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For Business
April 8, 2014

From FEAR to ACT: boosting your emotional agility

However, work is emotional – success in business can feel just as great as it does in your personal life, and failure and disappointment just as bitter. It’s normal and healthy to feel emotions at work – trying to ignore those feelings is counter-productive. The answer is to approach them in an agile way.

Emotional agility is about knowing yourself, and developing a greater level of control over your feelings and reactions.

In an article for the Harvard Business Review, Susan David and Christina Congleton outline the following simple method for evaluating your level of emotional agility:


Look at your answers to these questions. Are you trying to ignore your thoughts and feelings? Are you buying into them? If the answer is yes, you could benefit from being more emotionally agile.

According to the strand of psychology called acceptance and commitment theory, when we’re emotionally distressed it’s the result of being too rigid psychologically. If we’re unbending in our behaviour, we get bogged down in negative emotions, constantly revisiting our mistakes and setbacks, unable to move forward.

These mental behaviours are explained by the acronym, FEAR:

  • Fusion with your thoughts.
  • Evaluation of experience.
  • Avoidance of your experience.
  • Reason-giving for your behaviour.

The positive alternative to FEAR is ACT:

  • Accept your reactions and be present.
  • Choose a valued direction.
  • Take action.

The aim is to be mindful about repetitive mental behaviour that results in unproductive loops.

It’s not about ignoring setbacks or forcing yourself to be falsely cheerful if something goes wrong, but rather conditioning yourself to recognise that the way that you’re feeling, deciding what you’re going to do to move beyond that feeling, and then making sure you actually do it.

How do you deal with your emotions at work? What tips and strategies do you recommend? Take a look at our ebook, Growing Agility, for more on this subject.