Emotional Agility: Overpower Stress in 4 Simple Steps

Emotions play a big role in stress management. The skill of Emotional Agility is about knowing yourself and developing a greater level of control over your feelings and reactions.

With greater Emotional Agility, you can maximise your confidence. You can turn negative emotions into positive thoughts, and respond resourcefully in a way that you may not even know that you’re capable of right now.

Emotional Agility is one of the most valuable business skills you can possess, and you are capable of improving this skill quite quickly. It just takes a bit of practice.

Watch this extract from a recent Great Managers MasterClass to find out how you can improve this skill in 4 simple steps and overpower stress.

4 Simple Steps to Overpower Stress with Emotional Agility

emotional agility

I’m drawing from the work of a couple of experts: Susan David and Christina Congleton.

In their Harvard Business Review article called “Emotional Agility: How Leaders Manage Their Negative Thoughts and Feelings”, they describe 4 steps for building Emotional Agility.

They say that people don’t stumble because they have undesirable thoughts – because we all have them.

That’s inevitable.

They stumble because they get hooked by their thoughts like a fish caught on a line, and they buy into their thoughts, treating them like facts. Over time, then, they are turning these thoughts into beliefs, and then they get really stuck with them.

1. Recognise your Patterns emotional agility

It’s very important to notice when you’ve been hooked by your thoughts and feelings. This can be a little bit hard to do initially, but there are certain tell-tale signs that you are hooked.

One of them is that your thinking becomes a bit repetitive and rigid. Another sign is that you feel like you are telling the same story over and over – a bit like that movie Groundhog Day. You have to be aware of the patterns that you are stuck in before you can make a change. Self-Awareness is really important.

 2. Label your Thoughts and Emotions

Labelling allows you to see your thoughts and feelings for what they are:

Transient sources of data that may or may not prove to be helpful.

We are all capable of taking this detached view of our experiences. This is what we call Mindfulness.

It’s about bringing your awareness to your present moment and ask, “What am I feeling?” then label it.

Then you ask, “What am I thinking?”

This not only improves behaviour and well-being, but it also promotes beneficial biological changes in the brain at the cellular level.

3. Accept Them

The opposite of Controlling is Accepting.

You don’t have to act on every thought or feeling or resign yourself to negativity. Remember our thoughts and emotions are not facts – they are data.

But you can respond to your experience with curiosity and openness.

You can notice feeling angry or upset, and you can accept that: “I’m feeling upset right now.”

Then you can be curious about how that feeling came about and how else you could think about the situation.

Emotions are a signal that something important is at stake and that productive and skilfull action is needed.

4. Act on your Values

When you unhook yourself from difficult thoughts and emotions, you expand your choices.

You can activate your free will and decide to act in a way that aligns with your values.

You are making a choice about your response and reality-checking whether it will serve you or sabotage you in the long term as well as the short term.

Asking: “Are you being the person you want to be? The leader you want to be?”

The mind’s thought stream just flows endlessly, and emotions change like the weather, but your values are consistent and can be called upon at any time and in any situation.emotional agility


What are your top one or two values? What’s really important to you?

If you are in alignment with your most important one or two values, what behaviours would you be demonstrating when you are stressed or under pressure?

Here is another way of thinking about that:

Imagine a colleague or perhaps even a client was describing how you managed a challenging situation.

Let’s do a third-person perspective on this. How would you like to be described or known by other people?

How would you like people to experience you when you are stressed or challenged?

Hopefully, you can think of a value that comes to the surface because these are very important.

Here is an example:

A few weeks ago, I was running a workshop at a client’s premises, and my normal contact person wasn’t in that day.

I needed to be let into the training room, and I asked at the front desk.

I knew a couple of people and suggested a few names of who could let me in but it was a bit of a problem.

It took some time and eventually someone arrived (who I had met once in the past) but obviously, this person was not very happy about being asked.

They were probably busy and didn’t want their work interrupted, and they weren’t happy about this request to assist me.emotional agility

It was only a five-minute task, but the person did not even greet me. She opened the door for me but was incredibly abrupt.

I was thinking about this and thought to myself, “Wow. That was a choice there.”

We all have a choice as long as we have Self-Awareness. In that situation, there could have been a choice to be respectful.

This person chose a different value. It was an interesting experience for me because it likely took more of a toll on her than it took on me.

It was interesting to think about behaviours – this flustering huff and puff and rudeness was a choice.

Either way, your choice has the most impact on you.

Remember that.

I wasn’t in a stress response. She was in a stress response.

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