Feeling Stuck? 7 Tips For Living A Meaningful Life From Susan David’s ‘Emotional Agility’
We’ve all been there: maybe you’re feeling stuck in work or a relationship, or you’ve found yourself trapped in an unhealthy cycle of jealousy and frustration, or perhaps things just seem a little blah lately and you’re looking for some tips on living a more meaningful life. You’re definitely not alone there, amiga. And luckily for us, psychologist and researcher Susan David explains exactly how to do that in her latest book Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life , out September 6. Growing up in apartheid South Africa — at a time when, David writes, women were statistically more likely to be raped than learn how to read — as well as having to navigate the death of her father at a young age, she learned a thing or two about what she calls “emotional agility” — the ability to use your feelings as cues for how to live your best life. And she's written it all down, just for you.
Based on both David’s personal experiences, her own studies, and the time-tested research of others, Emotional Agility is filled with advice on how to live in the moment, cultivate a healthy awareness of your emotions, learn to identify what those emotions are telling you, respond to your feelings in ways that will serve you, and recognize your inherent values and goals — not only in your personal life, but also in relationships, in the workplace, and as a parent. Sound difficult? Turns out, it isn’t as hard as you might think. Here are 7 tips on getting unstuck and living a meaningful life, from Susan David’s Emotional Agility . Get ready for a total transformation.
1. Name your feelings — accurately.
This might seem obvious, but for a lot of people accurately naming your feelings can be a little bit of a challenge; especially since, according to David, sometimes we humans use a more socially-acceptable emotion (like say, anger) to mask what we’re really feeling (aka, heartbreak.) But just like your parents encouraged you to give that monster in your closet a silly name — this wasn’t just me, right? — naming your feelings makes them a lot less scary too. Plus, once you know exactly what you’re feeling, it’s much easier to address the root causes of that emotion, so you can feel better. Nobody ever got over a heartbreak by only addressing their anger, amirite?
2. Work with your emotions, not against them.
While it might seem like your feelings of jealousy, or sadness, or fear (and just about any other emotion you can think of) are pesky little hindrances that are only going to ruin your day, they’re not. As David explains in Emotional Agility, human emotions have actually been essential to helping the species survive over millions of years of evolution — so it’s best to listen to what they’re trying to tell you. Instead of shutting down emotionally the next time you experience the twinge of a feeling you don’t like, try tuning into that twinge instead. The emotions that you find uncomfortable, like anger, resentment, or grief, are trying to tell you something important about your life. Maybe you really do want to be considered for that promotion at work, or don’t want to be dating that guy who keeps asking you out, or aren’t sure moving to that city 2,000 miles from home is the right thing for you just yet. Instead of suppressing what you’re feeling, let yourself feel it — and then decide what information that feeling is offering you, and how that information can guide you towards your best life.
3. Identify and develop goals that are in line with your values.
Knowing your values, and identifying goals based on those values, will help keep you from getting trapped in that all-too-common time-suck of comparing your life to that of everyone else in your artfully-filtered social media feed. This is all about identifying the “why” of whatever it is you're doing, and letting that be the motivation that informs your decisions and actions. When you’re making choices based on the things that you value — rather than, say, a desire to have a sexier Instagram feed than your old college roommate — you’re much more likely to derive long-term, sustainable meaning from your life (instead of the temporary high that comes from having 3.5K “likes.”)
Now the only question you have to ask is: what the heck are my values, and how can I set goals that my values support? David encourages her readers to be realistic about goal-setting — as my mother always says: Rome wasn’t built in a day. In Emotional Agility, David recommends identifying a few small changes that you can integrate into already-formed habits, and then working your way towards your goals one small change at a time. Sounds infinitely more do-able now, yes?
4. “Live at the edge of your ability.”
The trick to what David describes as “living at the edge of your ability” is learning how to become comfortable with discomfort. My yogi brothers and sisters will recognize this idea from Yin class — where you’re encouraged to breathe through challenging stretches, allowing your temporary discomfort to move you towards future growth. But this isn’t only true for nailing your Utthan Pristhasana. Living at the edge of your comfort zone can encourage growth in all areas of life — the workplace, your relationships, your creative goals and aspirations. As David writes: “choose courage over comfort.” I think I just found my new favorite mantra.
5. Be present for your life.
Being present for your life involves a whole lot more than merely stopping to smell the roses every once in a while, (although smelling a rose probably can’t hurt.) Being present in a way that is emotionally agile includes noticing and acknowledging all your thoughts and feelings — yup, even the ones you don’t like — and then only holding onto the ones that will serve you. “Live with your full self,” David writes, “even the parts of yourself you’d like to change.” She also advises that in order to be present, avoid ascribing meaning to feelings, values, or goals — rather than preoccupying yourself with whether or not something is “good” or “bad” (which are often socially subjective determinations) instead explore how a feeling, value, or goal relates directly to your life.
6. Be willing to adapt.
The key here is to avoid repeatedly telling yourself the stories you once believed were true (“I’m the bad student;” “I’m exactly like my father;” “I’ll never have/do/finish/deserve XYZ;” etc.) Those false or no-longer-true narratives will only trap you in an identity that is neither based in fact, nor serving you. According to David, you have to recognize and adapt to the context of your life as it exists now, and then be willing to adjust and evolve as your life continues to change — i.e. become more emotionally agile.
7. “Remember to dance if you can.”
I think this one pretty much speaks for itself, don’t you?