Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Staying Calm - Tips from a Professional

Not long ago someone asked how they could be "calm and serene" like me. I responded as truthfully as I could at the time, giving a sort of non-answer. "I'm not as calm as I look," I explained. "What calmness I have is my own, and I don't know if it's something I can teach."

That said, it's something I've been thinking about, so I'll try to explain my thought process. I still don't know if my demeanor is mostly environmental or if it's genetic predisposition, and usually calmness isn't something I have to think about at all. However, I'll try to convey what I think about when I actually take the time to do so.

First, why seem calm at all?

As I noted to my inquirer, I'm not always as calm as I look. My mind and body seem to be disconnected when it comes to emotional reactions: my mind takes things that make it joyful or frustrated or frightened, etc, and really runs with it. Sometimes I spend an inordinate amount of time dwelling on emotions.

Outwardly, though my body seems passive. When my mind is working overtime, I tend to be pretty quiet. I'm also fairly quiet when my mind isn't preoccupied, though, so nobody really notices the difference.

This appearance of passivity comes burdened with accusations of being a robot, but it also comes with some benefits. Most notably, having a calming presence around tends to calm others in a crisis. This has been a military strategy since time immemorial: in the chaos of battle a calm, preferably alive commander can diffuse the panic of his soldiers, while an officer who panics and runs can expect his soldiers to do the same. In a crisis, people look for someone who looks like they know what they're doing.

So, although I don't think I can teach that disconnect between my body and my mind, I will admit that my mind usually works through things pretty quickly through a rather specific thought process. So, while not everyone can naturally seem calm when they are not, I do believe there's a mindset that can be learned which can calm a person down quickly.

First, there's the classic notion of "accept the things I cannot change." In my experience, it seems like a lot of people get very caught up in worrying about things they have no control over. Traffic. The weather. The outcome of a sports match. If my actions won't significantly influence the outcome of something, I try not to spend much time thinking about it.

In fact, I would say that worry in general is not terribly useful. Worry almost always applies to things we can't control and it's usually accompanied by inaction. It's a waste of time and energy, and I've never seen the point of it.

And... that's most of it, really. Here's my typical line of thought:
  1. Identify problem
  2. Can I do something about this problem, yes or no? If no, disregard it. If yes, continue.
  3. Identify what I can do about the problem.
  4. Do that thing.
...I can see why that might seem robotic.

The most common problem I face is that I have a lot of problems I can solve, but I don't have enough time to solve them all. In that case, sometimes there's something I can do about my lack of time (delegation, for instance), and sometimes there is not. If there's nothing I can do, then I just have to do the best I can and try not to worry about it.

Anyway, I doubt much of this will be useful to anyone. I am not a self help guru, and I'm skeptical of the concept. Everybody is different, and you should be suspicious of anyone who claims to know how to make people change. Still, advice can be helpful sometimes, and I hope my example is helpful to someone.

If not, well, I'm happy to simply continue to be a calming element.

1 comment:

  1. o.O You have no idea how many times I've explained that exact process to people, especially mom.