Create Space, Gain Peace
We’ve all seen it: a call doesn’t go your way. A teammate blows an easy one off your pass. Your sibling knocks your food over. You forget your [insert important item here] and are running late for the big meeting.
What comes next, often times, is you losing your cool. We get upset, we lash out, we rush and turn workable errors into car wreck moments. The tidal wave of negative emotion in response to setbacks, mishaps, and apparent personal harm is seemingly impossible to surf. But, as our friend Jon Kabat-Zinn will tell you, “you can’t stop the waves, but you can learn how to surf.” So, let’s hit the beach [in our minds; not espousing going to the beach right now]!
This is not a new concept. The material you’ll see below may be a review of concepts you’ve seen elsewhere; no reinventing the wheel here. The key distinction I’d like to make is this: there is a difference between conceptually knowing a concept and experientially knowing it. For example, someone can describe to you how peanut butter and chocolate ice cream tastes, but until you’ve experienced it for yourself, you can’t truly get it! Much of life has to be experienced to be fully understood. That holds true here. You can read the points below, nod your head, and understand each and every one of them. However, until you make a point to practice these techniques regularly, you can’t expect to be able to team the beast of negative emotions and remain composed when things go awry. Getting “the reps” is key! This is where working with a mental skills coach can really help you go from an average to an excellent performer in your craft.
OK, sure, you get it. Right? Enough preamble. Here are some core concepts for staying composed in the face of your inner critic (or external foe):
· Preview situations before they arise
Neuroscientist Daniel Levitin talks
about this seemingly simple concept:
consider what might go wrong before
it occurs. Of course, we don’t always
know what may go wrong, but
previewing gives us a framework for
awareness when these challenges
come up. We’ve been there before, in
· Defuse emotions
Cognitive defusion is a term that refers to looking at your thoughts and emotions, as
opposed to looking from them. It says that we can have a filter for every thought and
emotion that comes across our radar by creating distance between our minds and the
constantly racing wheels within them. Again, easier said than done when you’re in high-
leverage situations. The task at hand is practicing defusion so that the burn of a
negative moment won’t be as great.
· Let it “RAIN”
RAIN is an acronym, created by Michele McDonald, that stands for Recognize, Accept,
Investigate, and Non-Attach. We can practice this technique by working with the next
negative thought or distraction that comes to our minds (don’t worry, it’s coming). The
first part is challenging when we are under duress: recognizing that a stimulus has put
us under duress as opposed to getting lost in it. Next, accepting that this is the situation
as opposed to resisting against it. Then, investigate that thought or emotion (where is it
in your body? why am I clenching my teeth right now? how would I prefer to respond
right now?). Lastly, the concept of non-attachment, another toughie. Can we allow the
thought or emotion to move along so that we can stay composed and respond in the
manner that aligns with our best selves?
· Seated Meditation
Take 10 minutes a day (or more!) to sit and observe your breath. When thoughts distract
you, return your focus to your breath. You don’t have to breath any special way, though
breathing in through your nose is recommended. Do this every day! The benefits go far
beyond your ability to stay composed, but that is one of them. Of all the ways in which
you can practice the skill of creating space between what happens to you and how you
respond, regular meditation practice is the number one method. Every time you are
distracted from your breath and return your focus to your breathing, you are “getting
reps” for composure. You are training your brain to be able to respond rather than react.
Staying composed is easy to understand but hard to do, especially when we find ourselves in truly challenging situations. Take perspective in knowing that whatever you’re going through, it likely isn’t as bad as you’re making it by getting all out of sorts. For reference, do yourself a favor and read Viktor Frankl’s classic “Man’s Search for Meaning.”
Frankl found himself in a Nazi death camp during the Holocaust, malnourished and tortured, and famously wrote: “everything can be taken from a an but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” While this is obviously an extreme example, its lesson is an important one: we are in charge of our attitude, no matter the circumstances. So, next time you want to yell at your significant other for that dish they left in the living room, take a deep breath, defuse your emotions, and respectfully ask them to kindly bring it to the sink. And, if you’re at the line down one with no time on the clock and they call a timeout to “ice” you, remember: pressure is a privilege!