I’m not one of those people who vocalises my anxiety, more a “grit your teeth and get on with it” kind of chap. But whenever I feel nervous or anxious, I have a feeling which I often describe as an “internal yodelling”. It’s a kind of “ohmygodherewegobloodyhellgetmeoutofhere” internal dialogue. And it’s really rather unhelpful.
Recently, on-going health problems led to me having an ultrasound scan of my abdomen. And it was a bizarre procedure. I was led into an ominously darkened room with a stern but polite nurse and a rather funky but esoteric doctor who appeared to be a little bit too proud of his byzantine and slightly terrifying medical equipment. I half expected Pink Floyd’s “The Great Gig in the Sky” to be permanently playing on a loop, but fortunately there was only the rhythmic beeping of the doctor’s toys.
After the inevitable brief conversation about why I was there, I was asked to remove my shirt and lie on top of a piece of apparatus they referred to as a bed but which looked more like a workbench. When the doctor began to lube up my belly, the inevitable internal yodelling started. I was so nervous about the potential outcome of this slightly undignified procedure that I even forgot to deploy my preplanned quip, “is it a boy or a girl?”.
Never mind, they’ve probably heard guys knock out that cracker plenty of times before.
Naturally, the source of my anxiety was both the potential outcome of the scan and the environment in which the process was taking place. I could not necessarily prevent my anxiety but what I did was use a technique I always use in situations like this.
I switched my mind from emotional mode into thinking mode.
Getting Control Of Your Emotions
Now, you may have been in many situations at work where you have felt similar emotions to those I felt on the day of my scan. You’ve probably experienced this most often in meetings. After all, meetings are one of the most intimidating and anxiety-inducing pieces of theatre we perform in organisations. Think about it, you are on show. Everybody is giving a performance. There are expectations, requirements, emotional investments. Everybody is fully loaded with all of these things.
When you walk into a meeting room there is an atmosphere. Hell, some meetings are not dissimilar to my aforementioned hospital room. Beeping equipment, stern but friendly people, an enormous flat surface in the middle of the room and sometimes even, an absence of light. Okay, nobody is being asked to remove their shirt – well, not in any organisation I’ve worked with… but you get the idea. They can be genuinely intimidating.
The thing is, like me and my ultrasound scan, you can’t necessarily avoid this atmosphere or prevent your anxiety from surfacing in the first place. What you can do, is shut off your anxiety so you can think.
Business Requires Thought, Not Feelings
Performing business requires our thinking minds more than it requires our emotional side. After all, the rules of the world and reality are not based around arbitrary emotions. They are based around facts.
And yet, so much of what goes on in organisations today is based on people’s feelings. Meetings are a virtual circus of individual’s emotions but their purpose is to collate collective thoughts in order to make progress on various issues. Ironically, feelings prevent this purpose from being achieved.
So if you can shut off your anxiety and allow yourself to think, you will be able to make a far greater impact on the progress of your organisation and have a much better and more rewarding experience while you’re at it.
Brain Capacity For Thought And Feeling
The problem you have is one we all share. The human brain has a very limited capacity to simultaneously process rational thoughts and emotions. It works like this-when you’re feeling emotional your capacity for rational thought reduces.
Similarly when you’re engaged in rational thought, your capacity to feel emotions also reduces.
If you are generally ruled by your feelings, this process works against you. However, if you are able to turn the tables and knock your mind into thinking mode then you can make this work very much in your favour.
When you are in a stressful situation such as a meeting, the environmental conditions are usually what puts your mind into feeling mode and prevents you from getting into thinking mode. You might remember my internal dialogue from earlier -“ohmygodherewegobloodyhellgetmeoutofhere”. Try saying this to yourself over and over again in a frenzied manner and see how rational and stable you feel at the end of it. In my case, my yodelling is default internal dialogue that helps to reinforce the messages that are being sent to me by the stressful environment I’m in. It’s likely that you will have a similar internal dialogue that surfaces whenever you feel anxious.
Now it turns out that you can switch your mind into thinking mode by changing your internal dialogue to a logical and thought based phrase. My yodelling example is clearly an emotional phrase, so my technique for changing modes to thinking is to use the phrase “hmm… this is interesting”.
Try saying this to yourself. You’ll notice that this phrase immediately makes your mind curious to gain further understanding of the situation you’re in. It is not connected to any emotion, it is a logical phrase.
When I was in the hospital, lying on the work bench, lubed up with what appeared to be a storm trooper’s head being scraped across my gut, I said this phrase to myself – “hmm… this is interesting”. The anxiety lifted, I began to see the humour in the situation and I became interested in understanding more about how the procedure worked and what all the equipment did.
This could work for you in meetings and other stressful situations.
What’s your logical phrase going to be? Pick something that works for you and next time you’re sitting in a meeting and internally yodelling from all the drama and theatre, use your logical phrase. Switch your mind into thinking mode and become interested in solving the problem or situation and watch how effective you become. Imagine how effective you will be and how much influence you will be able to assert if you are able to think where everyone else is yodelling.
And finally, in case you’re wondering, all was well with the scan but take my word for it, if the Doctor asks you if you’d like to see the images, just say no.
Managing Director – Franklin-Hackett Ltd.