that's the stepping into your values. The other, which is the reactive part, is life shrinking and fear based. And it's not wholehearted.
It's not it's not healthy. It's not whole. OK, I've done that, I need to end it, I need to go solve some issue. I've definitely done that. That is that listening to you, I'm like, oh gosh, I you know, I can totally see where where I've made that mistake. And it's it's actually really nice to be able to spot it and and hear it through some, you know, well articulated ideas where I can I can see that as a mirror.
I can laugh at myself for it. Which is which is which is wonderful. We all can.
Yeah. It's like we all done that. We've all done that. Yeah.
Which is which is wonderful. I want to dive into you've mentioned the word a few times and it's a big part of your work fragility. And I want to start off by. My limited understanding, but but also my curiosity with fragility, and I was saying this to my team earlier when we were having this conversation about this question, and I was saying that I had a really interesting childhood where my mother was out and out like loved me and showered me with love.
And my father was much more detached and aloof. And what that allowed me to do is I feel like you gave me at least at least how I see myself, I see myself as someone who's pretty resilient, emotionally agile, can can, you know, can can roll with the punches and and in touch with my emotions at the same time. And I feel like knowing that I was loved, but knowing that I had to figure it out on my own was like a really nice, unique combination.
So I'm grateful to my parents for the different training I got from them in one sense, because I always knew my mom loved me and she'd always be there for me and my dad. He kind of gave me the space to become my own human and become my own man and become my own person, because he never really was there to to coddle me or, you know, to guide me. And so I wonder, similarly with what we were talking about, with the extremes, I see fragility as sometimes I see as parents.
And I'm trying to understand this. I'm not a parent yet, so I'm trying to understand it for my future. Sometimes I see the children today are so coddled and so like almost like insulated and it's almost like they're wrapped with bubble wrap, right leg or bubble wrap all around them.
And I wonder, is that just making them more fragile? Is the overcompensating actually creating fragility? Because now if they've been wrapped in bubble wrap all their life, when they're dropped one day, does that make them fragile? And on the other side, what we've seen before where the completely, you know, almost unbearable thing, where there was no thought of like a child's emotions and understanding them and getting to know them and seeing how they felt, that obviously led to a lot of trauma, which we which we see today in the world where people talk about their parents that way.
So so how do we how do we train ourselves, friends, people in our life, children? How do we train people to be not fragile and and actually have emotional emotional agility and and steadiness? Where where does the where does that star?
So I've given you very long answers for a lot of the questions I'm going to give you, like a very short answer. And then and then I'll do longer. But when you're saying, you know, does Codling make children more fragile, the very short answer is yes. Yes, it does.
What counts is what counts. What counts is codling, because I want to know what counts is codling and what's considered good luck, because that's, you know.
Yeah. As you described, your your childhood, this this very beautiful at this very beautiful, like almost kind of a mental model. And I want to walk you through this and and then I'll circle back to what I think this actually looks like when it comes to the way we parent and the way we connect in our relationships.
So bear with me. All of us have had this experience of going to a restaurant and you see a little child in that restaurant and the the child maybe is 18 months old or two years old, and the child has a huge amount of glee and fun in running away from its parents or caregivers. And it's the most cute thing to watch because what the child does is the child in a restaurant. It kind of runs a few steps and looks behind.
It, makes sure that its parents or caregivers are there and then it runs away even more and then it looks again and runs even more. Now, what is happening there is so beautiful. One of the most beautiful psychologist, John Bowlby, described this idea that children need a secure base, you know, children need a secure base. And it's really fascinating thing that you see in a restaurant where the very essence of knowing that the caregiver is there, that if something's going to go wrong, that the caregiver is going to be able to help.
OK, step in and help. It's that essence that allows the child to explore. So in a completely interesting, paradoxical way, it's knowing that there is a secure base to come back to. That then allows the child to be curious, to take risks, to grow, to extend themselves, etc.. And as you were describing your childhood, it seemed to me that the combination of your parents almost allowed allowed for that in you. Now, what is going on here?
It's it's the knowledge in the child that someone's got their back, OK? That is the essence, then, of allowing the child to be resilient.
And to explore and be curious, let's bring this to ourselves, compassion, and it's something that you talk about in your work, and yet there is still this idea that being compassionate, you know, whether it's in organizations or beyond, is somehow about being weak or lazy or letting yourself off the hook.
But self compassion is as fundamental as that example that I just gave in the restaurant. When you have your own back, when you know that if a relationship doesn't work out or that, you know, you didn't get the job or that something else has gone wrong and you know that you will love yourself, that you will be there for yourself, that you will be kind to yourself in the way you speak and hold yourself when you have your own back.
What it actually does is it allows you to then take risks, be more honest, be more motivated and to explore in the world. And so this idea that self compassion is about being, you know, the myth of it being weak or lazy or being dishonest, in actual fact, it is the opposite. People of self compassionate are more able to be honest and motivated and so on. So now circling back to your question, because now I want to broaden this interrelationship.
What does this look like in relationships? And I'll use the example of a child, but let's we can extend this into a couple or into the workplace. Even so, when a child, for instance, I'll be very practical. You say you've got a child who comes home from school in in non covid times. Right now, my kids aren't in school, but you've got a child that comes or not in normal, normal day schools. So you've got a child that comes home from school and the child is extremely upset and the child says, Mommy, Jacques didn't invite me to his birthday party.
Now, I'm not going to invite him to mind. What you can see is the child is being Richard, OK in a the child is hooked. I'm upset now. I'm going to react in this way. Now, often what we want to do as parents is with very good intentions. We want to jump in. It's heartbreaking for us that the child is being rejected, that the child hasn't been invited. And so what we want to do is we want to step in and we want to say to the child, don't worry.
You know, I'll phone Jack's parents and I'll organize your invitation or well, don't worry, I'm here for you. Let's let's go bake cupcakes.
Now, we do this with really good intention, but what are we doing? We are signaling to the child that there are some emotions that are good. When they're happy, everything's fine. But there are some emotions to be feared. And we should fear sadness. We should fear anger.
We should fear fear and what we are doing when we steal away our child's opportunity to feel the full range of emotions in the way that I am suggesting that as adults we need to feel, then what we are doing is we are not allowing them to develop really important emotional skills.
And these are No. One. Emotions are not to be feared. There is nothing in anxiety or anger that is going to kill you or said there's nothing in that. No to a child that is supported in feeling their different emotions, realizes that emotions pos that emotions are transient and isn't that that is just foundational to mental health and wellbeing. Often when we struggle with our difficult emotions, it's because we feel that the emotion is here to stay, the sadness is here to stay.
So the child learns emotions are not to be feared. The child learns that emotions pass.
The child also learns that things that they do can actually shape how they feel that they don't need someone to come and paper over emotions. But they're developing the skills. And this, you know, Jay, we teach our children mathematics. We teach them science, which but it doesn't matter what they know in the world if they are not able to deal with the fragility of life, of pandemics, of broken relationships, they. Do not have the skills to thrive.
So what is the alternative look like? The alternative looks like firstly, you know, not is this beautiful word, which is so Borna. I started my TED talk with this word Selborne Asselborn It is a Zulu word for hello. You hear it every day on the streets of South Africa, which is where I grew up.
But there is such a beautiful and powerful intention behind the words of Abana because Selborne literally translated means I see you. And by seeing you, I bring you into being the first thing we want to do with people who are experiencing difficult emotions is not to tell them just be positive. When we said to someone, just be positive, we are saying basically, I don't see your humanity because humanity is woven with difficult emotions. So with our children, with our loved ones, we need to be able to show up to them in the same way as I'm inviting us to show up to ourselves with acceptance, with compassion and with a soul borna to see, to see.
So that's showing up. The second part of this is circling back, which is helping the child to label emotions effectively. You don't need to jump in and fix just helping the child to label emotions effectively. We've already explored how that is so important to their well-being. You know, it sounds like you're really angry with Jack because he didn't invite you to the birthday party and that you are sad and that you're disappointed and that you feel rejected and then again, lost our emotions signpost our values.
So the child who says I haven't been invited to this birthday party, what is there? The anger signposting? What is the sadness signposting? It's signposting that the person values friendship.
And so you can have the most beautiful conversation that is literally developing your child's character, their values, their moral compass, where you said to them, it sounds like friendship is important to you. How do you want to be a friend? What has been a good friend look like? How do you want to come to the conversation with Jack tomorrow? So what you're doing is you're not jumping in and cuddling. Instead, you are providing space for immersion.
And in that emotion, there's the seeing, there's the stepping out and there's the data, not directive's the values.
And, you know, I again, use this as an example with children, but the same applies if we leaders, instead of signalling to people that either on the bus, off the bus, we can show up to their difficult emotions. And we can we can try to understand what's going on and we can help them to choose who they want to be in the moment of uncertainty. And we can do the same with our loved ones and with ourselves.
Susan, I have learned so much today from you, I'm honestly so excited to go and put a lot of this into practice because. It's also speed, it's like trying to do things fast and living a speedy over productive life is what stops us from being able to do this, because everything you're saying requires patience and time and stillness and space. It requires that in our lives it's it's so hard to do in a fast paced, hectic environment where it's easier just to say, OK, I can't work with these people going to work, whatever it may be.
And and and it's needed. It's it's really needed. It's showing the need for us to to I don't mean slow down and do nothing. I just mean being present and allowing ourselves to have the space to think in this way.
Well, Jane, firstly, thank you so much for the conversation. I think I think it's so there's power in the pores. There's such power in the pores. And sometimes, you know, sometimes the pause is we know people who spend even 10 minutes writing about what their values are. You know, if you're going into a difficult relationship or a difficult conversation or and you experience like who do you want to be in that?
We know that even spending ten minutes thinking about your values in the situation actually and in studies like can change the course of whether people drop out of university or not, like literally changing the course of people's lives. But, Jane, you invited people earlier to do that example where they say, you know, I am sad versus I'm noticing that I'm feeling sad. And that is such a quick, beautiful call to action. And there's another that is that I'd love to add to that, which is if you imagine a piece of paper and you write down on the one side of the piece of paper what it is that you might have been feeling lately grief, loneliness, anxiety, anger, joy, whatever that is.
Now, our culture would ask you would instruct you to turn over the piece of paper and instead of lonely, to write what you should be grateful for, instead of anxious to write. You know why you should be positive. What I'm going to do is I'm going to invite people to do something different, whether that is physically or emotionally, because this can literally take a second. You've got this word on the piece of paper, on the one side, on the other side, turn the piece of paper over and ask yourself, T.F., what the fuck?
What is the function of the emotion? What is this emotion telling me about what is important to me or what I need to?
Again, lonely intimacy and connection, the grief. It might be love that I've loved and that I need to reconnect with that love for the present. Sadness might again be looking for a way to connect differently. A joy might be signalling that you, you know, thrive when you are doing a particular kind of work and that you need more of that creativity, boredom. If you feeling bored, boredom might be signaling growth. So it's a very different way of being.
And it's when we step into the pause, there is extraordinary power in that. And I believe that that power is what allows us to galvanise the courage, the whisper, not just for ourselves, but for our community and for our culture and for our countries and for our world. That needs more of this right now. I couldn't agree with you more. Susan, everyone who's been listening or watching today, if you want to dive deeper, can grab a copy of Susan's book Emotional Agility, Get Unstuck, Embrace, Change and Thrive in work and Life.
It's right there. We'll put a link in the comments as well. Susan, like I meant, as I said a few moments ago, I've learned so much today and we end every on purpose podcast episode with our final five segments. These questions have to be answered in one word or one sentence maximum. So we'll see how it goes. Susan, this is your final five. The first question is, what is the hardest part about being courageous?
I think the hardest part is in a world that seems to draw us in other directions and compare ourselves constantly. It's about being grounded in what your version of success and effectiveness looks like. Awesome. What is the skill that you missed out on before you learned to be emotionally agile?
Well, firstly, I think I'm still learning to be emotionally agile.
I think for me, I I have very big emotions, and so I think for me it was like often getting hooked into these difficult emotions where, you know, the arguments that I would have with my husband are like, you know, you don't love me, but you know the drama.
And I think I think that for me, it was being able to almost recognize the capacity to helicopter above our emotions and to be able to be wise in the place of our emotions. Amazing. All right.
Question number three, what's something that you know to be true but others may disagree on? Happiness is over, rated as a goal, we get to happiness by pursuing things that are meaningful rather than by pursuing happiness in itself. Awesome. Question number four, what is one thing you wish you knew ten years ago? One thing I wish I knew 10 years ago is how quickly it all goes. You know, how quickly children grow up, how quickly 10 years flies, how quickly it goes.
I turn 50 this year and it just worse just goes.
Happy birthday in advance and congrats is amazing. And fifth and final question. What's the biggest lesson you've learned in the last 12 months?
The biggest lesson that I've learned in the past 12 months is that often the things that you feel are going to be really difficult.
And I'm talking in this context for me. I went from, you know, traveling constantly into being at home, often an invitation to practice your own work and to reset. And I think for me, very much at first there was this idea of, oh, my goodness, you know, all of my speaking, all of the things that are typical in my life feel stripped away.
And I think that I have learned how resilient we are as human beings. If we can step into that. And for me, certainly of a rethread it a sense of the way that I'm with my family, the way that I use my time. And it's actually been, you know, notwithstanding the difficulties, it's it's been an extraordinary gift for me. That's a great answer, Suzanne, I couldn't agree more. Thank you so much. Please let us know where are the best places that people can find you in your work if they'd love to learn more.
Well, thank you for listening and thank you for inviting me here. So a couple of things. First, he does mentioned my book, Emotional Agility. Second, my TED Talk The Gift and Power of Emotional Courage. And then last, if you're looking for, again, something that feels very practical, I've got a quiz that around 150000 people have taken. You can find it at Susan David dot com forward slash learn. And it's a quiz that takes around five minutes but generates a 10 page free report.
And it's on emotional agility and connects with a lot of these ideas.
Amazing. And I hope that we get to meet in person when this is all over. I really look forward to it. And this was so much fun. As I said, I've taken away so much from this and it's truly going to make me approach a lot of situations in my life very differently.
So thank you so much for sharing that insight with me and really grateful for your time. Thank you so much. Thank you. Thanks, Jay.
Hey, guys, this is Jay again, just a few more quick things before you leave. I know we try to focus on the good every day, and I want to make that easier for you. Would you like to get a short email from me every week that gives you an extra dose of positivity? Weekly Wisdom is my newsletter. Write down whatever's on my mind that I think may uplift your week. Basically little bits of goodness that are going to improve your well-being.
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This podcast was produced by Dust Light Productions, our executive producer from Dust lt is Michelle Yousef. Our senior producer is Julianna Bradley. Our associate producer is Jacqueline Castillo. Valentino Rivera is our engineer. Our music is from Blue Dot Sessions and special thanks to Rachel Garcia, the dust like development and operations coordinator.