When life throws you a curveball (ie. kids' camp didn't work out, lice outbreak, work deadline bumped up, car trouble, and the list goes on and on), try to resist the urge to immediately spring into action. Instead, take a few minutes to do this simple, three-step process to get your mindset in tip top shape to tackle the problem as effectively as possible.
Step 1. Pinpoint where your control lies.
It's so common for people to waste their most precious crisis-mode resources - time, energy, brain space - on things that are completely out of their control. Don't do it! If you're stuck in traffic and running late, there's very little, if anything, you can do to get to your destination any more quickly. If you or your child needs to stay home sick, it does you no good to lament about it and wallow in the "Why did this have to happen today, of all days!?" mindset.
When the pieces of your day fall apart, start off by doing a quick mental scan of the situation to separate the parts you can control from the parts you can't. You can either hold these lists in your mind or write them down, depending on what suits your personal style best. Then set aside the Can Control list for just a minute while you get in the right mindset to tackle it.
Step 2. Feel the pain and let it go.
It's natural and healthy to acknowledge your stressful feelings but getting caught up in self pity, self loathing, or resentment around them will only make things worse. You'll be most effective if you can stay constructive and positive. So take 30 seconds or so to feel the discomfort of the situation and recognize that it sucks to be you right now. Then, get back on the productivity express. Take your Can't Control list and chuck it. Wipe it from your mind. Throw it in the recycling bin. Erase it. Burn it. Whatever. By consciously committing yourself to letting go of the stuff you can't control, you'll be saving your precious resources for the things that you can.
Step 3. Get grounded.
Although it may feel like an non-essential luxury when you're in crisis-mode, taking a few minutes to center yourself can actually make you more productive and save you time in the long run. One of the best ways to do this is by keeping your focus on the present moment. Rather than white knuckling through a traffic jam and imagining all of the horrible things that are going to happen because you're going to be late, take some deep breaths and notice - objectively and without judgment - what's happening around you right now. Observe the world around you. Feel your breath going in and out. Notice how your body feels and what's going on with your other senses right now. Try to release any tension you may be holding onto. When your mind starts to wander to the future or the past (and it will, guaranteed), just gently direct it back to what you're experiencing in this very moment. Do this until you feel clear and centered.
This whole process can take less than 5 minutes but can mean the difference between approaching a situation in a frenzy (which is inefficient, not to mention uncomfortable for you and the people around you) and being calm, level-headed, and able to find a creative solution or express a heartfelt apology, if needed. Once you go through these three quick steps, you'll be in the right mindset to bring back that Can Control list and show it who's boss.
(In case you're wondering, an article on exactly how to do that boss-showing bit is in the works. Keep an eye out...)
Join the conversation! In the comments below, share with us what you do to stay calm in unexpected stressful situations.
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