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The two situations you need to know how to handle. Part 2 of this month's 3 part series

What happens when you don't get what you want, or you get what you don't want? This will look at how your power and your influence is shaped more by how you handle the things that happen to you rather than the things you do proactively.

There are a lot of work situations that can stress us out -- in fact, just thinking about how many of them there are can stress us out in turn. Our minds can go into overdrive and leave us panicking about “what-if” scenarios that may be exceedingly unlikely to unfold. This can leave us distracted and unproductive, unable to function at full capacity on the job. It’s bad for business, too. The American Institute of Stress estimates that businesses in the U.S. lose as much as $300 billion per year due to employee stress. As I wrote in my last piece in this series, stress builds up in the nervous system.... It can.

You may have tried loads of de-stressing and mindfulness techniques only to find they didn’t work for you. When you are losing time and productivity because you’re panicking over phantom work scenarios that haven’t transpired and possibly never will, what you’re really doing is discovering that you’re unable to tell your own story. I’m a believer in the power of story. Much of how we move about in the world is dictated by how confident we are in our own identities, personal narratives, and purpose in life -- the things that add up to our stories. When we’re running through different “what if” scenarios in our heads, and we’re panicking over them, it’s because we don’t have a clear grip on our own story. We don’t have a good answer to the question “How do I, as an individual, react when that sort of thing might happen?”

Wondering where to start? Let’s get things down to basics. There are two kinds of broad situations that we can train ourselves to address in a mindful way if we acquaint ourselves with our own stories:

  • When we don’t get what we want. For example, if we get passed up for promotions or raises after lobbying for them, or a client declines to renew their contract.

  • When we get what we don’t want. These are the scenarios like getting unexpectedly shouldered with a task we know we’re going to hate, or being surprised with the news that the office is moving to the other side of town and it’ll double the length of your commute.

Why did I select these two situations? Because these are, in the broadest of terms, things that happen to you that you couldn’t necessarily do anything to prevent.

The fact is, your greatness and power is not going to be determined by what you do; it’s going to be handled and determined by how you handle what's done to you.

From Gandhi to Martin Luther King, giants throughout history are remembered just as much by how they've handled what's been done to them as to what they’ve proactively done themselves. You’re probably living a considerably more mundane existence than Gandhi, but nevertheless, your story is determined by how you interact with the world around you and its influences on you.

So here’s an exercise that you can do. Grab a pen and paper -- I prefer these things to be done in analog rather than digital form -- and write down three different times in the recent past that you didn’t get what you wanted, and three different times when you got what you didn’t want. Think about how you handled each one, and then what you would have done differently. Write this down, too. Then look for common threads: What do the “what I would have done differently?” answers tell you about the kind of person you want to be seen as, the kind of story you want to tell as your own? Start to consider how this all adds up. The things you wished you’d done will become the framework of the story you want to tell about yourself.

This doesn’t just improve our ability to tackle challenging situations, though. It also enhances our presence around others, making us both more mindful and more memorable around those at work and beyond. But it takes practice. That’s why in our next and final piece in this series we’ll talk about the crucial next step in being in control of your own story: being able to take on the perspective of an observer.

Check out the other 2 parts to this series by clicking the links below:

Training Your Mind for Productivity and Presence at Work: Part 1 of a 3 Part Series

The Power of Being an Observer- Part 3 of this month's 3 part Series

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