We each face challenges across our day, be they at work or at home, and each of us often thinks that our challenges are unique to our industry. Some also believe that we are all so different that our thoughts are different. This is not necessarily the case. Here are a few common challenges and thoughts we might have:
- Dealing with difficult people – an angry customer who we think ‘it’s me they are yelling at’.
- Meeting tighter and tighter deadlines – behind in our work we think, ‘why can’t I handle the pressure, everyone else seems to be coping’.
- Pressure to perform at a higher standard – we might think ‘I can’t keep going like this’.
- Becoming fatigued towards the end of the day – when tired, we might think ‘I’m always so tired’.
- Balancing commitments of work and home – ‘I need to spend more time at home’, as we feel guilty for always being at work.
These, and many other challenges, can be easily managed by controlling the brain, our thoughts. Let’s look at some other common thoughts we might have:
- You are in a meeting and held back from asking a question, and someone else asks the same question. “That was my question,” you say.
- When you go for a coffee, do you think, shall I have a latte, maybe a flat white, what’s a mochaccino, I won’t have an Americano, oh it’s after 3pm and I shouldn’t drink coffee after 3pm….
- Do you remember your journey to work this morning, in its entirety?
- Do you find yourself being overly self-critical?
- Do you have a younger person talking to you, inside your head?
- Have you heard a DJ on the radio, imagined what they looked like, and then seen them in real life? Were they what you imagined?
- You arrive at work and say hello to your boss and they snap back at you, ‘Hello’. You start work and thoughts come to mind about mistakes you have recently made which leads you to self-blame, they snapped at me because I did or didn’t….
- I often ask someone in the audience, “What primary school did you go to?”, would you be thinking of your own primary school right now as you read that sentence?
Research shows that we have more in common with each other than we might think. 50% of who we are is hardwired, 10% of who we are is the circumstances into which we were born, the remaining 40% is what we have done in our life. This latter portion, including our culture, forms our personality and provides the assumption that we think differently to others.
Each of us goes through 15 to 20 fight-or-flight responses daily, more if you are faced with challenging situations. If you were born from 1980 onwards, you will have around 90,000 thoughts across your day compared to just 50,000 for those born in the 1950s. Our brains are running faster than ever before.
Research, and in fact science, shows that breathing techniques are the most significant way to reduce the effects of these common-day stressors. Muscle memory is a secondary way. We can significantly reduce our fight-or-flight response by breathing in for five seconds, holding our breath for five seconds, and breathing out for five seconds, counting inside our head as we do so. Just three of these cycles will reduce your amygdala hijack after 30 or so days.
Communication can help
There are five generations with whom we interact. Each has a unique way of communicating when angry. With the addition of personality and cultural differences, we now must use techniques that can be used in all situations, regardless of the variant factors. For example, what do you say to an angry person? Nothing. Let them vent then take them back to the main issue. What do you say to someone crying? “Take your time” is a sentence that will give them back self-respect and quickly regain control.
Knowing that our brains work in threes, we can use this to structure our responses into three sentences. The same applies when delivering difficult messages – say it in threes. Getting the person to talk more by using an open question, drilling down with a probing question, and finishing the conversation with a closed question will gain detailed information with just three questions.
Silence is a powerful tool when used correctly. Silence can encourage dialogue and can also be used to catch those not telling the truth. Humility is another powerful tool, rather than ejecting someone from the store or abruptly ending the call, we invite them to come or call back later.
Finally, the way that we stand and sit influences not only our voice, it may also influence the other person. Being seated is the key to remaining calm, for everyone in the conversation. Lifting your diaphragm shows you are strong and allows much needed oxygen into your lungs.
Reducing everyday challenges
There are many ways of mitigating the effects of stressors, yet how often have we started a technique and the stressors remain? Most often, it’s because the technique isn’t intuitive, or we haven’t spent enough time embedding the new practice. It takes 60 to 80 days to break a neural pathway, not 21 days as is often quoted.
Breaking habits, and that is what worry and most other stressors are, often seems insurmountable. It can be. Here are just some of those ways that you can start with, today:
- Control your thoughts – take a deep breath, hold it for at least 3 seconds, counting inside your head as you do so, will maintain composure in challenging situations
- Control your voice – the way we say something is five times more important than what we say.
- Start your day the way you want to end it – if you run late for work you will be ‘running’ all day.
- Energise yourself – look forward to good things coming up, a 15-minute walk, or smiling.
- Stop worrying by replacing the thought with another one, blink your eyes while thinking of the word “stop”, or flicking a rubber band worn on your wrist.
- Overcome complacency and overthinking – refocus your thoughts every 15 minutes remain alert.
- Stop waking between 3 and 4am – eat a small piece of protein just before bedtime.
- Remove adrenaline & cortisol – go for a 30-minute walk at the end of each workday.