How to face your fear. What to do when a tornado is approaching.

My home was under a tornado warning last week. I remember on the television screen they mapped out the path of the potential funnel cloud to “Walnut Creek 1:14.” It was 1 PM. Fourteen minutes. Suddenly my television screen was locked with a banner across the top saying to go find shelter. Believe it or not, I tried to change the channel. Like maybe I should catch “Let’s Make a Deal” while the tornado is bearing down. Maybe another channel will predict the storm going elsewhere. My cell is alerting me that I need to take cover. So I call my husband “Should I take shelter?” and he said “Yes.” Like I need permission to find shelter. Crazy things you do in the moment of fear.photo-1442213391790-7656f6e368b9

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So I grab a pillow and my dog and headed to an interior bathroom. I feverishly watch the radar on my phone and listen to the television set muted through the bathroom door. I sat there on the slate floor reflecting on the fact that my dog had no idea what was happening. She was free of the abject fear of that moment. As I sat there wondering if that huge pine in the front of the house would fall on us. I reflected back on the book The Upside of Stress by Kelly McGonigal. Hmmm. How can I use some of the things she recommends. This is the perfect Petri dish of fear to give it a try.

So here is what I did to face fear:

1. I started by reframing it. I initially thought “I’m scared.” Then I thought about reframing that to “I’m excited.” So I started to appreciate the uniqueness of this situation. “Wow, I’ve never been under a tornado warning before. This is exciting.”
So my daughter was under a tornado warning some 3 hours later in Durham, NC. She was scared. I tried to reframe it for her. She texted, “I’m scared to be all alone :(.” I replied, “We are with you. Rise to the challenge.” I don’t know if it helped her but I know that when I reframed the situation as I sat on the bathroom floor, I used my energy to focus on being proactive by searching radar information and taking my mind off awful-izing what might happen.

So if you are headed to speak in front of an audience of 100 or having to terminate an employee, reframe it to excited energy. Harness that energy to help you move forward through the fear.

2. Find the positive spin. I realized that I was glad I was with my dog. How often do I get to sit on the bathroom floor with my dog? Like never. I appreciated her calmness. She walked around in a circle and sat down like this was as good a place as any to take a nap. It’s hard to be panicked when you’re sitting next to a Zen dog. I started to think about the fact that I was safe at home and not out on the road. This was the safest place in the world. In the text conversations with my daughter, I kept up the positive spin. “The house you are in is a newer house” and “the storm is traveling fast you’ll be out of it no time” and “you are strong.” Shoring up your resources keeps your mind in a more positive state.
So when you step on that stage in front of an audience of 100, think about the positive intention you are going to bring to the folks. And when you are terming an employee? Think about their positive humanity. The upside propels you forward.

3. Find someone to connect with. I was texting my husband and daughter in a group text while I sat on the floor. I was snuggled up next to my dog as she lay on the bathroom floor. As McGonigal wrote, “Connection with others activates prosocial instincts, encourages social connection, enhances social cognition, dampens fear and increases courage. You want to be near friends or family. You notice yourself paying more attention to others, or are more sensitive to others’ emotions.”

While I was texting my daughter as she sat on her bathroom floor, I asked if I could call. We spoke on the phone as the worst of the second storm cell passed over. I don’t know if she felt better but I felt better by connecting with her. I felt like teleporting my dog up to her bathroom floor. There have been several times that I have been on the phone with my daughter and I’ve said, “I am holding you right now.” It might be virtual but I know it helps. If you are unable to connect due to loss of power or phone connection, try a mantra or affirmations. You can also imagine that your mother is there holding your hand. So when you walk up on that stage, make eye contact and smile at one or two people. When you terminate that employee, look them in the eye. Shake their hand when they leave. Connection dampens down the fear.

It’s not obvious my daughter and I lived through three tornados that day. No downed trees, damage or loss of power. But I have to say I learned from the experience. For one, I didn’t succumb to the stress of the situation. I stayed focused and positive. My husband, who had been on a group text with my daughter and me, came home that night and commented, “You did a great job.” He showed me his phone and there were apparently 80 text messages that went back and forth that afternoon between us as two separate tornados spun by my daughter’s home. If you are in a similar situation, I recommend you focus on the upside. You will think better if a catastrophe does happen instead of reacting out of fear.

Waiting for Happiness? 7 Ways to Embrace it Now.

I’m not sure this is an American construct, but I have felt that for most of my life that I would be happy once I: Got out of college, got a job, got married, got divorced, bought a house, moved, made a million dollars. Funny; I never got there. There is always one more elusive hurdle. It feels like I’m on this constant treadmill; happiness is always around the next corner.

As Shawn Achor says in his book The Happiness Advantage, we’ve been sold the idea that once we are “successful” we will be happy. Turns out, it is the exact opposite. The research has shown that you need to be happy to find success, or at least it helps you get there faster. You need to be happy in order to be a success. Happiness comes first in the equation. finding happiness

Here are some ideas on how to make happiness part of your life (instead of waiting for the elusive success milestone):

1. Fall up. As Shawn Achor prescribes, it’s all about how you handle adversity. Instead of falling down you need to fall up. When I trained for my half marathon last year, I would look for adversity. If Saturday was going to be hot (90 degrees plus) and Sunday a breezy 60…run on Saturday. Rain in the forecast? Run on that day. Look for it. Embrace it. On the actual race day? It rained. No biggie. I’m falling up.

2. Kindness. Pick a day to practice kindness; a sort of “pay it forward” kind of day. Shawn Achor recommends picking the day in advance. So if you did a couple of nice things today, start over tomorrow and call it Kindness Day. This is actually harder than it sounds…yes, I’ve tried it. I tried to do 5 kind things today. I’m up to 4 but the day is not over. I feel like going to Starbucks so I can buy the person behind me their drink. But I have to say, when you are on a mission to be kind, it feels great. I’m looking for an opportunity to pay a compliment, hold the door and smile. Try a bit of kindness.

3. Internal Locus of Control. Say what? This is whether you blame everyone else (the world is out to get me) or you are the master of your own journey. Sail your own ship whether there is a hurricane or not. Accept responsibility for your life. It’s not your mother’s fault, the stock market, Obama ..Yada Yada Yada . Folks who see life with from the external locus of control view are not as happy. They are constantly at the whim of fate; waiting for the next wave to wash them out. If you can move to an internal locus of control, you take control; you act on the world instead of the world acting on you. Let out the jib, stay the course and take control of the rudder of your life. Embrace an internal locus of control.

4. Blessings. Count your blessings. Do you have a roof over your head? Enough food? Clothes? People you can count on? Your dog loves you. It’s sunny outside. It finally stopped snowing. It finally started raining. Be grateful and count it up. I journal three a day. What went right and write it down. Start counting your blessings.

5. Reframe. Think about how you frame events in your life. If your flight was delayed, are you happy you met someone new waiting for seat assignments or are you thinking about how you will miss the first session of the conference? It turns out that if you can see the joy, the serendipity of “bad events”, you will be happier and be able to find the light in the darkness. Reframe the situation from slogging through the mud to playing in the mud. Have you ever seen pictures of folks after an obstacle course race? They just lived through a 5 k and 10 different obstacles but they are ecstatic. Reframe how you see obstacles (and maybe get a little muddy).

6. Focus. Focus on what you can control. Make it a very narrow focus. Shawn Achor calls this the Zorro Circle. It’s empowering to take care of the things within your control. I can get this blog post done, clean out my inbox and make dinner. Whew. What a relief. I’m happy when I’m not overwhelmed and focus on the things that I can change or do. Focus.

7. Anticipate. Plan an exotic trip a year from now and anticipate it every day. That sounds crazy doesn’t it? But the anticipation makes you happy. You are more positive and forward thinking. This even works if the trip is make-believe. So mark you calendar for that cruise to Alaska and start counting down the days. Plan the zip line tour, the fishing trip and the photos you are going to take. Anticipation is the antidote.

I think the main thing is to quit projecting into the future for the next milestone and it’s elusive “happiness”. Take stock of what you already have and share it with others. Happiness begets success, not the other way around.

Where do you find happiness?