Can you separate facts and feelings?

Stress describes a human reaction, not a situation. When people say something is stressful, they mean that it’s mentally tiring or threatening; we feel drained, tired and worried. But the facts of the situation remain the same no matter how we react to them. This is an important distinction: facts and feelings.

In workshops, I sometimes ask participants to list their challenging, or ‘hard to do’, tasks. It might be something like making cold calls or dealing with conflict. Then I ask them to describe their feelings towards these tasks.

Typically this generates words like frustration, resentment or anger. Next we look at the consequences; how they react. It’s rarely positive or proactive. It’s often procrastination or avoidance, and low motivation.

If there’s an event that we perceive as stressful, such as having to make a cold call, that’s a fact that we can’t change. The next part though, we can change, and that’s our perception of the event. Here we can alter our thinking, and if we choose to look at it in a certain way, our response will create a better outcome, particularly if the present one is procrastination.

It’s all in your head.

When under pressure, we all react in different ways. Sometimes our reactions are destructive, like when we become stressed, angry, despondent or de-motivated.

It’s difficult to dissociate our habitual thoughts from events. We get so caught up in thinking that it becomes our reality. We may dwell, worry, and resent. We become our thoughts. To paraphrase Hamlet, there’s no good or bad, but thinking makes it so.

Once you become aware of your thinking, you can take a step back and analyse. For example, rather than dwelling on how annoying your colleague’s behaviour is, stop, look at the facts and decide the best course of action. You may decide to try different strategies for dealing with the situation.

Challenge yourself to react differently.

Over the next week, if you catch yourself having an emotional hijack, try to reflect and think rather than reacting on emotion. Pause, take a breath and look at the facts. Ask yourself how you could react. What is the most constructive way to respond?

Start today. When you feel challenged, stop yourself from your usual, natural reaction and think it through. You will feel liberated, in control and more relaxed as a result.