The Best Way to Reduce Stress in Stupid Situations

While I was getting worked up at all the stupidity, my colleague always had the same response: “fascinating.”

He had a strange sense of calm, while my head was exploding. I knew he was as deeply invested in the scene as me, and I often wondered– I’ll admit with a bit of envy– what was going on. Finally, I blew “don’t you see how stupid this is? How can you just let this go?”

  • 6 VPs spending 3 hours working on fonts and “page turns” for the executive readout while the strategic work crept slowly along
  • A leader protecting her career at all costs, including at the expense of her team
  • Leaders packaging the results upwards to look one way, downwards to look another, neither of which exposed the reality of the situation

He shared his secret, which I’ve since applied to great gains in my professional and personal life. Begin with fascination.

If you just let yourself get worked up by the stupidity of scenes you think you can’t change, you’ll go crazy. You’ll internalize the stress until it makes you sick or those around you sick of you. But if you approach the stupidity with a sense of wonder: “this is fascinating… why would they, he, she act THAT way or make THAT decision? You slow down long enough to garner a deeper understanding. It leads you to ask better questions. All that negative energy then has some work to do.

You’d be surprised how far a little fascination can go to getting underneath and addressing the root cause of the problem.

Where can you begin with a sense of wonder and fascination?

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Posted in Career & Learning, Energy & Engagement and tagged , , , .

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt, is CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders and a former Verizon Wireless executive. Karin was named on Inc.’s list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers for Your Next Conference, the American Management Association List of 50 Leaders to Watch, and as a Trust Across America Top Thought Leader in Trust. She’s the award-winning author of two books, Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results— Without Losing Your Soul, and Overcoming an Imperfect Boss. She’s regularly featured in business publications including Fast Company, Entrepreneur, and Inc.

25 Comments

  1. Karin,
    This is very much like the response I learned from a wise soul outside of my work endeavors. If something occurred that was different than what I would expect, and didn’t make sense to me, she coached me to think, “That is curious” as well as related neutral self-talk messages. The benefit of being curious or fascinated is that these words allow us to understand and ultimately grow. Having self-talk that is judgmental “I can’t believe they …” closes all possibility of learning, empathy, connection, and growth.

    • David, Thanks so much. “Curious” I really like that one too.

  2. Hi Karen, Your blog today bought a smile to my face and I thank you for that!!! It reminded me that many years ago one of my favorite cartoons was of a mean looking vulture sitting on a tree branch and the caption under it said, “Patience my ass, I’m going to kill something.” One of the things I think age brings is more patience and as your collegue noted “facination” with certain situatons.Don’t get me wrong, there are still a few occasions that I want to scream, but now I refrain and watch in wonderment!!! Best wishes.
    Don

  3. More times than not, after going through a stressful situation or I’m anxious, I laugh at myself. I reflect that I was worried about nothing. It wasn’t that bad.

    Now, the moment I feel myself getting nervous, anxious, or stressed I smile. Smiling changes the chemistry in my brain and makes me relaxed.

    Works for me.

    • Steve. Imagine what the world would be like if everyone smiled more. Namaste.

  4. Hi Karin –

    Great insight and new words to use. I love both fascinating and curious. I say “interesting”, for these situations and when I don’t know how to respond to someone telling me something that I disagree with. Your post and the comments are such a great reminder to work on my mindfulness practice so I can make the choice to say fascinating, in place of “are you nuts?”

    For me, the statement “He had a strange sense of calm, while my head was exploding. I knew he was as deeply invested in the scene as me, and I often wondered– I’ll admit with a bit of envy– what was going on.” is not always true.

    In my experiences of similar situations where I was more reactive than my colleagues, I was more invested, to an unhealthy level at times. This happens when I am worried about my own work so hate wasting time and effort, or not taking time to see the larger picture, or… As with most things, our level of mindfulness helps to know the truth of the situation and know when it’s best to speak up, or just let it play out and relax.

    Thanks again! Lisa

    • Lisa, Such a beautiful and important addition. I too have times where I have been overly invested which lead to an overly intense reaction. Thanks for expanding the conversation.

  5. This is a good one, Karin!

    Whether I call these experiences character building, learning or entertainment sessions does not matter, because they are all of that. I simply cannot help direct people until I see the real person. It is these experiences that permit me to see the real person behind those weird actions in the stupid sessions.

    I agree with your colleague, stop, listen, look and learn.

    Jimmy Collins

    • Karin, the reply box says, “Your comment is awaiting moderation.” What does that mean? Did I do something wrong? I hope I didn’t say anything that offended anyone. I certainly didn’t intend to. Jimmy Collins

    • Jimmy, Totally my fault. I had a bit of a systems glitch and a few comments got buried. I’m glad you pointed it out.

    • Jimmy, Thanks so much for you insightful comments. You raise a good point, by slowing down its so much easier to see the real person and understand what they may be doing.

  6. I know this can be difficult at times, but I just try and step away for a moment and ask myself, how will this matter one year from today? Most of the time, stupid situations are long forgotten well before then 🙂

    • Bill, Oh that’s a GREAT one– an awesome way to keep the big rocks in perspective.

  7. I can’t decide where to lead with a joke and finish with science or visa versa.
    Here goes- so if your friend is obviously Mr Spock, that must make you Captain Kirk!

    Kirk was a great leader in my opinion. Passionate when he needed to be, but contemplative also when needed. I’ll paste a video link at bottom for the laugh Karin 😉

    The science of this strategy from your colleague seems to be about giving your ‘smart’ brain time to catch up to your ‘reactive’ brain (the amygdala). You only need a few seconds, and this will help you see solutions and opportunities. The alternative is a downward spiral that’s difficult to think your way out of.

    My strategy is to take a few breaths. This helps let the amygdala know that’s its not life or death, just business (sigh).

    Luckily we are easily conditioned, so instead of counting to ten, just try 3. Its often all we need to stay smart and react in a way you won’t regret later.

    Such an important conversation (again) Karin. Many thanks.
    And now for the laugh: http://youtu.be/cFods1KSWsQ

    • Dallas, I can’t believe this one got stuck! It’s FASCINATING. All, totally worth a click on the youtube link. What a perfect example of this technique in action.

  8. I try to start by assuming positive intent in other actions even if they seem crazy or negative in some way. Starting with that assumption helps to keep my frustration down. The lower my frustration the greater my ability to help rather than fume.

    • Bonnie, Such a terrific add. Thank you. Even when it’s tough to do so, it’s worth it.

  9. Best advice a mentor ever gave me is that there are times to be as whipsmart as a consultant (or VP) and there are times to be as dumb as a rock and as curious as a coach.

    Fascination, curiosity… both help to get us out of our heads and into a whole new perspective. Great piece, Karin!

    • Bruce, Excellent. I love the image of being the Jane Goodall of cubicles. Thanks for sharing this great resource. I love it when we can expand the conversation.

  10. Thanks, Karin!

    I appreciate your posts and just wanted to be sure that I didn’t unintentional step out of line. I don’t mind doing that – when I do it deliberately!

    Jimmy Collins

  11. I must ave stepped out of line too 😉 Was it the crack about Captain Kirk? Ha.

    Shorter version,,, I have trained myself to take a breath. Can save you from blurting out something (or pressing the reply button) and regretting it seconds later.

    I like the Jane Goodall ref too. Observation to detect patterns is important. Who knows, the behavior you see may be a one-off or due to a special cause.

    • Dallas, and anyone else who got stuck in your comments on this one. I apologize. If anyone else is still “pending” please drop me a note. My site was under a major spam attack during this day. I several comments got lost in the barrage. It’s all fixed now, so please don’t let that stop you from enhancing our community and conversations. Namaste.

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