What if the perceived challenge is greater than my perceived resources?
This is the perfect storm for anxiety. The perfect storm is an idiom derived from the 1997 Sebastian Junger book by the same title, used to describe a critical or disastrous situation caused by a powerful concurrence of unfavourable circumstances. Based on the tragic true story of a confluence of storms that destroyed the Andrea Gail and its crew, The Perfect Storm was made into a movie starring George Clooney in 2000. This idiom has certainly found its place in the opening weeks of 2021, as we worry if we have what it takes to tackle the year ahead. Are we resilient enough?
In was just a moment, one minute past midnight on the 31st December, that we moved from 2020 to 2021. Perhaps you, like many others, hoped that the moment would switch off the challenges you had faced last year and that you may start anew. But it is going to take more than one moment in the calendar year to clear the perfect storm for anxiety. The realisation that we are at the centre of the perfect storm, allows us to regain control and take actionable steps to raise our resilience.
Unpacking the Anxiety Equation (Mooney 1986) is a powerful way to step into 2021 with the resilience required to meet the demands. Yes, there is actually an equation for anxiety and you don’t need to be a mathematician to figure it out. Simply put, anxiety occurs when the perceived danger and likelihood of it, is greater than your perceived resources and rescue opportunities. Sound familiar? Well we can make anxiety bigger or smaller by changing any of the three variables: uncertainty; danger and perceived power.
We are our own worst enemy as we are wired to overestimate danger and underestimate our coping and resources. Our brain does not know the difference between real life and death threats and the ones that tigger our insecurities. This is a survival mechanism called our fight or flight response, and it can really work against our resilience if we don’t tip the scales back in our favour. There are certainly times when our fear and anxiety is very much justified. Yes, danger is real and we should face the brutal facts. Your brain wants you to pay attention to possible danger. However, allowing this to spiral out of control is destructive. We can fuel our fears by exaggerating and catastrophizing the danger and the likelihood of it happening, but a resilient person will pause and ask, “Is this helpful or harmful to me?”
Social media can be a massive source of fuel. According to Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage, we receive 11 million bits of data per second from our nerve endings. We can only process 40 bits per second. That is like a few snowflakes in a blizzard. What 40 bits of data are you choosing? As you scroll through News 24, Instagram and Facebook, as you like and share and comment …are you choosing to fuel your own and others anxiety, or are you reducing the numerator in your Anxiety Equation? We can choose to filter the data in order to reduce your levels of anxiety.
If you find yourself jumping to “What if” questions and struggling to manage anxious thoughts, ask yourself: How likely is the worst case scenario? Even when the odds are stacked in our favour, as we listen to Covid 19 statistics, we quickly lose objectivity. Just because it is *possible*, does not mean it is *probable*. This fear can paralyse us and it can steal away our ability to think cleverly and meet new challenges. It is in these moments that we need to raise our personal power by taking stock of all our coping skills, strengths, and resilience (the denominator).
The real world is unpredictable and in all this uncertainty, raising our personal power to meet disruption is 100% in our control. There is never a better time than now to build our capacity for resilience. As I share my Resilience Playbook of Smart Moves with business leaders, I still discover those who are waiting ‘until things turn’ before they support their staff and themselves in raising their levels of resilience. They have paused, waiting for the storm to pass. This wishful thinking is not a 21st Century reality. Change and disruption are here to stay. Covid 19 is not the only danger we will ever face. Equipping ourselves and our people with actions that raise personal power will separate those who fail from those who succeed.
I witness people every day who are breaking from pressure and stress, operating with limited resources. It is time for leaders to step into 2021 with a set of well-researched smart moves and open powerful and impactful conversations about resilience. I asked the 24 delegates who completed the 14 Smart Moves from my Resilience Playbook in December, this question: “Do you believe you have strengthened your capacity for resilience?” It was a resounding YES. It is absolutely possible to think and act in ways that make you more successful. As Horner James wrote in the lyrics for the theme song of the movie The Perfect Storm (2000), “What are we doing with ‘this precious time we have only borrowed?’“
This precious time we’ve only borrowed
The autumn winds have blown on through
A quiet thought will tell our story
Tomorrow still holds out its hands to you
Yes, tomorrow still holds out its hands to you
Take these tears, wash away your sorrows
Tomorrow still holds out its hands to you
Extract from Lyrics of Yours Forever – Written and Composed by James Horner for The Perfect Storm