The Key to Surviving the Worst Day Ever

Mallika Chopra, Women's Health May 2015

We have all been there. You are minutes away from walking into what you are sure will be the worst meeting of your life. Something has failed, results aren’t what they should be, and you have to deliver bad news that is going to make your manager/client/coworker very very upset. Your stomach hurts, you can’t concentrate on anything, and you just wish you could make the problem go away.

The bad news is that as you become more successful in your career, more situations will arise that make you uncomfortable. Or more accurately, scared and sick to your stomach. My husband and I jokingly call these “baller problems” – they suck, but if you never ever had to deliver bad news or face criticism, it would mean that you also have no responsibility and your career is going no where.

The good news is that you can get better at surviving tough days. The key is setting what Mallika Chopra calls a “microintent” (if her name rings a bell, she is Deepak Chopra’s daughter and just published a book called Living with Intent). A microintent is exactly what it sounds like, a small intention that you set to get you through a challenging situation. I love this term – when I read it I jumped up to grab my highlighter because it perfectly describes the only technique that works for me when I am really nervous about a really terrible day.

Here is my personal approach:

  1. Find a quiet two minutes to take a breath. Your adrenaline is kicking into overdrive right now, and you need to find a little space so that you can stop spiraling out of control. For some people this means going for a quick walk, or throwing on their ear buds and listening to a good song for two minutes. Do not stress yourself out by trying to find five or ten minutes, two is enough. The two-minute break on Calm.com is my personal go-to. No one in the office even needs to know what you are doing – you can hide the window and pretend to be reading something serious on a different screen (though I do prefer to close my door and close my eyes when possible).
  2. Acknowledge the reality of the situation. This is happening, but it won’t last forever. You cannot skip the meeting, pretend to be sick, or avoid it. Ballers don’t back down. So keeping that reality in mind, think through your day…
  3. Visualize how things will go. Your bad meeting is at X time. It will be over by Y time. You have A, B, and C other responsibilities to cover. This is where your microintent comes in. How do you want to handle your meeting? What is your goal or intention? How will you handle what follows the meeting? The key is to only focus on your microintent. Do not rehash the events leading up to the meeting or situation. Do not spend time thinking about what happened or what you could have done differently, unless you need to provide those thoughts as part of a report. Focus specifically on how you want to handle yourself in this meeting on this day.

Step three can be difficult. Here are two tips for making it easier:

  1. Don’t give yourself a ton of time. If you give yourself 20 minutes when you really only need five, you’ll spend 15 minutes rehashing, stressing, and overreacting. Focus on only your microintent and how you want to conduct yourself through this situation. Once you have that set, move on to something else productive to keep yourself occupied until the meeting.
  2. Think of yourself as the star of your own movie. This is amazingly cheesy but it works, because it gets you out of your own head for a minute. If your day was a movie, and you were the hero walking into this situation, how would you want to react? When the hero walks out of the room after the meeting, what are the other characters thinking? What impression did he/she leave? What kind of main character do you want to be? That’s your microintent.

Bad days will happen. Tough meetings, stressful situations, and confrontations will come and go. But having a little plan in place will help you to get better at handling them.

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