Emotional Agility: Susan David's 4 Step's to Thriving with Change


Susan David’s book Emotional Agility is the epitome of positive psychology—empowered navigation of our thoughts, feelings, and narratives as they relate to the various spheres of our lives.

David argues that the way we perceive our inner selves is the determinant of how we live and the successes we incur. To maintain a negative self-image is destructive, and impairs our potential for success.

She acknowledges the inherent evolving structures that we possess, citing adaptation as the key to transforming ourselves in order to attain the success and happiness we desire.

To be emotionally agile is to be flexible with our thoughts and feelings, and not hold the beliefs of our past to be immutable, as this cannot lead to change.

A seed cannot grow from concrete, only from a mixture of fertile soil, water, and sunlight. We must also allow a combination of different experiences and thoughts to shape us.


How This Book Can Help You: 4 Key Concepts

David’s book examines adaptation and advocates for consistent values as the core of who we are—the only transient point for values being to refine them when necessary in order to evolve.

We can never cling too strongly to one emotion, thought, or feeling, but must learn to accept these as fleeting and allow them to move on. Only when we do this can we catalyze and bring about healthy change.

In Emotional Agility, Dr. David cites four key concepts: showing up, stepping out, walking your why, and moving on. These concepts emphasize the overall point in her book about creating emotional strength and adaptiveness to change.


1. Showing Up:

To face your thoughts or feelings is arguably the most difficult thing to do but it is also the most imperative to facilitate positive change. David suggests being curious about them, accepting both your difficult and positive thoughts equally in order to see them for what they are.


2. Stepping Out:

This concept is all about detachment—a detachment from your inner monologue, thoughts, and feelings in order to see that they are just emotions, not you. These emotions are not bound to you and are not an essential part of your being. To detach from them will result in you feeling far more autonomous over your actions and decisions.


3. Walking Your Why:

You need to retain core values, as these are a fundamental part of who you are. You shouldn’t give these up, but use them to dictate your actions. They provide you with your substance, your identity and roles, and as long as they aren’t negative values then no refinement is needed. Your values are your driving force.


4. Moving On:

David’s next step of moving on involves making small, deliberate, and purposeful tweaks to your mindset, motivation, and habits to align them with your core values. In doing so, she says you can make a significant difference in your life.


Why This Method Matters

As humans, we go through constant change: our faces change as we age, our financial situations as we go from students to adults, our lifestyles as we have children and prioritize another human life. To embrace these changes, cherish, and utilize them to the maximum, we need to be able to adapt.

It is easy to become impeded by old beliefs, even when these beliefs do not inspire growth and adaptability. We cannot expect the same rules or actions to be applicable across the multitude of experiences and circumstances that we go through in our lives.

To embrace change positively and experience positive emotions surrounding these changes, we must be emotionally agile, shifting our mindset to the new situation at hand.

Many people claim they are scared of change due to it’s existential, environmental implications. Yet perhaps it is not the changing of the world around them that they are scared of, but the changes in themselves—in case they don’t like the new person that they become.

Here are some additional thoughts that emphasize how emotional agility can be an incredible resource since all humans have to deal with challenges and change.

Change confronts us during significant life events such as death, where we face challenges that are unavoidable. We all have to navigate these challenges, such as death.


A Take-Home Message

Emotional agility is one tool to facilitate a healthy transition from one state to the next.

What if changes were not terrifying, but rather, a time to practice our emotional agility and receive the support we need? How do you practice emotional agility?

We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.


  • Susan David, Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life,2013

About the Author

Stephanie Caldow, B.A., is a certified positive psychology practitioner and holds a postgrad in Human Resource Management from the Australian College of Applied Psychology.


  1. Syeda Arifa Tasneem

    Loved the concept. I need to know if you have developed a scale to measure emotional agility as I’m interested in taking this up further in my PhD research project. Awaiting your reply. Thank you

    • Nicole Celestine

      Hi Syeda,

      Glad you enjoyed the post. I can’t say I know of any scales beyond those on emotional intelligence that can be used to measure emotional agility. I’d suggest reaching out to the author to see if she knows of any validated scales (or whether there is one in her book).

      – Nicole | Community Manager

  2. Sara Mondrowitz

    i loved Susan’s talk @TED & was really inspired by her! Thanks Sara

  3. zahra

    I want to have its scale.

  4. Sonam Gyeltshen

    Change to inspire the world ideology. I encourage all to read.

    • Sam

      is this the book name “Change to inspire the world ideology.”? who is the Author?

  5. Smith, Sungkyun Hong

    Gorgeous and inspirational and invaluable insight and scientific lessons on emotion. I am noticing I am feeling appreciated for your all teachings and aspiration and authenticity.


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