Inside Out – Disney’s Lessons For Grown-Ups

My new coaching tools!

Last week I took my children to see Disney’s latest offering, “Inside Out”.

I liked it so much I’ve invested in a full set of figures; not for my children, but for my coaching practice. I often work with clients helping them to bring their inner ‘Gremlins’ to life. Now they have Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust to play with too.

I like to think of myself as a learned practitioner in the field of human development; grounded in academic rigour and well read in neuropsychology. With this image of myself I somehow feel I ‘ought’ (enter my gremlin!) to be dismissing “Inside Out’ as silly and frivolous – highlighting its flaws and inconsistencies with the latest advances in our understanding of neuropsychological processes. But, I can’t. I loved it!

The film is the story of how an 11 year old girl, Riley, copes with the trauma of moving to a new city, far from her friends and the things she’s always loved. The story is told by a cast of 5 characters, her emotions personified, who are living in her head. These 5 Characters – Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust, help her as she navigates her way through life. When Riley’s family move across the country the 5 face their biggest challenge ever. With Fear, Anger and Disgust holding the fort in headquarters, Joy and Sadness find themselves on an adventure through the deepest recesses of Riley’s mind – her subconscious, her imagination, and even her store of abstract thoughts – in an attempt to save her ‘core’ long term memories that are now threatened by the move.

Embracing our emotions

As a parent this film is a gift. An animated movie about mental health! It never would have happened when I was little, but I sure wish it had. When I grew up, sadness, frustration and expressions of emotion other than happiness were greeted with “don’t be silly, it doesn’t matter, stop crying, cheer up!” Whereas this film says – you don’t always have to be happy and, in fact, you NEED those other emotions for a healthy life.

Hoorah! Now I can talk to my children about the interplay between emotions without them rolling their eyes at me and sighing, “Not that coaching thing again Mum”. And what’s more, at last, it’s OK to be ‘cross Mum’ sometimes!


As a coach I particularly liked a moment in the film when Sadness sits down with Riley’s imaginary friend, Bing-Bong, in a moment of despair. She simply listens to and acknowledges his despondency and before long, he’s up on his feet and cheery again. “How did you do that?” asks Joy with disbelief. The reply – “Well he seemed kind of sad, so I listened.”

Oh, the beauty of listening! So simple – and yet what so many coaching clients say they value most and get least in their daily lives.

Here’s hoping our children grow up with the wisdom to just listen rather than trying to fix or change.

Who dominates in your boardroom?

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from a business perspective is the way in which the film depicts the ‘headquarters’ of the mind as a kind of boardroom.

In Riley’s headquarters the 5 emotions all have an equal voice. But, when we get a snapshot view of her mother’s mind we see Sadness at the head of the table and dominating proceedings, the other characters mostly looking disengaged and occasionally backing up the boss’ viewpoint with a throwaway comment.

As for Dad – well, Anger is firmly in control and the boardroom is a place of apathy punctuated with decisions made with fiery impulsiveness.

So, who dominates in your personal boardroom and what would you gain if you gave your other emotions a voice?

And as for the boardrooms out there in the corporate world – the tired business boardrooms where nobody listens, emotions are not welcome and the big boss rules – even my 4 year old now knows that a boardroom where good decisions are made is one where the views of ALL board members are taken into account. A productive boardroom is where differing opinions are welcomed and where EMOTIONS sit at the table. Where everyone listens – really listens – to everyone else.

Write your own ending to the story!

At this point I have to own up to only having seen two-thirds of the film! My Disney adventure through Riley’s mind was abruptly halted by one of the those crises of nature familiar to, and dreaded by, all parents… (The cinema staff were most helpful with their mop and bucket and my little cherub has recovered well)….So I am left to create my own ending. I’m very tempted to go back to see it again, but actually I quite like the way it’s been left open. We know from neuroscience that our minds are plastic – that is, we can shape and develop them through our own choosing – so, how shall I mould Riley’s mind in the infinite possibilities of mine?

So, if you don’t have children and never go to the cinema – borrow some as an excuse to go – you’re missing a treat!


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