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Agility, Susan David

Penguin Life, 280 pages

Every now and then I come across a book that compels me to make copious notes. Susan
David (co-author with David Megginson and with me of a previous volume, Beyond Goals)
has not written this book specifically for coaches and mentors, but it belongs on every
coach’s bookshelf. A highly experienced coach herself, Susan shares a wealth of research
and experience into how people can change the way they think and feel to live more of the
life, to which they aspire. Her detailed explorations of what prevents people doing so, and
practical remedies they can adopt, provide an abundance of ideas coaches can absorb into
their practice.

The basic premise of emotional agility (defined as a process that allows you to be in the
moment, changing or maintaining your behaviours so that you can live in ways that align
with your intentions and values) is that there are four essential elements to taking charge of
your emotional life:
• Showing up – facing into your thoughts, emotions and behaviours willingly, with
curiosity and kindness… learning to work with our thoughts and move on
• Stepping out – detaching from our thoughts and emotions and observing them to
see them for what they are – just thoughts, just emotions
• Walking your why – focusing on our core values and most important goals…
nitrating thinking and feeling with long-term values and aspirations
• Moving on, through making small tweaks infused with your values and
maintaining the balance between challenge and competence

With a refreshing absence of psychobabble, the author, who is a psychologist at the Harvard
Medical School, puts into context research into how people get “hooked” into non-
productive, dysfunctional patterns of thinking and feeling. She identifies many of the traps
we can fall into that undermine our emotional agility – such as spending too much effort
comparing ourselves with others. (People who spend least time comparing themselves with
others also report least self-blaming, guilt and regret…. once you start comparing yourself to
others… you get hooked on external validation and one-upmanship to buoy your own sense
of value…). And each chapter lays out simple approaches that can avoid those traps.

Themes that resonated for me included using letters to one’s distant future self to bolster
the sense of continuity of self that is so closely associated with ethical and moral decision-
making; mindfulness techniques that address deepest fears and negative self-scripts; and
avoidance of social contagion. In each case, it is quickly clear – though not explicit -- how the
coach or mentor can use these research-based insights and models to help clients take
incremental steps towards becoming their ideal self.

I am not sure whether taking the coach’s perspective would best have been achieved with
an additional chapter in this very readable book; or whether a separate volume, aimed at
coaches, would be more fit for purpose. Either way, I am sure that getting clients to read
Emotional Agility will add to the quality of the coaching dialogue and empower clients to
draw greater benefit from the coaching they receive.

© David Clutterbuck 2016