The British writer and Nobel recipient, Rudyard Kipling, stated “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you…Yours is the earth and everything that’s in it…(excerpted from If, 1895).
I woke up yesterday morning looking forward to a great day. Meetings and a 45-minute swim in the morning, followed by an afternoon of productive writing. Little did I know that by 10AM elements of my day would begin to unravel and by evening I would be battling frustration and hopelessness.
This was not manic-depression or personality disorder, just the kind of day we all have from time to time. We coast along doing the right things, and we get blindsided by things out of our control. It could be a car breakdown, a child acting out, a supervisor’s decision, a financial hit, criticism, or illness. We didn’t expect these things or plan for them. Frankly, we don’t feel we deserve them. Sometimes life seems unjust.
We can react to these stressors in several ways. Many folks I know shut down socially and draw into themselves. Others express their frustration through anger or passive-aggressive behavior.
Our typical human reactions only add to the problem. In fact, we become the problem for others. We become people who are "losing our heads and blaming it on others"
How does this affect our ability to achieve goals? Fairly obvious, right? When we feel angry, depressed, or frustrated we certainly don’t feel motivated. We focus on the pain and our circumstances and not much else.
Things happen. Sometimes they have causes you can identify, sometimes not. Psychologists have identified many biases in our thinking when we try to identify causes. For instance, when others make mistakes we tend to believe it’s due to something about their self or character (they’re greedy, clumsy, selfish, stupid, etc.). When we make a mistake, we tend to believe it’s due to the environment (not given enough time, the dog ate my homework, etc.). See the bias here?
Four General Tips for Keeping Your Head.
- When a bad thing happens, study your emotional reaction. How does it make you feel? Be curious, study it as a scientist would. Think, “I’m feeling anger right now” instead of “I’m so angry”. This will help you remain more objective. Be honest with yourself.
- Avoid blaming. You don’t really know what motivates that other person. Can you even be sure that she is aware of what she did? Perhaps he meant well. Perhaps she is having a bad day. Perhaps he couldn’t help it. Maybe they really were out to hurt you. But save the analysis and reaction for when you are calm.
- Separate the person from the problem. This is a principle from Fisher and Ury, Getting to Yes. When faced with a challenge, focus on how to manage it, not on how to get even.
- Stay calm. Breathe deeply, take a walk, talk to a trusted friend. Do those things that help you keep your head.