I’ve been uttering the words “uch, I’ve got no time” more times than I used to recently, and whilst I could console myself that this is a consequence of a busy and stressful year, I’m not convinced next year or the year after are going to be much different.
At times this year, I’ve been at my most stressed. I delivered my largest and most complex project to date and moved to an amazing new company where I now have the pressures of being a consultant. All whilst renovating our newly purchased home…a never ending task it seems.
Being the type of person I am, a firm believer of the adage “what doesn’t break you makes you stronger”, I imagine I’ll continue to throw myself into even more stressful situations.
After all, you’re not really achieving anything if you aren’t pushing your boundaries or stepping outside your comfort zone, right?
So, although its unlikely there will be less stressors in my external environment, I need to find a way of making sure I don’t hit my breaking point.
And the warning signs are there.
I’ve heard “you look tired” a lot more than I used too1 and although #grannyhair trended for a while in 2015, I really would rather I slowed my ascent to the silver haired ranks.
Well as trite as it sounds I won’t be a victim of my environment. I’ll choose how events around me impact upon my emotions, my behaviour and subsequent actions. And I’ll do it through the power of:
- The pause,
- Breathing, and
- The reframe
The pause – I learned this tip the hard way
Do you suffer from ‘foot in mouth’ disease2 and have been given the advice to “take a minute…” by someone with your interests in mind?
I have on numerous occasions. However not everyone is a kind soul that will remind you to take your time to formulate a response, ensuring your gut reaction has gone through an element of logical stress testing before you share it.
And boy, don’t I know it…
Whilst working alongside a competitor recently I was faced with one of their Project Managers whose questioning technique was a tad blunt and masculine, to be polite.
Having only been introduced to the individual seconds before, I was expecting to exchange the standard pleasantries. However, what followed fell just short of the Spanish Inquisition.
Now this is where the pause would have come in handy, if I’d used it, but my Scottish heritage took over!
Internal dialogue – this Muppet’s gunning for me here
External dialogue – incoherent answer mixed with defensive/aggressive tones
Well now everyone’s a loser, right?
I’m annoyed with the PM and myself. I’ve given a rubbish answer to his questions, let my emotions get in the way and I’ve now got the extra work of having to repair the relationship through resetting his initial expectations. My stress levels? Rising. On a side note, the PM also doesn’t get the answer to his question.
However, what would have happened if I’d given myself a few seconds before blurting the answer? In all likelihood I’d have taken a more dignified approach and provided the answers the PM sought. Everyone’s a winner.
The trick I struggled with following this encounter was how do I remind myself to pause to ensure everyone’s a winner?
Well thankfully when reading a great book by Daniel Goleman called Focus recently, he provided the perfect solution: traffic lights!
So next time you’re asked a question, or faced with an event, that might increase your stress levels:
Pause and take a moment to
Think. Before you
Give the best response you can
You’ll be surprised how much better it feels taking those extra seconds, and you might just reduce your workload at the same time.
Breathing – I learned this tip through observation
Coupled with the pause, breathing can help you to be at your best more often, especially in your moment of thought.
Have you ever noticed just before a critical moment that most sportsmen and women take a deep breath? Have you ever wondered why? Well there are many reasons, however rather than bore you with theory, lets try it to see why.
For the next 15 seconds instead of breathing normally, take really shallow quick breaths.
How do you feel?
When I do it I feel more on edge, a bit lighter headed, my heart rate has increased.
Now, lets try it again, but this time instead of breathing quickly let’s take deep, long, breaths.
Do you feel the difference? All of a sudden I feel more at ease, more focussed and my heart rate has decreased. All the things that will help to think through the problems being faced.
So we’ve covered the pause – buying yourself the time to be at your best, and breathing – making sure your body is primed to give you the best performance it can at that time.
These tips help you to pro-actively stop the stress building as it puts you in the driving seat, giving you the best chance of clearing whatever hurdle comes your way.
However, these won’t always be enough. There will be times when things don’t go to plan and the above techniques don’t stop the stress levels rising. This is where the final technique comes into its own.
The reframe – I’ll be honest I’m still learning this one…it’s tough!
Finally, it is almost inevitable that there will be times when things don’t quite go to plan and my stress levels start to rise. This can be caused by anything, normally things outside my control, and this is where the reframe comes in.
However rather than make this the world’s longest blog I’ll refer you to a friend’s earlier blog on the Power of the Reframe…I think Nick sums it up pretty well.
So there you have it, those are the actions I’m putting into practice to increase my resilience.
Hopefully in sharing I’ve given you some food for thought on what will make me more resilient.
If you’ve got any top tips, please share in the comments…it would be great to hear what others do!
1 on that one try an alternative like “is everything okay?” next time you think this. It’s more likely to be received better, especially if they are tired
2 the human conversational, not bovine, variety