It is within your power to reduce the stressful reactions that you have, and a key to changing your reactions is being able to track the way in which you generate stress.
Recently, a coaching colleague told me a story about his client “Jim” who gets into many arguments and confrontations with others. After each altercation Jim spends a good deal of time attempting to convince my coaching colleague as to how the other person’s behavior was the catalyst for what took place. One of his favorite expressions is “I hate it when people jump to conclusions without first getting all of the facts.” In return my colleague has spent a good deal of time trying to show Jim how his behavior and thinking play a key role in creating his many problems.
Recently, Jim asked my colleague to accompany him on a business trip. On the second day of their trip they are walking down the street together late at night, having just finished a marathon business negotiation. They are both feeling a little bit ill at ease because they are not familiar with their surroundings, and they are concerned they might be targeted for violence since they obviously are not part of the local population.
All of a sudden they hear another set of footsteps walking behind them. Jim wheels around to see who is following them, and as he does so the man behind them quickly places his hand inside his coat in the area of his breast pocket. Fearing the worst, Jim wheels back around and dashes out onto the street in an attempt to get away from the gun he believes the man is pulling out. Boom! Jim gets hit not by a speeding bullet, but by a speeding car.
The man who Jim had been frightened by runs towards him as he lays bleeding on the street, and uses the handkerchief he already has in his hand, to stem the flow of Jim’s blood. It turns out that luckily for Jim the man is a doctor. Fairly soon the bleeding is stopped and it appears that Jim will need some stiches and a cast for his broken left leg, and after about thirty minutes an ambulance arrives to take Jim to the hospital.
Once Jim is on the stretcher and before being hoisted up into the ambulance he thanks the man for his help, and then asks, “Excuse me, but do you mind if I ask you what you were pulling out from under your coat when I first turned around to confront you?” “Why the very same hankerchief I used to stem the flow of your blood.” the doctor says. “I have been having my usual spring allergy response, and I was just ready to have a violent sneeze when you all of a sudden dashed out in the street and totally distracted me. My goodness, just now I am realizing that this is the first time today I have gone more than ten minutes without sneezing!”
“Now please let me ask you a question.” the doctor says. “Why in the world did you jump out in the street immediately upon seeing me?” Jim quickly replies “Well, we were in a dangerous neighborhood, and all of a sudden out of nowhere you were following us, and it seemed clear that you were reaching for a gun or other weapon. How would you expect me to react?”
The doctor smiles and says “Well, my friend, it seems to me that you jumped to numerous inaccurate conclusions. First you thought that the neighborhood was dangerous when in fact it is one of the safest neighborhoods in our city, although most likely a much poorer neighborhood than where you come from. Since you thought you were in a dangerous place you were predisposed to something dangerous taking place. I am guessing the fact that it was late at night, only added to your sense of fear.” “Yes” Jim said, “All of what you say is true.”
“And the fact that initially there was no one else walking on the street except for the two of you, most likely made my footsteps sound much louder and more ominous. Is this not so?” Jim slowly nods “Yes.”
“So” the doctor continued, “With those kinds of thoughts and fears running around in your head, when I stepped out of my house to go visit a patient you immediately thought that I was following you although frankly I hadn’t even really noticed you, as I was beginning a build up to a big sneeze.” “The only thing that made sense to you in the frame of mind you were in, was to believe that I was a criminal pulling out a weapon.” “I’m sorry.” Jim said.
“No need to be sorry.” the doctor says. “You have not caused me any harm.” “Indeed you have helped me to have a much clearer understanding of how my clients create stress for themselves.”
The doctor pauses for a moment and then says, “Let’s imagine that you and your friend were walking down this very same street, but at two o’clock in the afternoon instead of late at night, and there was one or two people already walking in front of you, and one person already walking behind you at a comfortable distance. How do you think you would respond to my coming out of my house in such an instance?” “Hmm.” says Jim. “I might not have even noticed you!”
“And here is another idea the doctor says. “What if everything initially happened just like it did this evening, but you had taken some self defense training and felt confident in your ability to defend yourself, and also perhaps partly because of your training, you had the tendency to be both relaxed and aware. How do you think you would have responded then?” “I can’t say for sure since I never had such training.” Jim says, “But pretty much guaranteed at the very least I would not have jumped out in front of the car.”
“And since you have been so kind so far.” the doctor says, “One more thing if you don’t mind.” “Your fear of being in dangerous surroundings led you to block out the only real danger that was present – A car speeding down the street. Perceiving danger all around you, you jumped in front of the only danger there was, and thus you created a self fulfilling prophecy.”
“Yes” Jim says, “I feel quite humbled. This is a difficult way to learn a very important lesson. But better that I learned this lesson today rather than continuing to struggle for many years to come. Now I can truly understand what happens when one consistently jumps to conclusions without having all of the facts, and assumes that something terrible will take place. Thank you for all of your assistance.”
Does this story have any special relevance to you and how you sometimes react to what is going on around you? In any one circumstance there can be many possible responses. and many possible outcomes. Have a different set of beliefs and you will respond differently. Have a different set of capabilities and training and you will respond differently. Change the way you use your body and you will respond differently. Change the environment that you are in and you will respond differently.
To learn to track the way in which you generate stress, try one of the classic Seishindo Practices – “Body + Language = Emotional Experience”.
Stress is a particular emotional state. Emotion consists of language AND body. Emotion is a system that is coherent at a deeper level than language or body taken separately. When your emotional state changes there is a concurrent change in your body, and in your use of language (including your internal thought processes). When your emotions truly change, you will notice a change in the way you use your body AND a change in the way you think about and describe your experience. When your emotions truly change you will feel better about who you are and what you are capable of. Greater self awareness leads to a more relaxed and creative use of your entire system. When you feel better, you think better, and new solutions begin to become apparent. All of which leads to a greater likelihood that you will meet the challenges you face with great success.