Imagine this, you've got a mop in your hand, you're standing on the beach, and you try to mop up the ocean water as it hits the shoreline. . . uhhh, what? Talk about #MissionImpossible! We cannot control the ocean! It's literally impossible!
How do you feel right now, envisioning yourself on that beach, with that mop in hand? I feel ridiculous when I think of this, I have nothing else to do but chuckle at myself. Let's break this down. . .
There are very few things that we have 100% control over.
Good for us, focusing on these things is a valuable mental skill of high-performers. What are these things you ask?
These are your controllables...meaning, your effort, your actions and behaviours, your attitude, and your thoughts - about anything and everything!
You know what that means...you got the remote.
You control your thoughts, effort, actions, and attitude when you're standing beachside with that mop. You control:
- If you decide to mop
- How hard and fast you mop
- How much you mop
- What you think about mopping (you probably think it's a good idea otherwise you wouldn't do it)
Things that you DON'T control are:
- How high the tide comes in
- How many waves there are
- How much water makes the shoreline
- If it rains, snows, is sunny, or anything else about the weather
- If someone else grabs a mop and decides to join you
We often think someone else is holding the remote - that they call the shots in our life. As if someone made us head to the shore, mop in hand, and start going at it.
While this is a large scale example, and you might feel like it's obvious that mopping a shoreline is silly, conceptually comparable things happen in our daily life! Let me explain...
Consider this; you receive an email from a coworker starting off with the normal, "I hope this email finds you well..." and then they tell you their portion of the project is going to be late by 3 days.
DUN DUN DUN
You realize this will delay the entire project deliverable, and may result in a penalty or punishment from the client and/or your manager!
You feel your throat closing up,
Your hands start to clench,
Your teeth start to grit together,
Your heart rate increasing rapidly...
You hit the reply button and start loudly smacking and typing away on the keyboard starting with "Hello, this is going to run our project late. Why is this part late? *insert fuming red face emoji.*
You're angry, to say the least. And, according to you, it's their fault that you're angry. We often let other people's actions, thoughts or behaviours ruin our day.
Their email informing you of the delay is like the beach and the waves - uncontrollable. Your email response is like you with the mop at the shore. We think that the waves (email) MADE us come out and start mopping (react in a frustrated tone.)
It's a response/reaction to the information at play. You may not even realize how you're reacting because reactions can become automatic and habitual. Every time someone tells you information you don't want to hear, you react in a certain way.
How do you respond differently? Here are 2 steps.
Step 1: Notice when you're feeling activated or charged...like when your throat starts to close up, your teeth start to grit, you feel tense in your body...this is our body communicating to us that something is bubbling inside! Tuning into your body sensations is a game-changer for starting to decode our emotions.
Step 2: Do something intentional to slow your reaction. Try:
- Take 2-3 deep breaths - helps turn on the logical & rational part of the brain and calms our nervous system
- Divert your attention for 2-3 minutes - can help reduce the initial 'sting' of the email/stimulus
- Acknowledge how you feel & write it down - acknowledging the emotion helps reduce the charge of it
- Drink some water - gives us space from the situation, and helps calm our nervous system
Now you're in a better position to choose how you'd like to respond instead of being driven by your emotions and the actions of others. It gives you the opportunity to respond in a way that's aligned with your values - perhaps kindly, compassionately, and assertively.
For example; "Hi. Thanks for the note. It's unfortunate that this part will be late, as it will delay the whole project. Can you let me know what happened? This will help me understand so we can set a more realistic timeframe to commit to with the client next time. Thanks."
It's more constructive, curious, and well-intentioned, while also being firm and holding the other person accountable. You leveraged your ability to control your attitude, general tone, your behaviour and actions in response to the undesirable news.
When we don't recognize that we're feeling activated, we aren't really in control of our responses - they're more of a knee-jerk reaction that can leave us saying things we don't mean, feeling less confident, being more stressed, and feeling out of control.
We can't control the mistakes other people make.
We can't control how someone responds to a slack message.
We can't control what someone says in a team meeting.
We can't control what someone else does with their remote.
We can't control the shoreline.
Focus on what you can control - you'll have better relationships, demonstrate emotional maturity and growth, and help you feel more confident.
The next time you notice yourself getting activated, take a moment before you react. Give yourself a sec to let your brain recalibrate so you can respond with integrity instead of react from emotion.
Ride the waves, make a sand castle, and don't chase the shoreline.