I am fearful of all my emotions … except joy. I am fearful of being fearful. I am fearful of feeling sad, angry, disgust and contempt. I am also fearful of being surprised in a not-so-pleasant way. I want to be happy all of the time, but is my expectation realistic? Is it healthy?
Only recently have I faced up to my emotional fears with the help of Susan David in her book Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change and Thrive in Work and Life*. I’m not a very emotional person, or so I tell myself. I’m a “Bottler”^: I keep my negative emotions subdued and under control by seldom acknowledging them, let along talking about them with anyone. I’ve seen them as a sign of weakness. Onward and upward; put a smile on that dial!
I have believed that as long as I think positively and embrace an optimistic outlook that’s all I need to live a life full of health and wellbeing. Because, after all, isn’t everyone in pursuit of happiness? Fake it until you make it, right?
Wrong. Or so Susan David has taught me. Now I classify happiness as either fake or real. Fake happiness is all smiles and positivity on the outside – great for people around us but quite exhausting for the individual putting on the act. And, not healthy. This is, or was me, probably about 70% of the time. Real happiness is happiness inside and out. Real happiness comes through activities we actively engage in rather than doing what is expected of us. Therefore, I believe real happiness can only be achieved if we face up to our emotions, interpret the information our emotions are telling us and then decide consciously how to think, feel or act.
Basically, this is Susan David’s concept of emotional agility. One of the first steps is to acknowledge that our “emotions contain information, not directions”**. (This is my favourite quote in the whole book.) That is, my emotions aren’t telling me how to feel. Emotions are data that need to be analysed, and then I decide what to do next with this information. I am in control of my emotions. Emotions aren’t weak but rather a powerful tool I can control and use to my advantage.
It wasn’t long before I could put this theory into practice. I have been working from home alone with my new business venture and going from emotional all-time highs feeling a sense of purpose and achievement to new lows when I feel frustrated and anxious. This was an opportunity to face up to my emotional fears.
On one particular ‘low’ day I had a new client prospect that I hadn’t heard back from and, as the days dragged on, it looked like I was unlikely to convert them into a business opportunity. I asked myself: what is my frustration telling me? It’s not telling me I’m useless and doomed to fail (as this would be direction). The emotional data said I’m feeling frustrated because things aren’t going according to what I had envisaged. It’s telling me that, despite wanting a particular outcome, the final decision is out of my hands. So instead of channelling my energy into something I was powerless to control I focused on what I could control. And that was on other new business prospects. So, I drew up a list of potential clients and got on the phone. I was cold calling and this was me facing up to my emotional fears head on. And, I was surprised in a good way. By facing my emotional fears I had confronted frustration and turned it into positive energy and a happy ending!
By the way, I don’t think we can be full of joy all of the time. It’s a very unrealistic expectation when we only have one positive emotion out of all seven. However, my goal still remains to be happy most of the time but I’m just going about it a different way now so I can be a ‘real’ happy and not a fake. I’m facing up to my emotions by acknowledging them, interpreting the data and then deciding how to act. My real happiness will come from actively engaging in activities rather than doing what is expected of me. This has Working Bee Productions written all over it.
*David, Susan A, Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change and Thrive in Work and Life, New York: Avery an imprint of Penguin Random House, (2016)
^ David, Susan A, Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change and Thrive in Work and Life, [Kindle for iPad version 5.10]. Retrieved from 15% – Loc 587 of 4068.
**David, Susan A, Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change and Thrive in Work and Life, [Kindle for iPad version 5.10]. Retrieved from 35% – Loc 1413 of 4068.