Emotional prehab - getting upstream from stress
Would you like to be 'fit' to learn everything you can from the experience of not getting that job so you can up your game next time? Would you prefer to bounce back more effectively when you don’t get the grades you wanted? Would you rather be able to gain insight quickly into why a relationship isn’t working?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, then emotional prehab is for you!
I’ve seen quite a lot in the press over the last few months about the concept of 'prehab'. It’s described as upstream rehabilitation, predominantly in a medical or sports setting, where people focus on being as well as they can be prior to medical intervention (such as surgery) or to prevent injury in sport. The theory is that if a patient is as well prepared as possible for medical treatment, they will recover more quickly with fewer complications. This might be that they improve their cardio-vascular fitness which will help them exercise more quickly post-treatment, encouraging healing. In sport, whilst injury is harder to predict, being prepared by anticipating what sort of injuries might occur, training pre-injury can be focused on supporting the part of the body that might sustain a problem. Sounds very sensible, doesn’t it, although, interestingly, there’s much less focus on preparing for the mental/emotional impact of medical treatment or sporting injury than there is on the physical implications.
If we expand this thinking to what happens to us when we have emotional trauma, how many of us are getting as 'fit' now as we can be so that our ability to deal with difficult times and recover effectively is boosted? How many of us wait until the upset happens before seeking support, reading self-help books, etc? This might seem a bit of a gloomy outlook on life; that we should all expect something to go wrong at some point in our lives. Or, is it realistic? When something goes wrong, it doesn’t have to be a major, life-changing occurrence, and I think you’d all agree that life can throw some lemons sometimes, so why not get prepared?
This is where a good coach can help - not just when they’re drafted in because there’s a crisis! Positive psychology is a scientific approach to studying human thoughts, feelings, and behaviour with a focus on strengths, not weakness, building the good in life instead of repairing the bad, and taking the lives of average people up to 'great' instead of focusing solely on moving those who are struggling up to 'normal' (Peterson, 2008). Part of this work is the concept of psychological capital (psycap) containing the four pillars of hope, self-efficacy, resilience, and optimism (HERO). First developed by Fred Luthans, Carolyn M Youssef and Bruce J Avolio to leverage human capital in organisations, psycap can easily be applied to individuals. Higher psycap has been scientifically related to better well-being and lower stress levels - who wouldn’t want that?
So, how do we do it? How do we do this 'prehab'?
One way is to consider the way you approach goals. When you think of something you want to do, do you get overwhelmed by the size of the mountain to climb, or do you consider chunking the activity down to smaller things that you could start doing today?
Another way is to decide ahead of time how you will feel in a particular circumstance. One of the texts I turn to time and again when thinking about developing psycap is 'Man’s search for meaning' by Viktor E Frankl. In fact, its subtitle is 'the classic tribute to hope from the Holocaust'. In his book, Frankl documents the despair and atrocious surroundings of Auschwitz. There is some detail about the despicable way in which human beings are treated and, to some extent, the mindset of those carrying out these atrocities. What he focuses on even more, however, is his undying commitment to reframe what happened to him, and others, in order to survive. 'Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms - to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way'. How true is this? Now, this can take some practise, but imagine the power this can give you. No one can take away the state of mind you choose - and you can choose before the situation ever arises! Decide beforehand how you will feel during your interview; consider what’s needed to be your most resourceful self. A good NLP coach will help you with ways to do this.
A measure of PsyCap is an individual’s positive psychological state. Someone with a well-developed psycap will have self-efficacy to be able to take on what’s needed to succeed life and overcome challenges. They will also feel optimism about their success now and in the future. They will be able to be resilient and persevere towards their goals, including being able to stand back and redirect efforts when needed. And, when problems arise, being able to sustain effort and bounce back from the adversity. An easy way to do this is to rehearse how you’ll complete a task. When you know you might have to have a difficult conversation with someone, picture yourself sitting/standing in a way you know will help you feel at your best. Visualise yourself staying calm, listening carefully and phrasing what you want to say helpfully. Imagine yourself at the end of the conversation having achieved the outcome you wanted.
So, now you have some tools to help you with your emotional prehab, when will you start? As you’re practising these things, and you want more details, a good coach will help you keep things focused and even more successful.