Can we learn to stay cool when things are not going as we anticipated?
At any given moment of time, our mind is presenting us with several possible things we could do. These could be competing and each of them has some value attached to it that we weigh up.If we are at work, there may be a deadline we have to meet that requires you to work on something that you do not particularly enjoy, there are a bunch of mates heading out for a drink that you would prefer to join, you have just had a baby and want to go home, your mother has been ill and would like you to stop by. And perhaps your boss needs a hand with a presentation to the Board that is vital to get the resources you need for your team.
Our minds have evolved sophisticated capacity to imagine multiple scenarios about these competing priorities and in doing so we can create biological and physical responses to these scenarios as though they were real. This happens because we have a very primal emotional response to stressors whether real or imagined. We are wired to perceive threat. What we imagine may not necessarily be true!
The good news – we also have the wisdom to hold our perspectives lightly. Learn more about this from the talk by Saplosky based on his work "Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers". It is wise and will put a smile on your face :)
Seligman says prospecting is a ubiquitous feature of our minds. We have the ability to navigate the future based on what we desire. So what might we do so that the choices we make are resonant with our intentions? Here are some ways to think about this:
Create alternate scenarios that look at these competing priorities with compassion. What are the pressures on you and on the other people in these various scenarios, what possible outcomes would you be proud of, what are different ways you could achieve these outcomes?
Find ways to anticipate what may go wrong or not to plan. What might you do if that happens? This is especially important when some of your intentions or goals are long term. You can tap into your capacity for if-then thinking to create ways to respond to things not going to plan.
Remember that your mind is wired to think of the worst possible scenarios. Going back to those options above, “my wife will be very upset if I go out with my mates today” or “my mother will be disappointed if I postpone visiting her” or... you know the game, hey! Make plans to achieve different outcomes to what you are imagining.
Incentivise your effort – what will you personally find rewarding about the outcomes you are chasing?
Reflect on what is meaningful to you, what gives you purpose? Human beings are growth and purpose driven creatures. Sometimes, it is useful to imagine you are 10 years into the future, looking back on this moment – what would you do that would make you feel proud of how you tackled these challenges?
Or, perhaps, you may take a moment or two to step outdoors. Nature has immense restorative powers that help us recover from mental fatigue - even when we do the stuff we enjoy, it draws energy and it is amazing how quickly we can change our perspective when we step outdoors in the midst of nature.