Emotional Fitness: How It Feels To Be Ready For The Future
Forrester Future Fit is a tool for measuring your readiness for the future. A simple, five-minute assessment lets us statistically project whether you are in the high-, medium-, or low-fitness group. Take the survey at futurefit.life to learn your score. Read more about future fitness here. You’ll find that there are nine key attributes of future fitness that you can focus on and improve. In this post, we dive deep into one of those nine key attributes: emotional health.
I’m obsessed with the study of emotion. In grad school, I bought hook, line, and sinker into a model of emotions that most of you probably learned, as well. In this view, emotions are discrete things, with common properties across people. You experience anger the way I do, right down to the facial muscles we use to express it. And those emotions compete with our rational selves for our attention and motivation.
Boy, was that wrong. It turns out that emotion is far more fascinating than we could have imagined back then — or imaged, because it is with new imaging techniques that we have been able to explore more complicated hypotheses for how emotions work in the body and the brain. The basic answer, as I’ve explained for Forrester clients, is that emotions are incredibly varied and dynamic, across individuals and within a single individual. More importantly, the crucial lesson to learn is that emotion is never “off”; it never gives way to reason. In fact, the reason you think you are so reasonable is that your emotions tell you so. Emotion is the master motivator.
And it’s more important today than it has ever been. If you lived in a bucolic New England village such as nearby Dedham, Massachusetts 250 years ago, the range of things you had to decide in any given day was fairly constrained. Sure, in your lifetime you might have to consider what to do about the troubles with the French or later the British Crown, but by and large, each day was very similar to the day before it. Big changes were rare, and when they did occur, the number of variables you had to process and manage was limited. Your emotions, as a result, served a mostly maintenance function, guiding you through the various uncertainties of the day but also motivating you to tackle the certainties of your life — your community, your family, your work. Emotion had it kind of easy.
Today, emotion has to perform a much larger task as master motivator than ever before.
In modern life, you have to confront much more information about the world around you at every possible scale: your own blood test results, your child’s report card, your family’s financial stability, your community’s school committee elections, your town’s affordable housing initiative, your state’s fiscal crisis, your workplace’s digital transformation efforts, your industry’s competitive vulnerability in the face of Amazon, and so on. More information about more things changing more frequently than before requires more guidance from your emotional system to make the best decisions as quickly as possible. That’s why we rely on emotion; it helps us feel more confident in our decisions, even as we process the details of those decisions with less attention.
How will it feel to be ready for the future? Contrary to what you might think, we’re not going to suggest that you should “feel good” about the future — as if that would magically make you able to deal with it. But the description we offer of the present — a swiftly moving environment in which emotion has to guide more decisions more urgently than before — is only going to get worse, which is why you need emotions that are flexible and adaptable to prepare you for the range of things you might need to feel, rather than merely make you happy about everything. In other words, Huxley’s Brave New World was wrong: To succeed in the future, it’s not enough to just try to feel more good things; we instead need to feel more things of all kinds.
That’s the easiest way to explain what we measure under emotional health as one of the nine key attributes of future fitness. If the emotional health we need is broad and adaptable, then we had to measure it this way. Rather than be all smiles all the time, people who are emotionally healthy using our metric actually feel more total emotions in a 24-hour period than average, including positive and negative emotions. In fact, it is the ability to feel positive and negative feelings in the same period that so strongly predicts how fit someone is for the future. You can see from the figure that people who are in the high-fitness group score 84 out of 100 on emotional health, 1.65x higher than for the medium-fitness group.
How can you improve your emotional health? If you’ve studied emotional health at all, you know that it correlates strongly with physical health, something we have written about before and something you can influence starting right now if you want. But emotional health can also be helped through training yourself to be more aware of your emotional states, as well as the emotional states of others. This last part, learning to identify how other people feel and how your actions influence how they are likely to feel, is the hallmark of emotional intelligence that Daniel Goleman has written about for some time.
Of the nine key attributes of future fitness, emotional health is the one that feels most like you can’t isolate and tackle it alone. But even having the desire to understand and expand your level of emotional health is itself a sign of emotional health, so we commend you for reading this far. In the coming months, we will provide more specific content to guide you to improving emotional health, but for now, begin the internal dialogue to explore not just what you’re feeling and why you’re feeling it but also how your emotions change — and how you can more deliberately shape that change. Then we’ll get together in a few months and work on it further.
James McQuivey, PhD is a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester. He is also the author of the book Digital Disruption: Unleashing the Next Wave of Innovation.