Stressful situations tend to provoke reactive behavior, whether that behavior shows outwardly, like raising your voice during an argument, or is physiological such as flushing beet red when embarrassed. You can also be emotionally reactive in your mind where no one else can see. For example, when your chair gives you constructive criticism you might react by doubting your abilities and feeling shame for writing the draft imperfectly.
It is instinctual to lash out when feeling threatened. The problem is that in modern society, we feel threatened more often than we are in peril. Threats to our ego do not merit reactive behavior. Reactive behavior distracts you from what’s important and slows your momentum. The saying, “you’ve got to pick your battles” applies here. The secret is that you don’t need to “battle” with others or yourself. Because spending your emotional capital being reactive to harmless situations depletes your energy; energy that could be invested in your brilliance.
The remedy to reactivity is composure. Composure is the state of being calm and in control of yourself in the face of challenging circumstances. If circumstances, such as having a homework assignment due the same week as you have to travel for business and a family member comes down with the flu, cause an emotional meltdown, then you could benefit from practicing staying composed in the face of challenge. A composed person in the scenario calmly accepts the circumstances and acts to manage the situation toward the best outcome without being emotionally overwhelmed. They make decisions about what to do based on their values and priorities and then don’t second-guess themselves or worry about the consequences.
How to cultivate composure
Composure can take some practice, especially if you have a pattern of being emotionally reactive. Before you react, the first step in gaining composure is to pause when you are feeling triggered. You may have heard the advice to count to ten before responding to something. The problem with that advice is that you are distracting yourself with counting instead of gathering your composure.
If the circumstance is happening with someone present, give yourself permission to pause for a moment to check in with yourself to identify why you are being triggered. It is perfectly OK to pause in the middle of an interaction with someone. Take a beat to just acknowledge whatever you are feeling, without responding to it.
Take a calming breath and ask yourself if the threat is real and immediate. If the threat is real and immediate, respond to the danger accordingly. But if there is no true danger, then focus on identifying what you need at the moment. What you need could be a variety of things. Perhaps it is to feel emotionally safe or to be heard. Once you have identified the nature of the threat and what can neutralize the threat, you can proceed with composure. After the threat is passed, make sure to process any lingering emotions.
Practice, practice, practice
If you are not in touch with your emotions, this exercise may initially seem difficult. It is common to be unaware of why you are feeling threatened and what would make you feel safe. Learning to identify these thoughts and feelings is the key to being resilient. As a formerly emotionally reactive person, I urge you to acquire this skill; it makes life easier as the self-induced friction melts away.
Composure takes practice. Refrain from worrying if you don’t get it right the first time or even the twentieth. Just keep practicing and working toward identifying what you need and getting it.
Working with a coach can make this process much faster. I’d love to help you build your resilience. Click here to get started.