Stop Playing Pinball: 3 Questions to Build Self Awareness and Live Proactively - Donohue Consulting Inc

Stop Playing Pinball: 3 Questions to Build Self Awareness and Live Proactively

Patrick Donohue April 15, 2018

Simon was felling stressed. His day started with a puddle splash on his new suit, followed by a meeting with his boss where his work was sharply critiqued.  Later he received a new assignment with an insane deadline that seemed to contradict the feedback he received from his boss about being careful and meticulous.  On his way home, he got jostled in the back on subway and then his girlfriend made a joking, slightly snarky remark about him forgetting their four-month anniversary.  That was it for Simon.  He verbally exploded on his girlfriend and started ranting about everything from fake holidays, to idiot baby boomers, and finally Donald Trump, just for good measure.  Later that night after some tears and reflection, he apologized to his girlfriend and wondered silently, what happened to him today.

  Is Simons’s problem the weather, or his boss, or his workload or even his girlfriend?  The answer is clearly NO.  Simon’s real problem is his lack of self-awareness. People who lack self -awareness spend their lives pinballing from one obstacle or crisis to the next.  Their mood seems to fluctuate from vague unhappiness to full-on rage, depending on the day.

 So, how do we break the nasty cycle triggered by a lack of self awareness.  The obvious answer is to become more self aware!  Duh!  Not really helpful.  As a coach, I work with people all day helping them build and fortify their self awareness.  In my practice, I have found that asking three keys questions during times of stress raises both our self awareness and ability to cope.

 Question #1 – What stressors are on me right now?

This may seem like an obvious question, but we often times skip over it.  When multiple bad things happen in the same day, there can be a cumulative stress that will lead us to an overreaction.  Simply listing the stressors individually tends to slow down catastrophizing and make things much more manageable.  Stressors come in the following forms:  Physical, Mental, Emotional, Environmental and Relational.  Take inventory of all your stressor and then you have a chance to deal with them one at a time.

 Question #2 – What are the different ways I can interpret my stressful situations?

When we get hit with stress, especially multiple times, it is easy to interpret everything in a negative light.  For Simon, he could interpret the negative feedback from his boss as a sign that he might get fired.  He could also interpret the feedback in the larger frame of being a newer employee or perhaps the boss is under enormous professional or personal pressure.  The comment from his girlfriend could be seen as her merely saying “I miss you or I was thinking of you”, rather than you are a defective boyfriend. 

 Question #3 – What are my options?

Under stress, we produce cortisol and tend to go into fight or flight mode.  While this can be helpful in the case of a serious emergency, the all-or-nothing approach to life usually does not produce the best results.  In between fight or flight, there are many other options.  Simon did not have to silently absorb the comment from his girlfriend, nor did he need to explode with rage.  Just knowing there is a “gray area” and options that are not extreme, can calm us down.  Self -ware people realize that life is a game of choices,.  Simply asking, “What are my choices?” is an empowering question that heightens our locus of control.

 Bad things and bad days will happen, but when we ask our 3 Self Awareness questions, we take the sting out of the circumstances and empower ourselves to make good choices and be our best selves.

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