How to get out of panic mode and get things done
It sounded like a good idea at the time. Three months previously I had volunteered to run a creative workshop at our parish environmental event. It would be easy - all I had to do was bring along my collection of objects destined for recycling and a few tools, and 'hey presto' - all my participants would start creating beautiful things from what might otherwise have been thrown out.
Six days ahead of the day, the situation didn’t look so rosy. What did I want them to make? Exactly what materials was I going to take? How was I going to teach them anything worthwhile in 50 minutes? There are a lot of things you can do with loo roll inners for example, but not if you don’t have time to let the paint dry. Fabric scraps sewn together are very versatile, but very ambitious given the time. To make things worse, I had somehow packed out my week with preparation for a webinar on unconscious bias, several client meetings, and all the usual admin. What’s more, I could be called on any minute to help coordinate extra care for my Dad who is struggling with his dementia and lives three and a half hours away!
I had gone into panic mode and was getting nowhere fast. Knowing I still needed to fit in a 30-minute walk (eight weeks on from my hip replacement surgery and an essential component of my recovery), I had little choice but to down tools and head out. Feeling compelled to get out and walk was, in fact, a beneficial unintended consequence, as well I can recognise when my brain is not being hijacked. Being outside in the fresh air works for me in these situations.
Indeed, forty minutes later my problem was solved. Once I was able to ask myself a few trusted coaching questions, my creativity returned. I would take along a couple of mock-ups – maybe a prayer card and a paper flower – but it wasn’t me that needed to have the ideas. In fact, that was half the point – we all engage with the planet’s beauty in different ways, and all of us has the capacity to produce something of value. My job wasn’t to transform everyone into fully fledged eco-warriors - it was to create the conditions in which they could see what is possible for them.
Five insights that you can apply right now
Be alert to your state of mind
Firstly, note that nothing positive happened until I recognised I was in panic mode. At this point, the limbic system is in survival mode and is busy shutting down other parts of your brain so that it can protect you from perceived threats and act quickly. According to Professor Steve Peters in his book 'The Chimp Paradox' (well worth a read), it is your chimp brain that has control, and until you have dealt with that it is almost impossible to fix. What signs should you pay attention to?
Stop doing and start being
Notice also that I didn’t actually do anything to solve the problem, other than remove myself from the stress and get myself into an environment which I knew would help, and which would allow me to think more rationally. For me, that is often walking on Dartmoor, where I can see a long way ahead. It enables me to feel calmer and see challenges from different perspectives. What could work for you?
Identify the essence of what is needed
It dawned on me that my input was going to be only partly responsible for the outcome. Part of the stress was tied up in worrying that 'beauty' might not emerge, and that I might let the side down. Once I realised that my job was to inspire and encourage, and that on its own was enough, I started being productive. How does the old adage 'perfection is the enemy of progress' get in the way for you?
Ask the right questions
The next steps were to find out what I wanted to have happen, how I needed to be to achieve that, and what resources I needed to do that well. I didn’t need to find new information; I already had the answers and just needed to access them. What questions do you need to ask yourself?
Find someone else to ask you the right questions
On this occasion, I unearthed what I needed through self-talk, but sometimes I’m just too close to the problem - I just can’t see the wood for the trees to see the opportunities staring me in the face, and I will book in some sessions with my coach who can help me see what is invisible to me.
What gems lie hidden beneath your surface that you are currently blind to? How useful would it be for you to release yourself from panic and move on? How could a coach help you to reach your potential?