Focus on what you can control.
You’ve probably heard this a million times, but it really is the key to everything.
I have an overactive fear sensor – I can freak out about anything and everything. My brain’s favourite reaction to a perceived threat varies, but is mostly in the ‘freeze’ category with a bit of fight and flight thrown in, but generally my brain just wants to shut down, hide and lay low.
This could be a reaction to something quite small, like uncertainty about how a work meeting is going to pan out (because I can’t control what other people are going to say or what they will ask of me).
The thoughts that then typically run through my head are things like “I don’t want to do this”, “This is pointless”, “I hate this job”, “I should just give up”, etc etc.
My brain is just trying to protect me.
It is offering me a way out. It is trying to convince me this discomfort is not worth it.
But now that I know my brain a little better than before I can choose to not get caught up in it’s messy protective bubble.
I can begin to use other parts of my brain that are more helpful. By tapping into the logical brain and focusing on what I can control in the situation I can start to move forward again instead of being stuck in fear and panic.
So what can I control?
- I can focus on how I want to show up at the meeting. I want to be calm, so some breathing exercises might help. I want to be prepared, so I get my notes in order on my desk for reference. I want to not be defensive, so I remind myself to take a few breaths before I answer any awkward questions. All of this is within my control.
- I can choose how I manage the discomfort I’m feeling. I can’t make it go away, but I can choose to feel it instead of be scared of it. I can look at it, understand it, explore it with curiosity to the point where it doesn’t feel scary anymore
- I can stay in the present moment. Instead of spending the hours before the meeting in panic about a future uncertainty, I can choose to do something else in the present moment. If I focus on the present moment I might eat a good breakfast. I might answer some emails. I might make a to do list for the rest of the day. I might go for a run. I can choose to do something more productive than sitting in panic mode.
- I can control the stories I tell myself. Thoughts like “This is pointless” or “I hate this” are likely to pop into my head as my brain is trying to protect me and give me a way out. But the reality is that I’ve chosen this, I want to do it and I can cope with the discomfort. By reminding myself of what is true I can help my brain to refocus and to shift away from the negative narrative.