Navigating Life’s Emotional Terrain: Mastering Emotional Agility

In the journey of life, our emotions often serve as compasses, guiding us through the highs and lows. However, our ability to navigate these emotional landscapes with agility can determine our resilience and overall well-being. Inspired by insights from Susan David’s book “Emotional Agility” and Episode 92 of The Life Coach School podcast, let’s delve into the fundamental principles of emotional agility versus rigidity and explore how mastering this skill can lead to a more fulfilling life.

Understanding Emotional Agility

Emotional agility is the capacity to be present with our emotions, accept them without judgment, and adaptively respond to them in alignment with our values and goals (David 2017).

In contrast, emotional rigidity manifests as being stuck in patterns of thought and behavior dictated by our emotions, often leading to avoidance or suppression of uncomfortable feelings.

It’s crucial to recognize the importance of emotional agility, as it empowers us to navigate life’s challenges with resilience and authenticity.

Drawing from Susan David’s research and insights from other authors, we understand that emotional agility fosters psychological flexibility and promotes overall well-being (e.g. see Kashdan and Rottenberg, 2010).

The Elements of Emotional Agility

In her book, Susan David outlines four key aspects of emotional agility: showing up, stepping out, walking your why, and moving on.

  • Showing up involves acknowledging and accepting our emotions without judgment, allowing ourselves to fully experience them.
  • Stepping out requires gaining perspective on our emotions, recognizing them as transient experiences rather than defining aspects of our identity.
  • Walking your why entails aligning our actions with our core values and long-term goals, even in the face of emotional discomfort.
  • Lastly, moving on involves letting go of unhelpful patterns of thought and behavior, allowing space for growth and adaptation.

In Practice: Four Options to Navigate Your Emotions

Feeling our feelings is an essential aspect of emotional agility, yet many of us struggle to do so effectively. Emotions serve as our guidance systems, influencing our actions and decisions. When confronted with a challenging emotion, we often default to one of four options:

  • Resisting the Feeling: It’s common to resist experiencing emotions due to fear of their intensity. However, resisting only amplifies their impact, leading to heightened discomfort.
  • Reacting and Acting Out: Reacting to emotions involves impulsively responding to them, rather than experiencing them fully. This can manifest as lashing out or engaging in destructive behaviors, further distancing us from our emotional experiences.
  • Distracting Ourselves: Many individuals resort to distractions such as overeating, overworking, or over-socializing to avoid confronting their emotions directly. While distractions provide temporary relief, they do not address the underlying emotional turmoil.
  • Actually Feeling the Emotion: The final option—and the most transformative—is to courageously embrace the emotion and allow ourselves to feel it fully. This involves a series of steps to engage with the emotion authentically.

How to Feel Your Feelings: Which Steps to Follow

Embracing our emotions is a crucial aspect of cultivating emotional agility, yet many of us struggle to navigate the complexities of our feelings. Here is what you can do in 5 steps.

  • Hold the Space: Create a safe and non-judgmental environment to acknowledge and experience the emotion. Remember, emotions are a natural part of the human experience, and allowing yourself to feel them is essential for growth and self-awareness.
  • Allow it to Be: Practice mindfulness by staying present with the emotion, allowing it to exist without resistance or avoidance. Breathe deeply and observe the sensations within your body as the emotion unfolds.
  • Describe in Detail: Engage in introspection by describing the emotion in detail. Notice where you feel it in your body, the intensity of the sensation, and any accompanying thoughts or images. This helps to cultivate a sense of detachment from the emotion, allowing you to observe it from a compassionate perspective.
  • Name the Emotion: Naming the emotion you’re experiencing can be empowering. It enhances emotional intelligence and fosters a deeper understanding of your internal landscape. By identifying and acknowledging the emotion, you reclaim agency over your emotional experiences.
  • Practice Emotional Resilience: Embrace the discomfort that accompanies intense emotions, recognizing that feeling them fully will not cause harm. As you build resilience through practice, you’ll become more adept at navigating challenging situations with grace and authenticity. Ultimately, the ability to feel and process emotions empowers you to show up fully in the world, embracing life’s highs and lows with courage and resilience.

How Coaching Can Support Your Emotional Resilience Journey

If you’re ready to embark on a journey of self-discovery and emotional growth, coaching can provide invaluable support and guidance.

Through personalized sessions tailored to your unique needs and goals, you can develop the skills and strategies needed to cultivate emotional agility and thrive in all areas of life.

Reach out today to learn more about how coaching with me can empower you to embrace your emotions and live a life of purpose and authenticity.

Sincerely yours,

Dr. Sophie


Inspired by:

David, S. (2017). Emotional agility: Get unstuck, embrace change, and thrive in work and life. Penguin UK.

Kashdan, T. B., & Rottenberg, J. (2010). Psychological flexibility as a fundamental aspect of health. Clinical psychology review, 30(7), 865-878.

The Life Coach School. (2015, December 10). Episode 92: How to feel. The Life Coach School Podcast. Retrieved from