Stress at work… A corporate, project or change management role is a challenge. Performing at the higher levels is top sport. Like an athlete, you need to keep yourself sharp, in shape, react instantly, be strategic, predict what the next steps need to be and act accordingly.
Athletes work a lot on state control, keeping their mental game together – even when things start to look bleak. They have to stay cool as a cucumber.
What do YOU do to manage the stressors in your life? Are you able to maintain your high performance state at all times, or do you sometimes find yourself lacking energy? Lashing out to your loved ones? Jumpy and on edge like a scaredy-cat?
What distinguishes people who are resilient, who seem to wear their Teflon-coating at all times, from those of us who bring work stress to our family and homes?
Stress is a given. How we deal with it is not. A lot is learned behaviour, habits. Learned behaviour means we can change it. We can bring the stress reaction down with practice.
What do unflappable people use as defense mechanisms?
They have four important skills:
1. They distinguish professional dispute from personal attacks. If someone disagrees with them, that doesn’t say anything about them. They stand squarely in their shoes, own their attitude and have a positive view on themselves.
2. They are confident they can deal with the issues. They reframe each situation into something positive, a learning opportunity. Or, they realise the other party is under a lot of pressure and is not behaving as their normal sophisticated self.
3. They keep things in perspective. Even when facing very painful events, they put the stressful situation in a broader context and keep perspective. You will not find them blowing an event out of proportion, instead they are optimistic and hopeful that tomorrow will shine a new light on the situation.
4. They are able to ask for help when needed. They open up to others. This allows them to get support, to vent emotions and get someone else’s perspective. In addition, giving help to others, being focused on another person’s bigger problems, helps reframe one’s own issues.
WHAT TO DO
What does that tell us? What can we do to be more like them
1. Replace judgement with acceptance
When you take criticism personal, on some level you resonate with what the other is telling you. When someone gives you ridiculous criticism, you simply laugh, don’t you? So, only when you judge yourself, you’ll get upset. The trick is to learn not to judge. Accept yourself: good and bad. Nobody’s perfect. Who cares?
The easiest way to clear self-judgements is by learning compassion. Just 10 minutes – 10 minutes! – loving-kindness meditation a day for 8 weeks will visibly change your brain in scans. I recommend to start with Positive Psychology professor Barbara Fredrickson’s Self-love meditation on http://www.positivityresonance.com/meditations.html
When you’ve worked on your self-confidence and self-love, you become unf*ckwithable, as Vishen Lakhiani from Mindvalley likes to call it. You’ll know when someone is right and you hear yourself simply answering with self-confidence: “You’re right”, without emotion or judgement. Or, when they’re wrong about you, you’ll notice that you shrug you shoulders and walking away, untouched.
2. Visualise what you DO want
Visualise what you want, rather than staying focused on what you fear or don’t want. Practice becoming toward-happiness driven, instead of away-from-fear. Catch yourself everytime you start a worrying cycle and tell yourself “STOP!”. Then start an internal dialogue on what you DO want instead. Positive focus is a great help to relax.
Stopping the anxiety pattern consistently will re-wire the brain neurons into a path towards positive self-actualisation. At the same time the neurological worry track will fall into disuse. It’s like when you suddenly find a quicker way home: you can still use the long & winding road, but why would you?
3. Accept reality
Assess whether you can change the situation or not. If you cannot, there is no point getting upset about it. Stressful events happen in everyone’s life; our only choice is how we interpret and respond to these events. As Byron Katie puts it: “When I argue with reality, I lose – but only 100% of the time.”
Find meaning in adverse events by asking yourself what you learned from them. What is it that you’ll no longer do now that you know this?
When reality hits you like a brick wall, keep yourself going by setting small, achievable targets. The only way to eat an elephant is bite by bite. “What’s one thing I can accomplish TODAY that helps me move in the right direction?”.
And celebrate as you achieve these baby steps! If you’re not yet able to celebrate your achievements, practise doing so by pretending to be happy, until you really become it. Funnily enough, your mirror neurons don’t really know the difference between imagining and being. This is also the way top athletes perfection their performance: re-running the essential moves in their brain until it is hard-wired in.
4. Social connections
Enjoy your practice!
Our social network is essential for happiness and stress release. Look for growth and self-development through making connections with others. Did you know that we have a 6th sense for people who are like us? In a room full of strangers, we can perfectly seek out the people who we’ll be more comfortable with, with whom we connect at an unspoken level. When we exchange we often find that we have more than one thing in common.
It takes courage to share in intimacy, however, vulnerability in sharing gains you respect and friendship. Because when you are yourself, it gives your friends and colleagues permission to be themselves, without wearing that – sometimes too tight – corporate mask.
Last but not least, following these practices will ensure that you push yourself less and take better care of yourself. You’ll care enough to allow yourself down-time to meet your own needs, to do stuff you enjoy in order to re-boot and improve your health.