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Book Club - Emotional Agility

Each month as part of our Intentional Growth Club, we read a book and hold a discussion night to talk about our takeaways from the book.

White cover of Emotional Agility by Susan David.

This month, our book club pick was Emotional Agility by Susan David. The book is about learning to let go of rigid ways to thinking and accept and manage your emotions in a more productive manner.

David is careful to explain that having emotional agility is not about forced positive thinking or trying to control your emotions. Instead, it’s more about accepting your emotions as they come and adjusting your actions accordingly. As our theme for this month states, it’s about “embracing your emotions,” whether they are positive or negative.

There is plenty to learn from this book about managing your emotions, so let’s dive right into our key takeaways.

1) Get Unhooked

In the first couple of chapters, David explains the concept of being “hooked.” This is the word she uses to describe unhelpful ways of thinking that keep us stuck. This happens when we accept our thoughts as fact, even if they are more often an opinion or judgment, or simply not accurate.

These hooks show up in the stories we tell ourselves. For example, you may think, “I’m not good at math.” Maybe you started thinking this when you struggled with algebra in high school, but you’re still telling yourself that story as an adult.

This way of rigid thinking keeps us from being flexible and open to new opportunities and challenges. Continuing the math example, you may tell yourself, “I can’t be the club treasurer because I’m bad at math. I shouldn’t do the household budgeting because I’m bad at math. I could never get my dream job in finance because I’m no good at math.”

The thoughts we have about ourselves and others can soon turn into entrenched ways of thinking that are hard to overcome. Sometimes they can start with a snap judgment that becomes “law” in your mind - “This person is lazy. I hate broccoli. I’ll never find love.”

These quick judgments usually lack context - the person you thought was lazy was actually sick, the broccoli you tried was poorly cooked, getting ghosted on one date doesn’t mean you’ll never find love. But because you got hooked on that initial impression, you struggle to break away from it.

So how do you get unhooked? It’s certainly easier said than done and most of the book is spent detailing ways to start the process. The first step is realizing your rigid way of thinking and accepting those emotions.

“When we show up fully, with awareness and acceptance, even the worst demons usually back down. Simply by facing up to the scary things and giving them a name, we often strip them of their power. We end the tug-of-war by dropping the rope.”

2) Be Intentional

Near the beginning of the book, David discusses an idea from Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning,” about the space between stimulus and response. She says, “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.”

By finding and expanding that space, we can take back control of our responses to emotions. We cannot control our emotions, but we can choose how to respond to them.

This is part of being intentional. It’s all too easy to get sucked into a fixed way of thinking when you’re just going through the motions. Being intentional allows you to be more emotionally agile. When you slow down to realize, “Hey, I’m feeling really angry right now,” you can take a deep breath before you yell at your child and choose a different response that will be better for both of you.

To help you practice becoming more intentional, find your why. When you take the time to determine your values, it will be easier to know what action to take based on those values. Each time you make a decision, you can either get closer to becoming the person you want to be, or take a step farther away.

For example, let’s say you value being healthy and fit. Do you take the stairs or the elevator? When you intentionally focus on your value of being healthy, you choose to take the stairs. When you aren’t intentional, you’ll probably choose to take the elevator because it’s easier and it’s the more “obvious” choice. That doesn’t mean you don’t still value fitness, but you aren’t making choices that align with your values.

It’s not an easy task to live intentionally and for your values. It will take time and practice to turn off the auto-pilot and make decisions to move toward your values. But in the end, you’ll find it much more rewarding.

“When you connect with your real self, and what you believe to be important, the gulf between how you feel and how you behave closes up. You begin to live your life without as many regrets, and without as much second-guessing.”

3) Tiny Tweaks

Becoming emotionally agile can be a lot of work. The good news is, it doesn’t have to be done all at once. In fact, you’re more likely to get better results with “tiny tweaks” than big sweeping changes in your life.

It may feel as though it won’t make a difference if you only make little changes, but little changes add up over time. As David says in the book, “…change is a process, not an event.”

One of the biggest ways to help is to start tweaking your mindset from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. We’ve talked a lot on this blog about mindset, and this only reinforces how crucial it is.

As some of the studies mentioned in the book prove, even a slight shift in the wording of our thoughts can bring about change. David shares that one study of changing the phrasing from asking someone if they were going “to vote” to ask if they were going “to be a voter” in tomorrow’s election increased voter turnout by 10%.

How can you tweak your mindset to start making the changes you want to see in your life?

Emotional Agility is a great book to start practicing your emotional intelligence skills. When you find the areas where you are emotionally “stuck,” you can begin to get unstuck and grow again.

What did you think of the book? Join us on Tuesday, October 25th at 6:30 PM (CST) for our book club discussion. Register here:

If you can’t make it to the discussion, let us know your thoughts in the comments!

Next month’s book will be Let’s Talk: Make Effective Feedback Your Superpower by Therese Huston.

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