How fascinating that the nature of life is change. Take our bodies for example, where old cells are constantly discarded and new ones generated. The cells lining our stomachs last only five days. Red blood cells, after a round trip of nearly 1,000 miles through the circulatory system, last on average 120 days, while the surface layer of our skin, is recycled every couple of weeks.
How ironic then, that the nature of human beings is to resist change—when the key to surviving and thriving is learning how to use the difficult experiences we fear might break us, to recreate us.
You know those times when it feels like all your most cherished plans have ended up in the garbage?
And yet, disorienting experiences are written into the job description of being human.
They visit all of us in some way many times during the course of our lives. Whatever it is, maybe you saw it coming and already have some emergency strategies lined up. Or did you stick your head in the sand in the hope it would go away – except it didn’t; it got bigger, more complex and more urgent? Maybe it crept up on you gradually, so you didn’t notice until it was too late to pre-empt disaster. Maybe like a tsunami, it just came out of the blue and you happened to be standing in its path.
What matters most, is there’s no handbook to help you deal with it. And when you’re reeling from the immensity of the implications, it’s all too easy for stress to hijack your frontal lobe. Shock, confusion and desperation can have your mind cart-wheeling crazily; wondering how the hell you’re going to survive this.
This period of disorientation can feel as though it will last forever. And if you allow your imagination to ricochet wildly from one disastrous outcome to another, slipping inexorably into a panic spiral, you’re in real danger of losing control, disabling your ability to turn this situation to your advantage.
So wouldn’t it be first prize if you could learn to take experiences like these in your stride; use them, instead of letting them use you?
Nobody’s at their most effective when they’re in panic mode. But when faced with the unexpected and unfamiliar, how do you NOT panic?
In order to regain control your number one priority is, like training an unruly puppy—to make your emotions “heel.” To make yourself feel safe, when all your senses are telling you you’re toast! It can be quite a trick to over-ride your instinctive reactions. But it can be done.
This is Emotional Intelligence in action.
Research suggests that 90 percent of top performers have high emotional intelligence. And because they’ve learned to apply this kind of Herculean self control on demand, it allows them to access solutions, while the rest of us are still spinning in panic stricken circles.
In order to manage anything you have to understand it. How good are you at understanding and identifying your emotions? Most people know feeling good from feeling bad – but can you identify what kind of good or bad you’re feeling at any given time?
Why would you want to do this?
Because once you “speak emotional language” competently (and you can identify your own emotions and what triggers them), you’re automatically able to do so with others. It grants you the ability to pre-empt your instinctive reactions and understand what’s driving them.
How people react in certain circumstances is no longer a mystery to you—because your reactions are no longer a mystery to you.
This takes a large part of the fear out of change. The emotions imminent changes trigger in us, and their undisciplined power, is a significant part of what makes it so frightening. Once you have this skill, you no longer have to fear being hijacked by your emotions and risk making the situation worse than it is; or giving up because you can’t see a way out.
How do you reach this state?
Practice expanding your fear fences. Then practice some more. Deliberately face challenges that intimidate you; that you commonly avoid. Pick tasks that are in the OMG what if I fall flat on my face category. You’ll be surprised how elastic your fear fences are. The more you stretch them, the more they expand. Make a habit of taking calculated risks and exploring new territory.
WARNING: Nobody gets it right 100% of the time when they’re learning a new skill.
You will fail. But so will I, and so will 7 billion other people on the planet. We all “fail” numerous times, before we get the hang of something new. Well, what if failure destroys me, you may ask?
It won’t if you make friends with it. If you hang onto your fear of failure and build your identity on it, then it might. If you base your identity on what you’ll learn; how you can adapt—and ultimately triumph, it won’t.
When faced with a crisis or a challenge, as soon as the fear response starts to kick in:
1. Pause—instead of panic
2. Detach from your emotions, and get comfortable with the possibility you might “fail” at first (just like the rest of us)
3. Use your mental zoom out key to gain perspective
4. Ask how can I make this situation serve me (potential)?
5. Act consciously and courageously
Repeating this process consistently will vastly increase your risk tolerance.
Whatever the problem, whatever the challenge, whatever the circumstances, this strategy will help you resolve it.
Why does this work?
The reason this strategy is so powerful is simple. Putting yourself in a state of relaxed receptiveness avoids the stress trap and transports you to the super store of solutions in your brain.
The moment you shift your focus from Problem to Potential, you reclaim control of a situation.
You are no longer a helpless victim of it.
Like learning to handle a firearm, don’t wait until you’re in a life threatening situation. Make this a daily practice, so it automatically kicks in when needed.
The more competent you get at flipping the safety-catch on your stress triggers like this, the less exhausting and more productive life will be. And if you need help to learn how to do this, click here.