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5 Questions You Need to Ask Yourself to Stay Cool in Difficult Situations

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We all face challenging situations at work and in our personal lives, yet few of us deal with these experiences in a systematic way. We encounter obnoxious bosses, rude customers, and infuriating family members on a daily basis, yet we often don’t articulate the best way of dealing with these situations. Over time, these strains on our emotions and our mental resources take their toll, so it’s important to find ways to deal with challenging experiences efficiently and with the least about of work.

What do you do when you find yourself becoming overwhelmed or frustrated? Do you lash out or disengage from those around you? If you’re like me, you struggle to hold back your strong reactions when you experience a setback or a challenge.

Here are 5 questions you can ask yourself to help slow down your reactive brain and assess your current situation so that you can respond more effectively to challenging situations:

1. Why do I feel triggered by this situation?

Start by asking yourself a broad question to assess the current situation. Why do you feel the way you do about this situation? This question allows you to take a brief pause to examine why you feel the way you do about a specific situation. Asking why is powerful because it forces you to consider your own feelings and emotions more closely. Sometimes, you may not even be fully aware that you are feeling stressed, angry, or threatened by a particular situation. Take the time to recognise those feelings and ask yourself why you are feeling them.

“Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal.” – Henry Ford

2. What would I be thinking if I was in the other person’s shoes right now?

Often times, emotional stress or strain comes from an interaction with someone else – be it a work colleague, a client, or a loved one. Most of our lives we live in a bubble of “me”. We constantly think about our situation as it relates to ourselves, rather than those around us. Ask yourself what the other person is thinking in this situation, and why they might be acting the way they are. Maybe they aren’t lashing out at you because they’re rude, rather, they may be worried about their own job or career.

3. How would an outsider look at what is going on right now?

Take one more step back and look at the situation from the perspective of an outsider. If the situation is too close to your heart, chances are that putting yourself in the other person’s shoes may prove impossible. Instead, consider how an outsider would react to this situation if they were in the room with you. The outsider’s point of view will be more well rounded, and you will have the opportunity to judge whether your reactions are being influenced by the situation itself or by unconscious biases, thoughts, worries or concerns.

4. If I wasn’t tired, hungry, grumpy, sad, how would I react to this same experience?

Chances are, if you still feel the need to react or lash out in a forceful way, you may be experiencing a weakened mental state brought on by being tired, hungry, grumpy, sad, etc. By asking yourself how you might react if you were well rested and clear headed, you will give yourself a few much needed seconds to slow down and cool off before reacting emotionally. Just by realising that your mental state may be compromised, you will give yourself valuable insight before overreacting to a situation.

“I didn’t get there by wishing for it or hoping for it, but by working for it.” – Estée Lauder

5. In a week’s time, what would your best self think about this situation?

By thinking about how your “best self” would react to a certain situation in a week’s time, you are doing two things. First, you are shifting your perspective to think about the problem through the lens of your “best self”. This means understanding that you are coming to this situation from a state that is less than perfect, and you must adjust your expectations. Second, you are distancing yourself from the situation by forcing your mind to consider what things would look like in a week’s time. By doing both of these things, you are ensuring you react in a balanced way.

The more you practice asking yourself these questions in times of stress, the better you will be at reacting to any challenges that come your way.

Are there any questions you ask yourself to frame problems or challenges differently?

McVal is the founder of We Write For Growth, a platform for businesses to connect with talented writers and researchers and growth hackers. He is also the author of How to Make $2,000 a Month Online and Start Up your Life: Why we don’t know what we want, and how to set goals that really matter. McVal writes about motivation, decision making, and strategic thinking. He graduated from UC Santa Barbara in 2011 with a degree in Spanish, and has since worked as a market researcher and business consultant in Washington D.C., New York City and London. You can reach him on Twitter @mcval or on IG @mcvaliant. 

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