What do you admire most about action heroes? Chances are it’s the same thing I love – their ability to stay calm under fire. The website TV Tropes describes nerves of steel this way: “Someone who has Nerves of Steel thinks when times are tough. They make decisions efficiently; they push their emotions aside, and so their decisions are not overly affected by them.” James Bond never panics.
Some professions attract and train workers to develop nerves of steel: firefighters, police, lifeguards, military members, and emergency room doctors are all taught (and maybe have a natural propensity) to put aside emotions and rely on their training in the midst of chaos. Even if your job doesn’t require you to kill bad guys or rescue people from burning buildings, you will be more successful if you can learn to remain calm in times of crisis.
Dr. Travis Bradberry, emotional intelligence expert and author, has conducted research on more than a million people and found that 90 percent of top performers are skilled at managing their emotions in times of stress in order to remain calm and in control. This quality helps them lead teams in chaotic situations, handle crises more effectively, and win high stakes negotiations. Here are some tips for developing your ability to stay calm under fire.
Train and prepare, then trust your training. Invest lots of time getting ready for the meeting, the press conference, or the negotiation. Imagine every possible scenario, including worst case. Spend time thinking about how you’ll react, what you’ll say and how you’ll manage your physical reactions to the anger or stress you might experience. Practice what you must do so many times that it’s second nature (whether it’s a life-saving maneuver, tennis backhand, or a speech) so you can perform equally well in perfect conditions or under the messiest – without having to think through each step. When the time comes, trust your training and preparation. Your mantra should be “I am prepared. I know what I’m doing. I’ve got this under control.”
Stay present. Most of our stress comes from thinking about what might happen – we imagine all kinds of dire consequences, most of which never happen. Seneca said: “We are more often frightened than hurt; and we suffer more from imagination than from reality.” Fear of what might happen distracts us from what’s happening right now in this moment. When you focus only on what you’re seeing and hearing in this moment, you are more likely to make decisions based on evidence and your training, rather than on your worst fears. Being alert means you’re aware there might be danger; panic floods your brain with internal signals so you can’t see external signals clearly.
Take care of your body. Stress is a physical reaction, and you’re more prone to it when you’re sleep deprived, hungry, or worn down. Train yourself to breathe deeply – oxygen will calm you and give your voice strength. Make sure rest, hydration and nutrition are part of your preparation. If you can, develop the habit of meditation or visualization before a stressful event.
Practice your game face. See if you can adopt what TV Tropes calls “dissonant serenity.” Practice until you can master intensely focused eyes, a calm forehead (no worried wrinkles) and a near-smile on your lips. If you can maintain that expression as your opponent becomes more and more emotional, you will have a distinct advantage in every encounter. Here’s what that face looks like on James Bond. (Image via Pinterest.)
Keep calm and carry on.