Calming Presence
  • Maintaining proper composure and perspective, even when the stakes are high
  • Offering a steady and consistent approach in the midst of stressful circumstances
  • Reducing the stress in others while staying collected, despite external agitation

HARRINGTON COMMENTARY

I grew up living near a lake. During the summers I swam for hours nearly every day. I was a good swimmer.

One day, I was swimming in a pool with my aunt. She was an adult and she could swim. We were playing in the water, bouncing up and down in the water when I suddenly breathed in a mouth full of water. I panicked. I started kicking and screaming, flailing my arms around, scrambling to climb on top of my aunt. Our moment of fun had quickly turned into a real crisis. My aunt and I could have easily drowned that day; but, fortunately, my aunt remained calm (or at least much calmer than me), and she was able to pull us both over to the side of the pool and get us out safely.

Reflecting on that moment, I find it rather ironic, but not surprising, that I almost drowned. If I had drowned that day, it would not have been because of my abilities. I was a good swimmer. My body was not incapacitated and I had the physical strength to swim to the side of the pool. My brain had full control of my legs and my arms. (I know this because I was kicking and waving them about with gusto!) I also had plenty of energy to draw upon. In fact, I was probably using up a lot more energy drowning than I would have needed simply to swim to the side of the pool. Yet, even though I possessed all of the resources necessary to save myself, it was only because of my aunt that I survived.

So, why did I nearly drown that day? It is because I panicked. I freaked out, lost my cool, and started to self-destruct. My abilities, knowhow, and physical strength were all firing, but they were all firing in different directions, and at different times; and the only place I was headed was straight down to the bottom of the pool.

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There is a lot of wisdom in not freaking out, and that is why “Calming Presence” is a Funds For Learning GuideMark. When we panic, we begin to lose control over our resources and faculties. Unwittingly, at the moment that we need them the most, we can give up the very tools or training that we need to handle a situation. That’s what happened to me that day in the pool. I had what I needed to save myself, but I panicked and lost that opportunity. (Thank you, Aunt Judy, for not losing your cool and for saving us that day!)

I am not an expert on this, but here are a few tips that I have found to help me guard against panicking.

  • Identify and write down concerns. Be specific. Be very specific. This exercise is important for two reasons. 1) It helps ferret out unreasonable/unnecessary/unrealistic concerns. 2) It helps disengage the “fight or flight” mechanism and let’s the critical thinking side of your brain get engaged.** (It’s better at thinking through panic situations.)
  • Write down a list of resources that can be brought to bear on the situation. This will really help your brain’s critical thinking become a part of the equation.
  • Make a list of best-case scenarios and potential positive outcomes. Hey, that which is good for the goose is good for the gander. Why should the worst-case get all of the attention? At least give a little time to the positive things that could come out of this situation, too.
  • Brainstorm three reasonable ways to address the situation. Then, brainstorm at least one other solution. It will probably be one originally filtered out or dismissed because you couldn’t see how it might work. Then come up with one more potential solution that’s even more outside the box than the other four.
  • By the time you get to this step, your brain should have been busy long enough to start to realize that although the situation may be serious, it’s probably not the end of the world, and, if you keep your head fastened on straight, there are steps that can be taken to help address the circumstance.
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Many circumstances aren’t as dramatic as trying to pull yourself out of the deep end of a pool; but they sure can feel that way. If you feel yourself starting to panic, remember my aunt’s example. Stay calm. Don’t panic.

Book Note

**If you are interested in more techniques to help you manage “fight or flight” responses, I recommend the book Crucial Conversations, Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, and Switzler.

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Key words and phrases

Steady and collected; Not agitated or disturbed; Steadiness of mind under stress; Composed; Peaceful; Cause to be calm; Collected; Abate stress

Opposite terms

Agitation; Commotion; Disturb; Stir up

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