(Estimated reading time 2-3 minutes)
It was less than 24 hours to the exam. I could feel the stress in my body – heart beating fast, inability to focus on any one thing, body frozen like a deer in the headlights. I knew in this stressed-out state I was not able to think clearly, connect well or have access to my normal abilities.
William James says this, “The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.”
Is James right? Could I use my thoughts as a weapon against exam stress? Would I be able to go into my oral focused, calm and ready just by switching the way I think? I only had 20 hours to make the change. I was tentatively hopeful, but fear was alive in me, and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to change my perception of the exam or get rid of all that adrenaline from my body.
What is perception anyway? According to Ryan Holiday, it’s how we see and understand what occurs around us – and what we decide those events will mean. He says our perceptions can be a source of great strength or of great weakness. In his book, The Obstacle is the Way (The timeless art of turning tragedy into triumph, Holiday says this, “We decide what we will make of each and every situation. We decide whether we’ll break or whether we’ll resist. We decide whether we’ll assent or reject. No one can force us to give up or to believe something untrue (such as, that a situation is absolutely hopeless or impossible to improve). Our perceptions are the thing that we’re in complete control of.”
This is a very simple but sometimes elusive truth: The way we look at things makes a difference. What makes this difficult is that our perceptions often operate below the level of consciousness. That’s what makes us believe the way we see something is “just the way it is” or “the truth.” The truth is that there are many different ways to see something. Some of them move us closer to what we want for our lives, and some move us further away. When we consciously increase our awareness of the way we see something, then we also have the option to choose something different. This is one of the powerful aspects of coaching – creating awareness and as a result, choice.
Let’s get back to my exam. Remember my initial perspective? Elevated heart rate, inability to focus, feeling disconnected from my capacity, lots of stress and self-doubt – like a deer in the headlights.
After exploring several possible perspectives with my coach, I chose one I call Riding the Waves. I imagined myself on a surfboard, out beyond the breakers, sun shining. I was warm, but not too hot, feeling the power of the water rising and fall beneath me. I had already caught a bunch of waves. My body was relaxed, and I felt confident in my ability to catch the wave I saw coming towards me. I was focused, attentive to the wave, confident, calm, and I was enjoying myself. This felt like it activated all the things in me that would help me go into the exam and do well. I chose a few structures to help me stay connected to this perspective including a physical stance to help me remember the feeling of riding the waves and a beautiful piece of art which reminds me of the waves. I kept the painting in view during the exam.
The outcome of my exam? I passed! I’m celebrating having my CPCC designation. That change of perspective made a world of difference going in – I was calm, confident, focused, and I even enjoyed myself!
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
If you have a specific situation where you’d like to have your own perspective shift, connect with me to take advantage of my September special offer.
September Special Offer
Experience what it’s like to have a shift in perspective.
What you’ll need is a specific situation where you feel stuck or like you have no choice in how you see it. You’ll also need a desire to see things differently and a willingness to try something new.
There is no long term commitment with this special offer – it’s just one session (60-90 minutes) and it’s only $100. Why the low price? Reading about a shift in perspective might be interesting, but I really want you to experience it in your own situation. Connect with me to set it up.