Our Founder, Jim Breen, reflects on his own experience of anticipatory stress. He tells us how it took him years to reset his thinking and his approach around stress. Are we the wrecking ball, or are we the calmer and kinder experience?
I used to experience – what I am going to call – anticipatory stress. I would expect stress in a situation long before stress, if any, existed. I defaulted to working off this never-ending tense expectation of stress and anxiety.
I used to travel extensively throughout the world. In that process, it became my badge of honour to catch the earliest flight in the morning and the latest flight in the evening. This was all-important to me. My day had to be jam-packed to capacity for me to feel it was a productive and successful one. If those extremities were denied me, for whatever reason, then I went against the world that day, and everyone in it.
Similarly, the routine line for car-hire at the airport. Long before I met the agent at the desk, I had a list in my head of all the things that were going to go wrong. I had already anticipated the pit-falls, the inefficiencies and the mistakes. It was my expectation. Therefore, by the time I got to the top of the line, I was already stressed and I was already in attack mode. I would be itching for a fight. If the agent had been having a good day, I was about to ruin it.
It took me years to reset myself.
Now my approach is different. Now, I can accept that I don’t need to use the extremities of time slots for my day to be productive and successful. Now, as I wait in line, I observe the server and the first thing I do is check in with them, “How are you?” “How is your day going?”. If the agent is having a bad day, maybe I can, in some small way, reset it for them?
The wrecking ball versus the calmer kinder approach – which works better? Which serves productivity and efficiency better? My reset has demonstrated the latter every time.
At I Am Here, we speak about the CLEAR skills of Compassion, Listening, Empathy, Acceptance and Real. However, it takes courage and confidence to roll out these qualities. It also takes courage and confidence to bring us back to ourselves – to execute that reset of ourselves.
And it takes practice. Often, the step back can be the most important step forward.
I now look to past experiences, past losses and past griefs as resources. Instead of burying and forgetting these things, I now see how what has gone before can nourish me, my Compassion, my ability to Listen, my Empathy with, and Acceptance of, others and their realities.
However, I don’t always get it right. Frequently, I get it wrong.
Frequently, I catch myself out, on doing things badly. I might not be in the mood to empathise, or listen, to others. On the flip side too, I might find myself over-empathising yet being deficient in compassion and care; concentrating on one quality while ignoring another.
Yet what is important for me now, is that I notice when I am off. I have become an observer of myself. In that awareness of myself, I get the prompt to reset, and bring myself back. This ensures that the moment need not be a write-off, that the relationship need not be a write-off, that the connection with my Team Member need not be a write off. I just need to shake myself off and reset.
Because the core qualities we speak of are not just advantageous in our work lives but in our personal lives also. Again, it takes practice and lots of it. Sometimes, we use extreme circumstances to explain away poor behaviour – but is this right? With enough practice and application, even in the most challenging of settings, those core qualities will serve us and others.
The I Am Here thinking is: here are the skills and here is how you apply them. Catch yourself out doing it right and applaud yourself. And, when we don’t get it quite right? Well, we know the process, we know the default – we bring ourselves back and reset.