We are probably all familiar with that moment when something happens that makes your heart sink. You are planning to do something familiar and for which you are well prepared. Then suddenly, the unexpected happens—a crisis, an emergency, something which puts you into a state of shock. Your mind goes blank, your mouth becomes dry, and you struggle to think or to know what to do.
Such unexpected events can range from something relatively small, such as a tough question in a job interview, to a serious life-threatening medical emergency, or even a major global crisis such as COVID-19 and subsequent lockdown. In drawing upon my own personal life experiences, and my experience as a Life and Executive Coach, I know that unplanned events will definitely happen at some point in all of our lives. We can therefore plan and prepare to ourselves to respond appropriately in these moments, so that we not only survive but thrive in pressurized situations.
The details of events will vary but the impact on our minds is much the same. When we feel stressed our reptilian brain is activated. It reacts by retreating into a more defensive mode (fight, flight, freeze) that limits our ability to think, assess, and make decisions.
In these pressurized moments, there are factors we can control and those we cannot. When we focus on factors on factors beyond our control, we intensify the pressure. Subsequently, increasing our anxiety and ultimately undermining our self-confidence. So, instead, we must focus on the factor that can be controlled, such as our thinking, planning, decision making, and communicating.
Recalling our previous successes tends to refresh our self-confidence. We did it, or something similar before and therefore we can do it again. Once we are feeling good about ourselves, we are better able to deal with our nervous energy and make the right things happen. Belief in a successful outcome prevents wasteful anxiety that can be both draining and distracting. Enabling us to use our personal resources to good effect.
When we are in high-pressure situations, it is natural to speed up our thinking. Do not do it! Moving too fast often leads to acting before we are ready. We do not think as clearly as we normally would. We miss key information and sometimes make inappropriate decisions.
So, slow down! We need to give ourselves a little time to breathe and formulate our thoughts to then be able to formulate a plan. Slowing down will also allow us to think more flexibly and creatively. Thereby taking more decisive and more effective action.
I encourage my clients to use the following 7Cs to manage this process:
Calm Yourself—Stay calm and in control. Then frame the challenge in positive terms
Create Your Intention—Use your imagination to consider all the possible options
Confirm the Steps—Confirm your plan and the steps you will take to produce the outcome you desire
Commit—Mentally commit to your plan so that you can be clear, calm, and decisive
Communicate—Brief others who need to know your plan in a clear, calm, and concise manner
Control—Implement, Monitor, and Adjust your plan
Celebrate—Take time to celebrate your success
By understanding what is happening to our minds during pressurized events, it is perfectly possible to be prepared to respond in the moment, stimulated, and excited by the challenge. We become keen to put our skills to test and achieve a successful outcome. The situation is no longer a crisis or a threat, it becomes a massive opportunity!