Emotional Reappraisal Zoom-Out (David Rock)

I’m a big fan of David Rock and his passion for understating how the brain works in order to help us make the most of ourselves and our lives. He is the author of the business best-seller Your Brain at Work (Harper Business, 2009), as well as Quiet Leadership (Harper Collins, 2006) and the textbook Coaching with the Brain in Mind (Wiley & Sons, 2009). He’s the creator of the SCARF model – a brain-based model for collaborating with and influencing others.

In this TEDx Talk, entitled “Learning about the brain changes everything: David Rock at TEDxTokyo“, David covers a key Zoom-Out technique that he describes as emotional reappraisal. The whole video is full of gems but if you have limited time, jump straight to around timecode: 05:38 (this timecode is a link will take you straight to that point).

He begins this section by describing “How wrong we get emotions”.

And goes on to contrast:

  • Suppressing emotions  >> what most people do (with some cultural variance):
    • makes us less smart
    • kills our memory
    • less likely to remember what someone else is telling you
    • increases blood pressure in other people by triggering a threat response (surprising result!)


  • Reappraisal of emotions >> which has many benefits including:
    • making us happier
    • making us smarter
    • more optimistic
    • higher mastery of the environment
    • more positive relationships
    • higher life satisfaction
    • (see slide below – snapshot from the video)

He also highlights how many of our negative emotions stem from internal threats, that is, ones that we have fabricated in our own minds – “Made-up fears, anxieties and concerns.”. By realising this you can reappraise yourself and accept that this is “Oh, just my brain doing something crazy” or as I would interpret it, just your brain functioning in an unhelpful way (Zoom-Out Principle: “All perspectives are wrong but some are helpful”). If we can spot this, or “watch the thinker”, we can choose to view things differently and override the default emotional response  (Zoom-Out Principle“We can override our default perspectives”). David also points out that laughter is a powerful and low-cost way to do this if we can cultivate that habit.

David also describes another aspect to a Zoom-Out (my words of course). That is that adopting a different perspective is not easy and requires a lot of cognitive effort. For example, seeing someone else’s point of view when you are engaged in an emotional argument. As I have said before, I view us as having a ‘Zoom-Out muscle’ and that the more we use it, the stronger it gets. If we Zoom-Out frequently on the small things then the big things become easier.

Here’s the full video: