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Three EI (Emotional Intelligence) Lessons from the Movie Inside Out

Blog | Life and Leadership   |   November 19, 2015

by Joy Talavera

When I saw the movie Inside Out, I was surprised, delighted, shocked, and moved. Perhaps because the main character Joy not only had my name, her character was based on me! Okay, not really. But at least that’s what it felt like. It was almost like looking in the mirror—emotionally.

I’ve seen Inside Out three times now and each time, I learn new things about life through the story and the characters. Our emotions seem so complex yet Inside Out gives us great insights that simplify the complexities of emotions in a way that both children and adults can understand. Insights that we can easily pick from our pockets to apply daily.

Inside Out is one of Pixar’s most successful movies. The story is about the emotional journey of young girl named Riley, and a lot of the action happens inside Riley. The characters Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Anger and Fear, which are based on the five basic human emotions, represent Riley’s emotions. In the beginning of the movie, Joy was first introduced residing inside Riley’s mind, which they call Headquarters, and she is the key character in this movie.

Here are some lessons we can learn from Inside Out (otherwise known as the Emotional Intelligence movie for kids):

1. Respond, Not React

When things were going awry in Headquarters, all the other emotions turned to Joy to “fix things”. I cannot recall how many times the line “Joy, you gotta fix this” came up. And Joy, being the only positive emotion, would try to stay joyful and fix things for Riley’s sake. Even going to greater lengths just to make sure everything would be back in place.

It’s our natural response to react to situations. When our emotions get flagged by challenges, our immediate response is to try and fix things. In my experience though, reacting only leads to regret. When you are overcome by your emotions, reacting brings out the worst in you and your decisions get clouded.

Responding, on the other hand, gives you the opportunity to look at situations from the right perspective. The world does not rest upon your shoulders and we are not meant to fix everything. Pause. Know what pushes your buttons next time and learn to respond and not react.

2. Breakdown Before The Breakthrough

As Joy and Bing Bong (Riley’s imaginary friend) were trapped in the memory dump, Joy was losing hope until she saw one of the core memories of Riley. It was when her hockey team Prairie Dogs lost the championship. As she reviewed the memory, she realized that it was that moment of sadness that brought Riley’s parents and her teammates to come to cheer her up. And this became a core memory in Riley’s maturity. Joy then acknowledged that Sadness was not something to be pushed aside or hidden. Sadness plays a part in processing experiences.

We tend to ignore breakdown moments sometimes. We think that those are non-essentials and that all we need to do is figure out a way to just brush them off with a smile and act joyful. Nobody likes breakdown moments. Having to face what we really feel and lean into our discomfort. But these moments of breakdown are key to us learning about ourselves and our emotions. Imagine if you give up in the middle of the struggle, you miss the opportunity of experiencing the beauty of breakthrough.

3. Dare to Dream

Everybody loves Bing Bong in the movie. I think most people I know had a teary moment when Bing Bong had to let go of Joy so she could get out of the memory dump. A part of it is because Bing Bong represents those moments in our childhood when we used our imagination in amazing ways. We were free to create and encouraged to be whoever we wanted to be. But somehow when we became adults—faced with responsibilities and the realities of life, we lost sight of the joy of having a child-like passion. When we face failure and disappointments in life, we tend to hold back and forget about the Bing Bongs in us. This movie has encouraged me to keep on dreaming. To imagine possibilities. To create without the hindrances of being emotionally stressed about life.

A quote by Corrie Ten Boom says “Memories are the key not to the past, but to the future”. Our memories and experiences are not so we can dwell in the past but for us to use those to keep building for our future. So dare to dream and be amazed by what the future has in store for you!

Questions to ponder on:

1. How quickly do you usually react to stressful or unexpected situations? What can you do to respond more thoughtfully when pressure arises?

2. Think of something that made you excited when you were a kid—whether it’s dreaming of flying through space, or visiting Disneyland. Take a moment to dream of something you would like to see or experience today. Get excited about something you always wanted and ask yourself what you can do to make it happen.

Feel free to share your thoughts. Email us at

Joy is a Communications Director at a not-for-profit organization in Singapore. A blogger and speaker, Joy is an alumni of ROHEI’s Emotional Intelligence and Design Innovation programs.

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