Unlocking Emotional Wisdom: 5 Life Lessons from ‘Inside Out

Whether triggered by the recent horrible events in Israel and Gaza or by events occurring “closer to home”, an increasing number of my recent coaching conversations have centered around understanding emotions. Whatever the trigger, the inevitable questions follow: How long should I cry? How long should I stay angry? How long should I stay fearful? …

CORE Emotions and a Movie

In 2015, Pixar Animation Studios release a movie entitled, “Inside Out”. The story chronicles the journey of a young girl named, Riley, as she and her family move from Minnesota to San Francisco. The focus is on how her five key emotions: Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust learn how to work together to guide Riley through this critical life change.

As referenced in the article 5 Life Lessons INSIDE OUT Teaches About Emotions – Nerdist by Tai Golden, the mission of these core emotions “to restore Riley’s key memories and her personality islands offers us a lot of valuable lessons about recognizing, respecting, validating and processing our own complex and fluid emotions.

By the way: Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust are not unique core emotions to Riley. THEY ARE COMMON TO EACH AND EVERYONE OF US.

With this in mind and as supported by the referenced article below. You’ll find five “Inside Out” life lessons that will encourage us to be kinder to ourselves and each other.

“INSIDE OUT” – 5 Life Lessons

1. Tap into your Core Memories:

After all, they are what make you … you. Reflect on your past life experiences. What makes them memorable and important, and what emotional mix is attached to them? Those memories inform you about the things you truly love, enjoy, or need to avoid for your own mental and emotional well-being. That conscious awareness will allow you to be more emotionally prepared for future experiences, those that you can influence and those that you cannot.

2. Embrace Sadness

This lesson may be counter to what most of us were taught in childhood. With statements from grown-ups such as, “Don’t Cry”, “Suck It Up”, and “Just Get Over It”. For Riley, the expectation that she should always be the “happy girl” compelled the other core emotions to not allow Sadness to have a space in Riley’s life. A positive path forward for Riley was the recognition that emotions actually work in tandem. The combination of Joy and Sadness actually gave Riley motivation to push forward and to open up to her parents about her feelings.

In reality, “Sadness allows us to listen to ourselves and process our emotions instead of burying them for temporary comfort.” It can be a necessary release and promote emotional clarity.

3. Emotions Are Not Good or Bad (they just are what they are)

Referring back to the premise that emotions work in tandem. “You can’t experience Joy without sorry, peace without Anger, and courage without Fear”. Perhaps a better way to characterize emotions is as positive or negative. In Riley’s case, Joy would be a positive emotion, while Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust, would be considered negative emotions. Positive emotions tend to turn us outward, opening us up and broadening our perspectives. Positive emotions allow us to pursue the best versions of ourselves. Negative emotions turn us inward and support our natural tendency to wallow in bad news / events / experiences. They feed our own negativity bias. The challenge we have is how to train our brains to look for the good. To motivate us to move from negative emotions toward positive ones.

4. You Can’t Govern Other’s Emotions

Just as Riley’s parents expected her to adjust to the move west without hesitation and negative emotions, we often expect others to react to things the same way that we do. “Our own experiences and privileges inform what trigger us, motivate us and cause a shift from our norm.” We are all unique people with different core memories that will manifest different emotions. “We need to give people the room to feel what they feel.”

5. Active Listening is Where It’s At

“A key element in being a supportive friend or partner is actively listening to the person, not necessarily to respond or sway them to another emotional place, but to simply offer a safe space.”

“Inside Out” reminds us of the value of being consciously aware of who we are, how and why we are feeling the way we do. It’s OK not to be OK! “Inside Out” also reminds us that it is important “to give those around us a chance to work through their own emotional realizations”. It’s not about trying to avoid uncomfortable feelings, but rather to encourage us to be kinder to ourselves and each other. To use these feelings for growth. It worked for Riley and her parents in “Inside Out”. I believe that it can work for us as well.