I remember the situation well. Just after my boss left for a sabbatical break, a peer told me there would be some changes and part of my group would move under them. Until that point I had no sign of any pending changes and this news knocked me off balance. My mind started to run away, creating stories of what was going on. My boss must think I was under-performing, but based on what? How could they do this to me? They must have it in for me for some reason. Had one of my peers undermined me?
Creating my own reality
My thoughts escalated and the scenarios I created became more and more imaginative. I slept less well and I’m sure my day to day performance dropped. It came to a point I had to stop myself and step back from the ledge. What was going on?
I decided to do a simple exercise. I took a piece of paper and drew two columns. The first column was titled ‘Facts’ and the other one ‘Assessments’. I started writing down the facts. There weren’t many, in fact there were two main ones. My boss was on sabbatical and a peer had given me some information. I had no idea if it was true or not. I was surrounded by uncertainty, with few facts. In the assessments column, I wrote down all my stories. They were not fact based and the second column was filled with them.
My stories stirred up my emotions
Looking down at the piece of paper, I realized I was escalating the situation in my head. I created my own view of reality and it was a big leap from the facts I had at the time. I also noticed my stories played with my emotions. They brought up feelings of anger, betrayal, anxiety and many others.
Getting back to reality
By seeing my stories as only stories, I was able to walk myself back to the facts at hand, and de-escalate what I had built up in my mind. I was able to move to mood of acceptance. That my situation was uncertain and would be resolved upon my boss’s return.
Looking back on this, I recognize it wasn’t the first or the last time it happened. Learning to separate the facts from my stories has proven to be a very effective way of dealing with stress. Choosing how to respond in difficult situations.
If you experience the same crises in your mind, give this approach a try. Separating what is real from within our stories is a powerful way to navigate difficult situations. It is also a highly effective way to coach others and help them navigate their problems, however big they may seem.