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20 Quotes about Emotional Agility from Susan David’s Must-Watch TED Talk

20 Quotes about Emotional Agility from Susan David’s Must-Watch TED Talk

If you want to heal for real, ignoring and bottling tough emotions isn't the best idea. You need to build emotional agility if you're going to navigate heartbreak in a healthy and meaningful way. Read these quotes to inspire how you heal, help, and grow.

How we deal with our inner world drives everything—how we live, love, parent, and lead. We need emotional agility, which stems from the courage to be authentic, to thrive in all realms of life.

Susan David is an award-winning psychologist on the faculty of Harvard Medical School and author of the best-selling book Emotional Agility.

Her TED Talk on emotional courage is fantastic, and after watching it the other week I just had to share pieces of her wisdom with you. Watch the talk here to hear all of these quotes and so much more.

Originally from South Africa, Susan begins her talk with the Zulu word sawubona, which means “hello” and literally translates as “I see you and by seeing you I bring you into being.” Isn’t that lovely?

To see each other, we need to learn how to see ourselves.

At age 15, she lost her father and struggled to navigate her sea of emotions, never dropping a grade and answering to society’s praise of positivity and strength (even if it’s a facade) rather than to the call of her own heart.

As a young person ill-equipped with the appropriate tools for authentic healing, it was her English teacher, who handed her a notebook in class and prompted her to “write like nobody’s reading,” who gave her a tool for real recovery.

Susan learned that in a culture that values relentless positivity, it takes telling the truth and simple, honest correspondence with yourself to move beyond the rigidity of denial and into emotional agility.

Emotional agility is, as she beautifully puts it, born of “a lifelong correspondence with your own heart.”

This kind of authenticity takes courage, but this courage can free our world from sweeping depression, which is now the single leading cause of disability globally, outstripping cancer and heart disease.

Rigid denial of our emotions just doesn’t work—not for individuals, families, societies, or our planet.

Being positive is powerful, but not always the appropriate first response to painful emotions.

Being positive has become a new form of moral correctness, and “it’s a tyranny of positivity,” says Susan in her talk. “It’s cruel. Unkind. And ineffective.” Though happiness matters and she considers herself a happy person, Susan makes the distinction between authentic happiness and false positivity, and how the latter can block us from experiencing the former.

The more we try to ignore our emotions, the greater their hold on us.

As revealed in a recent study the psychologist conducted with over 70,000 people, a third of us either judge ourselves for having so-called “bad emotions” like anger, sadness or grief, or actively try to push aside these feelings. We do it to ourselves and to people we love, inadvertently shaming people out of negative emotions, jumping to solutions, or failing to help them see these emotions as valuable.

The quotes I’m sharing from Susan’s talk just touch on her recommendation to dismantle rigidity and embrace what she calls emotional agility. She urges us to address and label our emotions with accuracy and heart so we can take concrete steps forward towards our values.

20 Powerful Quotes about Emotional Agility from Psychologist Susan David

1. “When you feel a strong, tough emotion, don’t race for the emotional exits. Learn its contours, show up to the journal of your hearts.” — Susan David

2. “… in seeing yourself, you are also able to see others, too—the only sustainable way forward in a fragile, beautiful world.” — Susan David

3. “Life’s beauty is inseparable from its fragility.” — Susan David

4. “If there’s one common feature of brooding, bottling, or false positivity, it’s this: they are all rigid responses.” — Susan David

5. “The only certainty is uncertainty and yet we are not navigating this frailty successfully or sustainably.” — Susan David

6. “Internal pain always comes out. Always. And who pays the price? We do. Our children, our colleagues, our communities.” — Susan David

7. “When we push aside normal emotions to embrace false positivity, we lose our capacity to develop skills to deal with the world as it is, not as we wish it to be.” — Susan David

8. “Discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life.” — Susan David

9. “Research now shows that the radical acceptance of all of our emotions, even the messy, difficult ones, is the cornerstone to resilience, thriving, and true, authentic happiness.” — Susan David

10. “When we label our emotions accurately, we are more able to discern the precise cause of our feelings.” — Susan David

11. “Only dead people never get unwanted or inconvenienced by their feelings. Only dead people never get stressed, never get broken hearts, never experience the disappointment that comes with failure.” — Susan David

12. “Tough emotions are part of our contract with life.” - Susan David

13. “When people are allowed to feel their emotional truth, engagement, creativity, and innovation flourish in the organization.” — Susan David

14. “The most agile, resilient individuals, teams, organizations, families, communities, are built on an openness to the normal human emotions.” — Susan David

15. “Diversity isn’t just people, it’s also what’s inside people, including diversity of emotion.” — Susan David

16. “Courage is not the absence of fear; courage is fear walking.” — Susan David

17. “Our emotions are data. Our emotions contain flashing lights to things that we care about.” - Susan David

18. “Emotions are data but not directives.” — Susan David

19. “We own our emotions, they don’t own us.” — Susan David

20. “Emotional agility is the ability to be with your emotions with curiosity, compassion, and especially the courage to take values-connected steps.” — Susan David

. . .

Tell me:

Which of these quotes is your favorite?

Tell me in the comments. I read every single one, and I'd love to know!

Stay. Till the soil. See what can grow from here.

With love,


P.S. Help yourself say the things you need to say, and think the thoughts that help you heal (without ignoring what hurts). Get my book Sleep Affirmations. It's more than just a book about sleep. It's validation, empathy, real hope. It can help. 

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