Have you ever felt overwhelmed, under pressure, out of sorts, or out of control? How about out of sync, out of your element, or in over your head?
Gosh, just remembering the times in my life when I’ve been there brings back the anxiety and discomfort. When I’ve been in that kind of situation, I have often felt that there wasn’t enough time to make well-thought-out decisions. I felt pressured to surrender to the urgency and to not take the necessary time to make careful, prudent decisions. Or, maybe it started with some hasty, poor decisions, which then led to the overwhelmed, out of sorts, out of control feelings. (Chicken vs. egg??) Either way, once I’ve found myself in it, there have been times when I kept reacting to the pressure and discomfort. I continued making rash, poor decisions, and I complicated and exacerbated an already bad situation.
Of course, I didn’t realize that at the time. No, I wasn’t doing much thinking or realizing in the moment. I was just reacting, and mostly reacting poorly.
It’s one of those things that have seemed pretty clear and obvious only when I’ve taken the time to reflect upon those situations. Once removed from the urgency of the moment, I could see where my perception of the scale and speed of the situation was exaggerated, where my thoughts were scattered and unfocused, and my reactions and responses were not helpful.
This is how we are wired. This is how our central nervous system reacts under stress. Our focus and attention narrow. We get tunnel-vision. Our heart rate speeds up. And we react without thinking. It’s the Fight or Flight.
The problem with the Fight or Flight response is that most situations we face in our daily lives aren’t grave life and death scenarios. Therefore, neither fighting nor flighting is usually appropriate, practical, or effective solutions. To not get rattled, to not overreact, and to look (or think) before you leap, will almost always lead to a more successful outcome.
As I said, this idea occurred to me upon reflection. Two factors generated my realization. The first was to replay a given scenario and do a little Monday morning quarterbacking. Knowing the full outcome, I’ve found that backing up through the situation can prove an enlightening and educational exercise. I am able to see where a more thoughtful action or response could have more quickly or preferably resolved a situation. Another error that I’ve identified through this reflection is how erroneous assumptions (both mine as well as others) can misdirect people from a simple resolution.
The second factor dawned on me a little differently. I was thinking about movies that I enjoy, and I started thinking about some of the characters that I’ve admired. Like real life role models, I think book and movie characters can demonstrate characteristics that resonate with us. I think it is wonderfully constructive to think of people (factual or fictional) who are or behave or embody that which we ourselves wish and strive to be. As it is with a parent modeling good behavior for a child, seeing someone displaying a trait we admire and want to embody can be very helpful.
For me, I realized that was the strong, silent type. It was the hero who doesn’t crack under pressure, doesn’t flinch, and doesn’t get rattled. He/she is the calm, cool, and collected person who saves the kids/dog/village/planet. And, that hero does so while everyone else is panicking and running around purposelessly.
So, I think about that when people around me seem agitated. When things begin to feel urgent. When I feel anxious, and my heart speeds up. Because whether it’s about blowing up the Death Star, or staying patient in traffic, it could have a real impact on how I enjoy the rest of my day.