Developing Emotional Agility with Susan David

The way we navigate our inner thoughts in our everyday lives is the most important factor of our life success. Susan David is an award-winning psychologist and author of Emotional Agility. In this episode, Susan touches on the powerful process found within her book, which ultimately leads us to accept the existence of our circumstances and allows us to adapt and thrive in life regardless of who we are or whatever we face.

Susan David’s #1 Wall Street Journal Bestseller – Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life.

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TedX – The gift and power of emotional courage | Susan David


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Another just very quick strategy is that often people will say things like you know I say it.

I am being undermined in this meeting so I'm going to shut down. I am stressed. And when I say I am what makes it sound is as if you are the emotion.

You know I am sad all of me. 100 percent of me is sad. And you can see that in this context and there's no space between you and the emotion because you've made all of you the emotion.

So a very practical way that I teach my clients and I use in organizations is just name for emotion feeling for what it is. It's a thought and it's an emotion or it's a feeling it's not a directive to action you know who's in charge here that's been caught with a thought.

So instead of saying I am sad I'm noticing the feeling that I'm sad instead of I am stressed.

I'm noticing the feeling that I'm stressed. It's so subtle that what you're doing by prefixing I am noticing the feeling I'm noticing the thought you're naming them for what they are is you creating critical space between you and that emotional experience.

I'm sure any route and this is the unmistakable creative part where you get a window into the stories and insights of the most innovative and creative minds started movements built thriving businesses written bestselling books and creative and seem interesting. For more check out our 500 Everstone archive unmistakable creative Dakang.

Susan welcome to the unmistakable creative thanks so much for taking the time to join us.

Hi thanks for having me here.

It is my pleasure to have you here so I came across your work by both your way of your TED talk as well as your book Emotional agility all of which we all get into but I want to start by asking you where in the world did you grow up and what impact did that end up having on the choices that you've made with your life and your career.

Well where in the world I grew up I grew up in South Africa so I grew up as a white person living in the white communities of apartheid South Africa. And that experience absolutely impacted on my career and my life in general. So from a very early age I recognised that I was essentially growing up in a country that legislated discrimination and hate and also that legislated denial you know the denial of the reality of people's experience and they paid. And then when I was around 16 years old my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer. And what I'd been experiencing out in the world very much came into stark relief with the experience of dealing with a loss that was profound. You know the loss of a parent and what I really noticed is that so often in our society in our community there is a denial of often the most essential part of us. A friend of mine who was recently diagnosed with terminal cancer said to me you know everyone keeps telling me to be positive to be positive and she said what that does is it stops me from being authentic in my experience in being able to have real conversations and it really cuts off its servers and the ability to traverse what is painful in a way that feels authentic and so so much more work has focused on a single question which is what does it take internally in the way we deal with our thoughts and emotions and our stories that help us to thrive in an increasingly complex and fraught world and that we have these narratives in society you know just be positive. Good vibes only. It'll be okay and I'm really curious about how those ideas might actually either facilitate or undermine our resilience and our wellbeing. So that's the focus of my work and really influenced in many ways by my background as well as my childhood.

So you grew up in apartheid South Africa. You're the second person that I've interviewed 20 billion. So it was a dear friend who grew up there as well. And it's interesting because he grew up there as a minority. You grew up there as a white person. I wonder when you look at America today. I feel like I've heard Trevor Noah talk about this as well as somebody who grew up in an apartheid South Africa. Do you feel like you're watching history repeat itself. And do you have anything that really concerns you about sort of the racial divide we've been seeing over the last several years.

You know one of the things that I speak about in my TED talk is this idea that you know fundamentally when you live in a society in which rules or systemically the narrative in society discriminates or add delegitimizes some people versus others.

There's often this experience that really this is about denial it's denial of humanity it's denial of common humanity its denial of the ability to access compassion.

And you know what's really fascinating about that experience is that that kind of denial is unsustainable it's unsustainable for us as individuals for our communities for our world.

And as we watch the ice caps melt for you know the planet. And I think that there is a and this this there's this kind of really. Interesting and sad phenomenon for us as human beings which even when you are supposedly the kind of group in power that that when you dehumanize the other you simultaneously dehumanize yourself because if you want to extend equity and if you can't extend compassion then what happens simultaneously is that you dehumanize and you take away your legitimate needful compassion and humanity.

And really what I what I do see what I do feel is yes history repeating and also just a sense of enormous sadness at the pain that I think is so real for so many people.

You lost a parent at a really really early age. I can't even fathom going through something like that just the thought of losing my parents makes me really really sad. And I spent a lot of time with them now more than I ever have before I go and see them every weekend because they're an hour away and then I think with age I've become much more aware of the fact that wait a minute this isn't going to be an option forever and I should really embrace it. What I wonder is how your making meaning of that experience has changed with age when you looked at it when you were 15 versus now. When I

Was 15 when my dad died and I remember very clearly my mother coming in basically telling me to go and say goodbye to my father. And I walked into his room and I remember that experience of knowing that it was the last time that I would see him. And you know we live in a society that really values this idea that I'm okay you know that that you will be okay just be positive in organizations. We see how it's just getting on with things just getting on with everything almost regardless of what our experiences. And I certainly as a 15 year old said that people would ask me how I was doing and I would say I'm okay. And you know I continued trying to put on a very brave face to the world.

And I think what has happened both as a function of age and experience and a function of my work is that way of being is unsustainable in organizations.

We very often push emotion aside will say things to people like you on the bus of the bus you either with us or against us you're either going to support the change or you're not going to support the change and offer what we try to do as we try to push aside difficult emotions. And yet the only way through difficult emotions is through it.

It's not about pushing them aside and it's not about pretending it's actually about being able to integrate what has happened in your life with who you are now as opposed to have a separate story. And I think for me what's happened over time is I have been able to really get up close with the pain of loss but I think also what's come with that is a very very strong sense of resilience in myself and a feeling that in some way and I remember my mother when my dad was dying my mother saying to me one day you'll look back at this experience and you will realize in some way that you are lucky. And I remember being so angry with her. What day you tell me that I'm lucky that my father is dying and she said to me I don't mean it in that way. But when you've gone through a difficult experience. Often what it does is it allows you to extend your empathy it allows you to understand what others are going through. It allows you to strengthen parts of yourself. And I recognize years later that she was true.

She was right. So how that changed. I think it changed in my experience. So I you know the time passing definitely changed the experience but I think there's also the recognition that we as a society do not deal well with grief stress anxiety we tend to Trapper's these emotions aside and often and pushing them aside we actually make ourselves weaker.

There's enormous strength in being able to show up to our difficult emotional experiences and to try to understand them and try try to understand the value that sits beneath them not to a no washing way but in a way that is Schou and and authentic.

Do you think the emotional resilience is only something that can be cultivated by having gone through a difficult experience because it seems to me that if you don't have something that forces resilience on you would be hard to develop.

Well they many people who go through difficult experiences and not everyone comes out of those difficult experiences more resilient. So we definitely can look at the psychological research and start saying you know what are the things that allow people to leave experiences more resilient versus less resilient. And then we can say you know what if you've never gone through a difficult experience before. Is it possible for you to be resilient. And again we find the same the commonality of factors the same essence in terms of how people with themselves and with their emotions and those those whole components become predictors of resilience. So in short answer to the question I think that difficult experience has definitely test our resilience. But I also believe when we look at the psychological research that they are ways of being that prepare us for difficult experiences and ways of being that allow us to get through difficult experiences that actually end up being the foundational aspects of resilience and you know those we can explore. But I don't think that going through a difficult experience is a necessity for resilience.

We'll talk about the foundational aspects of what leads to resilience. But I want to go into something that you talked about in the book and I am really pleased that you brought up this whole sort of be happy that self-help narrative. I mean you know I write some of this stuff I produce a lot of these conversations on the unmistakable creative where people talk about this about positivity we've had everybody from happiness researchers to performance psychologists. And there were a couple of lines in the book that really stood out to me. You said striving to be perfectly happy you will only set you up for frustration and failure and then you also said a growing body of research shows that images emotional rigidity getting hooked by thoughts and behaviors that don't serve as is associated with a range of psychological ills including depression and anxiety. Meanwhile emotional agility being flexible with your thoughts and feelings so that you can respond optimally to everyday situations is the key to well-being and success and I guess what I wonder is how do you not get hooked by thoughts feelings and behaviors that don't serve you when you're going through something difficult. Because I think that that's what happens to so many of us.

We go into this rumination of things yes physically do everything live in a society that tells us to be happy you know that being happy is our right.

And what the research is showing me is that when people become overly focused on being happy you know when you start seeing this idea of just be positive this is going to be the best Thanksgiving ever. It's going to be the happiest experience that I've ever had. And we stopped chasing goals around happiness.

What's super interesting is you find that those people become more and more unhappy over time. So there's almost this idea that expectations around happiness stops us from actually cultivating levels of authentic happiness. So I think that's the first way in which we can become rigid. But of course there are other ways and you allude to this in your in the quotation that you describe from the book which is that very often when we go through difficult experiences and it could be a difficult experience that is like you know a death or it could be a job loss or it could be a difficult experience that's even in a day to day life. You know I'm stressed or I'm really struggling to get this business up and going and so often what we do is we have thoughts I thought might be and I'm not good enough or I'm a fraud. Or it might be an emotion something knock I'm stressed I'm anxious I'm sad. Or it might even be a story a story. Sometimes our stories were written on the mental chalkboards in Grade 3 about who we are whether we are good enough what kind of relationships we deserve whether it be creative whether we not creative good at bad not good at math.

And so often what we do is we have these thoughts emotions stories and there's actually nothing wrong with having them you know if you look at the research we know that on average every single human being has around 16000 unspoken thoughts every single day. You know there's nothing wrong with a thought in of itself. But what starts to happen is we become cooked or emotionally rigid hooked is the language that I use in my book where we start giving these thoughts emotions stories more space in our lives than they should have. So an example might be you said yourself. You know I'm worried that I'm not going to get that job. So I'm just not going to put in my resume or I am concerned that this business that I want to start is not going to be successful so I'm just not even going to give it a go. Now what you start doing there is you starting to treat these thoughts emotions stories as fact rather than data.

So an example might be you know last week I was giving a presentation to a group of 4000 individuals and it happened that that particular day was my birthday. And I remember leaving the house and saying to my son that I was going away for the day and my son saying to me you know this is your second birthday that you've been away. And so I then stopped having the thought which is I'm a bad mom and I start having this emotion which is I feel guilty.

Now that's actually a really healthy thought and emotion is nothing wrong with that. You know Charles Darwin described these ideas that these emotions are. Taught to us as human beings helping us to better understand ourselves helping us to better understand what's important and to shape our lives accordingly. So there's nothing wrong with that old toy motion what becomes rigid is when you start treating the thought or emotion as fact. I had the thought that I'm a bad mom. They fry am a bad mom. You stop beating yourself up. You start treating yourself badly. You start lacking compassion in yourself. So really the whole idea behind emotional rigidity is that to use this wonderful Victor Frankl language he speaks about this idea that between stimulus and response there is a space and in that space is our power to choose. And it's in that choice that lies of growth and freedom. When you're hooked and emotionally rigid there is no space between stimulus and response. I had the thought that I'm a bad mom therefore I am a bad mom. I'm being undermined in this meeting some are going to shut down my papa starting in on the finances so I'm going to leave the room. What are we not bringing into the world at that point it is other parts of ourselves our values who we want to be. What is important to us. We are allowing our thoughts and emotions to call the shots so Reverend that your mother.

I wonder having been exposed to this body of knowledge and having had your work sent around this research what impact it had on the kind of parent your being and what would you tell parents who are listening.

Well it's had a huge impact on the kind of parent that I am.

None of us is a perfect parent and I think that the first thing that my work teaches me is that compassion is really important. Self compassion is really important. The recognition that all of us are doing the best we can with who we are with what we've got and with the resources that we've been given in life.

And so you know often when I'm upset of feeling up got a lot on that I'm struggling through it.

And especially when it comes to parenting. I think being able to extend compassion to ourselves is really important and also being able to extend compassion to our children is really important. There's a myth that compassion is about being weak Naisi or letting yourself or others off the hook but actually when we are compassionate we create a safe space in which we can experiment and fail in which we can try and we may not succeed but it allows that gives the permission to try. And this applies of course not just to parenting but it also applies to the workplace. We often move into the workplace with such a strong sense of expectation of others. This is tightness and this and focus on task and often what we forget is that we and others are doing the best we can and that if we can let go of the tightness and be compassionate and it doesn't mean we let go of expectation but that's a very powerful case for one of us.

So it's impacted on my parenting in that way. And another very practical way that this research has impact on my parenting is that we do grow up in a society that tells us that positive emotions are all that count and. Or not all that camp. But the most important and that often what we do inadvertently is when our children come home and they are upset about something or no one would play with me today or they worried often with very good intentions as parents we try to make things ok so don't worry I'll play with you. Also the main goals parents not organize a play date and what we are inadvertently signaling toward children is that some emotions are good. In other words happiness is good and some emotions are bad. We need to get rid of those difficult emotions. And really what the research shows but what that teaches our children is that emotions are good or bad. Some emotions to be fit. And it doesn't actually allow our children to develop the skills that are necessary in dealing with the world as it is in which pain and heartache are built into our contract with the world.

And so one thing that I just can't think of in terms of my own parenting is when my child is upset about something is showing up to that upset. There's this beautiful phrase in South Africa Savu Boehner and so on and literally translated means I see you. And by seeing you I bring you into being and what I really try to do with my children imperfectly but I try to do is when they're feeling upset or sad about something is not to push them away or to jolly it along and say you know everything's fine. But to really try to kind of show up to how it is that they're feeling in that moment.

So earlier you mentioned this capacity that we all have to pause between stimulus and response which I've heard from other people and I think that every one of us understands that logically. Yet I think in practice it becomes harder especially when somebody does something that makes as bad or something that upsets us. What in your research have you found is the key to develop that capacity to pause between stimulus and response.

Well the first thing is a lot of times people will say Oh it's very difficult to pause because this thing has caught me off guard. But actually when you dig a little bit deeper what comes out is that a lot of the times that we struggle to pause between stimulus and response all of our pets and ways of being in the world. So we might find that there is a particular individual at work who always evokes a particular reaction in us or they might be a situation way. It's specifically where our competence is being questioned. That leads us to a particular level of defensiveness. Or we may be very patterned and autopilot and coming home from work and bringing our cell to the table. And again there's no space between stimulus and response because you know we just doing things in a way that is autopilot as opposed to where the traffic saw that is so I think this idea that you know that our emotions catch us off guard is is actually yes true on the face of it.

But often we think a little bit deeper about the things that trip us up time and time and time again. It is patent and therefore it is predictable. But that coupled with other things that I think are critical in terms of being able to create space between stimulus and response.

The first is to do away with the idea that there are good emotions and bad emotions that I'm allowed to be happy and I'm allowed to just get on with it. But I'm not allowed to be anxious and I'm not allowed to be sad and I'm not allowed to be angry and I'm not allowed to be stressed. And because when you treat some emotions is good and some emotions is bad. What's this means is that you are cutting yourself off from a whole warning signal that we have as human beings. You know I'm connected with my sadness what of a stock recognizing is that my sadness is increasing in relation to particular situation and some kind of tracking my sadness. And it's not taking me by surprise because I'm more authentically connected with the reality of my human experience. So it really kind of doing away with this idea that the good emotions and bad emotions is a fundamental building block to being able to create pause between stimulus and response.

And another just very quick strategy is that often people will say things like you know I am say.

I am being undermined in this meeting so I'm going to shut down. I am stressed and when I say I am. What makes that sound is as if you are the emotion.

You know I am sad all of me. One hundred percent of me is sad and you can see that in this context and there's no space between you and the emotion because you've made all of you the emotion.

So a very practical way that I teach my clients and I use in organizations is just name the thought emotion feeling for what it is. It's a thought and it's an emotion or it's a feeling. It's not a directive to action. You know who's in charge here. Think with a thought.

So instead of saying I am sad I'm noticing the feeling that I'm sad instead of I am stressed I'm noticing the feeling that I'm stressed.

It's so subtle that what you doing that prefixing I am noticing the feeling I'm not seeing the thought you're naming them for what they are is you creating critical space between you and that emotional experience. While

You might ask you one other question on pattern responses and I'll give you an example from my own life because I really wonder how to change a pattern responses. I have a pattern response on it. I've noticed this throughout my life. If I enter a stressful situation whether that be something related to my finances I find out the money is not going to come in. That's not going to come in whether that be really a relationship or somebody breaks up with me or something else. I have had this tendency to say OK I'm going to go smoke a cigarette. And I'm an avid surfer and avid snowboarder. I lead a fairly healthy lifestyle yet I've seen that pattern response over and over throughout my life. I wonder how do you break something like that.

So it sounds like what you've done is you've you've kind of developed a set do you actually go and spike the cigarette.

Well what's funny is that you would never find me smoking a cigarette in any other situation. I lead a very healthy lifestyle I go across but but when that happens or I'm I'm stressed then I will go and buy like a cigar or something but that you know I think what I'm trying to do is numb whatever it is that I'm feeling.

So yeah I mean I think that they are two aspects to this. The first is that often when we go through difficult experiences we can and we see this across human beings. We can start engaging in short term emotional avoidance strategies. So alcohol is one of them. Excessive sleep is another. Drinking smoking. These are examples. And these nights samples of emotion regulation is strategies that are less effective and less healthy. Now of course the opposite side people can use emotion regulation strategies that are more effective and more healthy so going for a run listening to music and connecting with others for social support. These are also just short term emotional regulation strategies but they're more healthy emotion regulation strategies. So I think you know they are helpful ways to think about this. The first is that you know what you're doing here is you are engaging in a as you recognize short term unhealthy emotion regulation strategy and what kind of science of habit change would say to you it is that the way to break that habit because it's become a habit that's evoked by a particularly emotional response is to switch is to consciously switch it out. So you know you know that the next time you're in this kind of stressful situation that you may automatically want to do the great and what the research on habit change tells us is that a lot of times when people are trying to change habits what they do is they think about positive visualization.

So they might say you know I'm trying to get fit and healthy I'm going to imagine myself crossing the finishing line and you know I'm trying to be healthy.

I'm going to imagine myself all and and you know toned and buffed and a lot of the signs of change tells us that while people often do these imaginings of things going Bright. One of the most effective ways to change habits is thinking about the obstacles. So the obstacle is you might be trying to be fit and healthy but when you are stressed you automatically draw on this particular thing which is the cigarette and that imagining obstacles and actually understanding obstacles and making conscious choices about how you might replace that cigarette with something else in a very systematic thought out and intentional way is is often the way to start learning that habit. So you know for instance we know this when people have good eating disorders and they you know a typical example of this is in cases of balmier when someone is tempted to binge and purge for instance we know from the psychological research actually what we want to do is in that trigger they need to find an alternative action so it might be that they go for a walk. It might be that they take a bath but they are specifically choosing something that they use to replace the one with the other. The longer term to this is is less about the cigarette you know the longer term to this is also about being able to recognise that when you're feeling stressed.

Block What is it that's actually going on for you when you feeling sad. What is it that's going on for you. What are some of the values that the loss of the relationship might be connecting with King your way from that's important to you. And so it really kind of coming face to face with those things is what helps the situations in the longer term. So we've got the short term emotion regulation strategy but then we've got the longer term stuff that's the real work around any aspect of human change.

So speaking of ADF whatever you chose this quote in particular I think is very very resonant with me right now particularly legis wrote a piece where I'm going actually had this quote to it. I just realized I needed to say one of the greatest paradoxes of human experience is that we can't change ourselves or our circumstances until we accept what exists right now. This means giving permission for the world to be as it is because it's only when we stop trying to control the universe that we make peace with it. And yet. That flies in the face of all of our cultural narratives around striving and hustling and grinding and 60 hour work weeks. How do you balance that paradox with actually doing the things that are necessary to accomplish your goals.

So acceptance is not passive resignation it's not acceptance is not passive resignation it's not saying oh my goodness this is just the world as it is there's nothing I can do.

Acceptance is the recognition that this is the world as it is and I'll I'll give you an example of this when my father died a huge part of me did not want to accept it. And so when you start entering into a space of lack of acceptance what you do is you struggle with your emotions. You struggle with the grief. Why am I feeling so sad. Like I shouldn't be grieving. People are telling me that everything's gonna be ok. There's there's so much of the way we live in the world that really banishes these difficult emotions and difficult experiences. And so what we learned a being is we learned being human beings feeling that we can fix everything. You know we don't lack the walls in our house we can paint them with our knockout car we can buy new cars. We don't like herself. We can buy new Cellcom and we start thinking that when we have difficult thoughts emotions we can just fix them. Banished them do away with and replaced them with positive and everything will be OK. But actually paradoxically what we know from the psychological research is that. Acceptance of our most difficult emotions is the cornerstone to resilience to thriving and to real change.

So you know an example of this is someone who is seeking a relationship. And this this sometimes this hustling that can go on. You use that word earlier. That that is kind of doing a lot of activity in the world. But there's a real power in actually showing up to the loneliness of the experience like showing up to how a learned one might feel and and why that loneliness is difficult. And so it's not a passive resignation it's about kind of being able to name your experience show up to it understand that that loneliness is a signal that intimacy and belonging are really important that the values that are powerful beneath us. And. When we are able to show up to the reality of our experience and we label that experience accurately and we understand the values that they experience pointed. That is what helps us to move forward. And I'll give you just a very simple example of what this can look like. You know I often in my work will hear people say things like you know I'm unhappy at my job. But at least I've got a job. And so what they don't is they're constantly pushing aside those emotional signals and five years later the person still saying I'm unhappy in my job.

But at least I've got a job. But now five years have passed and they have completely lost their time that they could have been shaping themselves more effectively shaping their careers and their skills and so on and so the pressure of acceptance is really the power of being able to show up to the reality of my experience. I am in a job in which I feel stuck. I'm in a job in which there's limited growth and limited opportunity. This is my reality. When we are able to accept when we are able to say what is the fear that's underneath that. What is the motion. That's. In that experience. And when we are able to start saying what are the values that are not being served in my current job at mapi values of growth security or collaboration. For instance we start getting a bigger picture about how we need to move forward in order to make the change. So really this idea of acceptance is not passive resignation. It's about showing up courageously to a job an experience a relationship or a situation and say this is luck.

The thing is when you can get your arms around what the thing is you can start moving forward productively.

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So I had an experience recently that I think was really indicative of exactly what you're talking about. I had a new book Come out in August and I was really stressed about the fact that it wasn't selling as many copies as I wanted it to. I was going slower and I remember this moment. This was a few days ago where I thought to myself OK that's it I'm going to surrender.

I've got to make my peace with the fact that this isn't going to become a New York Times best seller that we're not going to sell 10000 copies in a week. And I should be ok with it. And I saw that we had moved 40 to 50 copies over the course of the previous week and my in that moment of surrender suddenly I had this moment of clarity where I said OK what can we do instead of trying to reach this exorbitant goal of tens of thousands of copies.

What else could we be doing to continue that 40 to 50 copies a week and a half hour from editor that we had crossed the 1000 copy threshold. And I realized that if I had been so rigid about that expectation of bestseller 10000 copies I would have completely overlooked how much I had to appreciate getting to that thousand Cauvery threshold which apparently most books don't even hit.

I think that's a really really powerful example. And what it also speaks to is that when you are stressed in that way you know we spoke clearly about being cooked being driven by your thoughts emotions and stories. There's no space you know what you can start seeing and that expense. I'm straight this is terrible this is awful this is a failure. There's this you know. And so that can drive this whole narrative. Whereas if you are able to say

I'm really disappointed because I put so much effort into this thing and it hasn't unfolded in the way that I'd hoped. And you can name it and you couldn't own up to it and you could start saying now what is the venue that is beneath us disappointment that then he might be that I'm not getting the message out to particular people or the value might be that you know and wanting to build my platform in very particular ways. And I'm kind of struggling to do that. And you start actually connecting in with the values that underlie this thing that humanity be calling stress what it allows you to then do is have clarity and take out that piece of paper and say OK. What can I do in this situation and what you are starting to do is you study to move yourself from a struggle that lies in the face of confusion and emotion into a struggle that is directed by us.


And the character that's directed by bandies.

So you talked a bit. I think this is really a fitting segue to what I want to talk about next. You mentioned this idea that self acceptance usually takes a big hit when we start making comparisons and you say looking to someone whose accomplishments are just a notch or two above you your own might be inspiring but judging yourself against a true superstar or a once in a lifetime genius can be devastating. That's in part because we tend to focus on the end result rather than what it takes to get there. And what's amazing is that we live in a world where this happens 24 hours a day because if you log into Facebook and look through a news feed there's always somebody who has accomplished something far more impressive or amazing than you have. And so I wonder what does your research show about the role that social media is playing in amplifying this sense of comparison that we have. And what are the things that we can do to not get caught up in this sense of comparison but also look to people who are role models who do inspire. So I'll give you all finished this stuff with one other example. I had a listener once who emailed me and told me I can't keep listening to your show because these stories are with amazing people and it's actually making me feel worse about myself. And I actually understood why he said that yeah.

Yeah. Well it's you know it's it's fascinating. Before we even get to social media what we know is that one of the most toxic ways we can be in the world is when we. Constantly compare ourselves to others. So. So social comparison has an enormous level of toxicity to us as human beings psychologically whether that's through media whether it's through looking at you know people in magazines and so on. So. We as human beings are thirsty when we compare there's this toxic experience but also end up being subjected to what in psychological science is called social contagion and social contagion Israeli the idea that not only are we comparing ourselves to others but we are also trying to acquire and behave like others without even realizing that we are trying to do it. So I'll give an example. Imagine you are trying to lose weight and you go on an airplane and your seat partner buys candy. What the research shows is that you are 70 percent more likely to buy candy as well. You don't even need to know the part that but you're more likely to buy candy. If someone in your social network gets divorced or puts on weight you are more likely to get divorced to put on weight.

And while this might sound bizarre we've all had that experience you know you got dinner one person orders dessert. We all ordered dessert without even realizing you know that we drink it. If one person brings a cell phone into a meeting we all start taking out our cell phone. So what starts to happen is you've got this social comparison that human beings often engage in. And then you've got this social contagion which is the picking up on the emotions and the behaviors of others in a way that can often take us away from our venues away from what's important. Now let's bring social media into into the mix. Imagine you've got someone who you consider to be a complete loser in fifth grade and that person is now driving around in a Ferrari wi with social media on now. Now no longer comparing ourselves to this one individual. We comparing ourselves to every single person who has some level of success. And so it becomes amplified. How do we protect ourselves against this. There are a couple of things that we know to be important. The first is

Having a sense of who we are our values what we stand for what is important. Front of mind. We know for instance that when people have grown up in situations where they say they're told Oh you know you're never going to make it to college. People like us don't make it to college. That person tries and tries and tries and finally makes it to college and when they experience their first stress for instance they take a test and they fail. They're much more likely to drop out. But if those people have spent 10 minutes thinking about what am I values here who am I trying to be. Why am I studying this particular thing at college. It protects them. So the first thing is that values are often seen as being abstract wishy washy ideas but we know that they are powerful. Knowing who you are what you stand for what's important can protect you from so many of the ill effects of social comparison and of social contagion. You know about trying to be in the situation. Yes everyone else is stressed in the workplace but how do I want to bring myself to the meeting or to my client. Yes. Other people are selling more copies of books than I am. But what is the value that I have to offer.

What is my unique message and how can our work to bring my unique message to the world regardless of what other people are. And again to your point earlier that's not saying that you may not say well you know what is this individual doing strategically that might be helpful.

I think that you know that that can be incredibly It's a results that can be incredibly helpful to learn from others. But what starts to happen is when you start to engage with ideas of how. It's not about the work it's not about what I've got to do it's not about these activities but actually it's a reflection of me how I'm not good enough. I'm not smart enough I'm not you know we take these things that are

Functions very often of the Arment and we stopped making them very personal and feeling really bad about ourselves. And that's when social comparison can become the most toxic.

Wow. So you mentioned values and this is one the line that in the book really really struck me because it felt like so much of my life has been dictated by a very similar message so identifying what you value and acting on it is not always easy. We're constantly bombarded with messages from culture advertisers our upbringing our religious training and families friends and peers about what is important and what makes us worthy. And I think that particularly in immigrant cultures we get very very clear messages on what makes us worthy and what's important. And I wonder how you get back to a place of acting on your own values when your social programming is so deeply embedded in who you are.

Yeah and I think this is a very common expense for people you know this is in the psychological research on values we call its clients clients is the idea that our parents might tell us what is important and so we grow up with this idea that okay that's the thing that's important and then we start expensing a sense of dissonance. You know you feel like you're not living your own life or you feel like you would do something else you would embark on a different Korea.

If it weren't for that programming that told you that if you engage in that career that you somehow a failure. And so we can often have these these venues that can feel like our own simply because they are so comfortable and yet they are really subdomains the reflections of what we've been told to believe. And so I think this is way thirsty again moving into discomfort is so important.

If you just shun those so-called difficult emotions and you say well I'm experiencing dissonance but I'm just going to ignore it and I'm going to keep on doing what I'm doing you know getting through with this particular thing I've been told represents value in my career or in my life. And then you are not being agile. You're not being effective you simply are. Using rule based thinking that developed from when you were a little child and so this is way starting to inquire starting to say unity Atheel dissonance I feel discomfort.

I feel sadness and I'm not pushing it aside but rather trying to hold it name it enabled it and to stand in it and start to help you to surface. What are your values. What is something that you would rather than what has been told to you. So you know I use that example earlier of someone saying you know. I'm in a job that at least I've got a job so I'm just going to push aside these difficult emotions. Imagine the enormous power of someone saying I met in this job. This is the job that I've been told by my parents by society is the right thing for me to be doing better. What I'm feeling here is sadness and that sadness represents a loss of growth or a loss of opportunity or a lack of creativity or a lack of communion and community or whatever it is that that sadness signals to the person. And so what you recognize is that beneath that most difficulty emotion is a signpost of something that you care about. That sign is often a signpost to your Benyus to your true values. And so what. Start getting here. Is this really powerful way of using of mining. Almos difficult emotions in a way that helps us to understand who we are as people. What's important to us and to makeshifts accordingly and to also recognize that you know a value that you might have had when you were 20 years old may no longer be your 10 years. You know your values evolve and change and there's such power in being able to embrace the freedom that comes with the recognition that as a human being everything else in the world changes. So why wouldn't we as people change. Why wouldn't Tao then use change. Of course they can change of course they can evolve.

So from everything that you and I have talked about my senses that this ability to have emotional agility is not a tactic but it's a practice and something that you have to keep working on an ongoing basis.

Yeah I think that they're both practice aspects of emotional agility the practice aspects are about kind of do away with the idea that there's a good or bad emotion. The practice aspects are about being able to recognize that there's enormous power in the space have to confront the practice aspects are about being able to create space between you and what you do so that your values can come to the fore.

And then also very tactical aspects to it. So in the book for instance I talk about making values aligned tweaks or values align changes to your life. So an example might be you know the example that I gave earlier which is you might have a. Habit that you're engaging which is you know your unhealthy unwanted cigar. Every time you are upset as an example or not every stop it you know when you draw to that end there's a science of habit change that shows that technically you can stop making very different habits. I'll give you an example. Imagine you trying to make a values aligned habits change to your health. And imagine you already ate breakfast every morning and your values and habits change is that you try to eat more fruits as well. As technical aspect is something that we call piggybacking and piggybacking is where you take a habit that already exists in your day to day life. You're ready. Eat your cereal. And you. Now at this new values aligned habit to the thing that already exist you are adding your fruit to your cereal.

Now that's a very small example but that's tactical in that we've all many many things that we do routinely every day but we can start making very small shifts to those habits to elevate our values into our lives so that we started to do more of what is meaningful to us and that is very practical.

Well what this has been truly truly amazing I think to me this was one of those conversations that I and I'm guessing other people will have to go back and play at least 15 times to get everything you've packed into it.

So I have one final question for you which is how we control over Oliver interviews of the mystical of what do you think it is that makes somebody or something unmistakable I think what makes someone a mistake will is an individual who knows who they are and what they stand for and are able to try every day to make moves towards Smith's moves towards those values. I think you know that is the hallmark of authenticity. It's the hallmark of self ownership. It's the hallmark of autonomy and it's the whole lack of growth and you know for me that if you said to me like What is success.

Success is not about living someone else's life or matching up to someone else. It's about an understanding at a core level of who you are and who you want to be in the world. And I don't think there's anything more powerful or anything more creative than being self authoring in that way.

Well I think that makes a really fit again to our conversation where can people find out more about your your work and everything you're up to.

So thank you. Thank you so much sir. Three aspects that I think might be helpful to people. The first is my TED talk at the gift and power of emotional courage. The second is that I've got an online quiz that about 100000 people have taken now and it's free. Very quick quiz that focuses on emotional agility and you get a report that comes with that and that people can find on my website. Susan David dot come forward slash learn our email already with a South African accent. And the third is the book Emotional gelati fantastic.

And we'll include all those things in the Schoenaerts for everybody and for everybody listening. We'll wrap the show up.

Thank you for listening to this episode of The unmistakable creative podcast and why you're listening. Are there any moments you found fascinating inspiring instructive maybe even heartwarming. Can you think of anyone a friend or family member who would appreciate this moment. If so take a second and share today's episode with that one person. Because good ideas and messages are meant to be shared.

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