During this time of instability and change, a lesson that I learned many years ago keeps coming to mind over and over again. This lesson is all about staying calm when things heat up around us, and the power that remaining calm in stressful situations can bring.
I’m not going to lie, my natural instincts are very reactionary. I used to spend a lot of time in System 1 thinking mode, in other words, automatic and reactionary. I am not afraid to argue opinions with people or to speak out on issues, however I have learned that I tend to get much better results by taking a deep breath and moving to System 2 thinking.
This lesson really cemented itself in my head many years ago when I worked for the US Army. I was in a meeting that none of us wanted to be in and I had news nobody wanted to hear to deliver to some very senior people. The table is reserved for the big wigs. I sat in the ring of chairs lining the walls, not at the table and like the “red shirts” of Star Trek lore, I was waiting to be sacrificed to the lions at the table. When I was called upon, I shared the news with the group. As expected, it was like a bomb went off. People at the table were on their feet yelling and pointing at each other, I kept trying to clarify, but it was going south fast. I felt like a rabbit being eyed by a coyote. That when my colleague nudged me and whispered at me, “Stop talking”.
In a few seconds, people stopped looking at me, I stopped feeling terrified, and I was able to really listen to the arguments they were having between each other. From that I was able to figure out what they were really upset about and, after they quit throwing chairs at each other WWE style and calmed back down, I was able to address the issues that were at the core of the concerns. Not everyone was happy, but breaking the chain of system 1 thinking by simply following the advice to “stop talking” made all the difference in how things proceeded from there.
I have never forgotten that meeting or the impact that taking a breath and removing myself emotionally from the chaos had on the outcome. We find ourselves in chaos fairly often without even realizing it and if we aren’t careful, our thinking patterns default to instinctual actions. It’s far better if we train ourselves to recognize this shift, take a breath and apply some critical thinking to the issues facing us.
During this time of chaos, I let’s try to slow down a little and breathe. Most of us are feeling the stress of this new, if temporary life is causing us, but before you clean out your 401K or spend $150 on a pack of toilet paper, take that breath and see if it is really the right move or if it is just a reaction.
Finally, lets be kind. That person that is very upset at the supermarket, we don’t know what they are going through or have just gone through. Let’s try to remain calm and understanding as we all get through this together.