Emotional Resilience

Emotional Resilience

Think for a moment what has pushed you off balance recently? The attacks in London and Paris? The lingering effects of the U.S. election? News about the ongoing impact of climate change? Some trouble your child is experiencing? From one perspective, the stories about these things are simple statements of facts but at the same time they had a profound impact on you emotionally. They pushed you not just out of your comfort zone but off balance to the degree you feel it physically. In moments like how do you react? It might be by swearing, catching your breath or sitting down. Those are signs that your rhythm and balance are being challenged. Another and potentially more important question is how do you respond? If you find yourself lingering in confusion or feeling out of sorts it is because you haven’t yet been able to bounce back to your place of balance. That skill is called resilience and the good news is that we can develop it through understanding and practice but if we want to develop it, we need to be clear what it is.

Without a specific definition, we might inadvertently think it is the same as flexibility or agility and while the three have aspects in common, they are distinct. Unlike flexibility, resilience literally means “to bounce back” and has a specific direction. It might be closer to agility but agility means “to be quick or nimble”. It also lacks a direction but if you think about bouncing back there must be a place you are bouncing back to and a reason you are not there to begin with.
As we talk about the three domains that constitute each of us, we can see that resilience can be thought of physically as an aspect of the body, linguistically or emotionally. In the body, the place we are returning is center or balance. We need resilience when we have been pushed off balance by a physical blow or push or it could be our body’s reaction to news or an emotion. Linguistically, resilience allows us to return to a balanced place of thought. We could call it a mental center from which we can consider various possibilities. If we receive news of impending difficulties, it allows us to think of alternatives rather than remaining stuck in our first interpretation.

Emotionally, resilience allows us to move back to the center of emotions which is acceptance. Acceptance means “I acknowledge things are the way they are”. It does not mean I like them, endorse them or want them to be that way but only that I understand the situation as it is. In acceptance, we are free from resentment (the story that “it shouldn’t be this way” or “this isn’t fair”) and from resignation (“nothing I do will make any difference so why try?”). It gives us access to the emotions that move us forward such as ambition, enthusiasm, hope. We tend to confuse acceptance with “knuckling under” or “going along with it” and so don’t pay much attention to it but active acceptance is a powerful emotion and one we will need to become resilient. But like all emotions, we have the opportunity to understand it better, befriend it and employ it as a tool.

Using these ideas, one can view resilience as a skill and something to practice if we want to build it as a competence. We can exercise in ways that increase our ease at balancing physically, we can practice quieting the mind and we can strengthen our emotional resilience through acceptance.

Emotional Agility

Emotional Agility

 

Emotional Agility is becoming something more commonly talked about especially as a quality of leaders. It sounds nice and positive but what exactly is it, where does it come from and how does one develop it?
Emotional agility is “the capability to recognize your current emotional state and fluidly adjust it to produce optimal results”. Already that tells us several things that need to be present in our relationship with emotions. First, we need to be aware of the emotion we are in or that is being triggered by the situation. Second, we need to be able to name it because emotions and thoughts are co-creative. If we feel a tightening in our stomach, recognize it and name it fear, we, at the same time, know that we are thinking that “something that is about to happen may hurt me”. The third step is to accept that this is the emotion we are in. Sometimes we’d prefer to be in another emotion but we aren’t. When we get up to give a presentation we may wish we were feeling calm but in fact we are feeling anxiety. If we deny the anxiety we are fighting against it whereas if we accept that we are experiencing anxiety we can make choices about how to navigate it. We can be emotionally agile and choose an emotion that will serve the moment better. In the case of feeling anxious giving a presentation we could shift to the emotion of service. Anxiety is a concern for myself; service is a concern for others so the shift is putting my attention on the experience I’m creating for the audience rather than the concern that something embarrassing may happen to me. While it is common to talk about ‘managing’ or ‘controlling’ emotions neither seems to be an effective way of dealing with them. Through the idea of navigating emotions, we can develop emotional agility which is the ability to be aware of the emotions we are experiencing and ease at selecting or shifting emotions in the moment.
Another aspect of emotional agility is understanding and having the ability to choose whether reaction or response is more effective for the situation. Every emotion has a reaction or impulse associated with it – in anger to punish, in sadness to mourn – but to some degree we have a choice as to when and how we do that. What may be most effective is to focus on a response rather than the reaction. Resentment means we feel something is unfair and our impulse is “to get even when we can”. If we go with the impulse we may sabotage or undermine the other person but if our real concern is the unfairness we perceive then a powerful response would address the unfairness. Once the story of unfairness changes we will no longer be in resentment and will no longer have the desire “to get even”.
So, emotional agility is a skill we can develop based on our understanding of emotions in general and the specifics of the emotion we are experiencing. Many people struggle even to name their emotions which is the starting point for navigating them. You might think of emotional agility as practical emotional intelligence. When our awareness, knowledge, understanding and comfort with emotions grow into a competence we will find this agility to be quite natural and easy to utilize.

 

If developing emotional agility for yourself is important to you please consider joining one of my upcoming workshops on emotions and coaching. Although geared for coaches I have had leaders not trained as coaches attend and they have found enormous value. The next available workshop in the U.S. is September 17th to 22nd and the next European workshop will be held in Spain October 1st to 6th. Please contact me at dan@dannewby.me for a conversation or more information.

Assessing Emotions

Assessing Emotions

 

Last week I wrote that we have emotions about our emotions. This week is a bit similar but in a different direction. We humans are “assessment machines”. It seems we cannot stop interpreting, developing opinions or creating beliefs about ourselves and the world around us. All of those are assessments and they constitute the story we live. “Story” in this context doesn’t mean it is a fairy tale or disconnected from reality but only that it is both what we understand and what we expect. We are constantly inventing a future to live into and we do that because we need to. Imagine walking out of your house in the morning without a story of how the day would be. If it were possible you would close the door and have absolutely no idea what to do next. The fact that you have a story to live into – that your car will start, that you will have a job in a certain company, that at the end of the month they will pay you, that the money you receive will have value and you’ll be able to pay your bills – means you have an idea about what comes next. It doesn’t always work out that way – your car doesn’t start, you find out you no longer have a job, the company goes bankrupt and doesn’t pay you – but you don’t know that until you live into the story you’ve invented.

 

Assessments are based on past experiences and we create them to predict the future. But they are never true or false. In the world of emotions we have assessments or stories also. This is why we say there are “good” or “bad” emotions. We may believe lust is bad and generosity is good. We have developed those interpretation or assessments based on our past experiences in order to know whether to embrace or avoid that emotion in the future. This can be helpful. An assessment that anger is a bad emotion and should be avoided may save our life. But it may also keep us from ever experiencing anger or investigating if it is sometimes helpful in life. We may avoid it to the extent that we don’t know what it feels like or even think about its value. Often our assessments of emotions come from the feeling or sensation it produces physically. In anger, we may feel out of control, anxiety produces a knot in our stomach and disgust makes us nauseous. But we shouldn’t make the mistake of confusing the feeling with the possible value of understanding the emotion. Anger allows us to correct injustice, anxiety to be prepared for the unknown and disgust to avoid unpleasantness.

 

Our assessments also come from culture or family. We tend to classify good and bad emotions in those that were acceptable or unacceptable in the environment we grew up in. Again, that can be helpful and helps us to remain part of that culture or that family but we may also lose out because we avoided an emotion that ultimately could have been useful.

 

So, the invitation this week is to stop and reflect on our emotions and how we assess them. Which ones do we see as helpful, which harmful, which embarrassing or which are the ones we aspire to because we believe they are the best. If we want to be emotionally literate we need to be able to “read” emotions in ourselves and other, understand their meaning and question the way in which we value them. When we can’t do those things, emotions can never be as useful to us as they were intended to be.

 

If you’d like more practice with emotions and to deepen your understanding of them, please join one of the workshops coming in April. Registrations are now open for the Emotions and Coaching workshops in New Mexico (April 3 to 8) and France (April 19 to 22).

 

In gratitude (which is a good emotion),
Dan

 

 

Emotions About Our Emotions

Emotions About Our Emotions

 

We all know that emotions are not always easy to pin down.  Somehow they seem a little slippery and, darn them, always changing.  It is a big enough challenge sometimes just to name the emotion we are feeling exactly.  To make things even more interesting we not only have emotions but we also have emotions about those emotions.

We may feel embarrassed of our passion or irritated with our anger, we may like that we are in love or hate that we are sad.  While there are maybe 250 or 300 emotions proper having emotions about those means that there are thousands and thousands of possible combinations.  You could say that makes the area of emotions complex or you might say it makes it rich.  Your choice would depend on the emotion it provokes.  For me it is fascinating and reminds me of nesting dolls…one inside another, inside another.

The fact that emotions work this way could just be seen as mildly amusing but it is an essential concept to understand when coaching in the area of emotions.  If a coachee is ashamed of their anger they will do what we do whenever we are ashamed of something, he or she will hide the fact that they are angry or avoid talking about it.  It takes some keen observation of the things their body is communicating – slight hesitations, looking down and away, exhaling deeply – to understand that they are feeling shame and that the shame is about their anger.  And we may not be sure at first what they are hiding but it can make us curious and give us a path to follow.

This phenomenon doesn’t just happen with challenging emotions such as fear, shame and anger but also with those emotions we consider positive.  We can love that we are in love and that has the possibility of leading us astray.  So, problems can emerge from any emotions and getting to the core emotions needs to be the goal of our coaching.

As you sit and reflect on this idea begin to notice your own experience.  Recall an emotion that was triggered yesterday and think about whether you allowed yourself to be with the emotion or did another emotion kick in and take you away from the first?  When we cannot experience the emotion that is triggered by an event we cannot reflect on it, learn from it or resolve it.  Peeling this back allows us to see the emotions we are comfortable with and those we tend to avoid.  So, enjoy your curiosity and celebrate your insights.  You are building awareness and building your emotional literacy.

If you’d like more practice with emotions and to deepen your understanding of them, please join one of the workshops coming in April. Registrations are now open for the Emotions and Coaching workshops in New Mexico (April 3 to 8) and France (April 19 to 22).

Warmly,

Dan

 

Navigating Emotions

Navigating Emotions

 

Looking back over the past 60 years of my life I can see that I have had several distinct relationships with my emotions and various strategies for how to co-exist with them. If it sounds like I am referring to them as something separate from “me” that is because for many years I saw them that way.

There have been periods in my life – adolescence for instance – when I hated emotions. They were confusing and uncomfortable and I couldn’t really see that they had a purpose beside making me miserable. Even being enamored with a certain girl wasn’t simple as it provoked jealousy or longing and brought all kinds of confusion and pain. The only strategy I could think of was to endure them. I couldn’t make them go away, I couldn’t stop them and so I resigned myself to tolerate them.

At other times, I adopted the always popular strategy of trying to control them. I “white knuckled it” or held on tight to the ones I wanted and tried to avoid the ones I didn’t. It was not very successful because no matter how strong my will it seemed my emotions were stronger. There is a familiar story about moral fortitude and ‘being stronger’ than the emotions that lead you into bad places and it is one I believed for some years. The problem was me. I was weak and did not have sufficiently strong values or morals.

Then there was my ‘management’ phase. I couldn’t avoid emotions and I couldn’t control them so I’d find a way to manager them. Managing emotions for me was kind of like “control lite”. I tried hard to avoid or resist them but did my best to outguess them or stay away from the worst of them. The result was that I narrowed the range of my emotions by keeping the highs from getting too high and the lows from getting too low. My emotional palette became dull and emotionally I became less and less expressive.

Finally, as I became more emotionally literate, I found a metaphor that is very useful. I think of it as navigating emotions. It is similar to what happens when you are kayaking or canoeing in a stream. The current (your emotions) are continually moving and carrying you with them. You cannot stop the current or your emotions but you can, to a large degree, determine what path you will take in order to get where you want and ‘avoid the rocks’. I was taught in canoeing that I needed to move only slightly faster than the current to be able to control my direction and anticipating where I wanted to direct the canoe required awareness of what was happening around me. With emotions, I find something similar. I can be aware of them and allow them to carry me but also can choose a change of direction when needed. I don’t control them but I certainly can influence them. Just as I can accept that the current will carry me forward I can accept that I will experience emotions provoked by what is happening around me and that I have some power in choosing how I will respond.

I believe this way of being on friendly terms with our emotions and seeing them as part of what makes life rich can be learned by most people. Recently I had two mentees independently tell me that as they have learned more about emotions this sort of navigation has become available for them. They can be in the moment even with emotionally charged events and at the same time sense the flow and make choices about how they will navigate. It requires the practice of listening to our emotions, trusting that our emotions have a purpose and are trying to tell us something and allowing ourselves to flow with them. I encourage you to try. I have found tremendous freedom with this approach and hope the same will be true for you.

Warmly,
Dan

P.S. If you’d like more practice with emotions and to deepen your understanding of them, please join one of the workshops coming in April. Registrations are now open for the Emotions and Coaching workshops in New Mexico (April 3 to 8) and France (April 19 to 22).