(Estimated reading time 3 minutes)

A disruption is anything that causes us to redefine normal, said the Pastor. Times of upheaval often cause elevated conflict, uncertainty, fear and anxiety. Truth.

I sat there thinking about all the disruption in 2020. I thought about my most recent version of it – a disruptive conversation that left me unsettled by the thought of having to redesign normal. I felt angry. I didn’t want to redesign normal. I like normal the way it is.

As I tried to figure out the way forward, I thought of author and psychiatrist, Victor Frankl and of creating the space between stimulus and response.  I thought of psychologist Susan David whose Emotional Agility work builds on Frankl’s notion of creating a pause so we can choose.

“Emotional agility is about loosening up, calming down, and living with more intention. It’s about choosing how you’ll respond to your emotional warning system. It supports the approach described by Viktor Frankl, the psychiatrist who survived a Nazi death camp and went on to write Man’s Search for Meaning, on leading a more meaningful life, a life in which our human potential can be fulfilled: Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom”.

Susan David, Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life (page 12)

Freedom and growth sounded appealing. I wondered how I could create the kind of space both Frankl and David write about that is free of the disruptive emotional and mental triggers. I found the way in step two of David’s four-step process of building Emotional Agility.

Step one is showing up, which is described as facing into your thoughts, emotions and behaviours willingly with curiosity and kindness.

The second step is creating a non-judgemental space between stimulus and response, the space that allows us to choose. David calls this Stepping Out – becoming an observer in your life. Mindfulness training suggests doing this by lightly labelling thoughts and emotions before letting them go. Andy Puddicombe of Headspace describes the light, non-judgemental labelling, as something like touching a feather to a bubble (rather than using a hammer on a nail). I am so frustrated – feeling. I don’t want to change – thought. I’m exhausted – feeling.

“Detached observation keeps our transient mental experiences from controlling us. The broader view we gain by stepping out means learning to see yourself as the chessboard, filled with possibilities, rather than as any one piece on the board, confined to certain preordained moves.”

Susan David, Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life (page 17)

If step two is all about creating that intentional pause so we can choose the way forward, step three and four are all about determining the kind of action we want to take.

Step three in David’s Emotional Agility process is Walking Your Why. This step is about allowing the calm, uncluttered space (created in step two) to enable a focus on what matters – core values, goals and the ability to take the long view of your current challenges.

Step four is about action. David calls it Moving On. She writes about making small tweaks infused with our values as opposed to trying to make wholesale changes. She reminds us to keep a balance between challenge and competence so that we are neither complacent nor overwhelmed.

I haven’t yet redefined normal after my disruptive conversation, but I did find the pause I needed. I found it by going straight into my emotional tantrum; I found it by allowing myself to kick and scream about not wanting to redefine normal. I found it by engaging my observer, by lightly labelling my soap-bubble thoughts and emotions and watching them pop and fade. In the calm, uncluttered space, I knew I had options. It felt good. It felt lighter. I knew I had found the answer to the question Susan David poses in her book.

“Who’s in charge—the thinker or the thought?” Are we managing our own lives according to our own values and what is important to us, or are we simply being carried along by the tide?”

Susan David, Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life

This Week’s Photos

I’m an amateur photographer. I love the similarities between coaching and photography – slowing down long enough to notice your surroundings, seeing things you didn’t pay attention to before and finding treasures you might otherwise have overlooked.

This week’s photo’s are in honour of not simply being carried along by the tide.

Coaching with me sounds a lot like Susan David’s four-step process to creating Emotional Agility. If you’d like to learn more about coaching you can connect here.

Sue Das, CPCC, ACC, B Soc Sc (SW)


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