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Be emotionally agile to clear negative farming challenges

Elaine Froese for Progressive Dairyman Published on 13 February 2018

As the winter lingers, the cows are restless to get more fresh air and pasture time, and you likely are ready for some stress relief also. Regardless of what state your mood is in, I encourage you to reflect on the wisdom of Susan David, who wrote Emotional Agility.

David defines emotional agility as “the absence of pretense and performance, which gives your actions greater power because they emanate from your core values and core strength with something solid, genuine and real.” She encourages us to articulate our full emotional truth. Align more of what you do with your deepest values.

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“Acceptance is a prerequisite for change,” she says. Tight margins and family feuds are stressful for many. Can you accept this situation exists but not obsess about it? David defines “brooding as the ability to stew in your misery, endlessly stirring the pot around and around.” Brooding is not helpful as a “short-term emotional aspirin” because it is not dealing with the source.

David also describes “bottling,” where you push emotions aside to get on with things. Farmers who bottle are the ones I call “time bombs” because you are never sure when the next emotional explosion is coming.

Stressed out is not “who you are,” David writes. “Don’t say, ‘I am stressed,’ step out and say, ‘I am feeling stressed.’” Evaluate what the function of the stress is … what is it teaching you ? Farmers who are under huge stress need to reach out to themselves to practice self-acceptance and self-compassion.

Weather issues and poor commodity prices are not your fault. Are you talking with your family about your financial fears? Have you communicated a new payment plan with your creditors? Are you taking good care of your physical needs for sleep and consuming nourishing food?

Why are you farming? It is your passion and your business. You’ve seen tough times before. Can you acknowledge the emotions you are feeling and yet distance yourself from your emotions and connect with your “why”? David says, “In acknowledging yet distancing yourself from your emotions and connecting with your why, you learn to unhook and keep going despite your fears. Courage is fear walking.”

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Getting hooked happens when your internal chatterbox links with memories, visuals or thoughts that blend to deliver an emotional punch (i.e., negative self-talk). Farmers who beat themselves up for not buying better-priced feed, yelling that continues when machines break down or cursing the weather are all examples of negative thinking that doesn’t create solutions.

Emotional agility means having any number of troubling thoughts or emotions and still managing to act in a way that serves how you most want to live. That’s what it means to step out and off the hook. When you have the ability to step out, you can notice feelings with curiosity and courage, and create space between your internal feelings and your external options, and then let go.

For farmers, this might mean being able to talk about your sadness about the current disaster, write about the losses you are experiencing in order to process the financial failure and then let go. You step out from the emotions of a tough year and into meaningful action as you develop insight for what to do next.

Yelling, shutting down and avoiding the courageous conversations you need to have with family and financiers is not the solution. I served with Farm Debt Mediation Services as a mediator for a decade. The common-sense approach to managing financial stress is to talk to your lenders; do not avoid them.

Work out new payment solutions together. Consult a farm management specialist who can help design a new cash flow path. See a doctor if depressive thinking won’t leave you.

“Thoughts and emotions contain information, not directions,” David says. People who are run by their negative thinking and high-drama emotions are hard to deal with in family business.

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You value your family. Share your feelings and thoughts openly so they can help you.

You are not what you do. When some plan fails, that does not make you a failure. The art of living aligned to your values is what David calls “walking your why.” Your values are the cherished beliefs and behaviours that give you meaning and satisfaction.

Why are you farming? What do you truly value?

2018 may be a defining year for you to assess if you still want to accept the inherent complexity of decision-making in agriculture. “Making choices, decisions and negotiating relationships without a clear set of governing values at the front of your mind is taxing labour,” David says.

Be emotionally agile. Unhook from negative thinking. Step out to create new solutions.

Choose well. end mark

Elaine Froese, CSP, CAFA, is emotionally agile in front of large audiences. Invite her to speak. Connect with her online (Elaine Froese). Farm Family Coach on Facebook and YouTube.

Emotional Agility

Six techniques from Susan David to use to step out of emotional hooks:

1.  Think process – You want a path of continuous growth over the long haul. This current problem is not your “first rodeo;” draw on the wisdom of farmers who have seen this before.

2.  Embrace and accept contradictions  that increase your tolerance for uncertainty – What are you doing wisely to manage risk?

3.  Laugh – It forces you to see new possibilities. Creating solutions is a positive conflict behaviour.

4.  Change your point of view – Consider your problems from the perspective of someone else. A machinery breakdown is a “first-world problem,” not a third-world one where people are starving. The ability to see issues from another perspective is a great skill to hone.

5.  Call it out – Identify your thoughts and emotions. Say “I am having a thought that is …” “I am having an emotion or feeling that is …” David says, “You have no obligation to accept your thoughts’ or emotions’ opinions, much less act on their advice.”

6.  Talk to yourself in the third person – “Elaine, you are able to choose your actions.”

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