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Morning Avalanche: How to Reset After a Challenging Start

TIGNUM Thoughts

April 13th, 2019
By Jake Marx

Have you ever had one of those mornings? It often starts with a fire drill before you’re even out of bed. You wake up to an SMS message that says something like, “Did you see that email? Wow!” With your heart racing, you scramble to your computer to see what the fuss is about.

After ruminating on this email for your entire commute, someone from your team grabs you before you even get to your workspace and frantically blurts out, “We have a problem.” It’s not even 9 am and you already find yourself feeling like you’ve been hit by an avalanche. While the names and events have been changed to protect the innocent, haven't we all experienced some version of this? So, how do you dig yourself out?


    When we feel out of control, our sympathetic (stress) nervous system goes into overdrive. In this state, thinking becomes less rational, self-talk becomes low impact, and self-awareness decreases. Even our memory of events and conversations becomes less accurate and more defensive. Needless to say, this is not a great state from which to respond to a contentious email or help a frantic team member.

    Instead, create space, press the pause button, and try to stop the spiraling toilet bowl from sucking you down. Perhaps you can buy yourself 5-10 minutes by going for a quick walk. Movement is a quick way to lower and synchronize your brain wave frequencies, putting yourself in a better position to problem solve. If there’s no time for that, try box breathing (4-second inhale, 4-second hold, 4-second exhale, 4-second hold) for four breaths. This only takes one minute, and if you're listening to someone speak, you can do it mid-conversation. You'll be amazed at the sense of emotional control you feel when you're done. Both of these strategies lower the drive of your sympathetic nervous system and put you back in control.

    The brain needs to know what success looks like in order to make it a reality. Many of us have never thought about what success would actually look like in this situation and, therefore, operate by default. This default self-image is a product of your culture, religion, social circles, industry, etc. As a result, you will find yourself (for better or worse) mirroring what you have seen others do in the same situation. This is a dangerous version of winging it.

    We recommend you take the time to design what success looks like in these situations. If you were to describe yourself at your best, what skills and attributes would you need? How do you want to make people feel? How do you want to be perceived? Quickly answering these questions will give your brain a clear vision of what success looks like for you and simplify the next step.

    The best way to dig out of the snow is one shovel load at a time. Now that you’ve put yourself back in control of you and reflected on who you are in this situation, define the next choice you can make to move things forward. Who do you need to touch base with first to create the most impact? How can you craft your response to that email in a way that reflects your intentions? Where can you grab a moment to feed your brain a High Performance snack and hydrate knowing you had to run out the door? There are 1,000 choices to be made all around you. The tougher the day, the more critical it is to narrow your focus to the next choice you can make to Rule Your Impact.

The beauty of this process is that, with some practice, tough mornings become easier to recover from and take less energy from you. At TIGNUM, we are big believers in having a plan for tough days. Hopefully, this helps you when the tough day starts before your feet even hit the ground.

As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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