It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.
Do you remember the excitement of doing an obstacle course as a kid? Jumping over logs, diving through hoops, shimmying under ropes, and then running across the finish line. Pure fun! However, when it comes to our grown up lives, navigating the hurdles commonly found along the way is not quite as easy. At times, these blocks may be external circumstances, over which we have little control. But more often than not, it is the internal hurdles which dog us the most, and are the most challenging to move past.
This principle is seen in the concept of emotional intelligence. Of the four areas of emotional intelligence, the first three are devoted to growing our internal resources, by building self awareness, other awareness, and self management. The last area - being able to manage our external relationships with others – is really a healthy outgrowth of the prior three.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at a common internal hurdle that can get us stuck. And let’s see what can be done to get past it.
To do so, we are going to pay a visit to a master in the field of psychology: Aaron Beck.
Aaron Beck is known as the father of cognitive psychology. Beck observed that there were specific thought patterns that could become embedded in people’s world views. These thought patterns, used repetitively over time, become automatic and contribute significantly to people’s stress levels. More importantly, getting people to recognize and disrupt these thought patterns could reverse their levels of stress and anxiety.
In my work with women, I’ve found that a common stress-related habit is one that Beck described as the habit of selective attention.
This is an automatic thought pattern of only paying attention to a specific aspect of an event, interchange, or circumstance.
Take for example Kelly, a senior executive at her company. She and her team are assembled to work on an important project with a looming deadline. It is a predominantly male team, and she feels she must fit into the company’s culture – not unrealistic at all. However, by working single-mindedly at fitting with the culture, she takes on the habits of unforgiving working hours as well as a limited show of emotion at work. This leaves her feeling isolated and stranded in a foreign land. At the same time, she misses picking up on the cues of her coworkers who are willing to engage in a more nuanced approach to the project. Were she to look more closely, she would find that there are indeed others – including her boss – whose philosophies hew closer to her own at times. By noticing this and fostering it, she may be able to introduce the beginnings of a more balanced approach to her team. And feel less isolated at the same time.
This is not to deny the realities of her work. The corporate environment is often a tough one for women. However, no matter what the realities of your situation, there is always room to improve your subjective experience of it. And this in turn can make an objective difference.
It benefits you to be aware of what your assumptions are and what you are focusing on. To quote Beck, “A person’s cognitive appraisal of a situation plays a central role in the development of stress.”
We should ask ourselves:
* If I face a stressful situation, is my current point of view about it 100% realistic?
*What nuances and degrees of “give” exist that I may be overlooking?
*Am I “selectively attending” only to the evidence that supports my current paradigm?
*Do I need to expand what I pay attention to? Do I need to shift my worldview?
*How can doing so enlarge my take on the situation, and free me up to be more effective?
When it comes to dealing with stress, there will be real world blocks that you may not be able to transform or move overnight. Yet, pay attention to what you are paying attention to. Be intentional with your focus. You may find yourself less stressed and more effective at getting past your hurdles.
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