How Emotional Agility Can Shape The Lives of Girls

How Emotional Agility Can Shape The Lives of Girls

Psychologist and Harvard Medical School professor Dr. Susan David is making waves with her recently published book Emotional Agility

David often gears her work towards workplace motivation, performance, and culture. This book, based on a key concept of David’s, aims to help readers best “adapt, align their values and actions, and make changes to bring the best of themselves forward.” The intention behind the book is to teach readers how best to identify, listen to, feel, and, ultimately, let go of, some major emotions.

Being emotionally agile requires, according to David’s website, dedication to a particular mindset. Learning emotional agility ultimately isn’t about avoiding big feelings, instead it’s about learning to acknowledge and move past those feelings. In her book David outlines the four key conceptual components to emotional agility.

First, she explains, is “showing up,” which reminds us to pay attention to and make time for our feelings. We do better for ourselves, David tell us, when we identify and allow for an emotional (even a negative one) than when we push it aside. After we’ve identified and felt our emotion, David tells us we should “step out,” by which she means begin to zoom out and look at the larger picture. When we are able to see our feelings as merely feelings, we empower ourselves and can remember that nothing is fixed or permanent.  Next, she describes a process of “walking your why,” or being guided by your personal core values which can illuminate concrete ways to pick yourself back up again, and “moving on,” where we come to terms with our feelings, “tweak our mindset,” and pick ourselves back up again.

In an October article for The New York Times about the book, parenting writer KJ Dell’Antionia describes the importance of teaching David’s concept to children. Dell’Antonia cites research conducted by the MDRC that studied the Head Start CARES’ programs efficacy in nurturing “socially and emotionally competent” children. The study found, unsurprisingly, that when young children are encouraged to name and feel their emotions and are taught “emotional knowledge,” or an evidence-based understanding of feelings, they learn to navigate their own emotions, handle feelings as they arise, and deal appropriately with emotions in others.

Emotional agility, it’s clear, benefits children, especially as they mature. David, as quoted by Dell’Antonia, argues that adults often intervene and try to sooth an emotional child too quickly. When we follow or urge to swoop and and solve things, “we step into the child’s emotional space,” she explained.

As Dell’Antionia writes, most of the methods by which we try to calm or protect children include “minimizing either the emotion or the underlying problem.” When we try to solve things, we circumvent a child’s organic process and stop them from being able to learn to navigate and manage their own reactions or responses to big feelings or events.

As crucial and beneficial as emotional agility is in both the social and academic setting, it’s absolutely critical we impart these skills to growing girls in particular.

Girls and young women are inundated with double standards and media portrayal that sit deeply entrenched in the fabric of our society. As they navigate the myriad complexities of young womanhood, girls can benefit from emotional agility and intelligence that allows them to take stock of their feelings.

Organizations like Girls Leadership, which is dedicated to “equipping girls to make change in their world” work in the practice of emotional agility into their programming and educational philosophies.

According to Simone Marean, Girls Leadership’s co-founder and executive director, “emotional intelligence is at the core of everything [Girls Leadership] teaches.” They provide resources, like EI worksheets, that guide girls through self-reflection and ask them to interact with their own emotions in a meaningful way. They encourage girls to build an emotionally intelligent routine — to regularly take stock of how they’re feeling and what they’re thinking, to try and treat themselves and their emotions with respect and understanding, and to find comfortable ways to express them.

David’s book, it seems, can serve as a guide to us all, but especially to parents, educators, and all who work with and care for growing girls. David’s work is a welcome help to us all as we navigate our own murky emotional landscape and strive to express ourselves, to be there for one another, and to find our own reserves of resilience and perseverance.


Cover image courtesy of Getty Images.