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Summary: Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life by Susan David

Are you a bottler or a brooder?

Bottlers don’t deal with uncomfortable emotions; bottlers suppress emotions. Bottlers try to forget about emotions like stress, anger, and anxiety by distracting themselves with busy work (compulsively checking email, making long to‐do lists, etc.).

“More than once, I’ve met bottlers who find themselves, years later, in the same miserable job, relationship, or circumstance. They’ve been so focused on pushing forward and being a good doobie that they haven’t been in touch with a real emotion in years, which precludes any sort of real change or growth.” – Susan David

Brooders obsess over emotions and are unable to focus on anything else.

“(Brooders pay) too much attention to their internal chatter and (allow) it to sap important cognitive resources that could be put to better use…With brooders, emotions become more powerful in the same way a hurricane does, circling and circling and picking up more energy with each pass.” – Susan David

Whether you bottle or brood over distracting and uncomfortable emotions, those emotions get stronger and more destructive.

Book Summary: Emotional Agility - Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life

4 Steps to Deal with Distracting & Destructive Emotions


“Learning to label emotions with a more nuanced vocabulary can be absolutely transformative. People who can identify the full spectrum of emotion—who realize how, for example, sadness differs from boredom, or pity, or loneliness, or nervousness—do much, much better at managing the ups and downs of ordinary existence than those who see everything in black and white.” – Susan David

Unnamed emotions cause uncontrollable stress. Name your emotions like a child would point and name the animals at the zoo. When you feel an uncomfortable emotion, silently say to yourself, “this one is uncertainty,” or, “this one is insecurity.”


When you stop fighting an emotion, you strip that emotion of its power. As Susan says, “We end the tug of war by dropping the rope.”

We fight back uncomfortable emotions because we believe that we ALWAYS need to feel good. “The goal is not to always feel good. The goal is to deal with destructive thoughts and emotions so you don’t get hooked (i.e., identify with your emotions), derail your progress, your relationships and your career or business.” – Susan David

Start down the path of recovery by accepting emotions: feel them without judging them; an emotion is neither good or bad, it just is.

Step out

“Stepping out means learning to see yourself as the chessboard, filled with possibilities, rather than as any one piece on the board, confined to certain preordained moves.” – Susan David

  • When you hear a rude comment and experience anger, you don’t have to react aggressively. You can take a second to step out of your emotion and choose to respond thoughtfully.
  • When you feel anxious in a social setting, you don’t need to reach for your phone and distract yourself. Instead, you can step out of your emotion, watch your anxiety rise and fall, choose to be polite, and start a conversation with the person beside you.

How to step out: After you name and accept an emotion, take a second to visualize yourself standing outside of your body looking back at yourself and your emotion. Watch your emotion rise and fall and objectively determine if the emotion is helpful or not.

Act according to your values

When you step out and detach from an emotion, you lift the fog and see the road ahead (your goals) and the signposts on the side of the road (your values ‐ the people and activities that matter most)

Ask yourself: “If I react to this emotion, will I be acting according to my values?”

By getting in the habit of asking “If I react to this emotion, will I be acting according to my values?”, every uncomfortable emotion is a reminder to live with purpose.

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” ‐ Viktor Frankl, Holocaust survivor



“Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life” is a thought-provoking book written by Susan David, a renowned psychologist and expert in emotional intelligence. In this book, David provides readers with a practical guide on how to develop emotional agility, which she defines as the ability to recognize and understand one’s emotions, and to use them to guide decision-making and behavior. This book is an excellent resource for anyone seeking to improve their emotional well-being, navigate change and uncertainty, and achieve their personal and professional goals.

The book is divided into three parts:

  • The Anatomy of Emotional Agility
  • The Practices of Emotional Agility
  • The Roadmap to Emotional Agility

In the first part of the book, David defines emotional agility and explains the three core skills that are essential for it:

  • Acceptance: The ability to acknowledge and sit with our emotions, even the difficult ones.
  • Perspective Taking: The ability to see our emotions from a wider perspective, rather than getting caught up in them.
  • Values-Based Action: The ability to take action in line with our values, even when we are feeling uncomfortable.

In the second part of the book, David provides a number of practices that can help us to develop these skills. These practices include:

  • The 3-Minute Breathing Space: A simple mindfulness exercise that can help us to calm our minds and bodies.
  • The Radical Acceptance Diary: A journaling practice that can help us to learn to accept our emotions, even the difficult ones.
  • The Values Compass: An exercise that can help us to clarify our values and make decisions that are in line with them.

In the third part of the book, David provides a roadmap for how to use the skills of emotional agility to navigate change. This roadmap includes four steps:

  1. Awareness: Become aware of your emotions and the thoughts and stories that are driving them.
  2. Understanding: Understand the purpose of your emotions and the messages they are trying to tell you.
  3. Choice: Choose how you want to respond to your emotions.
  4. Action: Take action in line with your values.

Key Takeaways:

  • The Three Components of Emotional Agility: David identifies three key components of emotional agility: (a) emotional awareness, (b) emotional regulation, and (c) emotional resilience. These components are interconnected and essential for building emotional agility.
  • Emotional Awareness: The book emphasizes the importance of recognizing and understanding one’s emotions, including their intensity, duration, and impact on behavior. David provides practical strategies for developing emotional awareness, such as paying attention to physical sensations and using mindfulness practices.
  • Emotional Regulation: David introduces the concept of “emotional regulation,” which involves managing one’s emotions to achieve desired outcomes. The book provides techniques for regulating emotions, including deep breathing, emotional labeling, and cognitive reappraisal.
  • Emotional Resilience: The book explores the importance of developing emotional resilience, which involves bouncing back from setbacks and adversity. David provides strategies for building resilience, such as practicing gratitude, reframing negative thoughts, and seeking social support.
  • The Role of Mindset: David argues that emotional agility is not just about recognizing and managing emotions but also about cultivating a growth mindset. She emphasizes the importance of viewing challenges as opportunities for growth and development.
  • The Importance of Self-Care: The book highlights the significance of self-care in building emotional agility. David emphasizes the need to prioritize self-care activities, such as exercise, meditation, and relaxation, to maintain emotional well-being.
  • Emotional Agility in the Workplace: David provides practical advice on how to apply emotional agility in the workplace, including how to manage conflicts, build resilience, and foster a positive work culture.
  • The Role of Emotional Agility in Personal Growth: The book explores the role of emotional agility in personal growth, including how to use emotional agility to set goals, overcome obstacles, and achieve personal fulfillment.


  • Accessible language: David’s writing style is clear and concise, making the book accessible to readers who may not have a background in psychology or emotional intelligence.
  • Practical strategies: The book provides practical strategies and techniques for developing emotional agility, making it easy for readers to apply the concepts to their daily lives.
  • Real-world examples: David uses real-world examples to illustrate the concepts of emotional agility, making the book relatable and engaging.
  • Holistic approach: The book takes a holistic approach to emotional well-being, addressing the interconnectedness of emotions, thoughts, and behaviors.
  • Empowering message: The book offers an empowering message, emphasizing the reader’s ability to shape their emotional experiences and achieve their goals.


  • Lack of depth: Some readers may find the book’s coverage of certain topics, such as the role of mindset in emotional agility, to be superficial.
  • Limited scope: The book primarily focuses on the development of emotional agility in individuals, with less attention paid to the role of emotional agility in relationships and communities.
  • Overemphasis on individualism: Some readers may criticize the book’s emphasis on individual emotional agility, arguing that it overlooks the importance of emotional intelligence in interpersonal relationships.
  • Lack of scientific evidence: While the book is well-researched, some readers may find the lack of scientific evidence to support certain claims.

Overall, “Emotional Agility” is a well-written and accessible self-help book that offers practical strategies for developing emotional agility and achieving personal growth and success. The book’s inclusive approach and real-life examples make it a valuable resource for a wide range of readers, from those looking to improve their emotional well-being to those seeking to enhance their professional performance. However, readers looking for a more nuanced understanding of the topic or a more comprehensive approach may find the book to be lacking in certain areas.

Alex Lim is a certified book reviewer and editor with over 10 years of experience in the publishing industry. He has reviewed hundreds of books for reputable magazines and websites, such as The New York Times, The Guardian, and Goodreads. Alex has a master’s degree in comparative literature from Harvard University and a PhD in literary criticism from Oxford University. He is also the author of several acclaimed books on literary theory and analysis, such as The Art of Reading and How to Write a Book Review. Alex lives in London, England with his wife and two children. You can contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Website | Twitter | Facebook

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